'The Strangest Song' -- The story of the link between a rare genetic disorder and musical talent

December 04, 2006

Gloria Lenhoff, age 51, can't make change for a dollar, or subtract five from twelve, or tell left from right. She can't cross the street alone, or write her name legibly, or read music. Her IQ is 55. But Gloria Lenhoff can sing like few people in the world can sing, with a classically trained lyric soprano and a repertoire of hundreds of songs in Italian, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Macedonian, Korean, Hungarian, Yiddish, and many other languages. Since she can't read music, each note, each word, each nuance, is stored in her brain, which is only 80 percent as large as yours or mine. Gloria Lenhoff has Williams syndrome.

The Strangest Song: One Father's Quest to Help His Daughter Find Her Voice
The Compelling Story of the Link Between a Rare Genetic Disorder and Musical Talent
Teri Sforza with Howard and Sylvia Lenhoff

This is the first book to tell the story of Williams syndrome and the extraordinary musicality of many of the people who have it. Interweaving science and the personal in a compelling narrative, author Teri Sforza follows the quest of biochemistry professor Howard Lenhoff to help his mentally handicapped daughter, Gloria. From his discovery of Gloria's outstanding vocal talent and innate musical gifts, Lenhoff becomes convinced that people with her disorder have an unusual capacity for learning music, despite their profound mental disabilities. Lenhoff is at first rebuffed, called crazy, and finally vindicated when scientists--and his own formal research--confirm his hunch.

Williams syndrome is a rare genetic aberration that occurs once in every 7,500 births. It springs from a peculiar mishap on the molecular level, a tiny chemical error, but one that exacts an enormous toll on body, brain, and personality. The result is an atypical body and a profoundly asymmetrical mind. Thanks to Howard Lenhoff's single-minded determination and love for his daughter, he succeeds in helping his daughter beyond his wildest dreams. Gloria's talents take her to a concert at Washington's Kennedy Center and a number of classical recordings. Lenhoff also helps establish the first residential college for mentally disabled musicians in Massachusetts.

An inspiring blend of human interest and breakthrough science, The Strangest Song offers startling insights into the mysteries of the brain and hope that science can find new ways to help the handicapped.
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Teri Sforza (Laguna Beach, CA) is a senior writer at the Orange County Register, where she contributed to its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of fertility fraud at the University of California Irvine and covered the largest municipal bankruptcy in America's history. She is the winner of an Associated Press News Executives Council award for public service reporting and a Lowell Thomas prize for travel writing.

Howard Lenhoff (Crescent City, CA and Oxford, MS) is Professor Emeritus, University of California, and Adjunct Professor, University of Mississippi. In addition, he has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and has been elected as a Distinguished Fellow of the Iowa Academy of Science, Honorary Member of the Société de Physique et d'Histoire naturelle de Genève, Fellow of the AAAS, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi. He has published over 200 scientific papers, and is author and or editor of 13 books, one of the latest being Williams-Beuren Syndrome: Research, Evaluation, and Treatment, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.) 300 pages • ISBN 1-59102-478-1 (10-digit) • 978-1-59102-478-1 (13-digit) • Hardcover: $24 (6 x 9) • Publication: November 14, 2006

Prometheus Books

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