Monday, October 13, 2008

The Banjo Center of the Brain

I've used my banjo in a number of venues, but I've never brought it in to work. Looks like some Nashville neurosurgeons have beat me to it.

Bluegrass legend Eddie Adcock recently underwent brain surgery to treat a hand tremor. During this procedure, his surgeons placed electrodes deep into his brain to stimulate the thalamus at just the right spot to inhibit his tremor.

Alas, the banjo center of the brain is not an area well-known to neuroanatomists. To pick the optimal location for the electrodes, the surgery was performed under local anesthesia while Eddie played his banjo. He was thus able to update the surgeons in real-time as to whether the tremor was better or worse, letting them get the lead placement just right.

The BBC has posted some remarkable video and audio clips recorded during this surgery. The audio beginning at the 3:49 marker moved me the most. In this bit, the BBC interviewer asks Mr. Adcock to play the banjo with his stimulator on and off. The difference is pretty clear, even to the non-bluegrass ear.

Losing the ability to play is a special terror we musicians know, even for those of us who earn our living some other way. I went through this recently following a biceps tendon repair. The first few months were depressing for me because I couldn't bow my fiddle in my ginormous bionic elbow brace. However, once I was able to drape said brace over my guitar and play a few minutes every day, my spirits picked up considerably.

So, here's to the Vanderbilt neuro boys. There are a lot of musicians and music lovers out there who would happily line up to buy them a few drinks. If it would help us to play like Eddie Adcock, I know that several of us would also line up for our own set of electrodes.

(Hat tip to Anita Anderson)

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