Grant's Congenital Amusia

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
I've never heard that. Perhaps he was a poor singer and that might have made people (mistakenly) say that. But unlike someone with amusia, Lincoln loved music.

Looks like that line about only knowing two songs was popular. It was used by Grant famously for Yankee Doodle, and by Lincoln too:

"Mr. Lincoln’s professed knowledge of music was limited. He claimed “I know only two tunes, one is ‘Old Hundred,’ and the other isn’t.”7

(This is from a good article about Linclon and music: http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-music/)

However, he liked a number of other tunes, including Dixie, which he enjoyed immensely before the war; however, it appears he refrained from requesting until the war was over (from the same article):

"On April 10, according to John Brigham, “”Some two hundred youths, mostly employed in the departments, headed by the band of music engaged for the occasion, armed to the White House to welcome President Lincoln back from the front…After listening to the music, the President good naturedly complied with our demand for speech.”52 When President Lincoln spoke to the serenade, he asked the band that accompanied the serenading group to play Dixie: “I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, ‘We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is one, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.'”53 When Dixie was played, recalled Brigham, “The President kept time with his foot, and a genial smile made his strong, homely face almost beautiful.”54 Mr. Lincoln told Noah Brooks: “I just feel like marching, always, when that tune is played.”55 For an encore, the band played “Yankee Doodle.”56

Another source has him requesting Dixie when he received news of Lee's surrender and again that it be played at his last public address from the White House, which he was never able to give. This article also maintains that Lincoln even carried a harmonica at one point in his life:

"He did carry a Hohner harmonica in his pocket. “Why, even Honest Abe Lincoln wasn’t above playing a tune or two on the harmonica when the occasion demanded”, as Carl Sandburg related in his book Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. "

(More about Lincoln's favorite tunes here: http://blog.themusicalnose.com/?p=1233)
 
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KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
Looks like that line about only knowing two songs was popular. It was used by Grant famously for Yankee Doodle, and by Lincoln too:

"Mr. Lincoln’s professed knowledge of music was limited. He claimed “I know only two tunes, one is ‘Old Hundred,’ and the other isn’t.”7

(This is from a good article about Linclon and music: http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-music/)

However, he liked a number of other tunes, including Dixie, which he enjoyed immensely before the war; however, it appears he refrained from requesting until the war was over (from the same article):

"On April 10, according to John Brigham, “”Some two hundred youths, mostly employed in the departments, headed by the band of music engaged for the occasion, armed to the White House to welcome President Lincoln back from the front…After listening to the music, the President good naturedly complied with our demand for speech.”52 When President Lincoln spoke to the serenade, he asked the band that accompanied the serenading group to play Dixie: “I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, ‘We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is one, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.'”53 When Dixie was played, recalled Brigham, “The President kept time with his foot, and a genial smile made his strong, homely face almost beautiful.”54 Mr. Lincoln told Noah Brooks: “I just feel like marching, always, when that tune is played.”55 For an encore, the band played “Yankee Doodle.”56

Another source has him requesting Dixie when he received news of Lee's surrender and again that it be played at his last public address from the White House, which he was never able to give. This article also maintains that Lincoln even carried a harmonica at one point in his life:

"He did carry a Hohner harmonica in his pocket. “Why, even Honest Abe Lincoln wasn’t above playing a tune or two on the harmonica when the occasion demanded”, as Carl Sandburg related in his book Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. "

(More about Lincoln's favorite tunes here: http://blog.themusicalnose.com/?p=1233)
Thank you so much for linking that article about Lincoln and music. It's magnificent!!!
 

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
Thank you so much for linking that article about Lincoln and music. It's magnificent!!!

You're quite welcome! There's some good stuff there. This here internet thingy is actually useful sometimes! ;-)

As an aside, I get a lot of requests to play "Dixie" while portraying a Union musician at living history events and reenactments, usually coming in the form of: "It was Lincoln's favorite song, you know." Although I can play it, I don't, responding that there might have been an instance somewhere when someone in a Union band or field music played it during the war, but from the historical evidence I've seen, Lincoln didn't request it until the war was finally over and then as a gesture of reconciliation, not defiance as it was meant when played by the South during the conflict. So they don't get to make a video of the guy in a Union uniform playing "Dixie" (and I don't have to worry about hitting that high "B").
 
