The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown: – John Keats
Isn’t it . . .
- interesting that bird-song has charmed the hearts of explorers the world over?
sensational how people are stirred to dance when they hear lively music?
touching how music can arouse memories of past events otherwise long forgotten?
profound that some melodies, still popular today, were played so long ago their origins have been forgotten?
curious how some forms of music can affect the function of the brain?
remarkable that nations burst into song as a symbol of solidarity in moments of triumph or disaster?
intriguing that all over the globe, mothers murmur, coo and sing to their newborn children who, at only a few days old, will invariably respond by listening or vocalising?
An ancient practice
Archaeological remains of flute-like instruments suggest that music must have been known and practiced as far back as 10,000 BC.
The fragmentary physical remains of musicianship represent a mere trace of the significance that music may have played in the lives of the people of those Palaeolithic times. One can only surmise that singing would also have been a component of that music. Perhaps it may well have been customary thousands of years before that era.
Music has an amazing power to bring people together. Legend tells us that Apollo initiated the earliest festivals of music and poetry around 6th century BC. Cultural elements of these arts became part of the festivity of the Pythian Games.
Dancing and music have been major components of cultures from time immemorial. Yet only in recent years has musicality been considered to be of key importance to communication and to human development.
We live in an environment that’s steeped in rhythm and movement. If all musical devices including radio, TV, CD and DVD drives, and the Internet were mysteriously to cease to function, the rhythmical component of our day-to-day lives would still make a significant contribution to the musicality of the environment we are in.
Just take a walk to the corner shop and listen to the rhythm and timbre of the sound of your footstep. Or lie still in a quiet room and sense the dull throb of your heartbeat. You become aware of the leisurely tempo of your own sibilant breathing.
It may be you overhear a conversation between neighbours in the street outside, voices too faint for you to make out the words. The patterns in their speech are familiar. You may even recognise a voice from its rhythm and pitch. A bird utters its warbling chronicle from a distant perch. You recognise the call of a songthrush.
New Zealand Emeritus Professor
In today's Radio NZ interview by Gordon Harcourt, New Zealander Colwyn Trevarthen, child psychologist and Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University, explains the recent and not so recent researches on the mother and child relationship.
He tells of the major contribution brought to that relationship through the musicality of vocal interaction. The endearing conversation of parent and baby is a musical symphony. Babies are very attentive to the ritual of these interactions and take part by actively contributing through their own movement and vocalisation. He talks of recent studies that show an exact similarity of mother and baby communication to jazz music, in terms of the structural dynamics of rhythm and pitch.
Bridging the communication gap, well known in the study of autistic conditions, is made possible through music. Trevarthen introduces, through example, how communication with an autistic child can be initiated through the skilled use of rhythm.
Complexity in motion
Trevarthen describes the motion of the human body as polyrhythmic.
It is complex owing to the ability to stand on two feet with independent movement of legs, arms and hands.
He likens the complexity of the extravagant gestures of the human body to the structure of human thought.
People are as individual in the way they move as they are in the way they use speech patterns to communicate. Movement and dance, speech and speech patterns all contribute to a musicality that’s unique to the human form.
His idea on the origin of language, through the musicality of human interaction, is one that challenges traditional theories of the origin of speech.
The 34 minute interview was broadcast today, Saturday, 11 July 2009.
A Green Pen Society contribution