A new documentary, “Alive Inside” opens this week in New York. It is about the amazing power of music on the mind. I’ve often thought about this: do paintings make people dance and sing? Sculpture? Books? No, only music has that direct and primal power, even for those suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. Music has this power because can bypass damaged neural pathways and go straight to the soul.
According to Canadian researcher Daniel Levitin, music preceded speech, and the organizational effects of music on the brain helped make human speech possible. In this film, we see once again the restorative effects of music, here on elderly people crippled by severe dementia.
In one sequence, posted on youtube and already watched by over four million viewers, we see an old man in a depressing nursing home, sad, immobile, catatonic. He doesn’t even remember his own daughter when she visits. And then, bang! He is given an iPod with some of his favorite music (in this instance jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway), and the old man comes alive, his eyes light up, and he even starts singing in a smooth baritone. He excitedly starts talking about his love for music and its beauty.
Things like this can only happen with music. Watch this clip from a Huffington Post article and believe. We should be grateful to the director, Michael Rossato-Bennett, for making this film. Baby boomers are now becoming seniors, and many may have parents suffering from Alzheimer’s. And while there is at present no cure for the disease, we see here how music can alleviate symptoms and bring people back to life.
Here is a great soundie of Cab Calloway, the music that stirred his spirit from silence and darkness: it is fun and total joy.