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Protected: The sound of a roaring birthday girl

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Protected: The sound of a sinking feeling

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In the arms of an angel

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There are many beautiful songs out there, and this is one of my favorites at the moment.

McLachlan wrote it after hearing that Jonathan Melvoin, the keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins died after a heroin overdose in 1996.

“I wrote “Angel” after being on the road for almost two years straight and was both mentally and physically drained,” McLachlan wrote. “I went to a cottage north of Montreal to relax and write and read an article in Rolling Stone about the Smashing Pumpkins keyboard player who had OD’ed in a hotel room.”

She continued, “the story shook me because though I have never done hard drugs like that, I felt a flood of empathy for him and that feeling of being lost an lonely an desperately searching for some kind of release.”

The song has had enduring popularity and has been used in a number of different ways, with some uses (such as in a child memorial) misconstruing the lyrics. McLachan said during a Reddit AMA that she doesn’t mind that it gets used in so many different ways. “I think once an artist puts a song out there, it becomes open to interpretation, and I purposefully leave a certain amount of ambiguity in songs so that people can relate the songs to themselves and to their stories,” she said.

“And for me, it’s a great validation as an artist to know that something I’ve created has gone out there in the world and helped people to heal, or to feel something, in a profound way like that.”

For me, the song is about safety when everything feels like it`s falling apart. A symbol that at our darkest moments, there is someone who wants to protect us.

The uncontrollable 3-year old inside 

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She was an unpredictable beautiful 20 year-old girl. Fire within her, that was often quenched by rain from thunderous clouds. Others didn’t know how to be with her, as it felt like playing Russian roulette. They wanted to be there, to love her. But when her inner 3-year-old awoke, they ran away in fear. 

She sang:

You can see my heart beating. You can see it through my chest. That I’m terrified, know that I must pass this test. 
So just pull the trigger, as my life flashes before my eyes. I’m wondering, will I ever see another sunrise? 

But it’s too late to think of the value of my life.

Warm hands, touches she never would feel again. She couldn’t think, as thoughts were drowned by memories she rather keep away. She tried to do the right thing, but 3-years-olds haven’t learned what the right thing is yet. 

She felt like little Colette, singing alone in her castle in the clouds. 

In a castle where no one could reach her.  

  

EMDR, obsessive compulsive disorder, musicophila and synchronization

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Research on EMDR is still in its infancy,and I can`t seem to stop obsessing about why it works. Normally I am not an obsessive person, in fact I`ve always found it fascinating that somebody can really feel the need to do something again and again without stopping. I tried to find information on the internet on controlled studies on EMDR and OCD, but unfortunately there is little research on it, so no conclusion can be drawn yet. This post is just me thinking loud, so what I write might not be true at all. 

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What I found when I did my internet search about EMDR and OCD can be summarized here:

This article provides an overview of the current empirical evidence on the application of EMDR for the anxiety disorders spectrum other than posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Reviewing the existing literature, it is disappointing to fi nd that 20 years after its introduction, support for the effi cacy of EMDR for other conditions than PTSD is still scarce. Randomized outcome research is limited to panic disorder with agoraphobia and spider phobia. The results suggest that EMDR is generally more effective than no-treatment control conditions or nonspecifi c interventions but less effective than existing evidence-based (i.e., exposure-based) interventions. However, since these studies were based on incomplete protocols and limited treatment courses, questions about the relative effi cacy of EMDR for the treatment of anxiety disorders remain largely unanswered.Ja

As research shows that clients with OCD respond relatively well to cognitive-behavioral interventions (i.e., exposure and response prevention and cognitive therapy) EMDR will generally not play an important role in the treatment of OCD. However, there might be exceptions. For example, there is evidence to suggest that stressful events precipitate this disorder and that in some cases a causal link between severe trauma and the onset of OCD can be identified (see De Silva & Marks, 1999). Therefore, it could be argued that if the condition has a direct and known onset and the client’s memory of that event is still emotionally charged, it may be helpful to desensitize the memory and to evaluate its effect on the client’s symptomatology. However, case reports on the treatment of OCD with EMDR are sparse, and the effects reported in the literature show that EMDR has limited potential to contribute to the treatment of this condition (Bae, Kim, & Ahn, 2006; Corrigan & Jennett, 2004).

