This is your brain on Bach

In an episode called “Musical Minds,” last night’s season premiere of NOVA showcased the most recent research of neurologist/author Oliver Sacks. He’s perhaps best known for the memoir-turned-movie Awakenings, but his latest book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, examines the ways that individual brains respond to music.

Featured in the NOVA program are a rock drummer with Tourette  syndrome; an autistic pianist who can play nearly any song after one listen; and an orthopedic surgeon who, though not musically trained, began composing and playing classical piano after he was struck by lightning.

The following excerpt from “Musical Minds” shows Dr. Sacks himself submitting to a brain scan. To determine his cerebral response to song, researchers recorded the doctor’s brain activity while the life-long Bach enthusiast listened to two Masses — one by Bach and one by Beethoven. They wanted to see if the scan reflected his preference for Bach.

Which composer rocked Dr. Sacks’ amygdalae? Watch the four-minute clip to find out.

You can also view the full hour online at NOVA‘s Web site. But don’t delay: Due to rights restrictions, the program will only be available for streaming on the NOVA Web site this week, July 1-7, 2009.

NOVA is broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television. Check wpt.org to learn when the next episode will air.

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