Music, walking, and the power of presence

One of the paradoxes of Parkinson’s disease is that it seems to build up in its sufferers both an extraordinary need to act, and a simultaneous blocking of action. Medications, like the L-DOPA made famous in Oliver Sacks’ 1969 account Awakenings, can get many such patients ‘unstuck’ (though it’s more harrowingly complex than just that). But sometimes the unblocking can be brought on by seemingly far subtler treatments: by music, by the visual cues of another person’s normal gestures.

One patient, who was so eloquent on the subject of music, had a great difficulty in walking alone, but was always able to walk perfectly if someone walked with her. Her own comments on this are of very great interest: ‘When you walk with me,’ she said, ‘I feel in myself your own power of walking. I partake of the power and freedom you have. I share your walking powers, your perceptions, your feelings, your existence. Without even knowing it, you make me a great gift.’ This patient felt this experience as very similar to, if not identical with, her experiences with music: ‘I partake of other people, as I partake of music…’

from Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks, p.248 (1983 epilogue)

Originally published at

Add Your Comments