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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

'Kicking the parent', 'Lucia di Lammermoor'
and other fun games and pastimes,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Dear Alice,
Thought you'd be interested in Jeremy Eichler's article in The Globe about his year-long quest to understand his infant's musical mind.

Don't know about you, but I hadn't realized the 'Mozart effect' had been disproved, for a start!

Helen Reich

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Alice Dear Helen,
Many thanks for this. It's all fascinating -- and beautifully written -- though I think he's barking up a non-existent tree if he thinks he can coax his infant into humming in twelve-tone rows by firing Schoenberg at him ... On the other hand, the part about complex rhythms makes perfect sense to me. If African or Balinese kids can dance in multiple and complex rhythms from such a young age (for example), why feed Western kids on mere Pachelbel Canons?? (At last I know why counting Rite of Spring is hard for me! My parents callously refused to play it to me in the womb!!!! Is it my fault that my father is crazy about Bach's B minor Mass?)

As for the Mozart effect, this was definitely news to me. When I had my kid (exactly a decade ago) scientists as well as 'How to make your kid a thumping genius' bandwaggon-jumpers were flogging this idea, and, while I'm proud to say that I never bought any, I did always put her to sleep with classical music. Here is Eichler on the subject:

Schellenberg [professor of psychology at the University of Toronto] conducted a series of experiments on undergraduates, first showing that Schubert increased performance just as well as Mozart, and then showing that a narrated story by Stephen King also did the trick. It turns out that the key to superior performance is enhancing one's mood, and that can be done by music or by sipping a strawberry milkshake.

So, all you worried young parents, or parents-to-be out there, chill out, sod the pretentious tapes on how to make your kid a genius, and buy some African rhythmic dances!!!!

PS Note that I'm not recommending Lucia di Lammermoor. I happened to record that opera a month before my kid was born, and she did nothing inside of me but kick the cello -- though whether in ecstasy or fury she has never been able to properly explain ...

Copyright © 18 July 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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