#WSF18: Why Music Makes Us Shiver

I have some friends who have tried to describe the overwhelming emotion they feel when listening to a certain piece of music, so much so that it sometimes brings them to tears. While I could empathize with the sensation, my reaction to the same piece was often completely different. Personal experience and context for which the piece is playing are just two variables that can affect the way we interpret music and explain why we find some melodies more mesmerizing than others. But what is it exactly that gives a piece its character, and what more is taking place within our brains when we process sounds?

To further explore this phenomenon of music and its ability to dictate our emotions, an expert group of neuroscientists and musicians took the stage for a World Science Festival event, “Notes on the Folds: Why Music Makes Us Shiver.” With John Schaefer, host and producer of a nationally-acclaimed WNYC radio show, as moderator, the conversation began with a solo performance by composer Mari Kimura.

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Mari Kimura and John Schaefer. Photo: World Science Festival

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Music Makes Its Case for Neurological Respect

City Winery in Manhattan was a most appropriate venue to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. And while not very much music was heard at the IMNF-sponsored forum, music’s impact on the brain was certainly in the air as neuroscientists, music therapists, and one rock music luminary covered the many ways in which music may affect brain development, cognition, and healing.

After all was said and done, however, one point seemed to hover above all the rest: the inability on the part of researchers to produce replicated studies that link the benefits of music to cognitive function.

Hart (left) and Gazzaley (right). Photo credit: Edward Bilsky

Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart (left) and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley (right). Photo credit: Edward Bilsky

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