Thank you, Michael. I will keep listening to you.
By the time I married, I had become an elitist, wrapped in the culture of classical music, fine art, etc. My Christianity kept me grounded. My passion for understanding human behavior kept doors open in my mind. But my husband’s emphasis on folk forms was a revelation to me, although folklore can be considered an offshoot of English, which was my academic focus, and of anthropology and the social sciences, which had under-girded my professional work in educational publishing and research. My art and music were central to my way of life, but I thought of them as peripheral to my mental work. His work, which he drew me into, corrected the elitist in me; the blunt portrayal of the uncomfortable reality represented in folk art corrected me; as did our gradual impoverishment. I, who had been the quintessential people-person, learned to accept the social isolation of Ozark mountain life.
However, folklore was losing popularity and, therefore, funding. Circumstances moved us back to Canada (he is from Iowa but studied in Newfoundland, the first Ph.D. in folklore from a Canadian English university). Not all of our children were flourishing, especially the dyslexic child. Drugs moved into our rural community. Two of the children slid into the drug culture. Dan’s dyslexia (and my chronic fatigue syndrome) eventually were healed with the Tomatis Method, a technique of listening with headphones to electronically modified Mozart violin concertos. How did that work? The practitioners did not actually know; they just knew some responded to the treatment and some did not.
Dan became schizophrenic and the Tomatis folks would not allow him to continue treatment. The psychiatrists said the music therapy had caused his schizophrenia. How could one of us be healed and the other harmed? Especially since the first signs were a very dramatic healing of his dyslexia? They were dead wrong, but it took almost a decade for me to prove it. I learned things about schizophrenia no one else had noticed. I am sure our relatively isolated location enabled my observations; in an urban setting I would have been overwhelmed by acquiescence to urban, elitist values, including accepting the ignorance of the medical/psychiatric profession. One day, Daniel reached out for my headphones and within 30 seconds I saw the kinds of changes in his facial expression and posture like the dramatic changes that happened when his dyslexia was being cured with music. Within six weeks of listening to music with his right ear all his symptoms of schizophrenia disappeared. But not his addictions. Two years later, when he became schizophrenic again, he started the same music therapy, doing simple art projects like coloring mandalas.
My research began in earnest as I tried to find out if others had noticed what I had observed about his symptoms. No one had. I taught myself some neurology and kept digging. By the end of that year, Daniel had been healed again of very severe schizophrenia and I had written a book describing a new paradigm of human behavior based in the anatomy of the ear, which changes when it is exposed to high-frequency music. Incredibly simple: the tiny stapedius muscle is strengthened when it is vibrated. It is strengthened in the specific way that allows those frequencies to be conveyed more fully and more accurately into the brain. That muscle is the hinge on the “gate” (the stirrup or stapes) that controls the higher frequencies of sound reaching the inner ear.
The inner ear consists of the vestibular organs that control the body’s orientation in space and how the limbs move and the cochlea that controls the flow of sound energy through the brain stem and temporal lobes — it runs the nervous system. It depends on stimulation by particular frequencies of sound. The right ear controls the sound flow to the left-brain and the left ear controls the sound flow to the right-brain — in people with a normally strong right ear stapedius muscle. The left-brain dominates the right-brain in their integrative activities because the right-ear route of sound is shorter: sound arrives first in the left-brain via the right ear. The meaning in language sounds forms the left-brain language centers that produce thought and speech. When the right ear is weak, the left ear takes over, which it may do erratically, but its neurological connections are not symmetrical to those of the right ear. When sound arrives in the left-brain more slowly but more clearly via the left ear,that’s where behavior problems begin.
