MusicophiliaEnglish neurologist Oliver Sacks has been a great popularizer of literature on the vagaries of the brain, with bestsellers like Awakenings (made into a film starring Robin Williams) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (made into an opera by Michael Nyman). A large number of the cases of neurological disorders he documents have to do with patients whose musical abilities were unlocked, or amplified, or remained unimpaired, when an injury or disorder otherwise ravaged their cognitive abilities. (The man who couldn’t distinguish between his wife and a hat, for instance, was an expert singer whose musical gifts stayed intact.) Sacks devotes his newest book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, to research about the topic and to some of his most fascinating musical case studies. One finding he reports is that while most artistic work leaves the brain physically unaltered, musicians have brains that are noticeably different from the average: the corpus callosum, which connects the two halves of the brain, is larger, providing a more substantial connection, and the visual, spatial, auditory and motor areas of the cerebellum are also enlarged. This information might bring some comfort to performers or composers scrambling to make it in the cutthroat music business (at least they've got expanded brains!), as well as to music teachers who wonder if the effort to get their students to practice is really worth the struggle. It should also cause legislators and administrators to think twice before snipping music classes out of our school systems. And it would be terrific if the idea provided the incentive for the person who always wanted to sing or play an instrument to make the leap and just do it. The pleasure they experience in making their own music should be plenty of reward, even if they can’t feel their corpus callosum bulking up.