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Marsha Goodman-Wood — Singing about Science

A DMV brain researcher, makes learning both fun and musical for kids

Marsha Goodman-Wood, a cognitive neuroscientist turned musician, gives a deep look inside her newest album, Energetic, released Sept. 1.

Ayanna Gallant and Marsha Goodman-Wood of Marsha and the Positrons - Photo courtesy of Philip Muriel
Ayanna Gallant and Marsha Goodman-Wood of Marsha and the Positrons - Photo courtesy of Philip Muriel

Marsha Goodman-Wood started out as an academic, studying cognitive neuroscience and psychology. She was deep into graduate studies when she realized that her one true calling, music, demanded her full attention.

“The day I submitted my master’s thesis I bought a guitar,” she said. “I had already written a few songs and was jamming with a few people. I wanted to accompany myself, so I decided I wanted to play.

“I do songs about science and how the world works,” Goodman-Wood said. She smiled and chuckled amiably, adding: “One of my friends listening to the new record was like, ‘I love how nerdy you are!’”

Goodman-Wood’s band, Marsha and the Positrons, has a new album of feel-good, “educational” songs about science 1 called “Energetic.” With Goodman-Wood on vocals and guitar, she is backed by bassist John Guo, keyboardist David Durst, and Ayanna Gallant on percussion, trumpet, and flute. The group will be performing at the Children’s Summer Concert Series in Gaithersburg, Maryland, August 16 and again at Fairfax County Arts in the Parks in Centreville, Virginia, August 26.

Goodman-Wood grew up on all things Star Trek, and was inspired by the science-minded android Data in naming her band the Positrons. In a strange twist, the existence of those theoretical subatomic particles—first discovered by Carl David Anderson in 1932—was later proven more conclusively.

“They’re kind of like antimatter,” Goodman-Wood said of positrons. “I wrote about that on the last record…and there’s a little clap-along part for kids. ‘Antimatter exists [clap clap]’.”

The album “Energetic” might remind those of us who grew up during a certain era of the delightful pedagogy of Schoolhouse Rock. “Counting on My Brain” contains this musical nugget: “You’ve got one little brain in your head. It controls everything you’ve ever done or said.” “Whether the Weather” is a bluesy song about…yep, the weather, and informing kids that they’ll need to “choose the right clothes” depending on what Mother Nature is up to.

And did you know that there now exists a rocking song about…shoelaces? Well, give “Shoelaces” a spin to find out precisely why those little pieces of string are so important to our daily life—even if we give them nary a second thought.

Album cover for Marsha and the Positrons forthcoming album, Energetic
Marsha and the Positrons - Energetic - Album Cover Art

“I don’t ‘dumb it down’ for kids. I feel like if you can answer kids’ questions, they can understand it as long as you use words they understand,” said Goodman-Wood. “So if you explain something clearly, they can understand it too—and then you can make [the song] interesting for grownups.”

Indeed, “Energetic” has ample fun in store for big-kids-of-all-ages. On “No More Doctor Blues,” Goodman-Wood sings: “It’s time for my checkup; they’re gonna check me out real quick. And if I’m real good, I’ll get a lollypop to lick.”

And, for us word nerds everywhere, there’s “We’re Going to the Library.” Sample lyrics:

“Bet you can find a cozy nook to sit on down and read your book. Just remember to check it out, so they’ll know you’re not a crook. [spoken] Don’t be one of them book-stealin’ crooks!”

(Finally, I feel seen!)

“There’s a little something for everybody. There are jokes that are meant for the parents and there’s the level for the kids,” Goodman-Wood said. “I’m OK with kids not getting everything the first time they hear it—even for a little while depending on how old they are.”

She said that children are more perceptive than we might realize, and thus perhaps the repetition of singing along might teach them more than they might take in from lessons alone. This occurred when a young listener absorbed a particularly salient point from Goodman-Wood’s 2012 song “Gravity Vacation.”

“I think that people, especially kids, are natural scientists,” Goodman-Wood, the former student of the brain’s inner workings, said. “They’re always asking questions, and so I like to feed that curiosity and give them something fun to think about too.”

People should expect Marsha and the Positrons shows to be simultaneously educating and entertaining. Group movements and clapping along are highly encouraged. Goodman-Wood also hopes that her songs will simultaneously inspire minds and lift spirits.

“When I’m writing a song, I don’t want it to be a science lesson…but it’s important to me that I’m saying something with my music,” she said. So those positive messages—and the connection between science and humanity—is what I want to share with the world.”

Furthermore, she’s able to marry her science background with the proven notion that music can actually help our minds—thus bringing her life’s work essentially full-circle.

“There’s so much going on in our brains when we do music…and I probably think about that more than your average musician or person,” she said. “I enjoy science, I want to make science fun, and if people are having fun with it, then I’m accomplishing my goal.”

To learn more about upcoming shows and new music, visit https://www.marshaandthepositrons.com/.

Eric Althoff

A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.

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