body movin’ body movin’ A-1 sound and the sound so soothin’
Three days after brain surgery — three bizarre hallucinatory days of spinning tilting rooms, predatory plaid disengaging from its shirt to waffle in mid-air, hospital beds with trap doors and bottomless chutes — my husband Tom brought me a few things from home so I’d feel like my old self. One of them was an iPod shuffle loaded with my favourite songs – the 21st century version of a mixed tape. So I know that man loves me.
I put in the ear-buds and hit play. The opening notes of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army played — one of my all time faves – I smiled, I felt normal. Jack smashed out the chords of the solo and a trap door behind me opened and I was swallowed-up by the music. Electrical currents shot up and down my spine. Hot needles sizzled. Flashes of light dazzled my closed eyes. I was Jack White’s bass string, or inside the string, or it was inside of me. I never wanted it to end. Track after track, the rockers rocked on – Stones, Clapton, Aerosmith, my hands and feet tingled, more needles sizzled. Then Alicia Keys and her piano washed away the tempest. I floated on the music, small calming tingles on my face and lips, like a musical facial. Then Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald crooned about the river flowing and cotton growin’ high, and I drifted down that meandering Mississippi on a raft, the currents ebbing, flowing and swirling along with Ella’s voice and Louis’ trumpet.
At first I didn’t tell anyone; it was mine and it was special and I never wanted it go away. I woke up every morning and went to sleep every night on the magic carpet ride of my music. And while it played I was out of the hospital, out of my malfunctioning body. I was floating, twisting, sizzling through the waves of melody. A week later, when I left the hospital, my magical music ride was over. My brain was healing.
The medical term for the phenomenon is ‘synesthesia’: when one sense is interpreted by the brain as another sense. As Oliver Sacks points out in ‘Musicophillia’, synesthesia “literally means a fusion of the senses.” Like when music is experienced as colours, lightning bolts, or floating down a river on a raft.
I was home, ten days after brain surgery; I wasn’t all better, but I was getting better…And missing my trips down Ol’ Man River.
My friend Jennie visited and gave me a CD of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. She handed it over like Obi Wan giving Luke his light sabre with the cryptic words, “Bach is more that music.”
Jennie is a cellist with degrees in music and nursing, and I should’ve known that this wasn’t just a pleasant bit of music to fill quiet hours. She had a plan when she gave me that CD.
One morning I woke up shivering and weak. My spine trembled as if detached from my torso. I sat at the dining table and dug into my yogurt and my spoon ricocheted off the sides of the bowl. On its way to my mouth it wobbled and swerved through the air like a giant magnet was pulling it left, right, down, up. The steaming cup of coffee looked downright treacherous. Then I remembered Jennie’s CD.
I put the Goldberg Variations into the stereo and hit ‘play’ then stood, clutching my walker, my spine undulating and my teeth chattering unable to take another step. By the seventh track – eight minutes and 36 seconds later (I counted, timed and wrote down everything) – I had stopped shivering, my spine was still, and my headache gone.
I started to listen to music to steady myself to stand and eat, then later, to balance and walk. I wasn’t aware of music therapy or how it worked. But Jennie’s cryptic message that Bach is ‘more than music’ felt true. Maybe Bach more than others, but all music is more that just music; or it can be if you let it. Here, in the most simplistic explanation is why:
The layout and organization, of the brain’s functional regions is key. The sensory-motor region of the outer ‘walnut shell’ looking thing, the cortex, shares neural circuits with the neighbouring auditory centre where music is processed. Body movements are planned and processed alongside the processing of musical rhythm; it’s a harmony of input (music) and output (movement).
The beat and rhythm of the music helps activate the motor region of the brain and initiate movement; especially movement of the legs. Music provides cues to for timing and helps drive orderly, synchronized movement, or a kinetic melody, as Oliver Sacks and other neurologists call it. The effect outlasts the music itself and can result in neural re-wiring and a permanent change in the brain’s functioning, the brain’s healing. And the patient’s mobility. Patients with Alzheimer’s , Parkinson’s, stroke and acquired brain injuries have been treated with Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation – an exciting frontier in brain re-hab and health.
I still turn to Bach when I’m having a tough ‘brain day’; when my balance isn’t quite what I need it to be, or when I know I’m going to challenge my balance centre at a tap class or on the ski hill: I pop in those ear buds and let the music do its magic; even thought there’s no flying carpet or great meandering river.
Now let me get some action from the back section…we need body rocking not perfection…let your spine unwind, just take a risk…body movin’ (the beastie boys)