BY JEREMY SHERE
On March 19, world-renowned neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor and acclaimed singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer will perform Transformative Stories at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville, Indiana. The unusual two-woman show blends Taylor’s message that knowledge of the brain enables us to live more fully with Newcomer’s songs about the persistence of hope and the melding of heart, mind, spirit, and body.
“We’re both humanitarians,” says Taylor, author of the best-selling book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey and national spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center. “Carrie and I deliver the same message to the world, albeit in very different ways.”
Taylor and Newcomer first developed Transformative Stories in 2013. Friends and mutual admirers, they thought it would be interesting to join forces, Taylor says. “We thought it would either work really well or not at all.”
Given the favorable reviews Transformative Stories has received, the production has been a success. During a typical show, the two women take turns, with Taylor couching her performance in the science of left and right brain circuitry and Newcomer performing songs about spiritual awakening and community.
For example, Taylor says, she might engage the audience with a short talk about how the relationships between different types of brain circuits endow us with the power to choose how we want to be and behave in the world. Her talk would then be followed by Newcomer performing a song about choices we have to make or marking the before and after moments in our lives. Taylor might then describe the morning she experienced the stroke that changed her life.
The cumulative effect, Taylor says, is akin to what she calls a “whole brain” experience, with her scientific approach speaking to the left brain’s aptitude for linear, analytical processing and Newcomer’s spiritual lyrics and effusive melodies appealing to the right brain’s more open, expansive nature.
“It’s remarkable to me how much our material overlaps,” Taylor says. “The science and music really flow together beautifully. I’ve had audience members tell me that halfway through the show they feel their entire brain being titillated by how we’re communicating. We want people to walk away saying, ‘Wow!’”