For example, dyslexics are listening and hearing the flow of sound from both ears but the same sounds are arriving at different times and with different “frequency profiles.” Confusion reigns: and we speak what we hear, so jumbled grammar and syntax confuses the listener, too. Endless repetition hardly helps when the apparatus for listening consistently scrambles the input. Social communication breaks down. Frustration in the child, who has low control over his emotions, turns to conflict and the flow of “love” between the child and everyone in his environment is impeded. Low dominance by the rational left-brain allows the emotional right-brain more influence on behaviour. The child “acts out.” Force is applied from without. Frustration segues into despair. The child, now a teen, seeks escape from the pain, away from rational states of consciousness into right-brain states of consciousness. Drugs and alcohol and other pleasurable behavior provides that escape, which defines addiction. In schizophrenia (and autism), there is no left-brain dominance: the hemispheres switch in influence every two minutes. Strengthening the right ear muscle improves the flow of sound energy to the left, rational brain, enabling the person to learn, including learning self-control. Music can be a route out of addictions as it keeps repairing the substance-damaged ear muscle. Daniel fought off one addiction after the other during the ensuing 8 years, but he had lost many opportunities for normal social development and we live in an economically depressed part of the country. His younger brother was his buddy in bad times, but he was battling other demons and heroically had taken on a corrupt legal system. Unfairly imprisoned, he thought he would escape the misery of weekends in jail with just a tiny bit of meth and had a massive left-temporal lobe stroke. Daniel smoked pot to the point of inducing his first psychosis since 2008. He hoped music would help him again, and it has. His younger brother is making a remarkable recovery, but that’s another story. Daniel was schizophrenic from late December last year until the 22 of July when his right ear strength returned to the point where it consistently produced left-brain dominance. As this incident seems to have ended his marijuana addiction, he may never return to a state of schizophrenia. Although cigarettes, his first and last addiction, can cause seizures (that can be cured with music) so they may also produce psychosis over time.
Singing and making music on stringed instruments is the folk method of keeping one’s sanity, of learning normally, and of maintaining physical health. Of course, music can be elitist, too. There’s no reason why we cannot live in both or all musical worlds. As the vestibule and cochlea receive the same frequencies of sound from the middle ear, the vestibule responds with the body movements we call “dancing.” Body muscle movement is controlled by the ear the same way the muscles of the larynx are controlled by the ear. That feedback to the ear can fatigue this tiny muscle, so the dancing slows down even though the music plays on. The same ear mechanism that allows sound into the brain reduces the sound flow when it becomes fatigued. Thus, our ears put us to sleep and wake us up and they produce all the physiological changes in our body that characterize waking and sleeping and every state of consciousness in between. Schizophrenia is like being mostly asleep.
Other mental illnesses are various stages of decreasing left-brain dominance. Daniel passed through identifiable mental illnesses during his recovery in a specific order (three decreasing levels of severity of schizophrenia, bipolar I, bipolar II, OCD, mild depression, dyslexia, then normal left-brain dominance and normal speeds of integration; and he passed through them very rapidly during the onset of schizophrenia in the reverse order. Depression is a failure of the left ear to supply the right, emotional brain with enough sound energy. A French otolaryngologist, who cured all of his 233 suicidal patients who came for treatment using his adaptation of the Tomatis Method, determined they had audio deficits at 2 and 8 kiloHertz, usually in the left ear. His work suggests every form of behavior aberration has a characteristic frequency deficit profile in one ear or the other or both.
We need sound stimulation to be healthy. People who live in rural and wilderness settings, in monastic orders, or in other places of extreme quiet need supplementary aural stimulation. Singing is at least a partial solution to isolation. Mental illness is a condition of sound-deprivation. We carry our voices with us so the habit of singing can be a life-saver.
This learning applies to folks everywhere because it’s a function of human anatomy. It is expressed in the folk traditions of all peoples: music sung and played, in dancing, in story-telling that depends on memory (schizophrenics lose their ability to remember in the normal way because “remembering” is the left-brain retrieving words and images from the right-brain), and in all the ways culture is transmitted orally and in some types of demonstration, such as learning to make and play musical instruments. The same principles apply to formal teaching of reading and writing, and the arts that depend on those types of materials.
Music not only enhances the performance of the brain and body, it corrects an astonishing array of problems that interfere with performance. I hope you will spread the good news that music not only lifts the spirit but heals the ear and changes the mind.
Thank you for listening!