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Oliver Sacks - Healing using music



Type of Spiritual Experience


Dr Peregrine Horden – Musical solutions

Awakenings was Oliver Sacks's famous account of the 'semi-survivors' of the sleeping sickness epidemic of the 1920s, patients very often immobilized into post-encephalitic Parkinsonism until revivified in various ways over four decades later by the 'miracle drug' L-DOPA. Fascination with their history is such that the book has run through several editions and its contents have inspired plays, documentaries and a feature fiIm.

In the book, as in some of its reincarnations, 'music has been the profoundest non-chemical medication for our patients'. Music roused the akinetic to normal movement and calmed the excited - for the duration of its playing. A musician patient, who knew all Chopin by heart, had merely to be told an opus number to play the music over to herself in her mind. Most, of course, needed mechanical assistance:

A description of the experience

Awakenings – Dr Oliver Sacks

One minute would see Miss D. compressed, clenched, and blocked, or jerking, ticking, and jabbering - like a sort of human bomb; the next, with the sound of music from a wireless or gramophone, the complete disappearance of all these . . , and their replacement by a blissful ease and flow of movement ... It was necessary that the music be legato; staccato music (and- -especially percussion bands) sometimes had a bizarre effect ...

The source of the experience

Sacks, Oliver

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy