One of my bed­side books for the past few months has been:
Musi­cophil­ia, Tales of Music and The Brain by Oliv­er Sacks. I think I’ve men­tioned before that I rarely read a new book from front to back at first open­ing!

Accord­ing to his bio Oliv­er Sacks is a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy and psy­chi­a­try at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter in New York City. The book is a worth­while read cov­er­ing many top­ics relat­ing to how music can and does affect and help the lives of diverse pop­u­la­tions and con­di­tions.

My most recent musi­cal inter­ludes have involved three of note: First in July I watched the Bar­ber­shop Har­mo­ny Soci­ety’s 2009 web­cast of its Inter­na­tion­al Com­pe­ti­tion for quar­tets, cho­rus­es and col­lege lev­el quar­tets.

For those of you who still don’t know: The Bar­ber­shop Har­mo­ny Soci­ety (for­mer­ly the Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion and Encour­age­ment of Bar­ber Shop Quar­tet Singing in Amer­i­ca — SPEBSQSA) is alive and well for those who love to sing 4‑part a cap­pel­la music in that tra­di­tion­al man­ner.

My con­nec­tion with The Soci­ety has last­ed 19 years since my sons start­ed singing bar­ber­shop when they were 9 and 12 years of age. We are all now pas­sion­ate about qual­i­ty bar­ber­shop har­mo­ny.

This year’s com­pe­ti­tion was amaz­ing in many ways: our sons weren’t com­pet­ing in the quar­tet com­pe­ti­tion for the first time in a good many years; the cho­rus com­pe­ti­tion was awe­some; the quar­tet com­pe­ti­tion was inter­est­ing. How­ev­er, those gath­ered to watch were on a musi­cal high for sev­er­al days and all oth­er bur­dens were for­got­ten — the gift of bar­ber­shop har­mo­ny.

Sec­ond­ly, on the oth­er end of the spec­trum: I was assist­ing with music time in the day­care facil­i­ty where I work where usu­al­ly one of our younger assis­tants offers a fun time for the chil­dren with action rhymes and action songs — all very tune­ful!

On this par­tic­u­lar day I dis­cov­ered that anoth­er of our staff mem­bers, think­ing she was ‘good at music’ I believe, lead the ses­sion. I sud­den­ly realised that the per­son beside me could not hold pitch (some­thing which is crit­i­cal to singing bar­ber­shop har­mo­ny well!).

So it start­ed me think­ing about young chil­dren who real­ly don’t have good music in their lives.

I’m not sure why I’ve just start­ed think­ing about music in chil­dren’s lives. Per­haps because in my own world every­one could car­ry a tune and over their lives had enjoyed good music. None of us would be thought of as par­tic­u­lar­ly musi­cal, but good music abound­ed in my world of grow­ing up. For some of us it was extreme­ly per­son­al and pri­vate but nev­er­the­less crit­i­cal to our dai­ly lives.

So imag­ine a world where the only music you hear is a repeat of ‘clas­si­cal music for babies’, your par­ents don’t sing along or show joy in their music, or you sim­ply watch videos/movies with their accom­pa­ny­ing music, as you dri­ve in the car.

I’ve said before, our old­est son learned to read fast from lis­ten­ing to Bil­ly Joel’s music and read­ing the lyrics at the speed of the music. It was just what we had in the car on one of our local fam­i­ly jour­neys.

Our youngest son actu­al­ly improved his speed-read­ing by singing bar­ber­shop har­mo­ny — to car­ry a tune, get every note right (read the musi­cal notes for your voice part) plus get the words to a song aligned with those notes, is a mul­ti­ple task for the brain. Spurred fur­ther by the desire to be as good as those around you with many more years of singing har­mo­ny under their belts — it worked!

Our fam­i­ly has offered our sons a diver­si­ty of qual­i­ty music from almost every tune­ful genre. Thanks to Mr. Sacks’ book I now know the con­tri­bu­tion of music to their brains.

Third­ly, I recent­ly played Placido Domin­go singing songs from a Puc­ci­ni opera to almost‑3 year olds. The chil­dren calm­ly went about their morn­ing activ­i­ties.

Such a con­trast from the inef­fec­tu­al ‘clas­si­cal music for babies’ which is played day after day, vir­tu­al­ly all day, under the impres­sion that ‘clas­si­cal music is calm­ing for chil­dren’. Such music is put on by peo­ple who are not pas­sion­ate about any sort of music — they sim­ply read the lit­er­a­ture and fol­low thru with­out knowl­edge, inter­est or pas­sion.

Young chil­dren quick­ly remem­ber and sing along to music that is reg­u­lar­ly deliv­ered with pas­sion. I also know that many (per­haps most) chil­dren can actu­al­ly hear pitch and even though they may uncon­scious­ly start out singing flat or sharp their voic­es rise to those who are singing in pitch — I’ve heard and watched it hap­pen, it’s not a the­o­ry!

Music is good for the souls and brains of every indi­vid­ual!