Synchronization

What is it that makes EMDR effective? Some theories point to the fact that using our working memory (when we follow movements of the finger back and forth) at the same time as we think about traumatic material, gives less Space to the unpleasant images, thereby reducing their vividness. Some theories have tried to explain it by looking at how the two hemispheres interact.

Many people in the field of biofeedback or neurofeedback believe the treatment effect comes from hemispheric synchrony, where activity and frequency of both brain hemispheres is in a close relationship.

What I have thought about, is if other movements have the same effect as watching fingers go back and forth. For example: Why is it that the ocean calms us? Why can we sometimes be transfixed when we watch something that repeats itself? If we go back to the fact that Our brain needs to relax and tune out now and then, could it be that everything that pulses in a steady rhythm, calms the brain? Babies in the cradle get sleepy when they are rocked back and forth, it soothes them. If we would watch birds flying around and around, this might soothe us too. For some people repetition is necessary: Like the OCD-patient who must wash themselves again and again. Could it be that their nervous system has a “loop” that they can`t get out of?  Might tradition come from this same need? We have to repeat certain things to soothe our brains? What about autism, where a lot of repetition is the norm?

Recently I have also started to wonder if music might be the “optimal EMDR”. There is as far as I know, little research on EMDR combined with music in therapy, but I found a video on youtube with “Musical EMDR therapy”. Furthermore, I discovered an article discussing if EMDR has its effect by synchronization, that is, letting the brain find peace and calm by creating a state where the brain cells “sing in tune”. Might this be why music is so important to us? Does it realign a malfunctioning nervous system?

This is an excerpt from one article I found:

The common denominator of EMDR is to reach some balance in the attentive feeling of self, which may be defined as harmonious flow of sensory, cognitive, emotional, and physical associations (Servan-Schreiber, 2003). The best results in EMDR are obtained in the intermediate state in which attention and emotion work fluently and in harmony. 

So, might music and EMDR have something in common?
Right now I`m reading musicophila by Oliver Sacks. He presents case study after case study where neural damage has led to the sudden occurrence of amazing musical abilities. Might this phenomena be the brains way of synchronizing and thereby healing itself? Brain damage was earlier believed to be treatment-resistant, but today we have come further in unravelling the mystery of our minds and brain, and we use that knowledge to find treatment methods that might help, also for people with brain damage. My specialist thesis, was that EMDR can actually change the brain and make it “smarter”. I only did one case study, and can`t wait until I can do more research on this. It would be very interesting to see if a combination of EMDR and music, could help more people, also people with serious condition where normal treatment doesn`t work. Because:

We are born to feel balanced and find solutions. Resources within us can automatically help us do these things. Sometimes, we need help to activate these inner processes to resolve personal problems, to stop anxiety, or to meet a great personal challenge.

As a therapist, I have seen people make wonderful changes in their lives and personalities by doing mental exercises that restore, evoke and orchestrate these inner resources. I am impressed with the power of sound to make these exercises more effective.

I will leave my theorizing for now. In the meantime, feel free to dive into more articles about EMDR, synchronization and Music. Maybe some of you might come of with new theories and ideas that science needs to help people with OCD, brain damage or other neurological problems.

 More:

EMDR and bilateral music 

Why does Music Therapy help in Autism?

EMDR and neuropsychological test results: A case study

WHEN BRAIN DAMAGE UNLOCKS THE GENIUS WITHIN

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BRAIN DAMAGE HAS UNLEASHED EXTRAORDINARY TALENTS IN A SMALL GROUP OF OTHERWISE ORDINARY INDIVIDUALS. WILL SCIENCE FIND A WAY FOR EVERYONE TO TAP THEIR INNER VIRTUOSO?

The Genius Within

Paul Lachine and Graham Murdoch

Derek Amato stood above the shallow end of the swimming pool and called for his buddy in the Jacuzzi to toss him the football. Then he launched himself through the air, head first, arms outstretched. He figured he could roll onto one shoulder as he snagged the ball, then slide across the water. It was a grave miscalculation. The tips of Amato’s fingers brushed the pigskin—then his head slammed into the pool’s concrete floor with such bone-jarring force that it felt like an explosion. He pushed to the surface, clapping his hands to his head, convinced that the water streaming down his cheeks was blood gushing from his ears.

