Music and the Brain
U.S. Library of Congress
(free online at www.loc.gov/podcasts/musicandthebrain/index.html)
The sparkling sounds of a Mozart piano concerto, the tragic wails of a Wagner aria—there is no question that music has a profound influence on the mind. Not only does it evoke powerful emotions, but research suggests that listening to and making music can also shape brain development, help treat neurological conditions such as clinical depression and even reduce the propensity to commit crimes. These topics receive in-depth coverage in Music and the Brain, a podcast series created by the Library of Congress.
In each 20-minute show, veteran radio host Steve Mencher invites his guests, who include scientists, composers, performers and physicians, to discuss their research, exploring the effects music has on the brain. The shows typically begin with Mencher asking somewhat off-topic questions.
The second half of each episode, which focuses on recent scientific discoveries, is the most interesting part. Gottfried Schlaug, director of the music, neuroimaging and stroke recovery laboratories at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York City, addresses the ways in which the brains of musicians and nonmusicians differ. He suggests that making music during youth enhances the development of the interior frontal gyrus, a region that connects the motor and auditory systems. Vera Brandes, director of the research program in music medicine at the Paracelsus Private Medical University of Salzburg in Austria, talks about the healing potential of both making and listening to music. “The healthiest people on this planet are singers,” she explains, in part because their focus on breathing helps keep the body properly infused with oxygen.
McGill University music psychologist Daniel Levitin delves deeply into the effects of music on humanity, arguing that songs have largely shaped human evolution. When people sing together, he describes, their bodies release the hormone oxytocin, which promotes bonding: “Singing may have been an important way in which ancient humans formed social bonds in order to create societies.” Given all the powerful ways in which music affects the mind, it could very well be a cornerstone of our existence.