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Music therapy was the topic on the second hour of this week’s edition of Talk of the Nation Science Friday on NPR. Music therapy is a fast-growing field as more and more science uncovers links between music and healing and health. The NPR program featured a number of music therapists and experts on neuroscience, including Dr. Oliver Sacks of Awakenings fame discussing the latest research on music and how it is processed in our brains. Charles Darwin, it turns out, may have been completely wrong when he wrote: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least direct use to man in reference to his ordinary habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed.” In short, Darwin is saying that musical production does not seem to have any overt survival benefit from an evolutionary standpoint. Contemporary research, as the NPR program demonstrates, suggests otherwise: that music is extremely important to survival.

Parenthetical to this topic is a quote by English composer William Byrd (1543-1623), entitled “Reasons briefely set downe by the auctor to perswade every one to learne to singe”.

First, it is a knowledge easely taught, and quickly learned, where there is a good master, and an apt scoller.

Second, the exercise of singing is delightful to nature, and good to preserve the health of Man.

Third, it doth strengthen all parts of the brest, and doth open the pipes.

Fourth, it is a singuler good remedie for a stutting and stamering in speech.

Fifth, it is the best meanes to procure a perfect pronunciation, and to make a good orator.

Sixth, it is the onely way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefir of a good voyce, which guift is so rare, as there is not one among a thousand, that hath it; and in many, that excellent guift is lost, because they want Art to expresse Nature.

Seventh, there is not any musicke of instuments whatsoever, comparable to that which is made of the voyces of Men, where the voyces are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.

Eighth, the better the voyce is, the meeter it is to honour and serve God therewith: and the voyce of man is chiefely to be employed to that ende.

Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learne to singe.

(quoted from The Esstential Canon of Classical Music by David Dubal.)

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