By Paul Roberts
Special to The PREVIEW
Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free hand-drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at noon.
The class offers a welcoming environment that encourages fun, creativity, playfulness and connecting with others.
Music is a language the whole world speaks. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have found evidence that the processing of music and language depend on some of the same brain systems.
In “The Human Side of Music,” published in 1948, musicologist Charles W. Hughes writes, “In a shrewd and imaginative book, ‘The Maltese Cat,’ Leon Underwood has described the way in which the cat hero learned to understand human speech. The cat early on discovered that the important factor in human speech was not the words used, but the inflection, the color of the voice. The clue to the real significance of what was said was to be found in the emotional undercurrent which was revealed (often against the speaker’s will) by the quality of his voice, by the subtle melody of speech.
“The fantasy has its solid kernel of truth. Speech is not merely a medium for communication of facts. It also communicates emotion. This it does through vocal modulation, through the timbre of the voice, as well as many other factors, such as speed of delivery and facial expression. But since the voice does oscillate between sounds of varying pitch, we may truly say that speech is a vague and subtle kind of melody.”
While working as a music therapist at McLean, a psychiatric hospital, I recorded an interview with a patient named John.
“Within the realm of music and playing with a group of people, you become closer to them and you find out where they’re really at,” he said. “Music, I feel, is a communication all of itself. When Drew is playing the guitar and I’m singing, it’s like we’re talking to each other, even though we’re not facing each other and articulating words that people who were listening could understand. We are feeling the same thing, we’re talking the same language. When I see you playing the bass, I know what you’re doing and you’re talking to me. When Bill is beating on those drums, I know what he’s doing, I know what he’s saying. He’s expressing thoughts and feelings that come across really clear.
“I ad lib about half the verses I sing. They mean very significant things to me, and I think certain people in the audience, friends of mine, loved ones, know what they mean, also. These verses come from my heart. Talking to a person, one to one, I might feel, as I do now, a little inhibited. But when I’m up there and the music is just going, my head is clear, I feel completely uninhibited and my real gut feelings can come out.
“Music helps me get a bearing on where I’m at. Music is a common denominator throughout the world, and people’s feeling just come out.
“Every individual in our group is playing a different instrument and he’s saying something. He’s saying angry things, he’s saying loving things, he’s saying what he feels. Even the guitar player is speaking. The drummer is speaking.”
A feline view of the subtle melody of speech, and a recovering rock singer’s perspective on how music speaks, show an overlapping of two modes of communication, two languages emanating from shared systems in the human brain.
Neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work. Research shows that playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout, engaging and strengthening just about every area of the brain at once.
Whether you’re interested in strengthening your brain circuits, immersing in a creative group process or channeling your inner cat, you’re welcome to come check out the hand-drumming class.
For more information about the Pagosa hand-drumming class, email email@example.com or call 731-3117. The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave.
By Paul Roberts