At the edge of the pool, Amato collapsed into the arms of his friends, Bill Peterson and Rick Sturm. It was 2006, and the 39-year-old sales trainer was visiting his hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from Colorado, where he lived. As his two high-school buddies drove Amato to his mother’s home, he drifted in and out of consciousness, insisting that he was a professional baseball player late for spring training in Phoenix. Amato’s mother rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed Amato with a severe concussion. They sent him home with instructions to be woken every few hours.

It would be weeks before the full impact of Amato’s head trauma became apparent: 35 percent hearing loss in one ear, headaches, memory loss. But the most dramatic consequence appeared just four days after his accident. Amato awoke hazy after near-continuous sleep and headed over to Sturm’s house. As the two pals sat chatting in Sturm’s makeshift music studio, Amato spotted a cheap electric keyboard.

Without thinking, he rose from his chair and sat in front of it. He had never played the piano—never had the slightest inclination to. Now his fingers seemed to find the keys by instinct and, to his astonishment, ripple across them. His right hand started low, climbing in lyrical chains of triads, skipping across melodic intervals and arpeggios, landing on the high notes, then starting low again and building back up. His left hand followed close behind, laying down bass, picking out harmony. Amato sped up, slowed down, let pensive tones hang in the air, then resolved them into rich chords as if he had been playing for years. When Amato finally looked up, Sturm’s eyes were filled with tears.

Music Man

Courtesy Derek Amato

An accident left Derek Amato with a severe concussion and a surprising ability to play the piano. One theory is that his brain reorganized, making accessible existing memories of music. Another is that his brain no longer filters sensory input, enabling him to hear individual notes rather than melodies.

Amato played for six hours, leaving Sturm’s house early the next morning with an unshakable feeling of wonder. He searched the Internet for an explanation, typing in words like gifted and head trauma. The results astonished him.

Amato searched the internet for an explanation, typing in words like gifted and head trauma. the results astonished him.

He read about Tony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon in upstate New York who was struck by lightning while talking to his mother from a telephone booth. Cicoria then became obsessed with classical piano and taught himself how to play and compose music. After being hit in the head with a baseball at age 10, Orlando Serrell could name the day of the week for any given date. A bad fall at age three left Alonzo Clemons with permanent cognitive impairment, Amato learned, and a talent for sculpting intricate replicas of animals.

Finally Amato found the name Darold Treffert, a world-recognized expert onsavant syndrome—a condition in which individuals who are typically mentally impaired demonstrate remarkable skills. Amato fired off an e-mail; soon he had answers. Treffert, now retired from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, diagnosed Amato with “acquired savant syndrome.” In the 30 or so known cases, ordinary people who suffer brain trauma suddenly develop almost-superhuman new abilities: artistic brilliance, mathematical mastery, photographic memory. One acquired savant, a high-school dropout brutally beaten by muggers, is the only known person in the world able to draw complex geometric patterns called fractals; he also claims to have discovered a mistake in pi. A stroke transformed another from a mild-mannered chiropractor into a celebrated visual artist whose work has appeared in publications like The New Yorker and in gallery shows, and sells for thousands of dollars.

The neurological causes of acquired savant syndrome are poorly understood. But the Internet has made it easier for people like Amato to connect with researchers who study savants, and improved brain-imaging techniques have enabled those scientists to begin to probe the unique neural mechanisms at work. Some have even begun to design experiments that investigate an intriguing possibility: genius lies in all of us, just waiting to be unleashed.

* * *

Pure Genius

Paul Lachine and Graham Murdoch

Bruce Miller directs the UCSF Memory and Aging Center in San Francisco, where as a behavioral neurologist he treats elderly people stricken withAlzheimer’s disease and late-life psychosis. One day in the mid-1990s, the son of a patient pointed out his father’s new obsession with painting. As his father’s symptoms worsened, the man said, his paintings improved. Soon, Miller began to identify other patients who displayed unexpected new talents as their neurological degeneration continued. As dementia laid waste to brain regions associated with language, higher-order processing, and social norms, their artistic abilities exploded.

