Have you ever thought how important music is to you? Stop telling lies now, of course you haven’t.
Most people don’t think about it at all until it’s too late and they’re on the BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ program and Natasha Kaplinski is sitting there asking “How important is music to you?” Whereupon they suddenly realise that music is even more important than clean underwear, and without a regular supply of both they’d be sucking their shoelaces for some form of solace.
Well, you’ll be delighted to hear that scientists have recently been able to measure exactly, just how important music is to the human brain with an accuracy of an astonishing seven decimal places and minus seven decibels. And the startling answer is directly quoted as:
“Quite a lot”.
We now know that the brain responds to music in a very basic and primitive fashion, and that this response begins at a very early stage in our physiological development…
It also starts some considerable time before we are born, often as early as the second Friday in the month before. And it was knowledge of this important fact that inspired the work of the famous French obstetrician Le Boyer. As you may or may not already know, Le Boyer pioneered a new technique of obstetrics in which babies are delivered in a dimly lit delivery room to the accompaniment of soft and soothing background music.
Imagine that for a moment if you will, dimmed lighting and soft background music.
Isn’t that what got the mothers to be, pregnant in the first place?
Anyway, this is all meant to prepare the baby for its future life by giving it the idea that the world is a soft and gentle and truly wonderful place, although personally, I reckon it gives the baby the mistaken idea it is being born in a supermarket during a power cut.
Which I suppose is as good a preparation for future life as any other.
Trendy followers of the ‘Le Boyer school of thought’, point out that the soft music allows the baby to lose any inherent anxiety and aggression during delivery, and I presume that the dim lighting allows the obstetrician to put the clamp on his thumb instead of the umbilical cord.
In fact, using sophisticated electronic recording devices, doctors have been able to monitor babies’ reactions inside the womb to many different kinds of music. It appears that they like Vivaldi best of all, very closely followed by the likes of Eminem and death metal.
Now I don’t want to be a wet flannel here (although no delivery suite is complete without one) but I do wonder just how important those first few hours of life really are.
Opponents of Le Boyer’s theories have pointed out that Jewish babies are ritually circumcised a few days later – a ceremony that, even if performed in dim lights and with soft music, is certainly not going to give this baby the impression of being in a supermarket during a power cut. (Although I suppose it depends where you do your shopping).
Furthermore, there may well be long term effects caused by this kind of behavioural manipulation. Recent surveys suggest that the widespread application of the ‘Le Boyer technique’ to circumcision has now produced an entire generation of accountants that get severe pains in their privates whenever they hear Vivaldi on the radio. And I’m sure we all know someone like that, don’t we?
Well, now that we have established that music is of fundamental importance to the human brain, perhaps we can go on to examine why that should be so. The answer is all to do with the way that the brain is arranged.
Basically the brain is divided into bits called lobes. This arrangement has evolved over many millions of years because Mother Nature has found it to be the optimal layout for aspirin commercials.
At the front of the brain, for instance, are the frontal lobes (Funny how things work out isn’t it?). Roughly speaking, these are assumed responsible, for inhibiting aggression and a few other undesirable behaviour traits. Thus the frontal lobes stop us from swearing, cheating at cards and spitting in busses, and help us to obey the Highway Code and pay our taxes on time. Apparently, so rumour has it, the frontal lobes are congenitally absent in all Frenchmen.
In a similar way, neurologists have discovered other bits of the brain that are in charge of text messaging, pencil sucking, tax dodging and industrial relations. Recently however, a new bit was discovered deep inside the mid-brain (Sorry ladies, it wasn’t the sling-back synapse, that part of the brain that dictates that you have more than thirty pairs of shoes). It is tucked under the rhinencephalon, bordering on the amygdaloid nucleus and half an inch nor-nor-east of the thalamus.
It consists of a group of nerve cells that are responsible for our response to music, and has been called by neurophysiologists ‘the music centre’ because it comes complete with Dolby 5.1 surround-sound and free headphones.
Anyway, using state of the art, and somewhat highly complicated immunocytochemical autoflourescent preparations, the scientists have identified a group of specialised cells that specifically respond to the foxtrot and other classical music. There are other cells that respond to opera, the rumba and most South American rhythms (excluding the cha-cha which has its nerve centre situated somewhere in the cerebellum).
In another part of the same area, there are cells secreting a chemical known as 2’ 4’ diphenylhydramino-butyrate-biryani, which causes the owner of said brain, to do the Funky Chicken and the Mashed Potato. In most people of the modern world, this area is now shrunken and atrophied, but it has been seen to re-emerge in 30 to 50 year old fathers – Especially during their daughter’s wedding receptions.
It is therefore no surprise at all, that music plays such a fundamentally important role in our lives, even when we’re not on ‘Desert Island Discs’; and it seems obvious now, that our particular preferences are dictated by the music we heard when we were in the womb, or shortly after our emergence.
This brings me nicely to the whole point of this diatribe. A few times now, customers have stood back in amazement at my answer when they ask me, “Don’t you have a radio?
No I don’t have a radio and here’s why.
When I was a youngster, all green and cabbage looking, I cut my teeth in ‘the game’ on building sites where the radios or even boom-boxes of the day, were louder than the local discotheques (wow there’s a word from the past). And very much to my own personal despair, to prove that this was the case, these days I am practically deaf because of it. So why would I need a radio on site with me?
And let’s be honest here, when you have tradies working in your home, is music louder than the sound of Concorde landing in New York, really what you want to be hearing?
Maybe my customers just wanted more than a property fix. Maybe they want me to entertain them too as I drip huge amounts of sweat on their behalf (as if my blogs aren’t entertaining enough). Or maybe they have already heard me trying to sing and hope that having a radio on site will be a form of preventative medicine, ensuring I keep my cake hole shut for them.
All this of course makes it somewhat doubly disappointing that I am deigned so useless and tasteless (according to the youngsters around me), when it comes to music; but of one thing I am more than certain – ‘Twisted Sister’ must have been playing while my parents considered having me circumcised (no I’m not Jewish but my dad was a Yorkshireman… just as tight) in a dimly lit supermarket during a power cut.
So all together now, please join in with the chorus 🙂