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Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
I've never read any Hornblower, but understand it has a reputation for authenticity. If so, the above quote *may* be a MISTAKE - assuming the mentioned brief period of peace was the Peace of Amiens in 1802-3, sometime around then Bonaparte forbade the Marseillaise as being to "rabble rousing" and revolutionary and therefore didn't re-introduce it until the Hundred Days in 1815 before Waterloo.

Ran into this again, towards the end of Master and Commander which is set in 1805. Aubrey is drilling his men at the guns in preparation for the climactic battle and calls out to them "Do you want that rascal Bonaparte for your king? Do you want your children to grow up singing the Marseillaise??" I suppose a frigate on the far side of the world wasn't up on French musical regulations.....
 
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
When Ulysses Grant was asked what kind of music he liked, he famously replied, "I know only two tunes. One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’—and the other isn’t.”

It's a great quote. But it makes Grant sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, doesn't it? In reality, Grant suffered from a condition that didn't even have a name during his lifetime: congenital amusia. (The term "amusia" was coined by a doctor in 1888, three years after Grant's death.)

People with amusia fail to recognize familiar tunes, cannot tell one tune from another (unless the tunes have lyrics) and often complain that music sounds like noise.​

People who are "tone-deaf" have been around for ages, but little was known about the disorder until quite recently. What makes a person amusic is the inability of his or her brain to process music. Advances in neuroscience and especially in brain-imaging technology in the last 20 years have allowed researchers to start looking at what is actually going on in the brains of people with amusia.

View attachment 136614
The connections depicted in green are believed by some researchers to be defective in people with amusia.

Some people become amusic after injury to the brain, such as a stroke. But people such as Grant who are amusic from birth -- who suffer from congenital amusia -- are thought to make up about 4% of the population. Of these, an even smaller number -- maybe one percent of the population -- not only can't make any sense of music, but actively dislike it. A true amusic may even find listening to music to be torturous. Grant apparently was in this category.

Other famous amusics include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Che Guevara and Vladimir Nabokov. Oliver Sacks, in his wonderful book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, which contains an entire chapter on amusia, quotes Nabokov from his autobiography:

Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as a succession of more or less irritating sounds. . . . The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in small doses and flay me in larger ones.
A sentiment with which Ulysses Grant probably would have concurred! Which makes the following story all the more touching:

[Grant had] an almost pathological aversion to musical sounds. He never went to concerts, refused to dance and had a particular (and ironic) hatred for military bands....

Nevertheless, Grant was sensitive to how the majority responds to music, even as he could not comprehend their enjoyment. After graduating from West Point, he was assigned to duty with the Fourth U. S. Infantry. In those days, regimental bands were paid partly by the government and partly by regimental funds, which were set aside for luxuries such as books, magazines and music. Grant accumulated money for the fund by ordering the Infantry’s daily rations in flour instead of bread (at a significant savings), renting a bakery, hiring bakers and selling fresh bread through a contract he arranged with the army’s chief commissary. Much of the extra income went to secure a bandleader and competent players, whose music boosted the soldiers’ morale (and punished Grant’s ears).

Grant’s neurological wiring prevented him from being a music lover. In fact, it made him a music hater. He did not process music as music, and could not feel it as most of us do. Yet he was perceptive enough to observe the musical pleasures of others, and gentleman enough to give fellow soldiers the music they yearned for.​
Just WOW! The things we don't know...and how much there is still to learn. Remarkable! Thanks for posting @KansasFreestater . I never stop learning here. It's like a bottomless well of fascinating facts and stories. So happy to be here :smile: :smile: :smile:
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
My friend, Freestater, you launch some of the most interesting threads! I thought I had responded to this four screens ago, but, clearly, I haven't. I'll tell you what I HAVE done: I've quote Gen. Grant and discussed his amusia to all of my musician friends numerous times. Now I'm officially responding to tell you how much I have enjoyed this thread. I'm sorry for the General and President that he didn't have more of a brain for music. It would have been much more entertaining for him. However, he clearly dealt with his malady with a great sense of humor. Thanks for this thread!
 

WJC

Major General
Judge Adv. Genl.
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
When Ulysses Grant was asked what kind of music he liked, he famously replied, "I know only two tunes. One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’—and the other isn’t.”