Though these symptoms defied conventional wisdom on brain disease in the elderly—artists afflicted with Alzheimer’s typically lose artistic ability—Miller realized they were consistent with another population described in the literature: savants. That wasn’t the only similarity. Savants often display an obsessive compulsion to perform their special skill, and they exhibit deficits in social and language behaviors, defects present in dementia patients. Miller wondered if there might be neurological similarities too. Although the exact mechanisms at work in the brains of savants have never been identified and can vary from case to case, several studies dating back to at least the 1970s have found left-hemispheric damage in autistic savants with prodigious artistic, mathematical, and memory skills.

Sudden Sculptor

Courtesy Nancy Mason/Gifted Hands

After suffering a head injury as a toddler, Alonzo Clemons began to spontaneously sculpt animals with incredible accuracy and speed.

Miller decided to find out precisely where in the left hemisphere of regular savants—whose skills usually become apparent at a very young age—these defects existed. He read the brain scan of a five-year-old autistic savant able to reproduce intricate scenes from memory on an Etch-a-Sketch. Single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) showed abnormal inactivity in the anterior temporal lobes of the left hemisphere—exactly the results he found in his dementia patients.

In most cases, scientists attribute enhanced brain activity to neuroplasticity, the organ’s ability to devote more cortical real estate to developing skills as they improve with practice. But Miller offered a wholly different hypothesis for the mechanisms at work in congenital and acquired savants. Savant skills, Miller argues, emerge because the areas ravaged by disease—those associated with logic, verbal communication, and comprehension—have actually been inhibiting latent artistic abilities present in those people all along. As the left brain goes dark, the circuits keeping the right brain in check disappear. The skills do not emerge as a result of newly acquired brain power; they emerge because for the first time, the areas of the right brain associated with creativity can operate unchecked.

Full Spectrum

Courtesy Nancy Mason/Gifted Hands

Savant skills lie on a spectrum of ability; Clemons is considered the rare prodigious savant—one whose talent would be exceptional even for a person not impaired in any way.

The theory fits with the work of other neurologists, who are increasingly finding cases in which brain damage has spontaneously, and seemingly counterintuitively, led to positive changes—eliminating stuttering, enhancing memory in monkeys and rats, even restoring lost eyesight in animals. In a healthy brain, the ability of different neural circuits to both excite and inhibit one another plays a critical role in efficient function. But in the brains of dementia patients and some autistic savants, the lack of inhibition in areas associated with creativity led to keen artistic expression and an almost compulsive urge to create.

* * *

In the weeks after his accident, Amato’s mind raced. And his fingers wanted to move. He found himself tapping out patterns, waking up from naps with his fingers drumming against his legs. He bought a keyboard. Without one, he felt anxious, overstimulated; once he was able to sit down and play, relief washed over him, followed by a deep sense of calm. He’d shut himself in, sometimes for as long as two to three days, just him and the piano, exploring his new talent, trying to understand it, letting the music pour out of him.

Amato experienced other symptoms, many of them not good. Black and white squares appeared in his vision, as if a transparent filter had synthesized before his eyes, and moved in a circular pattern. He was also plagued with headaches. The first one hit three weeks after his accident, but soon Amato was having as many as five a day. They made his head pound, and light and noise were excruciating. One day, he collapsed in his brother’s bathroom. On another, he almost passed out in Wal-Mart.

Still, Amato’s feelings were unambiguous. He felt certain he had been given a gift, and it wasn’t just the personal gratification of music: Amato’s new condition, he quickly realized, had vast commercial potential.

Tortured Artist

Liam King

Jon Sarkin says he saw things differently, more vividly­­, after suffering a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. And while the chiropractor had always dabbled in art, he suddenly became obsessed with creating it.

Cultural fascination with savants appears to date as far back as the condition itself. In the 19th century, “Blind Tom” Bethune became an international celebrity. A former slave who could reproduce any song on the piano, he played the White House at age 11, toured the world at 16, and over the course of his life earned well over $750,000—a fortune at the time. Dustin Hoffman introduced the savant to millions of theatergoers with his character in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Since then, prodigious savants have become staples of shows like 60 Minutes and Oprah. But acquired savants, especially, are perfect fodder for a society obsessed with self-improvement, reality television, and pop psychology.

