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It could be the “Mozart Effect” or perhaps I was just blessed with a child that was pre-wired as an extremely calm and “easy” baby. I don’t know if it was nature or nurture, but I do know that music has played a huge role in my child’s development since birth. I had always read that singing to your child is calming to them, so figuring that birth has got to be an enormously stressful event, there I was… the single gay dad singing a medley of songs from Broadway’s Wicked to his new born son there in the delivery room of Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital. In later months, it might have been “Baby Beethoven” or “Baby Mozart” but music has constantly filled our house nearly every hour of the day in Alek’s first two years. Now that he’s 4 1/2, it’s Cher that he loves, but that’s a completely different article as to how that happened.
Classical Music has earned a reputation for promoting intelligence in children with the theory often referred to the “Mozart Effect” in babies. Studies in this area have suggested that music in a child’s life, especially classical music, provides a calming and intellectually stimulating effect on children. One explanation for this is that classical music is loaded with mathematics. It contains all kinds of musical and mathematical “equations” and repetitive phrasings. Continuous playing of music literally stimulates the brain with these continuous patterns and become predictive to the developing brain. Like a consistent schedule, this familiarity in a child’s life can lead to a stronger development of security, emotional stability, and intelligence – qualities that seem to be lacking from far too many of the bizarre candidates that were just running for national offices this election.
I’m writing this article as I return from Jon Stewart’s “Restore Sanity” rally in Washington DC. A reoccurring theme of this historic event was the importance of quelling the voices… of creating calm. We live in a very noisy society these days. What is happening in politics is especially concerning with the rise of 24 hours per day “always on”, all-hype cable news stations. It is becoming a huge problem in our country that civility is being drowned out to absurdity. It’s true that many careers of people like Sarah Palin and Christine (the non-masturbating witch) O’Donnell are owed to this current phenomenon. It could even be said that an entire television network was born out of this nonsense with Fox (Faux?) News. When I was a child, I couldn’t even imagine saying something cross to my teacher, the fireman, or any other person in leadership, and now our children’s example is that we have leaders in congress literally screaming at our own President and taking personal jabs at the highest leader in this country. Is this the new norm? If the postman deserves a little respect, doesn’t our President? Turn on cable news at any hour of the day and you have 4-6 talking heads all screaming over each other and nobody even being heard. Civility seems to be gone. Everybody is yelling and nobody is listening to each other. I’m not exactly going out on a limb when I state my concern that our children and even our newborn babies are negatively affected by this. Possibly to a larger degree than what we are aware of.
The idea behind the Restore Sanity rally was to provide a counterweight to the crazy yelling and degrading insults that fly so predominantly in these polarized times. One of the ways that this rally succeeded tremendously in accomplishing this was through one of the musical guest stars, the former Cat Stevens (known now as Yusuf Islam) who sang “Peace Train”. The peace train, along with the “Kumbayah” moment of 215,000 people swaying their hands was derailed when Ozzie Osbourne took to the stage, musically representing the “noise” of the right wing politics by abruptly interrupting the performance with his performance of “Crazy Train.” Besides appealing to many Ozzie Osbourne fans, the meaning of the juxtaposition of these very opposing voices was obvious. As the audience yearned for more of the “peace”, listeners were entertained with a medley of songs that eventually brought everyone on board when the O’Jays made a guest appearance on stage and finished off this musical segment with a performance of “Love Train”.
We may not be able to silence the noise and restore sanity overnight in this country, but we are in charge of our own environments in which we raise our children. We also know that music literally produces a chemical effect in the brain. The result can be calming, and have positive effects in our children’s and our own lives. In a baby, it can help create “sanity” as in an adult it can restore sanity almost magically, even if temporarily (thank you Ozzie). I truly hope that as a nation, we can tone it down a bit. As a parent, we are often forced to listen more than talk. Why not add more music to that equation. I invite you to create a Baroque or Beethoven station on your Pandora Radio and play it in the background all day at your house as the soundtrack to your everyday life. Why not even do a test and see if your children’s (or your own?) behavior or intelligence is altered over time with this technique. If you child is a newborn, then by all means play classical and calming music all day, every day, even if this is not your musical preference. Sing to your baby every morning and every night. If your child is older, sing with them. Sing in the car when you’re driving to school in the morning and to soccer practice after school. Whatever you do, turn off Fox and all cable news networks in your house when your child is present. I promise you that the result will be the peace train arriving in your household, and perhaps just a little bit less of the crazy train.