Science supports value of CSO

May 22, 2008
To the Dispatch Editor:

Although I am trained as a scientist, I write to argue that our community, indeed our society, can best be served by devoting more energy and funding to the arts. It is a point of view that merits serious consideration in light of the CSO board’s recent decision to pull the plug on the orchestra.

Modern science now provides abundant and convincing evidence that music is a biological imperative that is encoded in our genes. We know, for instance, that music is a kind of intelligence for which aptitude is inborn. Infants clearly respond to music, even in utero, and show preferences for specific sounds and rhythms as early as four months of age. All human cultures, even prehistoric ones, have music suggesting that music is simply a part of being human.

A multitude of scientific studies show the salutary effects of music-listening on human physiology. For instance, cardiac care and angina patients require fewer drugs if they listen to music. Comatose patients who cannot communicate still respond to music. Music can be used to teach deaf children to read and autistic kids with language deficiencies.

We also know that processing of music by the brain is an activity that requires integrated action of the right and left hemispheres. Although there is no “music center” in the brain as there is for language, when the brain processes melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and other elements of music, it does so by distributing the activity all over the brain. In this sense, music is very close to “mental swimming” in that it exercises so much of the brain through a single activity. It is, perhaps, no surprise that music improves memory, increases processes of complex ideas and the retention of that information. In fact, evidence shows that if we want to increase math scores in K-12 education, we should consider doing it by teaching music.

Music is a gift that a civilized society gives to its children. Music enriches and ennobles lives. It is a foil for the ugliness and depravity of the world. To allow the world-class Columbus Symphony Orchestra to be silenced for fiscal problems that can be surmounted with a little creative thinking is unforgiveable. Or as Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it: “they understand the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

Susan W. Fisher
Professor and Chair, Department of Entomology
Leader, Faculty Working Group in Music and Biology
Ohio State University

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