Acquired savants are perfect fodder for a society obsessed with self-improvement, reality television, and pop psychology.

Jon Sarkin, the chiropractor turned artist, became the subject of profiles in GQand Vanity Fair, a biography, and TV documentaries. Tom Cruise purchased the rights to his life story. “To be honest, I don’t even mention it to my wife anymore when the media calls,” Sarkin says. “It’s part of life.” Jason Padgett, the savant who can draw fractals, inked a book deal after he was featured onNightline and in magazine and newspaper articles. Reached by phone, he complained that his agent no longer allowed him to give interviews. “It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I want to speak to you, but they won’t let me.”

To Amato, acquired savantism looked like the opportunity he’d been waiting for his entire life. Amato’s mother had always told him he was extraordinary, that he was put on the planet to do great things. Yet a series of uninspiring jobs had followed high school—selling cars, delivering mail, doing public relations. He’d reached for the brass ring, to be sure, but it had always eluded him. He’d auditioned for the television show American Gladiators and failed the pull-up test. He’d opened a sports-management company, handling marketing and endorsements for mixed-martial-arts fighters; it went bust in 2001. Now he had a new path.

From Chiropractor To Painter

Liam King

“Eight years ago, I didn’t draw for a while and I found out what happened,” Sarkin says. “I had a nervous breakdown. And I have been drawing pretty much constantly ever since.”

Amato began planning a marketing campaign. He wanted to be more than an artist, musician, and performer. He wanted to tell his story and inspire people. Amato also had another ambition, a goal lingering from his life before virtuosity, back when he had only his competitive drive. He wanted, more than anything, to be on Survivor. So when that first interviewer called from a local radio station, Amato was ready to talk.

* * *

Few people have followed the emergence of acquired savants with more interest than Allan Snyder, a neuroscientist at the University of Sydney in Australia. Since 1999, Snyder has focused his research on studying how their brains function. He’s also pressed further into speculative territory than most neuroscientists feel comfortable: He is attempting to produce the same outstanding abilities in people with undamaged brains.

Last spring, Snyder published what many consider to be his most substantive work. He and his colleagues gave 28 volunteers a geometric puzzle that has stumped laboratory subjects for more than 50 years. The challenge: Connect nine dots, arrayed in three rows of three, using four straight lines without retracing a line or lifting the pen. None of the subjects could solve the problem. Then Snyder and his colleagues used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to temporarily immobilize the same area of the brain destroyed by dementia in Miller’s acquired savants. The noninvasive technique, which is commonly used to evaluate brain damage in stroke patients, delivers a weak electrical current to the scalp through electrodes, depolarizing or hyperpolarizing neural circuits until they have slowed to a crawl. After tDCS, more than 40 percent of the participants in Snyder’s experiment solved the problem. (None of those in a control group given placebo tDCS identified the solution.)

Sarkin’s Art

Liam King

The experiment, Snyder argues, supports the hypothesis that the abilities observed in acquired savants emerge once brain areas normally held in check have become unfettered. The crucial role of the left temporal lobe, he believes, is to filter what would otherwise be a dizzying flood of sensory stimuli, sorting them into previously learned concepts. These concepts, or what Snyder calls mind-sets, allow humans to see a tree instead of all its individual leaves and to recognize words instead of just the letters. “How could we possibly deal with the world if we had to analyze, to completely fathom, every new snapshot?” he says.

Savants can access raw sensory information, normally off-limits to the conscious mind, because the brain’s perceptual region isn’t functioning. To solve the nine-dot puzzle, one must extend the lines beyond the square formed by the dots, which requires casting aside preconceived notions of the parameters. “Our whole brain is geared to making predictions so we can function rapidly in this world,” Snyder says. “If something naturally helps you get around the filters of these mind-sets, that is pretty powerful.”