It's a great quote. But it makes Grant sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, doesn't it? In reality, Grant suffered from a condition that didn't even have a name during his lifetime: congenital amusia. (The term "amusia" was coined by a doctor in 1888, three years after Grant's death.)

People with amusia fail to recognize familiar tunes, cannot tell one tune from another (unless the tunes have lyrics) and often complain that music sounds like noise.​

People who are "tone-deaf" have been around for ages, but little was known about the disorder until quite recently. What makes a person amusic is the inability of his or her brain to process music. Advances in neuroscience and especially in brain-imaging technology in the last 20 years have allowed researchers to start looking at what is actually going on in the brains of people with amusia.

View attachment 136614
The connections depicted in green are believed by some researchers to be defective in people with amusia.

Some people become amusic after injury to the brain, such as a stroke. But people such as Grant who are amusic from birth -- who suffer from congenital amusia -- are thought to make up about 4% of the population. Of these, an even smaller number -- maybe one percent of the population -- not only can't make any sense of music, but actively dislike it. A true amusic may even find listening to music to be torturous. Grant apparently was in this category.

Other famous amusics include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Che Guevara and Vladimir Nabokov. Oliver Sacks, in his wonderful book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, which contains an entire chapter on amusia, quotes Nabokov from his autobiography:

Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as a succession of more or less irritating sounds. . . . The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in small doses and flay me in larger ones.
A sentiment with which Ulysses Grant probably would have concurred! Which makes the following story all the more touching:

[Grant had] an almost pathological aversion to musical sounds. He never went to concerts, refused to dance and had a particular (and ironic) hatred for military bands....

Nevertheless, Grant was sensitive to how the majority responds to music, even as he could not comprehend their enjoyment. After graduating from West Point, he was assigned to duty with the Fourth U. S. Infantry. In those days, regimental bands were paid partly by the government and partly by regimental funds, which were set aside for luxuries such as books, magazines and music. Grant accumulated money for the fund by ordering the Infantry’s daily rations in flour instead of bread (at a significant savings), renting a bakery, hiring bakers and selling fresh bread through a contract he arranged with the army’s chief commissary. Much of the extra income went to secure a bandleader and competent players, whose music boosted the soldiers’ morale (and punished Grant’s ears).

Grant’s neurological wiring prevented him from being a music lover. In fact, it made him a music hater. He did not process music as music, and could not feel it as most of us do. Yet he was perceptive enough to observe the musical pleasures of others, and gentleman enough to give fellow soldiers the music they yearned for.​
Thanks for posting this information. I've heard of people who were 'tone deaf', but thought that a rather simple, innocuous malady. And I never knew it affected Grant, TR or the others you mention.
Amazing what I learn in this Forum....
 

huskerblitz

Major
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
Looks like that line about only knowing two songs was popular. It was used by Grant famously for Yankee Doodle, and by Lincoln too:

"Mr. Lincoln’s professed knowledge of music was limited. He claimed “I know only two tunes, one is ‘Old Hundred,’ and the other isn’t.”7
Since this was brought up again I wanted to check out the quote from Grant. It appears it likely isn't a direct quote, rather what a reporter writes that Grant told him that.

Is this quote all that leads people to think Grant had congenital amusia? I mean I don't have it and I don't like live bands or concerts (generally too loud...and I don't like sharp, high-pitched noises), I can't sing very well, nor do I like to dance. What other evidence is there really that Grant had this?

I think Grant was just being self deprecating which would fit with his retiring character. I'm rereading Smith's Grant (the second time through is more informative) and I can see him deflecting attention even so far as admitting that he had a favorite tune.
I tend to agree with this.
 

diane

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Joined
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Location
State of Jefferson
Since this was brought up again I wanted to check out the quote from Grant. It appears it likely isn't a direct quote, rather what a reporter writes that Grant told him that.

Is this quote all that leads people to think Grant had congenital amusia? I mean I don't have it and I don't like live bands or concerts (generally too loud...and I don't like sharp, high-pitched noises), I can't sing very well, nor do I like to dance. What other evidence is there really that Grant had this?


I tend to agree with this.

