Friday, 31 October 2008

The Mozart Effect

We've heard a lot in recent years about the so-called "Mozart effect," whereby - supposedly - children who are played Mozart (in the classroom or womb) are suddenly transformed into geniuses, able to polish off S.A.T.S. and spelling tests like ice cream. It's always Mozart who is singled out as somehow intellectually ameliorative, no doubt because he is popularly portrayed as the echt-child-genius-who-didn't-live-long-but-achieved-oh-so-much-in-his-romantically-doomed-lifetime. It's never Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, or, heaven forbid, Tchaikovsky. Perhaps the next thing we'll hear is the "Tchaikovsky effect," whereby children are transformed into sentimental, hypersensitive wrecks.

It's typical of this kind of pseudo-scientific tosh that the focus is on "what Mozart can do for your children" in terms of exams, S.A.T.S., literacy development. It's all about pushy mothers who want their children to do better at exams than other pushy mothers' children. What a sterile, ultra-utilitarian view of this wonderful music: classical music reduced to a New Labour literacy strategy ... classical music as a revision aid ... classical music as an instrument of S.A.T.S. and keystages and G.C.S.E.s and I.Q. tests and pseudo-psychology all the other statistical trash which currently drowns out real childhood. It's typical, too, of the grey, utilitarian way in which the arts are seen by our culturally-impoverished society that music as wonderful and varied as Mozart's is nothing more than an instrument of the State - something to socialise kids and their minds. Music is there for a reason - and that reason is to make kids better at exams and ultimately (therefore) to serve the State.

But, let's be frank here. Mozart would have blown a fart in the general direction of S.A.T.S. tests and I.Q. tests - and so would Mozart's music. Mozart's music escapes the Mozart Effect and undermines it and blows raspberries at it. Mozart's music is carnivalesque, ironic, idealistic, cynical, irreverent, blasphemous, heretical, anarchic, divine, spiritual, earthy, Olympian, utopian all at once - and this very mixture can't but subvert any political, psychological or pseudo-scientific programme which tries to appropriate it.

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