Can classical music really boost your sprog’s brainpower? We asked classical musician, Simon Tedeschi about the benefits of listening to music in your early years.
Aged five, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had already plink-plonked his way through his first symphony and was regularly performing for Royalty. That he was a pint-sized, planet-brained genius could never be up for debate. But, did you know that us lesser mortals, and more specifically our kids (with their sponge-like capacity for absorbing everything) could benefit intellectually from listening to his music?
The phenomenon called the Mozart effect was formerly identified in 1993 by a psychologist called Frances Rauscher. Her small study involving 36 students showed that kids who listened to Mozart for just 10 minutes, and then took an I.Q. test, scored an amazing eight to nine points higher in spatial reasoning tasks. Since then, almost all further studies show that listening to music or learning to play an instrument, can improve mental functionality and mathematical and linguistic ability, even when played to babies in utero...
Mozart in Dubai
World renowned concert pianist Simon Tedeschi, knows more than a thing or two about the Mozart effect. He actually plays the famous composer in Babies Proms: Meeting Mozart, a new pre-schooler stage show by CDP Theatre Productions and The Sydney Opera House, which introduces ankle biters to classical music. The show comes to Dubai’s Kilichand Theatre, at Ductac this month (March 22 to 23) and has already received rave international reviews throughout its’ world tour.
Tedeschi, who coincidentally first performed in the Sydney Opera House at the age of nine, believes all parents should expose their kids to music from an early age. “Music and art are the most civilising, redemptive forces in humankind,” he says. “They encourage lateral thought, empathy and a sense of oneself.”
For a musical prodigy who has won huge international acclaim, Tedeschi is wonderfully self-effacing. “When the producers [of the show] called me, I was naturally thrilled because this was something I had always wanted to do - entertain children through the medium of fine music. It was also very surreal to be asked, because it was not so long ago that I was a toddler, watching ABC’s Play School and fantasising that one day, I would be as good as John the piano player,” he laughs.
But what is it about the works of Mozart that seem to attract so much attention? Tedeschi has his own theories: “It’s his rhythm,” he says, “and his capacity to turn from happiness to tragedy on a dime. Kids respond in different ways to the music, just like adults. Almost all are interested, and one or two are positively transcended. Mozart is enjoyable for children because like very few artists – he had no second self. He was thoroughly uniform in his selfhood, like a child - reactive and demonstrative, not to mention demonic at times!”
While most theatrical productions focus on children aged three and above, Babies Proms: Meeting Mozart deliberately targets younger audiences. Interaction is essential, as is humour, points out Tedeschi, in making sure very small people stay interested. “We manage to keep them entertained with the help of some very fine directing from Eva di Cesare and the theatrical brilliance of my onstage ‘wife’ Michelle Doake,” he says. “I only have to make sure she doesn’t make me laugh too much!”
The experience has been a joyful one, and even something of a vocation for Tedeschi. “I realised that over years, I had developed a style of solo recital that was very appealing to young kids and people new to classical music. However, Meeting Mozart was and is a whole new plateau! Performing for children is one of the greatest gifts in the world - I love their genuine reactions and spontaneity!”
So should we all be playing music to our babies before they are born? Tedeschi certainly believes so. “I know that when I was in utero, I heard a lot of Bach,” he says, “and perhaps it had a similar effect. I am not a neurologist but I do know that Mozart, with its symmetry, universality of emotion and pathos, appeals to every aspect of the human experience.
Children are at a stage when they themselves are their own universe - and there is nobody better than Mozart to mirror that healthy narcissism, an integral stage for adolescence and beyond.”
But if you’ve missed the ‘musical bump’ boat, it’s certainly never too late – and a daily dose of Mozart should be considered as valuable for pre-schoolers as story time and reading sessions. He says, “Children are sponges. The cliché is true. By developing their own ears and aesthetics, adults can ensure that our music lives on and indeed, grows.”
Babies Proms: Meeting Mozart is at the Kilchand Theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, from March 22-23. Tickets Dhs130 (student rates also available). www.artforall.ae (052 919 5100).
FIVE fantastic facts about kids who learn musical instruments
1. They have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than non-musical kids.
2. They show different brain development with improved memory skills compared to children who are not receiving musical training.
3. Children with dyslexia or other learning disabilities show an increased ability to focus when given music lessons.
4. In 2004, a Stanford University study showed that learning an instrument improves the way the brain processes spoken language.
5. Mastering a musical instrument is a technical skill closely associated with high earning power later in life.