Bruce Catton, who knew a lot about Grant! said Grant was so very tone deaf he had trouble keeping in step while marching. Military music - all brass and drums - was particularly troublesome and actually hurt. Since those instruments are used to call out signals as to what to do, I don't know how he managed - he couldn't tell one bugle call or drum roll from another.
 

huskerblitz

Major
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Location
Nebraska
Bruce Catton, who knew a lot about Grant! said Grant was so very tone deaf he had trouble keeping in step while marching. Military music - all brass and drums - was particularly troublesome and actually hurt. Since those instruments are used to call out signals as to what to do, I don't know how he managed - he couldn't tell one bugle call or drum roll from another.
Yeah, I read that, too. The evidence seems skimpy to diagnose a neurological disorder. I'm not sure which Catton book has that in order to look it up. But it appears to be purely circumstantial evidence.
 

diane

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Joined
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Location
State of Jefferson
Yeah, I read that, too. The evidence seems skimpy to diagnose a neurological disorder. I'm not sure which Catton book has that in order to look it up. But it appears to be purely circumstantial evidence.

U S Grant and the American Military Tradition - his short bio of Grant. Neurology was a pretty young branch of medicine at the time but the indications that Grant was really tone deaf are strong.
 

Jimklag

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Location
Chicagoland
When Ulysses Grant was asked what kind of music he liked, he famously replied, "I know only two tunes. One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle’—and the other isn’t.”

It's a great quote. But it makes Grant sound like a bit of a curmudgeon, doesn't it? In reality, Grant suffered from a condition that didn't even have a name during his lifetime: congenital amusia. (The term "amusia" was coined by a doctor in 1888, three years after Grant's death.)

People with amusia fail to recognize familiar tunes, cannot tell one tune from another (unless the tunes have lyrics) and often complain that music sounds like noise.​

People who are "tone-deaf" have been around for ages, but little was known about the disorder until quite recently. What makes a person amusic is the inability of his or her brain to process music. Advances in neuroscience and especially in brain-imaging technology in the last 20 years have allowed researchers to start looking at what is actually going on in the brains of people with amusia.

View attachment 136614
The connections depicted in green are believed by some researchers to be defective in people with amusia.

Some people become amusic after injury to the brain, such as a stroke. But people such as Grant who are amusic from birth -- who suffer from congenital amusia -- are thought to make up about 4% of the population. Of these, an even smaller number -- maybe one percent of the population -- not only can't make any sense of music, but actively dislike it. A true amusic may even find listening to music to be torturous. Grant apparently was in this category.

Other famous amusics include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Che Guevara and Vladimir Nabokov. Oliver Sacks, in his wonderful book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, which contains an entire chapter on amusia, quotes Nabokov from his autobiography:

Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as a succession of more or less irritating sounds. . . . The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in small doses and flay me in larger ones.
A sentiment with which Ulysses Grant probably would have concurred! Which makes the following story all the more touching:

[Grant had] an almost pathological aversion to musical sounds. He never went to concerts, refused to dance and had a particular (and ironic) hatred for military bands....

Nevertheless, Grant was sensitive to how the majority responds to music, even as he could not comprehend their enjoyment. After graduating from West Point, he was assigned to duty with the Fourth U. S. Infantry. In those days, regimental bands were paid partly by the government and partly by regimental funds, which were set aside for luxuries such as books, magazines and music. Grant accumulated money for the fund by ordering the Infantry’s daily rations in flour instead of bread (at a significant savings), renting a bakery, hiring bakers and selling fresh bread through a contract he arranged with the army’s chief commissary. Much of the extra income went to secure a bandleader and competent players, whose music boosted the soldiers’ morale (and punished Grant’s ears).

Grant’s neurological wiring prevented him from being a music lover. In fact, it made him a music hater. He did not process music as music, and could not feel it as most of us do. Yet he was perceptive enough to observe the musical pleasures of others, and gentleman enough to give fellow soldiers the music they yearned for.​
Back in 1970, I participated in a study run by a University of Georgia music professor to learn everything they could find out about the hearing and perception of music by humans. They called amusia tone deafness in those days. They had four categories of music perception. Tone deaf, normal or average perception, musical ear, and perfect pitch. I was in the musical ear category which means I can tell when a played or sung note is on pitch or sharp/flat. The doctor explained perfect pitch as a musical ear plus actual note recognition; i.e. someone with perfect pitch can tell a note is actually an A flat or C natural, etc. Frank Sinatra is said to have had perfect pitch. Most people who think they have perfect pitch really have a musical ear. Perfect pitch is the opposite of amusia.
 
