Tag Archives: Radio 4

Music and Memory

Does a life of active involvement in music bestow enhanced memory – more able to withstand the ravages of age? Nina Kraus of the Audio Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois certainly believes so. Why not listen to a short conversation she had with Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM? Scroll forward to 27:50 of this?

The website of the Audio Neuroscience Laboratory is a treasure trove of interesting material.

There is an interesting paragraph about the effects of music on the brain here

Also – have a look at this slide show about the brain’s encoding of music and speech – or the slide show about speech in noise.

There are also three interesting videos on the site:

Leonard Bernstein

A post of John Connell‘s some time ago about polymaths encouraged me to wonder if I regarded anyone in such a light. I immediately thought of pianist, conductor, composer, linguist, educator, broadcaster Leonard Bernstein. Imagine my surprise when I chanced upon his appearance in Radio 4’s biographical programme Great Lives. He’d been chosen as this week’s subject by Charles Hazlewood – in many ways a similar character – who, within a few moments, described Bernstein as a polymath!

If you are interested in connections between music and language, I can think of no better place to explore than Bernstein’s Norton Lectures.

You can hear the programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010626p.


What better way to relax before a concert (Musselburgh Grammar New Year Concert – a neologism brought upon us by adverse weather at Christmas) than messing about with words. Driving home from school, I heard an article on Radio 4’s Open Book about Google’s Ngram software. Basically, this allows you to chart the popularity of a word between 1800 and now in books – approx 15 million of them.

It’s interesting to discover how words grow legs of their own, independent of their original coinage. For a bit of fun, try to predict (before clicking) which of the following words is the only one to enjoy a rise in popularity in last 200 years: heaven, hell, limbo, purgatory.

Can it be used to spot societal trends? Naomi Alderman pointed out, during the programme, the decline of “I must” compared to the rise of “I want.” Chart, though, the counter-intuitive progress of the word celebrity.

I wonder if one day an equivalent will appear for monitoring historical trends in music. What do you think the unit should be? Note? Chord? Voicing? And the method of input?

The use of the word music is interesting. It rose during WW2, peaking sharply around the late 1950s before falling sharply.

p.s. I suspect that neologism is not really a suitable term for a phrase, as opposed to a word. What should one use?

p.p.s I also realise that falling sharply is a musical contradiction – he said, voice rising flatly

Music & Language

For a musician, timing is everything – but it’s often not as much fun as serendipity. I emerged from the today’s post-work swim just in time to hear a piece on Radio 4’s PM on the links between music and language. This is one of the topics on the agenda of the American Association for the Advancement of Science‘s forthcoming conference.

You can hear the piece here (approx 5 mins long – scroll forward to 0:44:20) for the next seven days. There is mention (and sometimes demonstration) of:

  • how the enhanced audio/language processing skills in musicians are exactly those diminished in certain “clinical populations”
  • how the electrical activity in the brain mirrors much more exactly the patterns of music recently heard than would be possible in the case of speech – the corollary being that frequent, active exposure to music can strengthen language processing
  • how the eye contact necessary in some music therapy activities can strengthen the social skills of the most withdrawn
  • how a stroke patient, struggling to recall the content of an out-of-context lyric, seemed suddenly capable of total recall when asked to sing the same lyric
  • the differing opinions of Darwin, Spencer and Rousseau on whether music grew from language, language from music, or whether they emerged as co-dependants

Vox Project

Always a source of fascination, Radio 4 is launching Vox Project – researching the oldest instrument on Earth – the human voice. Listeners/readers are invited to send recordings of their voice, engaged in one of various comparative tasks, to the researchers at UCL. The one which particularly interested me (and possibly many of you) is the difference in one’s voice when teaching as opposed, say, to chatting to friends. Schools are full of digital recorders now so why not get involved.

You can send recordings via Audioboo (if you have a iPhone or Android Phone) – otherwise you can upload to Youtube and email a link to info@whistledown.net

The site also features:

I’ve said it before but I’m often struck by how important our voices are in teaching and how little we really know about them. Or is it just me?

Guitarists talking guitar

Radio 4 is broadcasting a series of five short programmes this week (Mon – Fri, 15:45 – 16:00) about guitar style and technique. Each day, Joan Armatrading discusses playing ideas, tunings etc. with one of five players: Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, John Williams, Russel Lissack and Bert Jansch.


The Rest Is Noise

Having mentioned Alex Ross’ book The Rest Is Noise a couple of times here, I was interested to see that it features as this week’s Book of the Week on Radio 4 (details and Listen Again here). The possibly puzzling title is dealt with in the first few moments. It concerns our relationship with 20th Century music – the classical component of which remains problematic for many listeners. I’m sure the same sad state of affairs obtains, although to a lesser extent, in the visual arts, literature, dance etc. There seems to be something about sound which brings out the conservative in many of us.

I yet to read this read this book but have to admit to having being impressed by Alex Ross’ demeanour at the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. One of six finalists, he looked genuinely delighted for Kate Summerscale whose book, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or The Murder at Road Hill House won the award.



I heard a resonant expression today on Radio 4’s Click On*: “reconnecting people with their neighbours – with their community – with identities, perhaps that are stronger than their towns or cities.” The speaker, Andy Price, was referring to online communities in a conversation about individuals’ online contributions to their local newspapers.

While I wouldn’t describe my virtual connections as stronger than my 3-dimensional ones, I would defend them as being every bit as real. For example, if it’s true that you are what you read then influence, in the form of recommendations, reviews, links etc. is as likely to come from someone I may perhaps never meet than from a first life friend or colleague. I find this no stranger than the fact that I’ve have yet to set eyes on new neighbours in our tenement (whose door is two metres from ours) since they moved in four months ago.

It’s in the nature of peripateticism not to see most pupils for 80% of the week. Months can pass between sightings of colleagues with whom I apparently share a building. Yet those who participate in eduBuzz – by reading, writing or commenting – enjoy both heightened connectivity and instant access.

In that regard I hope, over the next few weeks, to follow as much as possible of the online course entitled Connectivism offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes – which kicks off today.

* You can Listen Again to that broadcast until Monday 15th at 16:30. The programme also contains an interesting article on forensic linguistics.