Yesterday somebody posted a link to an interesting video onto Facebook; it is here. It shows Henry (shown at left), an elderly man in a nursing home, in a state of torpor. He has had seizures. He's responsive, but barely. What is he thinking? Nobody knows. But the moment some headphones attached to an iPod are placed on his head, and some big band swing or jazz music from his generation is played, he becomes responsive. When asked about his music, he becomes communicative - articulate, even. He begins to sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" in a credible baritone with idiomatic inflections, and describes music as a blessing of love from God. It is an amazing six and a half minute video.
It's from a documentary called Alive Inside - and I need to see it.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, who does psychological work on the music-brain connection, comments. I once found an Oliver Sacks book at a yard sale and bought it; I tried to get through it, but found it rather clinical, and therefore gave up. But I want to eventually see Alive Inside (it premiers next week in New York City).
I describe my own musical epiphanies in this article. Summary: While I have loved music since the time I was about three, begging my father to play Martin Denny's "Hawaiian Village" on the hi-fi, I didn't really start listening to it in earnest until I was twelve, when I took over the family console stereo and Dad's record collection. One of the greatest discoveries in my life was classical music, when I was sixteen. (And by "classical," I mean symphonic music - the stuff philharmonic orchestras play. The term refers most precisely to the music written by Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries in the late 18th century, in that style, but I mean Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Vaughan Williams, Rimsky-Korsakov - all of it.)
I can't describe why or how, but my love of classical music has enriched my life and made it better. Somehow I just wouldn't be as happy without it. It puts me in my universe, organizes my thoughts, gives voice to the things I can't express with words, sends me to mental places I've never been, brings back sensations and memories of times gone by, exposes me to other cultural norms, turns me into another person entirely, ennobles my spirit, gives me intellectual fodder and enriches my soul. Yes, honestly, all that!
There is much faddish discussion about the so-called "Mozart Effect," wherein mind improvements are said to occur with exposure to Mozart's music. Perhaps. Certainly, there is something life-enriching about symphonic music. Look at the aged conductors and musicians who play it; I'm not sure I'm on a totally solid statistical basis, here, but there seems to be an extended life expectancy for people who are professional symphonic musicians. The aged are not withdrawn, out of it, old men - they are master musicians. I know of no conductors who have become Alzheimer's patients.
The composers of symphonic music are in a different realm from the rest of us as well. I have often noted how, with forms of music like rock and roll, the best music written by a songwriter is almost always the stuff he's written before he turned thirty or forty or so. With symphonic composers, the opposite is usually true: the masterworks are almost always the last things he's written. One of my favorite symphonies is Ralph Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica, written when he was in his eighties. Yet it contains new and unusual sonorities for the composer (massive organ chords, a wind machine) and represents a daring break from the usual thing for VW. In his eighties!
Another great thing about symphonic music is that there is so much of it. I've been actively searching for and listening to new music ever since I was sixteen, and by no means have I expended what there is available. In fact, I keep finding new favorite pieces. (Glazunov's Oriental Rhapsody, which I found a few months ago, is a recent example.) Also, the stuff I more or less disregarded as a younger man - Haydn symphonies, for example - I have learned to like.
So, yes, I can see where music could reawaken the moribund, revive the dispirited and enhance life. I think aged Henry is absolutely correct - music is evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Last night my Classic Images Gettysburg 125th anniversary VHS arrived. I was at that huge event in July 1988; I'm also among the throngs of reenactment soldiers in this video. For the four days or so of it the reenactor camps were the largest settlement in Adams County, Pennsylvania. It was the anniversary battle reenactment to end all anniversary battle reenactments. Sort of like Woodstock for tubby bearded historical nerds. The video is beyond cheesy, with mawkish poetry and songs, and re-staged scenes of military interrogations and historical war councils featuring hobbyists who cannot act to save their lives - that's what makes it so great!
Naturally I want to get a copy of this out of print video to my reenacting pard Don, but the dratted thing is Macrovision encoded. (Historical note: Macrovision was a 1980's method of preventing VHS to VHS transfers. Even DVD recorders like mine will not dub a Macrovision encoded tape to a DVD. The usual trick was to use a time base stabilizer - but I haven't seen one of those in decades.) So what to do? I scratched my head and tried a few connection tricks. The one that worked was connecting a 2002 vintage VHS player to my DVD recorder via the RF coaxial points. That worked! Hahaha! Macrovision defeated! Hahaha!
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