ninme scrubs her past

The Times – Sorry, Maestro Barenboim. Music is for idiots and Neanderthals, by Terence Kealey

Autistic people seem to have made a related trade. The greatest determinant of musicality is pitch: the better your pitch, the more likely you are to enjoy music. And perfect pitch (the ability to sing a note to order) is rare among adults — perhaps only 1 in 10,000 has it. Yet perfect pitch is common among the autistic, as if they had traded emotional empathy for music.

And musical savants are not rare. …

The best explanation for these unexpected findings comes from baby talk.We all, when we talk to babies, instinctively use a cootchy-coo language that is essentially musical. We do so because babies do not understand words but they do understand pitch and the other elements of song — “the melody is the message”…

And the babies respond because… we humans are born with perfect pitch. But babies lose their perfect pitch when language kicks in. We can see, therefore, how musical savants might arise, because intelligence and language are separate from music. So we can also see that, paradoxically, most adults with perfect pitch have had to relearn it through training. …

And Neanderthals, too, may have had perfect pitch. …Neanderthals sang but did not speak, and that it was Homo sapiens’s development of language about 100-200 thousand years ago that allowed us to create the superior skills that, in their turn, allowed us to drive the Neanderthals into extinction.

Music still has its human uses, of course, but they are emotional, not intellectual.

Huh. I guess we can separate this from the musicians-are-better-at-math [cough] theory since cooing at babies doesn’t really compare to reading complex symphony scores.