Mickey Hart, Oliver Sacks, and Simply Mind-Bending Stuff - Another Music Post

John McManamy Health Guide
  • There is no such thing as my writing too much on music. A few weeks ago, in one piece we looked at movement and dance. In another, I chronicled a recent experience of mine at an all-day didgeridoo workshop. Judging by your comments, we are on to something. Please forgive the rambling nature of this piece. I promise, the dots will connect.


    I am a fairly regular attendee of drum circles. I tend to bring three didgeridoos with me, plus something to bang on. That’s where I was last Saturday. Today, I brought one didgeridoo to a NAMI San Diego Walk Kick-off event. As I joked to the people I ran into there: “I can either take a Zyprexa or play my didge.” Seriously, never underestimate the healing power of music.

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    Back to the drum circle. One of the regulars informed me that the Mickey Hart Band would be performing on Wednesday at a club in town. Mickey Hart, as many of you are aware, was part of a two-man drumming tandem in the Grateful Dead.


    He is also perhaps the world’s leading proponent of drumming and all things percussion - part author, part ethnomusicologist, part world music performer. His Grammy-winning “Planet Drum” from 1991 was notable for bringing a diverse range of international drummers together (eg congas with tablas with talking drum). A few years ago, he reunited many of these drummers in the Global Drum Project, which also featured a heavy dose of electronic sound overlays.


    I was looking forward to the Planet Drum/Global Drum Project side of Mickey Hart. As it was, I had to settle for a lot of Grateful Dead stuff, which wasn’t half-bad, either. At age 69, Hart looked on stage like someone 25 years younger. Music can have that kind of effect. Many of his old Dead (actually very dead) bandmates weren’t nearly so lucky - too much of the bad acid.


    Speaking of mind-bending substances, Mickey Hart is on the board of the Institute for Music and Neurological Function. An honorary board member is famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of “Awakenings” and “Musicophilia.” Back in 2008, I had occasion to hear Dr Sacks at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in Washington DC. As I wrote here at HealthCentral:


    Dr Sacks gave a very intriguing and entertaining talk on "music bubbling up in the mind." He pointed out that music is the only faculty not altered by dreams. He made special reference to its healing powers, and urged his audience to pay much more attention to music when dealing with their patients. William Styron in "Darkness Visible," he pointed out, wrote how he was able to reconnect with memories of joy in his life when Brahms' Alto Rhapsody began resonating in his head. That was the beginning of his recovery. The sound, Styron wrote, pierced his heart like a dagger.


    The focus of the Institute’s work is helping individuals with neurological conditions (such as stroke) recover speech and movement through activities such as singing and drumming. If I understand this correctly, the neural pathways to ordinary speech for one reason or another may be damaged. But the pathway to singing words may be wide open. Thus, some people who may not be able to speak may learn to communicate through a form of adaptive singing. 


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    The Institute’s website also mentions that music therapy promotes increased relaxation, improved memory, and improved mood. 


    You don’t have to wait for the Institute to come up with a therapy program adapted to mood disorders or for your health plan to approve the expense. Experiment for yourself. Grab something to bang on or honk into. Warble away. Shake a leg. Simply feel the music flow through you.


    Then tell me what happens ... 

Published On: March 10, 2013