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Beauty, Music, and Healing

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Illustration by Jon Lieff from Music Training and Neuroplasticity

I remember a young mother who was concerned about her eight year old so shy that she wanted to stay home most of the time. The mother tried various ruses to get her to play with friends away from home and to reach out to other children, but most of her attempts were less than successful.

She eventually enrolled the child in a music class and left her there alone at the first meeting, then crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. After class, she was amazed to see the exuberant joy on her reclusive one’s face as the little girl began to sing her own name and a welcoming greeting to show off her new skills.

The teacher had eased the tension for all of the students that morning by teaching each of them to sing an introduction that included their name and a welcome to their classmates. Although many adults quake in fear at the thought of singing a solo in public, somehow singing reduced all fears for each of the students.

Singing is also used as therapy with stroke victims or others suffering from some type of brain impairment. Their ability to speak is often diminished. However, singing uses a different part of the brain than speaking does, so singing ofter helps repair the damage. I understand that Gabby Giffords was treated with a form of music therapy when recovering from the assassination attempt.

Music also has the power to help people with dementia remember aspects of their lives that had been long forgotten. I remember reading about a patient who appeared to be totally unable to understand or communicate. But one time  when walking near a piano, he sat down and played song after song after song that he had played as a young adult with a band. Eventually he showed additional signs of recovering both speech and memory.

When reading about the therapeutic uses of music, many people wonder what it can do for the normal person (whatever that is). I know a teaching consultant who encourages all parents to insist that their children participate in music lessons. According to Andrew Pudewa at IEW, it’s not so much an effort to discover the next virtuoso as it is to help the child’s brain develop more fully.

If you’re interested,  The Great Courses, an adult learning resource, recently released Aniruddh Patel’s “Music and the Brain” course. This series of 18 half-hour lectures covers fundamental ideas of music theory, neuroanatomy, and cognitive science and looks at the diverse range of experiments, discoveries, and debates in this fast-changing field. Access the program online at thegreatcourses.com. Also, there are several books and numerous articles available on similar topics.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Beauty in Numbers According to Titian

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As I’ve been saying, beauty is everywhere – every area of nature, science, art, architecture, music, prose, poetry, and human interaction. But some of us need to educate ourselves before we can more fully enjoy the pleasures of beauty.

Beauty in nature, art, and literature were always easy for me to see. I got a vague understanding of the relationship of math to music when I began to play the piano in grade school. (I didn’t last long enough to perform well, but I did develop a love for good music.) I began to appreciate the people who relentlessly offered the world beautiful reactions to ugly provocations as a teenager facing the vagaries of growing up.

Only recently, have I begun to observe the beauty of numbers, largely through a book, The Way of Beauty by David Clayton:

“We are used to the idea today of numbers being used to communicate quantity — that is, to answer the questions of how much? or how many? This is unchanged from the past. However, we are not so used today to the idea that number can convey a quality. . . . . through a symbolism. . . .

“Although most people today are unaware of the idea of symbolic number and harmonious proportions, when presented with the beauty that it reflects, they respond. Millions of people visit Oxford every year. When they come as tourists, they do not head on the whole for the modern housing estates or industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. Rather, they go to the older center of the town. . . . These tourists very likely do not know why they find these buildings beautiful, but they know that they do. . . .”

Another example of numbers being symbolic as well as used for measuring, is found in Francesco Giorgi’s notes from his 16th Century plans for building a church in Venice:

““April 1, 1535 – In order to build the fabric of the church with those fitting and very harmonious proportions which one can do without altering anything that has been done, I should proceed in there following manner. I should like the width of the nave to be nine paces which is the square of three, the first and divine number. The length of the nave, which will be twenty-seven will have a triple proportion, which makes a diapason and a dispense. And this is the mysterious harmony that when Plato in the times wished to describe the wonderful consonance of the arts and fabric of the world, he took this as the first foundation of his description.

“The fact that this was not an unusual approach and that the use of these numbers was not limited to the profession of architecture at this time is demonstrated by looking at the people who assessed Giorgio’s report. On reception of the Memorandum, the Doge consulted a committee of three experts who had to approve it before he would implement it, which they did. The three were a philosopher (a humanist called Sansovino), a famous architect called Sergio, and an artist, who was no less than Titian.”

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“Everything Is Beautiful, in Its’ Own Way”

“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living.

I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.” 653ce210d685f03c70a44dcebebca315

Henri Poincaré, Science and Method