Sudden Savant

Paul Lachine and Graham Murdoch

Treffert, for one, finds the results of the experiment compelling. “I was a little dubious of Snyder’s earlier work, which often involved asking his subjects to draw pictures,” he says. “It just seemed pretty subjective: How do you evaluate the change in them? But his recent study is useful.”

Snyder thinks Amato’s musical prodigy adds to mounting evidence that untapped human potential lies in everyone, accessible with the right tools. When the non-musician hears music, he perceives the big picture, melodies. Amato, Snyder says, has a “literal” experience of music—he hears individual notes. Miller’s dementia patients have technical artistic skill because they are drawing what they see: details.

Berit Brogaard believes the left-brain, right-brain idea is an oversimplification. Brogaard is a neuroscientist and philosophy professor at the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She has another theory: When brain cells die, they release a barrage of neurotransmitters, and this deluge of potent chemicals may actually rewire parts of the brain, opening up new neural pathways into areas previously unavailable.

“Our hypothesis is that we have abilities that we cannot access,” Brogaard says. “Because they are not conscious to us, we cannot manipulate them. Some reorganization takes place that makes it possible to consciously access information that was there, lying dormant.”

In August, Brogaard published a paper exploring the implications of a battery of tests her lab ran on Jason Padgett. It revealed damage in the visual-cortex areas involved in detecting motion and boundaries. Areas of the parietal cortex associated with novel visual images, mathematics, and action planning were abnormally active. In Padgett’s case, she says, the areas that have become supercharged are next to those that sustained the damage—placing them in the path of the neurotransmitters likely unleashed by the death of so many brain cells.

In Amato’s case, she says, he learned bar chords on a guitar in high school and even played in a garage band. “Obviously he had some interest in music before, and his brain probably recoded some music unconsciously,” she says. “He stored memories of music in his brain, but he didn’t access them.” Somehow the accident provoked a reorganization of neurons that brought them into his conscious mind, Brogaard speculates. It’s a theory she hopes to explore with him in the lab.

* * *

On a beautiful Los Angeles day last October, I accompanied Amato and his agent, Melody Pinkerton, up to the penthouse roof deck of Santa Monica’s Shangri-La Hotel. Far below us, a pier jutted into the ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway hugged the coastline. Pinkerton settled next to Amato on a couch, nodding warmly and blinking at him with a doe-eyed smile as three men with handheld cameras circled. They were gathering footage for the pilot of a reality-TV series about women trying to make it in Hollywood. Pinkerton is a former contestant on the VH1 reality show Frank the Entertainer and has posed for Playboy; if the series is green-lit, Amato will make regular appearances as one of her clients.

“My whole life has changed,” Amato told her. “I’ve slowed down, even though I’m racing and producing at a pace that not many people understand, you know? If Beethoven scored 500 songs a year back in the day and was considered a pretty brilliant mind, and the doctors tell me I’m scoring 2,500 pieces a year, you can see that I’m a little busy.”

Amato seemed comfortable with the cameras, despite the pressure. A spot on a reality show would represent a step forward in his career, but not a huge leap. Over the past six years, Amato has been featured in newspapers and television shows around the world. He was one of eight savants featured on a Discovery Channel special in 2010 called Ingenious Minds, and he was on PBS’s NOVA this fall. He recently appeared on a talk show hosted by his idol, Jeff Probst, also the host of Survivor. In June, Amato appeared on the Todayshow.

Many savants exhibit exquisite computational or artistic capacities, but almost always at the expense of other things the brain does.

Musical renown (and a payday) has yet to follow. He released his first album in 2007. In 2008, he played in front of several thousand people in New Orleans with the famed jazz-fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan. He was asked to write the score for an independent Japanese documentary. But while Amato’s musical prowess never fails to elicit amazement in the media, reviews of his music are mixed. “Some of the reaction is good, some of it’s fair, some of it’s not so good,” he says. “I wouldn’t say any of it’s great. What I think’s going to be great is working with other musicians now.”

Still, as we strolled down Santa Monica Boulevard to a sushi restaurant after the filming, he hardly could have seemed happier. At the table, Amato smiled broadly, gestured manically with meaty forearms tattooed with musical notes, and poked the air with his chopsticks for emphasis.

