Berklee today

OCT 2015

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 15 of 44

Daniel Levitin '79 is helping people everywhere understand how fundamental music is to human existence. By Mark Small Musician, neuroscientist, author, and educator Daniel Levitin has one of the most diverse résumés of just about any Berklee alumnus you could name. He started his professional music career as a perform- er playing guitar and bass with various groups—includ- ing the California punk band the Mortals. For a decade, he worked in various capacities, from session musician to recording engineer to record producer to amplifer modi- fer, and contributed to recordings by the Grateful Dead, Santana, Blue Öyster Cult, Joe Satriani, Chris Isaak, Narada Michael Walden, and others. Toward the late 1980s, Levitin shifted his focus and traded the stage and studio for the science lab and com- pletion of his college studies, which were left undone previously. He earned his bachelor's degree in cogni- tive science and psychology from Stanford University in 1992 and, later, an M.S. and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Oregon. Music, however, is a thread that runs through everything Levitin has done (his doctoral studies explored perfect pitch in expert and nonexpert populations). He's been a writer throughout all phases of his career penning articles appearing in a range of publications from Billboard and Audio to refereed scientifc journals. He gained wide recognition in 2006 for his book This Is Your Brain on Music. In it, Levitin provides a scientifc explora- tion of how music affects humans in language nonscien- tists can understand. The book spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list and has been translated into 19 languages. In his 2008 follow up, The World in Six Songs, he makes the point that music is far more than entertain- ment. Levitin makes a case that songs falling into six general categories (friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love) shaped the history and evolution of human civilization. This book, too, quickly found its way onto the best-seller lists. Levitin's latest tome, The Organized Mind, sheds light on why many of us feel our brains are being overwhelmed by data—the downside of life in the information age. Levitin states the problem: attention is a limited capacity resource, and then offers suggestions for organizing our minds and our lives to maximize our cranial resources. While the book is pri- marily nonmusical, Levitin couldn't resist mentions of music and musicians throughout. A good portion of Levitin's career has been devoted to educating. Since 1991, he's been teaching in various capac- ities at Stanford; the University of Oregon; University of California, Berkeley, Dartmouth College; and the University of Quebec at Montreal. In 2000, he became a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he has taught neuroscience as well as music theory and computer science. For years he has operated McGill's labo- ratory for musical perception, hosting many international scholars from the feld of psychology of music as well as numerous top musicians. Levitin is currently on a one-year leave from his day-to- day teaching duties at McGill, although he is still running the lab and supervising the work of his doctoral and hon- ors students. He's amid an extensive book tour coordinat- ed with the release of The Organized Mind in paperback. He will also apportion some of his time to serve as the dean of arts and humanities for Minerva, an innovative project undertaken by top educational fgures to create a top-tier university experience for students while holding tuition costs to $10,000 per year. Notwithstanding his substantial credentials as a sci- entist educator, and author, Levitin's role as a musician is at his core. During our free-ranging interview at his San Francisco–area home, the conversation seamlessly transitioned from brain hormones produced through various musical activities to his favorite musicians span- ning the spectrum from Miles Davis to Rodney Crowell to Clare and the Reasons. He also reached for his guitar frequently to make a point. Levitin's work shedding light on the workings of the brain has reverberated across the world. And he'll be the frst to tell you there is still much more to discover. Fall 2015 13 Understanding the n e Musical a l Brain

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Berklee today - OCT 2015