Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas & Bach: Kandel & Dementia!

Christmas Anemone 

© Am Ang Zhang 2014 


As I listen to Bach's Christmas Oratorio I am reminded of the work of Kandel on memory. Why is it that listening to the same piece of music as rarely as once a year evoke such pleasing brain syntonic response.

There is now a fair bit of research on the use of music for dementia patients. This is encouraging. 

However, the work of Kandel showed that it would have been more beneficial if the memory of the music were imputed at an early age only for the brain to be stimulated at a much later age for maximum beneficial effect.

The Cockroach Catcher was very pleased to be at  La Traviata as it was one of those operas that you do know inside out. The scenes might be different but the music essentially stimulates the re-programming of Kandel's memory proteins. 

I am reminded of the grand father of one of my daughter's good friend who at the age of 102 was still playing Chopin Preludes a few days before he passed away. He had full command of his mental capacity until his death.

Could taking away much of classical music education have a devastating effect on the memory health of the nation as a whole? If so, should we not bring it back to give most of us a fighting chance?

Britain might then be able to supply the next generation of musicians as a result.


Think about it, SoS and Mr. Simon Stevens.

Eric Kandel, M.D.:
"We are what we are through what we have experienced and what we have remembered."          

In 2001 I was fortunate enough to be in New Orleans for the American Psychiatric Association Annual Conference. One of the lectures attracted a long queue and it turned out that the Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel was giving his lecture. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a seat.


"What learning does is to change the strength of the synaptic connections in the brain," Kandel explained, "and this has held true for every form of learning so far analyzed. So, what genetic and developmental processes do is specify the cells that connect to each other, but what they do not specify is the exact strength of those connections. Environmental contingencies, such as learning, play a significant part in the strength of those connections.""Different forms of learning result in memories by changing that strength in different ways. Short-term memory results from transient changes that last minutes and does not require any new synthesis of proteins, Kandel said. However, long-term memories are based in more lasting changes of days to weeks that do require new brain protein to be synthesized. And this synthesis requires the input of the neuron’s genes."


In his book In Search Of Memory, he remembered his arrival in New York in 1939 after a year under the Nazi in Vienna:

“My grandfather and I liked each other a great deal, and he readily convinced me that he should tutor me in Hebrew during the summer of 1939 so that I might be eligible for a scholarship at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, an excellent Hebrew parochial school that offered both secular and religious studies at a very high level. With his tutelage I entered the Yeshiva in the fall of 1939. By the time I graduated in 1944 I spoke Hebrew almost as well as English, had read through the five books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Prophets and the Judges in Hebrew, and also learned a smattering of the Talmud.”

Eric Kandel/Amazon


“It gave me both pleasure and pride to learn later that Baruch S. Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976, had also benefited from the extraordinary educational experience provided by the Yeshivah of Flatbush.”

In Hebrew and English!!! That did not seem to have done him and Blumberg much harm. Right now some governments seem hell bent in doing away with rote learning and that includes some medical schools.


Vienna was, as recently as 1939, the year he and his family fled the city for the United States, the most important cultural center in the German-speaking world. "The city's great tradition of scholarship provided a foundation for experiments in literature, science, music, architecture, philosophy and art, experiments from which many modern ideas were derived," he writes. "Vienna's culture was one of extraordinary power, and it had been created and nourished in good part by Jews." The Nazis drove out those Jews they did not murder, and with their departure a city of verve and excitement — a city of intense intellectualism and the acme of cultural attainment — became a prosaic place.

If there is another book that does a better job of demonstrating how biological research is done, or of telling the story of a brilliant scientist's career, I don't know it. Nor do I know one that better conveys the unique excitement that drives the success of research and permeates the thinking of its most able practitioners, or that gives a better descriptive narrative of the historical evolution of our understanding of mind. True, in places the detail is so minute and technical that certain parts of it will prove to be nearly inscrutable to any but the most diligent reader, or to those with a background in molecular science. But it hardly makes a difference if some passages are judiciously skimmed. Like the good teacher he no doubt is, Kandel has sprinkled his more abstruse sections with an occasional summary sentence that clarifies entire previous pages. His is an important and marvelous book. Sigmund Freud and the illustrious cavalcade of pioneering neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers who have contributed so much to our understanding of the human mind during the past century would look with pleasure on it.
La Traviata

Apparently the prima, the week before (I attended the second performance, on December 16th), was thrown into disarray when tenor Stephen Costello cancelled just an hour before the performance. There were no problems with Mr Decker’s tricky staging or ensembles on the 16th. Musically and dramatically well-prepared, soloists, chorus and orchestra were on top form. Marina Rebeka, whose only previous Met performances were as an unimpressive Donna Anna in Michael Grandage’s tedious Don Giovanni four years ago, was a superb Violetta.

Attractive, comfortable on stage (and standing on the minimalist furniture), and with a shining soprano, she negotiated the coloratura difficulties of the first act with ease, even touching on an interpolated high E flat at the close of “Sempre libera”. She has several degrees of pianissimo as well; the spun lines of “Dite alle giovane” and “Addio del passato” were lovely and touching. She uses no chest voice at all and it was occasionally missed late in the opera, but the voice opens up to a grand size when needed, and she did well with “Amami, Alfredo” and her death scene. She should be a valuable asset to New York’s opera lovers.





Other Opera Posts:

NHS: Learning From Boris


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