Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias When we think of music, we naturally think of it as a source of entertainment, a way to unjangle nerves after a hectic day at the office, or perhaps the perfect way to show affection for a special loved one.

That's why it seemed a bit strange last summer when, while addressing a group of high school leaders at the South Dakota Youth Congress on the campus of The University of South Dakota, Gov. Bill Janklow began singing the praises of classical music.

I can't remember whether the governor — who has a vast collection of music from the 1960s in his personal record library — admitted enjoying listening to classical artists. But he encouraged the young people, as they grew up, married and began families, to expose their children to the works of Bach.

As soon as possible.

I knew that the governor has become a grandpa last year, and at first I thought we were simply listening to the advice of someone who was overly anxious — someone who was willing to try or advocate anything that might help a child's cognitive development.

Many of the young people who listened to the governor share this unique theory probably were thinking that his suggestions certainly may be worth trying. But, they also probably figured that when they became parents, their kids would do just fine if they spent some time reading to them, or telling stories, or singing lullabies.

It seems the governor's advice is something we all should be taking seriously, though. Researchers are making fascinating discoveries about how our brains work.

And time and again, they are finding that tiny infants who are regularly exposed to the music of Bach and other great classical composers have minds that are more keenly developed than those who are growing up in less stimulating environment.

One of those researchers is Dr. Rebecca Shore, who today is a school administrator in California. Her findings indicate that when babies listen to certain types of music, the number of brain synapses is increased and the spatial temporal reasoning areas of the brain are stimulated. Spatial temporal reasoning involves the ability to solve complex math problems, perform music, play chess, assemble puzzles, and calculate important activities such as how to get a basketball through a hoop or golf ball into a hole.

Shore notes that Mozart's talent and intelligence became the center of her studies because he was a musical genius. But then she began wondering what type of music he likely was exposed to as an infant.

It was the highly mathematical, complex counterpoint baroque music of Johann Sebastian Bach that first inspired Mozart's genius. He was nurtured and inspired by Bach through the truly musical Mozart family. Mozart's father, Leopold, was a well-known musician who often played baroque music for his unborn son. Mozart's exposure to Bach continued as he lay in his crib listening to his older sister practicing the harpsichord.

Janklow remains convinced that classical music can do wonderful things for our young people. Earlier this year, he advocated that the state set aside a small amount of funding to purchase classical recordings for South Dakota parents. He apparently wasn't able to drum up much interest in the idea, because not much has been heard about the proposal in recent weeks.

I'm not fully convinced that the state needs to get in the business of purchasing classical music for parents. After all, classical music doesn't enjoy a high acceptance level among South Dakotans, who prefer pop, rock 'n roll and country western artists.

Consider, however, what Georgia is doing. Gov. Zell Miller's musical selections for that state's newborns include works by Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Schubert, Vivaldi, Pachelbel and Bach.

Miller unveiled the recording, Build Your Baby's Brain Power Through the Power of Music at his office. Sony is producing and distributing the tapes and CDs for free. The albums are included in the free items hospitals give to parents when newborns are sent home. "I hope that parents will play it often," Miller said.

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