22 August 2012


As early as I can remember, I have been stirred by music.  In my early childhood, my only music source was listening to the radio (yes, I'm that old).  I was instinctively drawn to the aural and emotional expression found in music ranging from 1930s-40s big band to classical to pop standards of the era.

It was my great good fortune to attend a tiny rural school whose principal, a rancher and Renaissance man named Ira Perkins, devoted himself to a well-rounded education for his students ~ including academic studies, dance, physical activity, and both listening to and performing music.  How proud I was as a first-grader to don the purple cape and hat of our small band, whose modest instruments included recorders, triangles, and percussion.

Later, in a different community with a larger school, I started singing and playing instruments in fifth grade ~ passing up clarinet and baritone horn in favor of the French horn.  Music was always running through my head in quiet moments, the rhythm and melody of my young life.

Along the way I subconsciously began to understand important relationships ~ how the length of notes compared to other notes meant something, how certain pairs of notes played together produced a pleasing harmony, other pairs not so much.  Without realizing it, I was learning that math is one of music's foundations ~ duration, pitch, tempo.  I believe that my early experience in music reinforced how well I did in math and reading, and sensitized me to the world of sound ~ bird calls, the wind in the trees, the nuances of human voices speaking, learning languages ~ as well as to spatial relationships, hand-eye coordination, color, and emotion.

There is new evidence supporting this belief.  Researchers at Northwestern University have found that "a little music training in childhood goes a long way in improving how the brain functions in adulthood when it comes to listening and the complex processing of sound .... Compared to peers with no musical training, adults with one to five years of musical training as children have enhances brain responses to complex sounds, making them more effective at pulling out the fundamental frequency of the sound signal.  The fundamental frequency, which is the lowest frequency in sound, is crucial for speech and musical perception, allowing recognition of sounds in complex and noisy auditory environments .... Prior research on highly trained musicians and early bilingualists revealed that enhanced brain stem responses to sound are associated with heightened auditory perception, executive function, and auditory communication skills."

So one doesn't have to be a musician for years and years to reap the benefits of musical training.  Equally importantly, it seems to me, though maximum benefit is conferred by an early start in music, it's never too late to begin.  During my adult years I learned to play classical guitar, dulcimer, and African drums.  Rudimentary piano playing was present throughout.  Each new experience enhanced my listening and understanding.

Here is a wee treat for listeners of any experience level ~ Arthur Rubenstein's 1965 performance of Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat minor, Opus 9, Number 2.  Enjoy.

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