Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For Goodness Sake, Use Yours Ears!

This year, my ears have been opened to a whole new world. I would say it’s going through an “awakening”! Hahaha. Suddenly, I’m exposed to all sorts of beautiful and foreign musical sounds, instruments and timbres. Also, I’m starting to love listening to classical music cause’ the music that an orchestra makes is so, so different compared to the noisy, funky, pop and usual rock music we hear on radios and etc. Those are all becoming so boring for me (it always had) because it sounds so simple, so empty (not rich and full), and in many cases, digitally altered or enhanced.

So I’ve been telling myself, “For goodness sake, use your ears!” Previously, I seldom listened to music other than what I played on piano or violin. Now I’m learning that (thanks to my iPod) I need to expose my ears to all sorts of music, and even so, not only restrict myself to orchestra and piano music.

Now, I must tell you about a book I’ve been reading called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (my previous post was about a book written by him, too). Musicophilia is a compilation of true stories based on Dr. Oliver Sacks experience with patients who’ve had the musical part of their brain "fired up" after an accident or illness! It also includes patients who, on the contrary, have a problem with music (such as a fear of music – how sad (!!!) – or having music playing in their heads 24/7). Hmm.

The first story Oliver Sacks recounted is the best of all. It’s about a man who got struck my lightning and died for maybe 2 minutes – but he was revived. For 2 weeks, he suffered memory loss. Thankfully, he recovered after that and resumed his life. But heaven wasn’t done with him, I suppose! He began to feel a great urge to listen to piano and classical music. Note that before his accident, he never bothered with such music, and he never played any instrument other than some brief piano lessons when he was young.

After the lightning strike, the great part was he started to “hear music in his dreams”! He would wake up with them resonating in his ears and mind. But alas, he didn’t know how to compose or to notate the music he was inspired with. Also, he could barely play the piano (although he started learning a lil’ on his own). So he started lessons and in a short time, learned to notate his own music. A year later, he could play Chopin’s Scherzo in Bb minor, which is diploma-level stuff ya’ know. And he was 42 years old, for crying out loud! Fingers would’ve been stiff long time ago!

It amazed me that a lightning strike could do something so miraculous to an otherwise ordinary guy who never got to realize his musical potential. You know, I think everyone, every child, has music in them. It only takes the right teacher, the right parents, and the right learning environment to stimulate the musical abilities. And of course, with all this in place, it takes much practice and music training. Even prodigies have to be exposed to music first in order to discover their gift. And although they may not need 10 years of practice to master a difficult piece, they would still need hours of training from young in order to develop the musical parts of the brain.

The most important body part that music needs to work hand in hand with is the ears. Once again, I’m amazed that my ears actually have given me so much LIFE. We take it for granted, I tell you! Do you ever realize how amazing it is that our ears can ‘home in’ on a conversation or someone’s whisper in a noisy restaurant? Or when listening to music, we can somehow “zoom in” on an accompanying instrument or back-up voice? We choose to do that. If we don’t send that signal to the brain, we’ll just be listening to the music ‘as a whole’.

My ears have given me my whole life! Without it, I don’t know what I’ll do. Interestingly, a few of the stories in Musicophilia tells of people who have internal hearing problems. Some begin to hear music in their head that sounds as clear as day. That’s cool, but the problem starts when the music doesn’t stop for 24/7! For some people, it like “background music” cause’ when they occupy themselves in a conversation or with other tasks, the music is soft. But for others, the music becomes annoying and unbearably loud – how scary!

Still, there were some who listened to music with ears and a brain that could not piece the music as a whole. One woman couldn’t bear to listen to orchestral works because the instruments sounded like “individual voices” – her brain could not register them as fitting together. More bizarre, the author himself once experienced amusia, a condition where the brain does not register music as music. One would listen to a piano, and no longer hear a song as a beautiful melody and harmony weaved together – instead, it would sound like a hammer banging on strings or a metal sheet! =O

I now realize how blessed I am to have ears that can register music as a whole, music with its intricate melodies, music with colour (various instrument timbres), music with meaning and emotion. Moreover, how incredible that God gave us TWO ears, not one; because with two ears, we can recognize sounds by a measure of distance (same for the eyes).

And did you know (to my astonishment) Darwin once said that, “The ear is the miracle of evolution.” Man, how ironic, how ignorant, how utterly stupid that I feel sorry for him! He unknowingly admitted that it is obviously IMPOSSIBLE for evolution, a purposeless evolving of organisms, to come up with an organ so intricate and complex and useful!

Now, even if you don’t believe in a “bigger force” that probably instigated the Big Bang, or a God that bestowed us with such fantastic abilities, you would surely agree with me that the ear cannot possibly be a “miracle of evolution”, right?

So after reading this, I hope it changed your life! For goodness sake, use your ears in a whole new way and begin to hear for yourself how greatly blessed you are to be able to digest all the sounds and actually find meaning in them. Astounding! Even now, I’m still marvelling at the abilities that God has given me (and you) – which I so often do not develop to its fullest potential!

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