University of Richmond's music department was presenting Yale's Dr. Craig Wright speaking on "Music and the Brain," about how the brain processes and interprets music.
If ever there was a talk I was passionately looking forward to hearing, this was it.
Two fellow music geeks were accompanying me and the younger of the two suggested a pre-music meal at Garnett's.
Low key with only three other patrons when we arrived, the little lunch counter soon exploded with four more tables and the long-bored cook was suddenly swamped.
I made it easy on him ordering off the happy hour menu: grilled ham and garlic aioli tea sandwiches and angels on horseback (dates with bacon and bleu cheese).
Being music-minded, we discussed Thom York's new Atoms for Peace project and the obsession two of us are currently having with the new Local Natives album, "Hummingbird."
Meanwhile, the music mix being played was strictly old-school with Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash keeping it real.
We ended up sharing a massive slice of chocolate coconut cake, an offering I'd never seen at Garnett's, Ipanema or the Roosevelt.
The thick layers of moist, chocolate cake with white frosting and toasted coconut was like a grown up Hostess Snowball.
Without the preservatives and artificial colors, that is.
I continue to worship at the altar of W.P.A.'s baker David.
And if he's looking for suggestions, mine would be that this cake be available at all three restaurants at all times for my convenience.
When that plate was licked clean, we high-tailed it to UR and the Modlin Center.
All three of us wanted a good seat for the lecture and performance by ensemble-in-residence eighth blackbird.
And we got them, fourth row and center, despite a far more crowded auditorium than I'd expected.
I had Dr. Wright pegged as a funny guy from the moment I finished reading his bio in the program, taken from the Yale University website.
Besides mentioning several people from his youth ("All survived the experience"), it also said that his music appreciation class was currently, "The fourth most popular online course in China."
When he walked out, we saw a trim, handsome older guy who immediately said, "I'm going to talk without a sports jacket on, if that's okay."
You have to be of another era to even think people might care, a fact I found charming.
He introduced eighth blackbird, saying he intended to use them as "relief from my talking."
Better put, he used them to illustrate his many points.
He began by asking us what kind of music we liked and when one of my partners-in-crime said classical and specifically Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Wright quipped, "That's one you gotta get used to. It's like spinach."
I knew he was going to be a funny guy.
We were told to imagine a desert island scenario and we could take only two albums, but then had to jettison one.
To prove his point, he had eighth blackbird play a piece of a Mozart piano concerto followed by a piece of Schoenberg, asking which of us would keep the first and which the second.
It came out about 50/50, surprising him because, the second piece with its non-conforming elements (no scale, no chords), we should have all gone for the Mozart.
That's due in part to cultural conditioning and partly to nature, he explained.
Throughout the lecture, he'd ask pianist Lisa to demonstrate things for him, eventually just going over to the keys and playing what he wanted himself rather than explain.
"This is funny," he warned us before a good story. "I went to the Eastman School of Music and you were only required to take one science class to graduate. This part is even funnier. I didn't take it."
This information was a prelude to him explaining that he was essentially giving a science lecture.
Now I was in trouble.
"Those with absolute pitch have different brains," he said while colored images of brain stems and temporal lobes showed on the screen. "It's simple physiology."
And here's where I have to admit that parts of this lecture went over my head.
Whiz! Right past.
The science part was almost easier to me than some of the more involved parts about music.
Next he covered why we like certain music.
Using himself as an example, he spoke about how he can't play his favorite music in front of his wife or colleagues at Yale.
"They wouldn't fire me," he said, "But they wouldn't be my friends."
"His" music was country and a picture of Billy Jo Shaver came up as we heard one of his Texas country music songs.
And Dr. Wright loved this
He thought the reason was that as a child, when he was supposed to be napping, he was listening to AM country radio stations, and thus shaping his taste.
"I think it kind of grew in my hippocampus," he deadpanned.
Now, that's funny.
"My parents tried to "correct" my education," he said as a picture of Mozart came up.
The good part was that meant we got to hear Mozart and Rachmaninoff to illustrate his taste.
"That's the power of music. It causes excitement.It's physically empowering."
On this point, I understood completely.
But, as he explained, sometimes we want to set a mood with music and a picture of a candlelit dinner table came up, with him asking what we might play to set the mood if we were hoping for certain results.
He had eighth blackbird play Bach's "The Art of Fugue" to demonstrate and then asked why it wouldn't be good music to set the romantic mood.
One of my companions was first to volunteer, saying it was too complicated to listen to when romance was the goal.
"You hit the nail on the head exactly," Wright exclaimed. "That music makes the mind think about something other than what your original plan was."
Note to amorous types: fugues will not help you score.
He covered how memory works with music, helping us recall past experiences and making us associate certain songs or pieces with specific life events.
"I remember exactly where I was standing when I first heard Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock," he offered.
Likewise, I remember exactly where I was standing when I first heard Pete Yorn's "Strange Condition."
I'd just walked up from the beach to the cottage to hit the bathroom when I was stopped cold, sandy feet and all, in the living room by the song and instantly fell in love with voice and songwriter.
It just makes me another scientific example.
To further illustrate this point, he showed film clips with and without music.
From "The King's Speech," we saw the pivotal speech scene with part of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 behind it.
"Beethoven makes that scene," he said, pointing out the obvious and I recall when I saw the movie thinking how perfect a choice it had been.
We saw a scene from Hitchcock's "Psycho" with and without the screeching violin and there was no comparison.
Without music, the scene was stiff and contrived but once we heard wood on strings, it was terrifying.
His last clip was to demonstrate how some music can give a person chills, his example being Pavarotti singing an aria from "Turandot."
It's as simple as blood flow increasing and decreasing.
Oh, my. I was learning so much.
From opera that made us tingle, we went to the power of rhythm and the beat.
How does music take control of the body?
Well, for Dr. Wright it was as easy as putting on a pop song and dancing onstage uncontrollably.
Let me tell you, it was a highlight of the lecture.
"That's the primordial power of the beat," said this learned Yale man with degrees to spare.
And we all know it's true.
Some music gives us no choice but to shake our groove things.
And for that, no knowledge of science is required. Whew.