The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
Daniel J. Levitin
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 4, 2009
The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Natureby Daniel J. Levitin
Plume, 358 pp., $16 (paper)
As anyone who knows their ABCs can attest, songs transmit information in a way that brands memory. In his follow-up to 2006's fascinating This Is Your Brain on Music, musician/neuroscientist Daniel Levitin sets out to demonstrate music's centrality to the development of humanity's more distinguished characteristics. His unwieldy framework for doing this divides all songs into six categories: songs of knowledge, friendship, joy, comfort, religion, and love. Although Levitin offers plenty of personal and historical anecdotes to support his categories, this approach ultimately feels forced and unsatisfying. Ironically, it's the author's own compelling descriptions of how song structures lend themselves to constructive memory and representational thinking that undermine his reductionist taxonomy. Given the vast array of personal and contextual proclivities toward responding (or not responding) to songs, how can we definitively say what a "comfort" song is? R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" might not feel so uplifting if played to promote capture shock at a military prison. Even if you don't buy the titular assertion of Six Songs, there's still plenty to learn from Levitin's endearing narrative. It's the perfect holiday gift for school board members prone to dismissing the value of music education.