Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Music's Charms

Quite a few philosophers have written about music's effects on the development of the soul, from Plato to Boethius. It's a type of philosophizing that has fallen out of fashion today, as Carson Holloway explores in his book "All Shook Up: Music, Passion, and Politics."

But falling out of fashion is not the same thing as being refuted. Not at all. So I thought I chip in my two cents, anecdotal as it is:

I have two kids: Ethan, who will be 5 in July, and Eva, who is 2. When we turn on the television for them -- to some sort of little kids' program -- they enter one of two states. 1) They go into a flaccid stupor while on the couch staring vacantly at the TV; or 2) They become more agitated and irritable, and end up fighting and screaming at each other.

But when we keep the TV off and put on a CD of Mozart concertos instead (my wife got the complete set of all 27 recently), the effect is absolutely amazing. Ethan and Eva start becoming constructive and well-mannered. They might, for example, draw on paper nicely together.

Whether or not listening to Mozart increases IQ (and there is some dispute over that), it makes my own children act more civilized. And it's not a slight difference. Mozart vs. TV is like night vs. day.

I don't know exactly why this is so, other than the common-sense explanation that 1) what you watch or listen to affects how you behave; and 2) Mozart is indeed civilized, while children's TV is spastic, loud, frantic, intense, and made for the shortest of attention spans.

Number 1 is quite often attacked, usually by people who want to counter any attempt to censor violence or sex in the media. But I don't see how what they say could be true. What you watch or listen to has to have some effect, right? Otherwise, what's the point of advertising?


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