“Music and the Mind” Explained by Dr. Patrick Whelan

Brain activity listening to music.

Dr. Patrick Whelan will speak on “Music and the Mind” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Mary 16, in the Palisades Library Community Room, 861 Alma Real. This fascinating program is free and sponsored by Friends of the Palisades Library.

In an April 23, 2024 interview on NPR (“How Music Can Be Both a Physical and an Emotional Experience.”) click here. Whelan, who specializes in pediatric rheumatology, spoke about why he wanted he started teaching a course at Harvard University on music and the mind.

“Music can be a profound experience, that’s both physical and emotional,” he said, and noted that in 2005, he lectured at a meeting for the Global Music Healing Institute. Then he had discovered a set of six lectures that Leonard Bernstein had given in 1973 called “The Unanswered Question,” which explored the meaning of music and why we enjoy it.

“As I watched these and listened to him and read about them, I came to appreciate that he really had a prescient understanding of why it is that music has so much power in our lives emotionally and also involving our health,” said Whelan, who said this subject has important implications for understanding our extraordinary capacity for musical memory, the relationship between music and emotion, the role of songs that get stuck in our minds, and alterations in music perception experienced by patients suffering from conditions such as autism, stroke and dementia.

Dr. Patrick Whelan

Whelan grew up in Pacific Palisades and worked as a typesetter at the Palisadian-Post, while attending Loyola High School.

Initially, he thought about journalism as a career, but after working as a Spanish translator for a medical team in the Dominican Republic, he changed his path. He received a biochemistry degree from Harvard, and his Ph.D. and Medical degrees at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

After completing his degrees, he joined the Harvard faculty and took over the pediatric rheumatology program at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

In 2010, he attended a Corpus reunion in the Palisades and realized how much he missed Southern California. He commuted between the two coasts for seven years, before making the move here permanent.  He joined the Keck/USC faculty at the Children’s Hospital in 2011 and in June 2018, he joined the pediatric faculty at UCLA. He was selected as President of the Los Angeles Pediatric Society that same year.

“Musical memory is extraordinary that we have the ability 40, 50, 60 years later to remember melodies and lyrics that we heard as a child,” Whelan said on NPR. “And then there’s a related issue, which is that even in people with dementia who have lost the ability to speak, they still have a capacity to recall these kinds of musical motives.”

President of the Friends of Palisades Library Laura Schneider said, “I think this topic will be of real interest to the community members.”

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