Music is integral to our lives and, from Elgar to Elvis, provides familiarity and pleasure. The healing properties of music, particularly for mental illness, have been recognised for centuries and music therapy is now established as a psychotherapeutic method to aid communication and expression. Many doctors have studied music and continue to play, as enthusiastic amateurs or in a professional capacity, alongside their medical practice. This book is an engaging investigation of the interface of psychiatry and music, unearthing harmony in the dissonant worlds of art and science. As a musician, I found it a satisfying response to the Keatsian concern that refracting arts through the sciences risks ‘unweaving the rainbow’.
Levitin, a musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, offers an explanation of the science and experience of music with a multitude of classical and popular examples. A lesson in pitch, rhythm, tempo and harmony sets the scene for understanding the cascade of brain region activation which is triggered by listening to music. He unceremoniously links the auditory cortex, frontal regions and mesolimbic system, including the nucleus accumbens, likening the addictive nature of music to the dependence of a drug addict. The rise in dopamine levels and association with positive mood and affect observed when listening to music is used to explain why many of the newer antidepressants act on the dopaminergic system, and he shares his exploration of the cerebellum not only as a crucial element to maintaining tempo in music, but as intrinsic to emotion.
In addition, he examines music over the life cycle; from the seeds of musical preference sown in the womb and brain myelination in teen years, to the nostalgia of those with Alzheimer's disease when they hear songs from their youth. He suggests we are more musically equipped than we think and teases out the unique qualities of music which enhance communication, cognitive development and well-being. This is a fascinating read, accessible to non-musicians and musicians alike, which will set your foot tapping and propel you to dig out those dusty records all in the name of neuroscience.