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Music seems to be meaningless, and our love of it inexplicable, but
neurologist Sacks, one of the foremost physician-essayists of the day,
charmingly argues that music is essential to being human in ways that
have only begun to be understood. In many different circumstances, music
may arise involuntarily within a person, as attested to by Sacks' initial
presentation of cases of sudden intense affinity for music and development
of musical skills, of so-called brain worms or tunes that automatically
repeat within the mind, and of musical seizures and hallucinations.
Despite the range of individual experience of music, from amusia, or
incomprehension of melody and/or rhythm and/or harmony, to absolute
("perfect") pitch to synesthesia (e.g., "seeing"
the colors of tones), it seems from the clinical literature that anyone
could have a sudden loss or gain in musicality. Indeed, the seeming
universality of musical mental imaging, even in the utterly deaf, has
encouraged the therapeutic use of music to treat an ever-increasing
number of illnesses, including the results of severe brain damage, congenital
retardative conditions, and such degenerative neuropathies as parkinsonism
and Alzheimer's. Sacks' reporting on all of this makes for quite an
omnium-gatherum on the main contention that, in essence, musicality
is humanity. His customary erudition and fellow-feeling ensure that,
no matter how clinical the discussion becomes, it remains, like the
music of Mozart, accessible and congenial.