THE POWER OF MUSIC by Elena Mannes


Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song
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Preliminary but striking investigations into the effects of music on everything from string theory to a baby’s cry, from documentarian Mannes.

One of the author’s main avenues of exploration is how music impacts the human body, and in turn how the human body impacts music. Much of that work seeks to understand the nature/nurture origins of the musical experience: Why is there music in the first place, and what evolutionary advantage does it serve? One possible answer is that singing helps attract a mate, but that implies that we must enjoy music on some basic level, which may be answered by the fact that listening to music releases hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. Mannes delivers the findings of scientists in an easy voice—this includes her forays into the thickets of music theory as well as brain structure and its response to music—and she is very clear when the material is conditional or the result of only one study. Many of the early findings are truly surprising: that we may be born with perfect pitch, but lose it if we do not cultivate it; that babies cry in musical intervals of 3rds, 4ths and 5ths; that someone took the time to fashion a flute out of a vulture bone 40,000 years ago; that Neanderthals, who had no spoken language, communicated by singing to one another. The author maintains reader interest by touching on plainly fascinating ideas, such as whether there are elements built into musical structure that elicit emotions and whether those emotions are instinctual or associative; the role of music in the healing arts; and the mystery of entrainment. Mannes also examines the idea of a music of the spheres. “Even the Earth has a hum. Every object has a natural frequency at which to vibrate,” she writes. “Even black holes sing.”

A well-tempered introduction to music’s far-reaching influence on man, beast and cosmos.


Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8027-1996-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2011


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