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huskerblitz

Major
Joined
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Location
Nebraska
U S Grant and the American Military Tradition - his short bio of Grant. Neurology was a pretty young branch of medicine at the time but the indications that Grant was really tone deaf are strong.
But is that all Catton is basing it on? He couldn't stay in step?
 

Jimklag

Lt. Colonel
Joined
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Location
Chicagoland
No, he's got a little more in there - it was more like a brief allusion to a personal quirk. Sort of like Jackson's arm holding! I've read some other sources who mention Grant found music annoying to painful, or that he couldn't distinguish one tune from another.
By far, the largest category in the UGA music professor's study is Normal. Most people can differentiate between songs but not whether notes are sharp or flat. This partially explains the popularity of singers such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Most people can't tell that their singing sucks.
 

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
Is this quote all that leads people to think Grant had congenital amusia?
No, there's much, much more. It was lifelong, and it was to all kinds of music, not just martial music.

Then again, maybe I've been reading stuff that's mistaken. There seem to be other opinions out there. For example, I read a few snippets of Ron White's book online, and according to him, the Jesse and Hannah Grant family (including young Ulysses), "sang lustily" in church on Sundays.

But most of the books I've read say that young Ulyss -- often? sometimes? who knows? -- didn't even go to church on Sundays with the rest of the family.

So who's got it right? Obviously, I need to do more research. Darn, guess I'll just have to keep studying the guy.
 

KansasFreestater

1st Lieutenant
By far, the largest category in the UGA music professor's study is Normal. Most people can differentiate between songs but not whether notes are sharp or flat. This partially explains the popularity of singers such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Most people can't tell that their singing sucks.
Most people can't tell if a note is sharp or flat? That seems hard to believe. If you have a link to that UGA professor's work, I'd love to see it.
 

Jimklag

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Location
Chicagoland
No, there's much, much more. It was lifelong, and it was to all kinds of music, not just martial music.

Then again, maybe I've been reading stuff that's mistaken. There seem to be other opinions out there. For example, I read a few snippets of Ron White's book online, and according to him, the Jesse and Hannah Grant family (including young Ulysses), "sang lustily" in church on Sundays.

But most of the books I've read say that young Ulyss -- often? sometimes? who knows? -- didn't even go to church on Sundays with the rest of the family.

So who's got it right? Obviously, I need to do more research. Darn, guess I'll just have to keep studying the guy.
What a shame. My condolencex for having to do more research on USG.
 

huskerblitz

Major
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
No, there's much, much more. It was lifelong, and it was to all kinds of music, not just martial music.

Then again, maybe I've been reading stuff that's mistaken. There seem to be other opinions out there. For example, I read a few snippets of Ron White's book online, and according to him, the Jesse and Hannah Grant family (including young Ulysses), "sang lustily" in church on Sundays.

But most of the books I've read say that young Ulyss -- often? sometimes? who knows? -- didn't even go to church on Sundays with the rest of the family.

So who's got it right? Obviously, I need to do more research. Darn, guess I'll just have to keep studying the guy.
And he might have had it, I don't know. And it's fine to discuss the possibilities...part of the fun of reading about historical figures. To me the evidence just seems circumstantial...not overly convincing. Not trying to rain on your parade, just wondering if there was more (or better?) evidence out there.

Personally, though, I cringe a bit when we try to diagnose historical figures. Especially when it comes to quirks and what we call oddities. But then again, I think in large part it's mostly fun to delve into the psychological aspect of historical people.
 

diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
No, there's much, much more. It was lifelong, and it was to all kinds of music, not just martial music.

Then again, maybe I've been reading stuff that's mistaken. There seem to be other opinions out there. For example, I read a few snippets of Ron White's book online, and according to him, the Jesse and Hannah Grant family (including young Ulysses), "sang lustily" in church on Sundays.

But most of the books I've read say that young Ulyss -- often? sometimes? who knows? -- didn't even go to church on Sundays with the rest of the family.

So who's got it right? Obviously, I need to do more research. Darn, guess I'll just have to keep studying the guy.

Sang lustily doesn't mean sang good! Make a joyful noise, you know. :laugh:
 
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