This is M.C. Sleepyhead comin’ atchoo?
Try rap, not Brahms, for that lullaby
August 19, 1999
A little while back, research on the brain indicated that playing classical music for toddlers made them smarter. According to The New York Times, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller was so convinced by the studies that he’s planning to provide CDs for all new mothers in the state. And in Florida, state-run preschools must already play classics for rugrats every day, in lieu (I suspect) of actually educating them. After all, that can run into real money.
It’s interesting to see our elected government officials act like hippies. It’s a pleasant change of pace from their usual routine of setting up commissions, ignoring commission reports, and fund-raising.
So if they’re throwing tax dollars at the suddenly powerful orchestral music lobby, that’s fine with me.
But a new forthcoming book, “The Myth of the First Three Years” by John Bruer, makes the case (according to the Times) that science may indeed know diddly about early brain development, but not enough diddly to tell educators how to educate and parents how to parent.
Specifically, panicked efforts by zealous moms and dads to get their young ones accepted into Harvard by piping Mozart into their cribs well, it’s just magical thinking, like wishing on a star, crossing one’s fingers, or buying a sports utility vehicle. Apparently the research on the so-called “Mozart effect” was faulty. There was no study of the actual effect on toddlers, but on college students. And you know how they are up till all hours listening to their Moody Blues records, pulling all-nighters for their French existentialist quizzes, high on their “espressos” and “anxiety.”
I’m betting that the researchers asked some of these smart-alecks how they got so smart, and they spun them a tale about being immersed in Beethoven, Goethe and Rembrandt at a very early age, thus preparing them for a B-average in a prestigious Eastern Seaboard private university.
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In reality, I suspect that most of these students are either the children of alumni, or the children of successful used-car dealers in Southern California who can afford the tuition that prestige demands.
And what is “classical music” anyway? Besides the pleasure that it affords some people, it is also a marker of class. The appreciator of classical music is seen as a classier individual than one who likes Snoop Doggy Dogg, for instance. Those who like classical music can hardly fail to be aware of this (they’re smart!). Plus, the infrastructure necessary for the presentation of classical music demands a lot of cash. To have an orchestra, a city needs a hall in which it must perform, not to mention the orchestra itself, and a moody conductor imported from Berlin.
Unlike sports franchises, these orchestras are usually backed by the upper classes of the city in which they are housed. These are the same people who donate art they’ve collected to museums on whose boards they sit. They own their own tuxedos. They also keep the fashion industry in pin money. One never wears the same gown twice, does one?
So if you play Mozart for little Tiffany as she sucks away on her formula, you’re also playing for that wealthy philanthropist within. Someday, you might be the one shaking hands with Dieter at the reception. You might be the one photographed donating the Van Gogh. You might have your home featured in Architectural Digest.
By then, of course, little Tiffany will be long gone. She may be fabulously successful. She may have run off with a drummer. She may be working with relief workers somewhere in Africa. She may be bitter and in therapy, or love you deeply.
None of this will have anything to do with classical music, however. Play the kid tapes of city council meetings, play her broadcasts of baseball games, play her Barney tapes, or Teletubbies, or Snoop Doggy Dogg, as far that goes. The kid won’t know, or care.
You could sing her a song yourself, you know. Sing her a lullaby, put her down, and let her sleep in peace. You’re so smart, why didn’t you think of that? (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)