Review: Theme and Variations (Musical Notes by a Neurologist)

Theme and Variations: Musical Notes by a Neurologist







Part neuroscience, part memoir, Theme and Variations: Musical Notes by a Neurologist, explores why humans—unique among the world’s species–play and listen to music, suggesting that it is fundamental to human existence, culture, and well-being. Drawing upon his experiences as a scientist and flutist to examine the importance of music in our lives, Dr. Ellenberger, formerly a professor on the medical faculties of Penn State and Case Western Reserve and founder of the Gretna Music festival in Pennsylvania, addresses such questions as whether learning music makes kids smarter or better at school and in later life, why we each like different kinds of music, how music can help patients like those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and whether music and sex activate the same parts of the brain. Frequently witty and personal, and always accessible, Theme and Variations convinces us that music is an affirmative medium that stimulates us to imagine and embrace our fullest human potential.

Written for physicians, musicians, academics, music-lovers, and curious readers, Dr. Ellenberger’s book draws from mythology, philosophy, history, science, and literature to explore music’s role in the development of our species and diverse cultures. Bridging the professions of medicine and music, he seeks to foster an appreciation on both sides for the brain’s ability to heal body and spirit.

Rating: 4-stars


Theme and Variations: Musical Notes by a Neurologist is a very thorough exploration of music and its effect on us humans. It provided a lot of background history and journey of music. Musicians and regular people were explored on the music topic. Questions of how and why music affects us and why specific ones are more suited to others is explored. It was quite the experience. Most of the information provided was above me. However, I was able to relate and understand some of the content. I knew the purpose of this book. While Theme and Variations answered many questions, it still left other bigger ones in its wake. Will we ever truly know if music can help those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s the way it does for the newborn’s brain growth? Maybe…but more work still needs to be done. It also depends on the individual. Overall, this book was deep, thoughtful, and gave more information on music than most books do. I recommend Carl Ellenberger, MD’s book to all readers. There is plenty to learn from this read.


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