Monday, May 18, 2009

The Portrait of a Musician

Researching this article has lead me on so many tangents. I am never going to finish at this rate!Still reading Music, the Brain and Ecstasy. Still fascinated by it.

Many of you, if not all of you, are familiar with the fact that the left side of the brain is most associated with science and the right side with arts. Chapter two spends quite a bit of time explaining how the brain processes sound. Simply stated, most of the auditory nerves are always firing, even in silence, and the others only respond to changes in sound, firing only when a frequency intensifies or slides upward or downward (changes what we perceive as pitch). In the center of the brain, there is a primary auditory complex in which much of the activity is devoted to inhibiting the action of other neurons to simplify the incoming auditory data one sound at a time and suppressing noise. This prepares the sound for transmission to the secondary auditory cortex encircling it, in which the successive sounds are processed. The right brain also focuses on simultaneous sound, the whole chord, so to speak, including hierarchies of harmonic relations and overtones, and separates out one note from the next, creating/perceiving changes in tone: a melody. In addition, hearing a sound too many times in a row or for too long will cause the neurons to stop firing. This is why those buzzing machines become part of the background and you are no longer conscious of them. People sleeping with a fan on? That is because it is harder to process silence than it is to process sound.

Plus so much more you most likely don't want to hear about, no pun intended.

We know that the left brain is the place to be if you need to finish your math homework, and since most rhythm is essentially a series of fractions, the left brain is actually where the rhythm of a piece is divulged. There is a clear distinction made that places people into one of two categories, tonality or rhythm, depending on thier strength. How many of you know a Druid who is completely tone-deaf but can play a hand drum around a fire like nobody's business? So what does this all mean to us in ritual? Music involves both sides of the brain, simultaneously, regardless of strength. We each will focus more on either the tonality or the rhythm, depending on where our strengths lie, but music is a unifying force, within ourselves and with one another. We all hear a little differently, but when music, especially making music is a group project, it is by far the clearest way to connect the folk and draw them together to create that group mind. Also, it take a lot of energy to make a sound, and when you have that many people together, using both halves of their brains as a group, it's no wonder music is listed as the single most effective way to raise energy in a rite.

Oh, there is so much more that has me really excited about all of this, but I am afraid I am either going to go too far into the physiology and loose some of you or that I will talk forever--which is always a possibility with me. :) On a side note, musicians store infinite numbers of melody lines in the hippocampus and can draw on them at will. This is why some people can hear a few bars and tell you exactly what song it is and continue the molody, even if they haven't heard the song in ages. In fact, music makes a much stronger memory than words alone, and giving someone a few spoken lyrics, the brain will still find the corresponding melody. The majority of individuals hear better from the left ear, since the left side of the body is controlled by the right brain. Conversely, musicians hear better from the right. Professional musicians favor the left hemisphere for musical processing. They link and organize fragments of music by very abstract relations, and left brain function is necessary for long term, deep and mulit-layered understanding.

So, even when using the same sheet music, no two people ever sing the same song. It's just this kind of diversity in the midst of unity that we need in ritual. That's why music is a ritual device. Music allows us to maintain our independence while simultaneously drawing us together as one group mind. I am finding all that I ever needed and more to explain what I have known to be true for years. Now I just have to explain how to use it and get other people to do this with me in ritual space.

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