Documentary examines power of music to heal the brain
MONTREAL -- Award-winning director Isabelle Raynauld has spent the past five years investigating the influence music has on the brain in everyone from military veterans, to cancer patients, to premature infants.
In one segment of her latest documentary, Tuning the Brain with Music, Raynauld focuses on a group of girls on the autism spectrum who started a rock band.
Even though some of the girls do not speak, they can communicate through music.
"They have a microphone and she plays guitar and they can sing their day and a lot of them are non-verbal. I've learned so much about music and the benefits are immediate. It doesn't take 20 years of therapy," said Raynauld.
Through her research, Raynauld found that many people can create new pathways in their brain through music.
"It permits them to express emotions that they don't have the words for," she said.
Raynauld has a keen interest in the workings of the brain, having previously directed a documentary about the mental state created by people as they meditate.
But when it comes to music and hearing, her interest is intensely familial: most of her father's siblings, and many of her cousins, are deaf.
Researching this documentary gave Raynauld a chance to talk to scientists and doctors who seek to understand how speech, hearing, and music affect mental health.
One of the researchers featured in the movie is David Poeppel of NYU, who studies the basis of auditory processing, speech perception, and language comprehension
"In the case of speech and language we have very clear theories of what it is that's stored. Informally we call them words. So what you do as the speech is coming towards you is you parse the signal into primitives," which are the functional equivalent of a syllable.
"In the musical case we don't actually know what are the primitives," said Poeppel.
In other words, researchers are still figuring out how to break down a musical tune in the same fashion as a word.
Many people featured in the documentary argue that the healing power of music is undeniable -- and can be instantaneous.
Military veteran Jim Lowther, the founder of Guitars for Vets, says he suffered after his time in Bosnia until the day he picked up his guitar.
"It was like being put into heaven for 15 minutes," said Lowther.
Raynauld said it's up to the individual to discover their own preferred style of music.
"It's not true that classical music is for everyone. Some people like country music, some like blues, some bluegrass. I love bluegrass!" said Raynauld.
Tuning the Brain with Music debuts Friday, Jan. 24 at the Montreal Fine Arts Museum, and the first two screenings will include a question and answer session with Raynauld.