Music to Live By

Article excerpt

Many of us have read of the experiments of Dr. Thomas Verny. In his book, "The Secret Life of the Unborn Child" (NY: Dell Publishing Co., 1981), he described the effects of different kinds of music on the unborn fetus. Fetal distress was measured while different types of music were played. Even early in pregnancy, the unborn child favored Mozart and Vivaldi: "...fetal heart rates invariably steadied and kicking declined. The music of Brahms and Beethoven, and all forms of rock, on the other hand, drove most fetuses to distraction. They kicked violently when records of these composers were played to their pregnant mothers." An enterprising young mother has purveyed this study into big business with CDs and DVDs especially of Mozart for the pregnant mothers to listen to and the infants to listen to and to watch, purportedly to increase their IQs (the Baby Einstein, Baby Mozart, etc. series.).

Classical music can soothe, calm, heal, energize. Why classical music? "Music therapists and brain scientists who have studied the effects of music on the brain/mind agree that it has the greatest therapeutic value for enhancing self-knowledge and self-development" (Stephanie Meritt, "Mind, Music, and Imagery," NY: Penguin Books, 1990).

As we all have experienced, music can release all kinds of emotions. Music is a resource that is often untapped, unfortunately. Music can give vigor to the mind and body, health, creativity. It gives serenity and joy. The right kind of music can give needed catharsis and can release negative and stressful emotions like fear, anger, grief, frustration. Just as tears wash away negative feelings, "angry" compositions like those of Wagner and Beethoven can release stress. So we who are so busy that we hardly can feel the natural rhythms of day and night, the stress-releasing rhythms of our breathing out and breathing in, should really take the time to access our sound environment and arrange it to be helpful to us, and to bring rhythm, order, and beautiful sound into our lives. It takes so little effort, what with the wide range of classical selections available in CDs and in all sorts of technological ways (downloads, iPods, even cell phones). One can also simplify the "classifications and periods" of music, as labels are not all that important. Go with gut feel, that most important criterion of criticism. If you like it, patronize and savor it; if you don't, no matter what the critics say, delete it. Anyway, if you want to, just be conversant: Baroque music (1600-1750) is highly structured, precise, dramatic, e.g., Bach. Classical (1750-1820) has lots of tone color, lots of flexible rhythmic patterns and surprises, e.g., Beethoven, Mozart. Romantic (1820-1920) consists of very personal, individualistic, emotional outpourings, e.g. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Wagner. Impressionistic (19th-20th c.) is dreamlike, evocative, nuanced, fluid, e.g. Ravel, Debussy.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Choose the music you respond to. Take note of your kind of response (invigorating? restful? irritating?). You can start your day with an energizing selection like Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, or Mozart's flute concertos, or Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Dress to the music of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Hit the ground running with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. To stimulate creativity and to keep you energized throughout the day, you have a wide choice: Brandenburg Concertos can be a perpetual sound bath for you. Or Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony No. 6, or Handel's Water Music. When you want to unwind as the day begins to end, listen to Corelli's Concerto Grossi (beautiful!) or to Telemann's Flute Sonatas. As the night deepens, there's the intimate music of Chopin's Etude No. 3, Lizst's Libestraum, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture, and the elegant Piano Concerto No. …