Three hundred U3A members gathered at the Royal Society in London on 11thJune, amongst them seven of us from Burnham. We were there to hear Dr. Victoria Williamson of Sheffield University talk about “Music and Memory”.
Dr. Williamson was very excited about her new research in neuroscience, which involves magnetic resonance imaging of peoples’ brains while they are thinking about (not listening to or performing in any way) music. She has discovered that it is not just the auditory parts of the brain which are active when we think about a piece of music, but lots of other areas including movement, emotions and deep memories. Injury to the brain, strokes and dementia tend to damage the cortex which is very vulnerable, but memories involving music are stored deep inside the brain, in the area Dr. Williamson calls the “golden triangle”, and so are often retained, even in cases of severe amnesia. Thus patients with dementia will respond with joy to familiar tunes from their youth, and we were shown a video clip of such people singing and dancing with the musicians from “Lost Chord” – an organisation for whom Terry Saunders sometimes works.
Finally, we were shown the brain scans of some people taken while they were listening to their favourite piece of music – you know – the one which sends shivers down your spine. The whole brain was lit up like a firework display, with all areas responding and dopamine (the happy stuff) being released by the bucketful.