A Beautiful Mind? Or Just a Brain Tumor?

Music has been a part of my life since before I could form words. My mother says when I was a baby, not yet able to speak, she heard me humming a melody and realized it was the music from a radio commercial. As long as I can remember, I’ve pretty much always had music in my head. Sometimes an actual song, sometimes just random musical phrases or motifs.


I remember waking one morning with the remnants of a symphony playing through my mind – one I’d written in my sleep. To this day it saddens me that it didn’t linger long enough to let me put at least some of it down on paper. It was beautiful music 🙂

But with the advent of the cold weather, I’ve recently had to ask myself (and a neurologist): Should I be concerned that my electric heater is playing country music and there’s bluegrass coming out of my woodstove?

Stanley Brother

Now, bluegrass is a subset, so to speak, of country music, but my electric heater and the blower in my woodstove clearly have very different tastes. The heater is clearly a fan of music you might hear from Clint Black, Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean.

Jason Aldean

Yummy. The music, I mean.

But what I hear coming from my woodstove is definitely what you might hear from the Stanley Brothers (see photo above.  No, not that one; the one above it). Classic, simple bluegrass – guitar and banjo, homespun and evocative of a rural heritage.

The neurologist says that in his 30+ years of practice, he’s never run across anyone experiencing such a phenomenon, but I appreciate – sincerely appreciate – the fact that he didn’t immediately write me a script for a week-long “retreat” at 4-North or whatever they call it at the hospital in St. Joe.  He was intrigued and suggested reading Oliver Sacks’ works, the neurologist upon whose work the movie “Awakenings” was based.  A wonderful movie, as I recall.220px-Awakenings

Dr. Sacks has a book entitled “Musicophilia:  Tales of Music and the Brain.

From a description of the book:  “With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Illuminating, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable, Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks’ latest masterpiece.”


I’ve ordered a (used, of course) copy – not with any expectation that it will solve the mystery of what could be referred to as my brain’s preoccupation with “electronic music,” but it sounds like a good read.  My sister and I think maybe my brain is just picking up on musical frequencies of the heater’s and blower’s motors and “filling in the blanks,” kind of like the ubiquitous e-mail that starts out:  “If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly SMrat.”  (Here’s an interesting article, by the way, on that e-mail):


Perhaps my brain is picking up on electronic tones in the motors that are vibrating at the same frequency as musical notes (like big, heavy tuning forks), and in sequences and combinations that my brain is interpreting as, in the one case, country music (thank God it’s “new” country, not the old stuff), and, in the other case, banjo music and, therefore, bluegrass is born in my brain. 

I kinda wish I were hearing a little light classical or smooth jazz sometimes, just to change things up a bit, but it could be worse – a lot worse.  Even for a diehard opera lover like myself, it could be far more invasive to be constantly turning my head to look for the fat lady, as opposed to merely wondering who let the banjo player into my dining room.

Well, my toes are getting cold, so I have a couple of choices:  I can go throw a few more logs on the fire, or I can turn up my heater.  Time to make some music…keith-urban-interview-magazine