Why there is music
[Photo credit - Nirmala Patil]
Sitting in the dark, my hand softly stroking my belly, I often whispered my love to the tiny infant blooming inside me. I think that’s when music in the form of a mother’s voice first dribbled into my daughter’s ears. That, along with the echo of my beating heart. It’s been four and half years since, and music still continues to fill her ears and our days in myriad ways.
A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, thereby impacting a child’s intelligence and leading to improvements in other areas – an idea known as “transfer effects”. Repeated studies show that early music exposure and education in young ones ignites their intellectual, social, emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps in self-expression, strengthens memory, and refines discipline and patience.
This wisdom acquired instinctively over centuries is perhaps why music is such an intrinsic part of our culture as a country, and is already present in many aspects of our lives - be it festivals, worship, seasons, celebrations and ceremonies - which naturally lends itself into a child’s world too. Then there are regional compositions like rhymes and lullabies, pass-down through generations, that respire through every child’s childhood. Thus, right from the time of birth, music is traditionally used to calm and soothe children, to express love and joy, or to simply engage and interact.
To us as a family, music translates into a more personal yet expansive, and a proximate daily experience. Although our daughter isn’t enrolled for a formal musical training yet, many sounds resonating around us weave to become our everyday rāga. Right from waking up to the song of the morning birds, which to my little girl is an invitation into a new day of playful adventure - to all the diverse tones we use to converse with her; loving, stern, or comical. Together with, the softly murmuring breeze between curtains, the orchestra of utensils in the kitchen, the gurgle of water at bath time, the melody of silence at sleep time, flapping of pigeon feathers in the balcony, the cacophony of construction on the hill, roar of an aircraft passing overhead, the chime of the doorbell when papa returns home in the evenings, crickets chirping at nightfall, and many more sound textures making music of our everyday. Each sound subliminally educating our daughter of our rhythmic alignment with nature.
Most mornings, she spends time with her Nani learning Kannada rhymes. And on our outdoor walks we love to play a favourite game, where I encourage her to close her eyes and identify as many sounds around us. We also include a good dose of music-listening, both Indian Classical and Western Contemporary, to evolve her senses. Some days, we sit with translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s extraordinarily beautiful children poems and marvel at its meaning and lyricism. All this seamlessly contributing to the melodious garland her days wear around their neck, thereby nurturing her heart and brain through osmosis.
But what truly makes music so indispensable to our family culture, apart from it’s developmental benefits, is the joy it brings. When I hear my daughter crooning her self-composed songs on the swing, when she glows with love on hearing her favourite ‘twinkle twinkle’ because it reminds her of her infancy, when she cascades with laughter at bedtime listening to my amusing version of an old rhyme, when she picks the manjīrā (Indian hand cymbals), softly clanks it and holds it against her ears to listen to it’s trembling song. Utter, limitless joy. Transforming our ordinary everyday moments into small musical celebrations, and gently reminding me of why there is music in this world.
“When I sing to make you dance, my child
I truly know why there is music in leaves,
and why waves send their chorus of voices
to the heart of the listening earth”
- Excerpt from Rabindranath Tagore’s Crescent Moon