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Science
HERE'S ONE I PREPARED EARLIER
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Georgina Ferry explores the science of musical memory.
Wednesday 24 March 2004 9.00-9.30pm

It’s every musician’s worst nightmare – forgetting the notes in front of a live audience. But how do performers ever remember them in the first place? Georgina Ferry explores the mysterious science of musical memory.

Musical memory
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Imagine the scenario – you’ve just been handed your one big chance as a singer: to sing the leading role, Wotan, in Wagner’s massive Ring Cycle. Then it dawns on you, you’re going to have to commit the whole thing to memory – words, music, stage directions, everything. That’s exactly what happened to bass Matthew Best. So how did he do it, and how does a pianist like John Lill prepare to perform Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas all without the help of a score?

In Here’s One I Prepared Earlier Georgina Ferry talks to both musicians and researchers to try to find out how the brain performs this amazing feat. Careful measurement of electrical activity in the brain shows how performers can condense the music do manageable proportions, and we learn about the role of muscular memory reducing the load further.

Not all humans are the same either. Autistic musicians often exhibit phenomenal capacity for memorising performance, and according to the latest research may use very different mental techniques to reproduce music. Even more revealing is one researcher’s work exploring the way we recall long sequences of quick notes. Memory lapses here, it seems, can often be simply ‘the right notes at the wrong time.’ Vindication at last for a certain Eric Morecambe?
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