We've all heard we should listen to Classical Music when pregnant, and we've probably all come across the Baby Einstein YouTube channel - Mozart for babies - at some point in our child's early years. But why should we really be teaching music to our tiny ones?
I have a musical background. I played the violin and piano for years, and composed my own music in the folk pop genre (which has unfortunately been compromised for a long time now, mostly due to travel). As a teenage songwriter, I experienced what Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi calls flow: the creative mental state of being "fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity". The music would flow out of my fingers and I would never really know where it came from. (I experienced a very similar sensation when I was in labour, where it felt as though my soul had left my body and floated up to the ceiling! And then Sienna was born..).
Sienna has always been musical in my eyes (or ears) and it's something I have tried to encourage from the very beginning. As a baby she would "coo" and bop along to music and now she will effortlessly pick up a new tune within seconds, singing away throughout the day, perfectly-pitched. I love seeing her enjoy music and it is one of the ways in which we bond.
I believe that as parents, we try to enrich our children's lives by passing on our own passions. I also believe in leading through example - and that shouldn't just be my own. Are children ever too young to have a mentor? Now that Sienna is actually at an age where she can physically learn to play an instrument, I felt a need to find a way to explore and nurture what I perceive to be a musical talent.
Artonus, based in Lisbon, Portugal, was founded by husband and wife musicians Inês and José Soares in 1996, and is an institution of musical education. Artonus has played an important part in preserving classical music in Portugal: performing hundreds of Chamber Music concerts, pedagogical concerts, teaching musical instruments, as well as participating in two International Music Festivals hosted nationally.
The institution has since developed two key projects (in which the Soares' grown children, who are musicians themselves, have high involvement): the National Academy of Music of Carlos Seixas (a homage to the "Portuguese Mozart") and the Clinic of Sound. They run different classes and music therapy workshops for pregnant women, infants and children. These classes are not your typical "song and story times" - they are led by real musicians. Passionate, engaging musicians (it makes a world of difference, I can tell you).
Inspired by Leonard Bernstein's Concerts for Young People, and his Artful Learning model which "stimulates and deepens academic learning through the arts"; Artonus' Clinic of Sound offers hour-long sessions for parents and children in which they listen to live concerts of Classical Music. With Mariana on the piano, and José on the flute, the father-daughter duo recite movements by the great composers. They break the music down, playing each individual part separately, so that the children can hear and understand the structure, removing the common misconception that Classical Music is difficult and inaccessible.
The Clinic of Sound is also an opportunity for parents and children to simply enjoy being together whilst listening to lovely, relaxing music. I love the Friday evenings we spend in this intimate, family-oriented environment, winding down together before bedtime after our week. I love watching Mariana and her father play, experiencing the bond that they have, and I believe that the focus, discipline and concentration that they display through their music is transferred to their audience. Each session ends with listening to an extract of classical music by audio and the children get their feet massaged!
Artonus is changing the way our children learn, by developing value for music through the happiness we feel when we listen to it (as opposed to preparing children for passing examinations). Sienna attends piano lessons too, where we all sit at the piano together, and she can already use each one of her tiny fingers to play the corresponding key. It is adorable and beautiful to see, and I believe that these experiences are setting her up for a lifetime of appreciation for the Art of Music.