Posted 09.16.09

The essential early influence of music

Thoreau said, "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill." But another famous writer, Hans Christian Andersen, said, "Where words fail, music speaks."

In fact, research has shown that music is an elemental part of our consciousness, and existed in early man before speech.

Music teaches the brain how to integrate the right and left sides, helping us see things beyond the obvious. Certainly that's a significant element in innovation, which is one of the goals of higher education.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitan says the fetus begins to hear between 17-19 weeks in the womb, developing music centres in many different parts of the brain. The vibrations caused by music have a more regular rhythm than other sounds, helping to calm the baby. This explains why even in primitive societies mothers sing to their infants.

Ancient musical instruments date back to the Ice Age. Early peoples had special songs to remember each other, and expressed themselves more often through music and dance than speaking. But music and speech are closely related in the brain. Children who have musical training show better linguistic ability, and also do better in math.

With all this evidence, it's disappointing to see that music education has been one of the victims of cuts to schools.

Fortunately, that isn't the case everywhere.

L'ecole St-Laurent in Buckingham, QC has integrated music into the curriculum. Children begin in kindergarten with small violins, then move on to learn the recorder. They are able to choose other instruments as they progress, joining the harmony orchestra in grade four.

The school provides instruments, which the children are allowed to take home for practice.

I've attended many concerts at this school, as two students there are former neighbors. What has impressed me about L'ecole St-Laurent is how the head of the program manages to instill both discipline and joy in his young charges. At the Kiwanis Festival last spring, where they earned high marks, these grade 4-6 children marched smartly onto the stage, sat with instruments at the ready, not fidgeting or whispering, and responded immediately to the leader's directions.

Unlike some of the other schools in the competition, L'ecole St-Laurent's harmony group dresses like professionals. The photo on the front of the May concert program shows 44 students in black pants and white shirts, with black shoes and socks, who wouldn't look out of place on the NAC stage.

The music was also impressive, a wide selection ranging from clever arrangements of simple tunes at the Christmas concert, when the youngest members of the group have only had a few months of lessons, to some sophisticated modern harmonies and rhythms in several of the selections for the May concert.

They're learning cooperation, concentration, discipline, manual dexterity, how to use both sides of the brain, and an appreciation of the arts.

Why don't all of our children have music in their schools?

Barbara Florio Graham uses music in her online creativity course. Information on her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2009 Barbara Florio Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.09