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by Don Campbell
Review by Anne Philbrow on Mar 26th 2002
The basic message of this book is
that music is a Good Thing, or as Don Campbell more poetically puts it: 'Music helps plants grow, drives our
neighbors to distraction, lulls children to sleep and marches men to war.' He also describes it fittingly as 'the
speech of angels and atoms'.
He is preaching to an already
converted reader in my case. Having
spent many hours playing the piano during a lengthy period of reactive
depression, I am well convinced of the therapeutic aspects of music.
Unfortunately, the importance of
music is not universally understood as vital for one's mental (and indeed,
physical) well-being. It is often
relegated to the 'hobby' category; amusing, but not significant. Here in the UK, many schools fail to
recognize it as a serious subject, where it is regarded as an 'extra', a
frippery. Not a serious core subject
alongside English, Math or a science.
Campbell illustrates his thesis with
wide ranging documentation of examples where music has apparently helped to
heal people on a physical and mental level, raise their IQ and emotional
His illustrations run from
scientific evidence through to anecdotal.
Mostly he cites experiments that have been academically written up both
in mainstream medical journals and alternative therapy literature. All sources are given.
Some of the stories and that is
what much of it is, stories about how music has dramatically changed someone's
life are less rigorous, especially where music is used in conjunction with
other therapies. There is also a New
Age feel to some of the writing, which is not to my taste.
It is difficult to know where to
start with this book, as its good qualities are also its deficiencies, being a
vast collection of observations and anecdotes.
It is almost like reading a mini-encyclopedia.
Campbell sets the scene by
describing the physiological effects of sound, and distinguishes between
hearing and listening. The alarming
effects of sound pollution are well documented. For example, (pp 36/7) 'A study at a public elementary school
found that, in the course of four years, students whose class faced the
elevated subway were eleven months behind students not directly exposed to the
noise of passing trains. When the
students were moved, their achievement levels returned to normal.'
Common sense, really. If we are busy filtering out or being
distracted by excessive sound, we are inevitably going to find it difficult to
concentrate. Yet such considerations
are routinely ignored in schools and workplaces.
A third of the 60 million Americans
identified as having hearing loss, have lost it through exposure to loud
sounds. According to Dr Samuel Rosen,
the average 60 year old in traditional African society hears as well, or
better, than the average 25 year old North American.
Campbell writes a lot about the work
of the Tomatis Centre, Paris. The
French doctor, Alfred Tomatis has tested more than 100,000 clients in his
listening centers for aural, psychological, learning and vocal disabilities. In the early 1950's, Tomatis discovered that
the fetus is capable of hearing while in the womb, despite the skepticism of
Later he developed the idea of Sonic
Birth. He had been approached by a
medical colleague who thought he could help a 12-year-old autistic child whom
the colleague thought was 'psychologically not yet born.' Tomatis simulated aural womb conditions by
playing filtered high frequency sounds of the mother's voice which resulted in
the boy instantly switching off the room light and getting physically very
close to his mother in according to Tomatis' interpretation an effort to
re-create the conditions within the womb.
Remarkably, 'It was the first time in ten years the boy had shown any
signs of recognition for his mother, much less affection.'
Why 'The Mozart Effect'? Tomatis has experimented and continues to
experiment with many different musical forms, but has the best consistent
results with Mozart's music. Tomatis
says 'Mozart is a very good mother...The powers of Mozart, especially the
violin concertos, create the greatest healing effect on the human body'. Campbell devotes a short section describing
the circumstances of Mozart's life as a child prodigy, himself surrounded by
music in utero, which Campbell feels partly explains why Mozart's music
is particularly helpful in healing.
Campbell makes many fascinating
observations on how music can affect every aspect of everyday life, through the
physical effects of the vibrations to the emotional effects. There is a lot of emphasis on healing. In particular, Campbell describes and
recommends toning (i.e., 'making sound with an elongated vowel for an extended
period'), the practice of which dates back at least to the fourteenth
century. He describes people who have
eased physical pain, eliminated migraines, lowered blood pressure and relieved
insomnia through toning. I tried toning
through my last migraine, but got bored quickly and reached for the pills, so I
can't attest to its effectiveness or otherwise.
One of the endearing aspects of the
book is that it is dotted with simple exercises and suggestions how you can use
music to improve your own life, or just have fun with it. For instance, you are shown how to sing a
simple Gregorian chant, and at the other extreme, encouraged to make up your
own rap. I tried (and enjoyed) both.
This book is packed with fascinating
insights on the psychology of music, and Campbell combines a readerly approach
with solid research. It is a joy to
read a book by someone whose own love of music and desire to share it is
apparent on every page.
A copy should be given to every
hard-bitten educationalist who has a hand in concocting school curricula,
politicians and planners. Campbell
describes a business executive who learnt shamanic drumming; perhaps it should
be a staple of every business course, to remind students not to lose their
souls in the cynical world of commerce.
Fundamentally, I do not think that
appreciation and performance of music needs further justification. It sings for itself.
© 2001 Anne Philbrow
Anne Philbrow writes of herself:
I am a self-employed video producer and teach music and
drama on a part-time basis. I have a BA Hons in Philosophy from UCW, Aberystwyth,
UK and have done postgraduate research in Moral and Social Philosophy,
specializing in Animal Rights. In my spare time, I do some freelance writing
(book and theater reviews, articles) and have contributed to Philosophy in
Review. I am a user of mental health services.