I’ve been an avid reader of Oliver Sacks books since 1985 when I encountered The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Mr. Sacks projects his subjects’ maladies through the prism of his own brilliant and inventive mind to reveal modes of perception and being that we wouldn’t otherwise imagine. While he puzzles through the neurology and physiology, parsing the mechanics of synesthesia or color blindness, he glimpses what it might be like to be that person and he communicates that brilliantly to us.
I had an experience many years ago when I was playing the piano for a group of residents at a nursing home. Right next to the piano there was a woman in a wheelchair with her head stretched back and her whole body tensed in muscular spasm. She couldn’t speak but she made noises that seemed to me to be attempts to speak. I started playing Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and by the second chorus she was singing along! She knew the lyrics far better than I did. When the song was over she appeared to be much more present than before the song – not able to converse, but she smiled and nodded in recognition of what I said. As any music therapist would have predicted, that more present state didn’t last very long. It was a profound experience and a revelation to me.
I knew that Oliver Sacks would have something to say about this so, in 2007, when Musicophilia was published, I pre-ordered a copy so that I could get at it as soon as possible. And, of course, he does talk about the amazing power of music to organize an otherwise disorganized mind. The publication of Musicophilia is no longer news – it’s been a huge success – but some people may not be aware that it was revised and expanded and released in paperback in 2008. In addition, on oliversacks.com, there are short video talks (including TED talks) that can also be accessed on OS’s YouTube site.
Carry on, Oliver!