THE POWER OF MUSIC

A scientist and two musicians will demonstrate to the public how the brain
and body and are influenced by different kinds of music at the Dana Centre
in London on Friday 18 March.

Dr Harry Witchel from the University of Bristol will explain how music
causes the brain to respond to music by drawing on memories and associations that can bring on good or bad feelings. "Music can stimulate our emotions.

Some elements of music are registered in the same way as vocal sounds or the tone of a voice" says Dr Witchel, whose event, 'Music, Pleasure and the
Brain' takes place during Brain Awareness Week (14 - 20 March).

To illustrate how music affects our senses and plays with our memory, French
horn player Dominic Nunns and clarinettist Karl Dürr-Sørensen from the New
London Orchestra will play a variety of music live on stage at the Dana
Centre. "Sometimes music brings on emotions that appear to conflict with
each other. Think of a scary movie, for example: a slow, staccato beat may
be frightening but at the same time pleasurable because you know it is only
a film," he says. Previous research has shown that many people work better
if they like the background music. "Imagine how tedious aerobics classes
would be without music with a lively beat," he says.

The sounds we hear enter the auditory cortex of the brain and are correlated
with our store of previous memories to interpret the music. Although music
is not 'hard-wired' into our brains in the way, for example, breathing is,
listening to music involves a number of brain regions. It is thought that
the left hemisphere picks up the rhythm while the right hemisphere deals
with pitch and melodies. At the same time the language areas in both
hemispheres perform the same function in music as they do in speech, and
analyse harmonic sequences. Usually, music makes us feel good and this is
because messages are transmitted to the reward system of the brain.

Dr Witchel, who works in the department of physiology at Bristol University,
has been a musician for more years than he has been a scientist. He has
played drums in bands and has produced music since the early 1980s. "Music
has always had a profound effect on me and as we were studying the effects
of pleasure on the heart and the brain in the laboratory, we are now putting
the two together," he says.

To this end, Dr Witchel is about to start pilot research project to
investigate the changes in the body in response to music. Around 10 people
in their late teens and early 20s will be linked to a heart monitor whilst
different pieces of music are played, usually known to induce happiness,
sadness, fear or anxiety and irritation. The study will compare the effects
of the different kinds of music on the heart and circulation with the
effects of physical exercise.

"Music is integral to our lives regardless of race or culture and we want to
discover how it wields such power over our emotions," says Dr Witchel.

Music, Pleasure and the Brain - 7.00 - 8.30 at the Dana Centre, 165 Queen's
Gate, South Kensington, London SW7. Nearest tube Gloucester Place or S.
Kensington - www.danacentre.org.uk Tickets are free - contact
[email protected]