October 1, 2008 Music and the Brain Lecture Series To Launch in October at the Library of Congress

Special Two-Year Project is Partnership of the Library and the Dana Foundation

Press Contact: Erin Allen (202) 707-7302
Public Contact: Anne McLean (202) 707-8432

What went on in Charlie Parker’s medial prefrontal cortex as he started soloing on ornithology? When you coo to your baby, are you stimulating a part of her brain that’s hard-wired for music? Can music bring down governments, or chase away criminals? With fascinating explorations into music’s relationship to human evolution, language and communication, social behavior, culture and education, the Library of Congress presents a thought-provoking two-year cycle of lectures and special presentations that highlight an explosion of new research in the rapidly expanding field of “neuromusic.”

Sponsored by the Library’s Music Division and its Science, Technology and Business Division, in cooperation with the Dana Foundation, all events are free and open to the public. No tickets are required. Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, serves as project chairwoman.

Unless otherwise noted, the Music and the Brain series will be presented at 6:15 p.m. in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Many events in the series are offered as pre-concert presentations for concerts at the Library; however, non-concert patrons are encouraged to attend.


Oct. 17: Ellen Dissayanake, University of Washington, discusses “Homo Musicus: How Music Began.” The universally observed interaction between mothers and infants, commonly and even dismissively called “baby talk,” is composed of proto-aesthetic, temporally-organized elements that Dissayanake suggests are the origin of human music. Because infants are born ready to engage in these encounters and to prefer their visual, vocal and gestural components to any other sight or sound, one could claim that humans are innately prepared to be musical.

Oct. 24: Dr. Charles J. Limb, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, presents “Your Brain on Jazz: Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Improvisation.” Many scientists have examined music cognition—how the brain permits music to be perceived and learned—but few have studied brain activity while music is being spontaneously created, or improvised. Limb’s recent research with jazz pianists reveals increased brain activity during improvisation in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality. In addition, broad areas of the lateral prefrontal cortex, thought to be linked to self-censoring, were deactivated.

Oct. 30: Jessica Krash, George Washington University, and Norman Middleton, Music Division, give a talk titled “Dangerous Music.” Middleton and Krash explore the psychological and social issues associated with the human tendency toward censorship of musical expression, as well as what has been described as “suicide-by-music” and crimes that have been connected to musical genres.

Nov. 7: Aniruddh D. Patel, The Neurosciences Institute, presents “The Music of Language and the Language of Music.” In our everyday lives, language and instrumental music are obviously different things. Patel, Esther J. Burnham Fellow at the Neurosciences Institute, discusses some of the hidden connections between language and instrumental music that are being uncovered by empirical scientific studies.

Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building: Daniel Levitin gives a talk titled “The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.” Director of McGill University’s Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise and best-selling author of “This is Your Brain on Music,” Levitin blends cutting-edge scientific findings with his own experiences as a former record producer and still-active musician.

Dec. 5: David Huron, Ohio State University, discusses “Why Do Listeners Enjoy Music That Makes Them Weep?” Music-induced weeping represents one of the most powerful experiences available to human listeners. How does music evoke feelings akin to sadness or grief? And why do people willingly listen to music that may make them cry? Modern neuroscience provides helpful insights into music-induced weeping, how sounds can evoke sadness or grief and why such sounds might lead to “a good cry.”

Feb. 3, 2009, from 7-9:30 p.m.: Kay Redfield Jamison convenes a symposium, “Depression and Creativity,” exploring the effects of depression on creativity with three distinguished colleagues from the fields of neurology and neuropsychiatry: Dr. Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience, neurology and psychology and co-founder and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California; Dr. Terence Ketter, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and chief, Bipolar Disorders Clinic, Stanford University; and Dr. Peter Whybrow, director, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California at Los Angeles.

The symposium marks the bicentennial anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn, who died after a severe depression following the death of his sister Fanny, also a musician and a gifted composer. Rare items from the Library’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Mendelssohn Collection will be on display. With more than 300 letters, portrait engravings, watercolors, and other documents, the collection is a rich resource for the study of Mendelssohn’s life.

March 5, 2009: Steven Brown, McMaster University, presents “From Mode to Emotion in Musical Communication.” Looking at the expression of emotion in both Western and non-Western musics, Brown invokes the theory of Clore and Ortony, who posit three categories of emotions: “outcome” emotions related to the outcomes of goal-directed actions (e.g., happiness, sadness); “aesthetic” emotions related to the appraisal of the quality of objects (e.g., like, dislike); and “moral” emotions related to an assessment of the agency of individuals’ actions (e.g., praise, scorn).

March 13, 2009: Jacqueline Helfgott, Criminal Justice Department at Seattle University and Norman Middleton, Music Division, present a talk titled “Halt or I'll Play Vivaldi! Classical Music as Crime Stopper.” Helfgott and Middleton examine the use of classical music by law enforcement and other cultural institutions as social control, to quell and prevent crime. Their conversation touches on how classical music is viewed in contemporary culture, how it can be a tool for discouraging criminal activity and anti-social behavior, and its history as a mind-altering experience.

March 27, 2009: Michael Kubovy and Judith Shatin, University of Virginia, discuss “The Mind of the Artist.” Debate has long raged about whether and how music expresses meaning beyond its sounding notes. Kubovy and Shatin discuss evidence that music does indeed have a semantic element, and offer examples of how composers embody extra-musical elements in their compositions. Kubovy is a cognitive psychologist who studies visual and auditory perception, and Shatin is a composer who explores similar issues in her music.

Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its Web site at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a new, personalized Web site at www.myLOC.gov.

The Library’s unparalleled music holdings include manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, books, libretti, music-related periodicals and microforms, copyright deposits and musical instruments. Manuscripts of note include those of European masters such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms and those of American masters such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Mingus. The Alan Lomax collection of field recordings of American roots music, Woody Guthrie’s original recordings and manuscripts, and one-of-a-kind recordings of bluesman Robert Johnson from the 1930s are also among the Library’s musical treasures. Many of these collections are available at www.loc.gov/performingarts/encyclopedia/.

The Library of Congress maintains one of the largest and most diverse collections of scientific and technical information in the world. The Science, Technology and Business Division provides reference and bibliographic services and develops the general collections of the Library in all areas of science, technology, business and economics. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/.


PR 08-176
ISSN 0731-3527