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Transmission: Tuesday, 3rd June 2008

Oliver Sacks: Tales Of Music And The Brain

Alan Yentob meets neurologist and writer Dr Oliver Sacks, who has made the study of the brain his life's work.

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Oliver Sacks: Tales Of Music And The Brain 

Oliver Sacks: Tales Of Music And The Brain

Oliver Sacks: Tales Of Music And The Brain

Posted: Friday, 30th May 2008

Neurologist and writer Dr Oliver Sacks has made the study of the human brain his life's work. His many acclaimed books (including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings), are filled with the compelling stories of his patients. "Although I seem to talk about illness and damage and problems, my real theme is survival, how people manage to transcend often triumphantly," he says.

His latest book, Musicophila: Tales of Music and the Brain, explores the lives of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary neurological conditions and how music works in their minds in strange and surprising ways. Alan Yentob talks to the charmingly awkward and devoted physician about the miraculous power music has on the human brain and travels to meet some of his remarkable case studies.

In upstate New York, Alan encounters the inspirational Matt Giordano who has suffered from severe Tourette syndrome nearly all his life. It's a condition which made him violent as a child and has continued to overpower him with involuntary movements or tics. Kathy Giordano, Matt's mother says how, "he would come home from school and spin in a circle on the floor for around two hours at a time and he’d be crying 'Mummy, Mummy help me, help me', but if I tried to stop him he'd get angry at me because he needed to complete the tic". Amazingly Matt has found a way to stop his tics: by playing the drums. Now he leads a drumming workshop to help others with Tourettes.

Then there's Tony Cicoria, a respected orthopaedic surgeon who was struck by lightning in 1994 and suddenly developed an insatiable passion to play the piano. Before the accident he had no interest in classical music and or the piano. Afterwards his urge to play was obsessive. "For a long time I thought certainly that the only reason that I was allowed to live was because of the music." Alan meets Tony as he prepares for the first public performance of his The Lightning Sonata, inspired by the events which have changed his life.

Derek Paravicini is blind, autistic and needs round-the-clock care. He is also a musical savant whose astonishing talent leaves Alan speechless. He can listen to a complex piece of music just once, before playing it back faultlessly and has thrilled audiences around the world with his talent and musical skill.

These extraordinary people bring to life the pages of Sacks latest work.

This intimate film follows Alan Yentob as he investigates the amazing impact music can have on the human brain. Inquisitive to understand more he even offers himself up as a guinea pig and has an MRI scan to find out how his brain functions when listening to different types of music, which has some surprising results! Even neurologist, Professor Lawrence Parsons, who carried out the test is shocked by Alan's extreme neurological response to his favourite piece of music.

Oliver Sacks: Tales Of Music And The Brain, BBC One, 3rd June 2008, 10.35pm.



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