Jewish World Review July 9, 2002 / 29 Tamuz, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Musicians' brains | Researchers at Heidelberg University have claimed that musicians possess bigger brains than the rest of us. Their report, published in Nature Neuroscience-- according to the British news source, The Independent-- revealed that professional musicians "showed 102 per cent more activity in their auditory cortex than non-musicians." And it was 37 per cent higher in amateurs.

I've been known to strum a guitar from time to time, warbling either Beatles tunes or Merle Haggard, depending on my mood, and the tolerance level of those around me, so I read of this with keen interest. Hey, maybe I'm smarter than I thought I was.

Well maybe not. I had no idea what an auditory cortex was, for instance. Not to worry. The Independent had that covered; I read "The auditory cortex consists mainly of 'grey matter' or... neurons, which are interconnected by long filament-like axons, or 'white matter.'"

Just as I was nodding off over this description, I was told that musicians had "larger amounts of grey matter in the region called the Heschl's gyrus." I seemed to remember Heschl's Gyrus. It was one of those big pompous arena-rock bands, similar to Genesis, or Yes. I think I still had their second album somewhere, "White Matter," I think it was called.

But are pompous rock musicians what this study was talking about? I remember the haircut of the lead singer from Flock of Seagulls, for instance. Could that have been, in fact, not hair, but an excess of grey matter, bleached to blonde perfection by stadium lighting? Somehow I doubt it.

As a matter of personal opinion, my anecdotal evidence indicates that rock musicians are not the pointiest awl in the workshed. I mean, how much gray matter does it take to shout, "Hello Cleveland, are you ready to rock and roll?"

I have a hunch that by "musician" the researchers are talking about a cellist, a player of a double reed instrument, someone (in short) who can tell the difference between a diminished ninth and diminished capacity. I suspect that a Mick Jagger, though nobody's fool, probably does not have the abnormally large Heschl's gyrus as a Yo Yo Ma. But on the hand, who has the knighthood and the mansion?

Oh well. As long as they're off the street, and avoiding show tunes or extended jams on "Someone to Watch Over Me," how smart do they need to be?

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales