Have you ever wondered why music makes you feel so good? In these interactive demonstrations I perform with one or two classical musicians, and we take turns, with me explaining, and the musicians demonstrating live, how the body and the brain are influenced by different kinds of music. We do this with live music because it is so vivid. And because we love doing it that way — and the audiences love it too. I have been aided and abetted by many different musicians, including clarinettist Karl Dürr-Sørensen and French horn player Dominic Nunns (seen above) from the London Symphony Orchestra.  The musicians play enchanting, haunting, and brain-befuddling excerpts of music live on stage, in order to illustrate the aspects of music that wield power over our emotions. Together we show the audience why some music makes us joyous, while other music makes us sad, or angry, or anxious, and how the brain interprets this music. We also show how music plays with your mind – what you think, how you decide what to buy, and even how smart you are.

Music is a long term interest of research in my laboratory. This topic has been presented as two lectures at the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, as a two hour scientific talk (without music) for scientists at the Functional Imaging Laboratories at University College London, as a two-hour entertainment in New York City (with cellist Raul Rothblatt), and it can be expanded or edited to be appropriate for a given audience.  We have also played it with (suitably capable) young musicians, for instance, members of the school where it takes place.

Talk Titles:

You Are What You Hear: How Music Makes US Who We Are

Music, pleasure and the brain I: the essence of music

Music, pleasure and the brain II: the effects of music

Some topics I cover are:

Why do we have music?
What does music do to our emotions?
Can animals hear and understand music?
What does music do to your brain?
Why do people listen to sad music?
Why do some people like classical but others only like heavy metal?
Is there some essential feature to all music?


music interview Harry Witchel Irish Times 2006