“There’s book stuff, there are appearances, performances, charity organizations,” he said. “There are TV people, film people, commercial people, background stuff. Shoot, I know I missed about another half dozen. It’s like I’m on a plane doing about 972 miles an hour! I’m enjoying every second of the ride!”

Amato hasn’t exactly been coy about his desire for fame, mailing packets of material to reporters, sending Facebook requests to fellow acquired savants, and continuously updating his fan page—behavior that has raised some doubts among experts.

Rex Jung, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, grew suspicious of Amato after reading about his history as an ultimate-fight promoter. “I couldn’t be more skeptical,” he says. Jung studies creativity and traumatic brain injuries, and he has spent time with Alonzo Clemons, the savant who sculpts animals. He believes acquired savantism is a legitimate condition. But he notes Amato does not display other symptoms one would expect.

Many savants, Jung says, exhibit “exquisite” computational or artistic capacities, but “almost always at the expense of other things the brain does.” Clemons, for example, has severe developmental disabilities. “I am highly skeptical of savants that are able to tie their shoes and update their Facebook pages and do strong marketing campaigns to highlight their savant abilities all at the same time.”

Overnight Artist

Paul Lachine and Graham Murdoch

There is no way to definitively prove or disprove Amato’s claims, but a number of credible scientists are willing to vouch for his authenticity. Andrew Reeves, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, conducted MRI scans of Amato’s brain for Ingenious Minds. The tests revealed several white spots, which Reeves acknowledges could have been caused by previous concussions.

“We knew going in that it was unlikely to show any sort of signature change,” Reeves says. But Amato’s description of what he experiences “fits too well with how the brain is wired, in terms of what parts are adjacent to what parts, for him to have concocted it, in my opinion.” Reeves believes the black and white squares in Amato’s field of vision somehow connect to his motor system, indicating an atypical link between the visual and auditory regions of his brain.

As I drove through the streets of L.A. with Amato last fall, it seemed to me that there was something undeniably American about his efforts to seize on his accident—which struck when he was close to 40, staring into the abyss of middle-age mediocrity—and transform himself from an anonymous sales trainer into a commercial product, an inspirational symbol of human possibility for the legions of potential fans dreaming of grander things. Treffert, Snyder, and Brogaard all spoke enthusiastically about unraveling the phenomenon of acquired savantism, in order to one day enable everyone to explore their hidden talents. The Derek Amatos of the world provide a glimpse of that goal.

After parking on Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks from the storied rock-and-roll shrines of the Roxy and the Viper Room, Amato and I headed into the Standard Hotel and followed a bedraggled hipster with an Australian accent through the lobby to a dimly lit bar. In the center of the room sat a grand piano, its ivory keys gleaming. The chairs had been flipped upside down on the tables, and dishes clinked in a nearby kitchen. The club, closed to customers, was all ours. As Amato sat down, the tension seemed to drain from his shoulders.

He closed his eyes, placed his foot on one of the pedals, and began to play. The music that gushed forth was loungy, full of flowery trills, swelling and sweeping up and down the keys in waves of cascading notes—a sticky, emotional kind of music more appropriate for the romantic climax of a movie like From Here to Eternity than a gloomy nightclub down the street from the heart of the Sunset Strip. It seemed strangely out of character for a man whose sartorial choices bring to mind ’80s hair-band icon Bret Michaels. Amato didn’t strike me as prodigious, the kind of rare savant, like Blind Tom Bethune, whose skills would be impressive even in someone with years of training.

But it didn’t seem to matter. There was expression, melody, and skill. And if they could emerge spontaneously in Amato, who’s to say what spectacular abilities might lie dormant in the rest of us?

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of the magzine.

But it didn’t seem to matter. There was expression, melody, and skill. And if they could emerge spontaneously in Amato, who’s to say what spectacular abilities might lie dormant in the rest of us?

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of the magazine.

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Moonlight sonata

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Good morning!

I am so happy I bought a piano and started to take piano lessons. Right now I am trying to learn one of the most beautiful classical pieces by Beethoven. Here you can find the list of the 10 best Classical Music Pieces. In the meantime, enjoy the moonlight sonata.

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Protected: Narrative part 10: The sound of a singing heart 

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Protected: Sing karaoke with me

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