As a cellist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), when I fell pregnant with my baby girl many people asked whether I thought that the classical music I was playing every day would affect my child.
Of course I was initially most concerned about the touring and travelling we do but as things went well and the baby grew I too became curious about her responses to the music constantly surrounding her. I wondered what she was making of it in her watery world. (Actually we chose not to be told the sex, but for simplicity I’ll refer to her as she!).
I continued to play the cello throughout my pregnancy and as my bump grew and the space between my belly and cello shrank, (a strange feeling after playing for so many years) the baby was getting physically closer to the music all the time.
Following a quiet week’s holiday over the summer I enthusiastically launched into some vigorous, rhythmic music by Kodaly, the Cello Sonata, and the baby suddenly responded by kicking and moving around. I couldn’t work out whether she was shocked or loved it – or both. As I continued to play the Kodaly she seemed to relax and move less, but every now and then a nudge would remind me she was my constant audience!
While performing in ACO concerts too she would often do some extra kicking during vigorous music which was amusing, but mostly I felt as if the act of playing music was soothing to her since she was generally calm while I played.
I liked to play Bach Cello Suites for her at home: they are intimate and pure and yet the sophisticated simplicity of Bach is wonderful for brains at any age. It is a wondrous thought that you can enhance a tiny baby’s experience in utero with music, and there has been research to support it so I was in a good position to try it.
I had also heard that babies respond well to low frequency sounds, so with my cello and my partner’s double bass we had that covered – I stood with my bump close to Steve’s bass too while he practised to give her a taste of what was out there; it was another lovely way to communicate with her before we met her, and hopefully to stimulate her gently and make music a familiar experience for her. After all she would be hearing plenty of it at home soon so we were keen to accustom her ears early to these sounds.
As I came to the final weeks of pregnancy I continued to play, although it did become quite challenging physically at the end.
Baby Maia Elin arrived in June this year and I’m trying to resume my playing, when she allows it! She seems fascinated by our instruments and the sounds they produce and can sit for up to 20 minutes, if we are lucky, while we snatch some practice time. We hope she will grow up to appreciate music and have it feel a part of her life. She is wide-eyed in awe of the bass and I think does love the lower, more soothing frequencies of both our instruments.
I do believe that having an understanding of music is like holding the key to another language. It’s wonderful for the soul and can really give you a sense of freedom and a richer diversity in your life.
Besides this, learning music has been shown to enhance learning and development in children and increase their powers of concentration. This in turn can lead to greater satisfaction in learning, achieving and just living life with some understanding of beauty, and that can’t be a bad thing. I’d certainly like Maia to have such opportunities in her brand new life.