Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Music = Brain

Every so often a study gets released explaining how music has a positive effect on one's mind, especially the complexities of classical music. It makes you smarter, better at math, and some say younger. Its hard to disagree, and it is even harder to disagree with the sprit of these undertakings because, well, since math is the smartest way to be smart in our No Child Left Behind culture because it is the most quickly quantifiable, music must therefore be good for US because it is good for that.

So today in the Times there is an appropriately skeptical piece by Matthew Gurewitsch about prescription music, music written specifically to have a desired effect on a specific brain. Its even handed, well written, and takes on this odd little practice with the right kind of attitude: that of the objective journalist. It ought to be read.

What I found most intriguing--and I mean that last word in its fullest spy-thriller resonance--is the presence of the guardedly anonymous composer in the mix. You go for your study, someone writes you a piece to suit your specific mental needs (apparently we all need Glass or Riley redux?) but the hand is silent; we are never to know. This strikes me as the oddest notion of this entire questionable (but not necessarily wrong) practice: there's someone, or a team of someones, who are writing music to have an effect on your brain and their name(s) is (are) a well-kept secret.

Of course, being a composer myself, I begin to wonder who it might b, which of my colleagues has landed the no-doubt lucrative dayjob of writing music to put troubled minds be at ease? And why, I wonder, is the whole practice intentionally shrouded in a veil of mystery? Do these composers feel they are doing the wrong thing? (They are not.) Do they fear the repercussions of the world knowing that they--gasp--might need to supplement their income? Or is this whole practice a little questionable, and when later it becomes known do these composers want not to be associated with it? I think that alone would be such a distraction, for me, from any possible efficacy of this study.

I say, if you're going to do it, do it: cop to it, and let us know how it works and why. There is nothing to be ashamed of, no need to hide. Hell, I think it would make an interesting companion piece in the Times to send a music journalist to accomplish a piece of derring-do and smoke out just who is behind this particular curtain. Music Therapy's Greatest Composers UNMASKED. Composers working in an underground laboratory somewhere to make the world a better place are revealed for what they are, dramatically and on television. I'd watch it.


Blogger Yvonne said...

I suspect the clue is in this:

The music is proprietary too. To avoid the interference of personal associations, the tracks consist entirely of original material. “In our research,” Ms. Brandes said, “we have found that when people are listening to music they know, their reactions are entirely different.”

If the idea is to have music that is completely proprietary, in order to ensure that it's completely unfamiliar and has no external associations, then you might want to keep not only the music itself but the identity of the creators (especially if they are active composers in the real world) a secret. The one person they do acknowledge (Vera Brandes) is not a composer in her primary occupation, so there's no harm in them naming her. (Presumably you can't go out and buy a CD of Brandes' compositions for the concert hall.)

I'm not sure I find this rationale entirely convincing, but that seems to be the approach taken here.

Alternatively, the composers themselves could be driving the secrecy, which is what you've suggested as a possibility. Is there shame in writing music that isn't conceived as art but on purely functional grounds? Maybe not. But I could understand someone who identified himself or herself as an artist feeling that way.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl said...

Classical Music has a way to really relax my mind and it calms my soul. Well if i continue to listen and soothe my being with it's beauty plus will make me smarter in math then that would be great. Thank you for this post it interest me. Music is a part of every being.

1:59 PM  

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