This is your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

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Sub-titled "The Science of a Human Obsession", this book is written for a general audience about the neurological, evolutionary, cultural scientific understanding of the what and why of music.

The author is both a renowned researcher in the neuroscience of music and a music producer / recording engineer who worked with some of the top musicians of the 70's and 80's.  So he brings a unique perspective, at once scientific and very informed by a deep understanding of musicality and its unique pull on our emotional lives.

The most compelling part of the book, for me, is when he tells a story about a Western researcher living in a small village in South Africa who is asked to join the villagers in song and dance...

"... when asked to sing with these Sotho Villagers, Jim said in a soft voice, "I don't sing", and it was true... he was an excellent oboe player, but couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  The villagers found his objection puzzling and inexplicable.  Ths Sotho consider singing an ordinary, everyday activity performed by everyone, young and old, men and women, not an activity reserved for a special few."

"Our culture, and indeed our very language, makes a distinction between a class of expert performers - the Arthur Rubinsteins, Ella Fitzgeralds, Paul McCarneys - and the rest of us.  The rest of us pay money to hear the experts entertain us. ... [to a Westerner] a public display of singing and dancing implies one thinks oneself an expert."

This story reveals the duality of performer / audience in Western culture's conception of musical ability, and hints that we have developed a cultural inhibition to freely making music.  Throughout the book the author returns to this theme reminding us that even the most ardent "non-musician" has incredible musical ability... "We have the congitive capacity to detect wrong notes, to find music we enjoy, to remember hundreds of melodies, and to tap our feet in time with the music - an activity that involves a process of meter extraction so complicated that most computers cannot do it."

"A couple of generations ago, before the television, many families would sit around and play music together for entertainment. Nowadays there is a great emphasis on technique and skill, and whether a musician is 'good enough' to play for others.  Music making has become a somewhat reserved activity in our culture, and the rest of us listen."

As I read this, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to live on Lasqueti, where, even with such a wealth of talented performers and musicians, there seems to be a gracious acceptance, perhaps even appreciation and encouragement, for anyone willing to loosen their inhibitions and simply sing, dance, and perform for the sheer joy of it.  Grub and Groove is the greatest expression of this, with the stage shared by performers at all levels of technical expertise - from kids singing children songs through award winning professional musicians.  And all to the great acclaim of the world's best audience - it fills my heart, and fills me with anticipation every month through winter.