Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Music Really Good for You?

Ever since the “Mozart Effect” became a buzzword in the mid-1990’s as expectant mothers began playing Classical Music to their unborn as to provide them the best start in life. After ten years or so, can we really say that music - especially Classical Music - is good for you?

By: Vanessa Uy

Back around 1995 and 1996, film documentaries made about studies on exposing young kids to music – especially Classical Music – has a purportedly positive effect on their educational development gained widespread popularity. But recently, there’s increasing evidence that teachers and educators back then watched and participated in such studies more for their “novelty factor” than the intended outcome of increasing the participating kid’s intellect. Some studies even included programs of teaching the kids to play musical instruments as well. And surely enough, every one of these studies showed results that the kid’s became smarter.

Despite the study’s detractors, there’s a preexisting rationale for the experiment to be undertaken. An overwhelming majority of the “intellectual giants” that ever walked the Earth are either accomplished musicians or music enthusiasts (Does these include audiophiles?). Even Albert Einstein played the violin – albeit only on a recreational basis. If music made these people smart then ipso facto our kids could get smart also via music, even the mercurial frontman of Guns N’ Roses, W. Axl Rose, has a 120 IQ. Or is now a good time to tell everyone to get a grip?

But by 1999, increasing controversy has arisen over scientific with regards to the practice of playing classical music to babies may enhance their brain functions. Even the then newly established habit of expectant mothers in their final trimester playing Classical Music to their unborn child. A ritual once considered fashionably hip in 1996 was just – three years later – called into question.

The publication of “The Myth of the First Three Years” by Dr. John Bruer in the late 1990’s probably served as a “nail in the coffin” in ending a ritual. The ritual that an increasing number of the “Generation X” – you know those expectant mothers back in 1995 to 1996 who are fast approaching 40 by now (2008) – has a strong perception that listening to Classical Music is not only “unnecessary” to an overwhelming majority of them. But was also perceived by them as ritual that is an “anathema” to their generation.

In his book “The Myth of the First Three Years”, Dr. John Bruer says that there is no neurological evidence of enhanced brain functions of babies exposed to Classical Music. Even Dr. Francis Rauscher, co-author of the original studies on the “Mozart Effect”, has told The New York Times that she feels the press mangled her results. The original study was not conducted on young children but on college students, and the music’s effects were brief and limited to performance on a specific task of spatial imagery.

Basing on my quite extensive knowledge of “historically trivial events” that occurred in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the growing resentment disguised as a “silent consensus” that engendered studies relating to the “Mozart Effect” is the reaction of the music teaching community across the American Educational System. They feel that their (the music teachers / educators) “mystique” – even their livelihood – was threatened when the Reagan Administration in collusion with the US Board of Education spent disproportionately large sums of money promoting “Team Sport” programs over music education and appreciation. This was a nationwide phenomenon that came to define the fiscally austere period of the 1980’s.

Sadly, I have this nagging feeling that what the “Mozart Effect” study really exposed is a pre-existing “Kultur Kampf” in the contemporary American Educational Society between Team Sports and “formal” music education / appreciation classes. For what its worth, studies relating to the “Mozart Effect” was primarily designed to gain sympathy from then President Bill Clinton. Since the president back them is an amateur musician and a serious music enthusiast, then music educators across America could finally get what they are deprived of during the Reagan Administration.