Alice Parker Week: Food, Sex, and Music

It’s Alice Parker Week: In addition to being a living legend as a composer and arranger, Alice is a beautifully polished author. Her writings exhibit the same clarity and parsimony of her music. I’ve selected some quotes from her books as meditations for this week.

An Associated Press in today’s newspaper cites a scientific study that proves that ‘some people have a powerful emotional response to music’. How amazing! How prescient we are to have known this all along – and where were the disbelievers? It goes on to say that ‘melodies can stimulate the same parts of the brain as food and sex’. Aha! Another of my cherished beliefs. I knew that food and song were intimately connected (food in, song out) but the addition of the third component provides a gratifying (literally) bonus.


The article ends with the comment that food and sex are necessary for the survival of the species, but, Dr. Blood asserts, “music did not develop strictly for survival purposes.”

How does she know? If music, food and sex activate the brain in the same way, isn’t it possible that music provides some basic function that she hasn’t yet guessed at? Isn’t she asking the wrong question? Since music seems so important, isn’t it doing something that we haven’t yet determined, and cannot yet measure? The question transposed is: Why is music so important to the survival of the species? If it is, why are we not educating our children in it, intensively, all through their school years?


Back to the brain, and choral music. Dr. Blood doesn’t even think to ask what happens when four, or sixteen, or forty, or a hundred voices and instruments achieve that ‘chill’, that ecstasy, at the same moment – and sustain it for seconds that feel like eternity. Or what happens when an audience is drawn into that same experience. Isn’t it possible that ensemble music provides us with a model of what our society is capable of being? That if we practice this skill daily, and share it with our neighbors, respecting all the other cultures that cherish their inheritance (yes, even the rock ‘n’ rollers), we have a blue-print for the world as it might be?

From Reflections on Song: My Musical World, pages 92-93 (Nov. 2001)

Fascinating – the scientist sees three experiences lighting up the same parts of the brain, and says, “How stranger that unimportant music is treated the same by the brain as these important functions?” It takes Alice, the musician and brilliant observer of the world, to say, “Why does the brain think music is as important to our survival as food and sex?”

It’s all in how you view the world – how you phrase the question. I want to view it more like Alice, don’t you?

A beloved plate hangs on my wall at home.