So Mozart doesn't make you smarter? Good!
I gave a silent cheer this morning when I came upon a blog entry at Scientific American that performed at least a partial debunking of "The Mozart Effect." That's the supposed beneficial effect on the intellect that derives from listening or playing Mozart, or from classical music in general. Though based in part on scientific research, in particular a 1993 study that showed, according to some interpretations, a temporary increase in some markers of intelligence after listening to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448, the "Mozart Effect" has long since left what little scientific validity it once possessed behind, and morphed into a marketing tool for books, CDs and even educational curricula. Oh, I know that one isn't supposed to cheer for scientific findings that buttress one's own position and only question findings that go in the opposite direction. Which of you, however, will be the first, after brutally honest self-examination, to promise that you have never done the same?
But why, you may ask, would a classical maven like me not want the "Mozart Effect" to be true? Wouldn't it be good for classical music to be found uniquely healthful and wholesome? No, it wouldn't, at least as I see it. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of classical music being touted as educational, ennobling, enriching, and all-around good-for-you, if the same is not also said for other kinds of music. Because I can't help sensing that behind the claims that "Mozart makes you smarter" is the implication that "other kinds of music make you dumber," which is a grave insult to the 99% of the world's music that happens not to be of the western classical persuasion. There we go again, placing classical music on a lofty perch, available only to those who reach above the fray to grab onto it. This, by the way, is a notion that would have astonished Mozart, whose works were usually presented to audiences that talked, walked, ate, drank, and generally comported themselves in a manner more consistent with our modern rock clubs that with our cathedral-like concert halls. No, what classical music needs right now is not to be smarter, but to be (to coin a word) funner — not dumbed-down, but also not part of of the educational-industrial complex. Rather than look down on other kinds of music as mere entertainment, classical music would be better off recognizing that it, too, is entertainment, and act as such.
Now, let's ask some other questions. Does Mozart make you happier? Does he make you smile, sigh, laugh, cry and feel better about being alive? For the me, the answer is: You bet he does, not uniquely, but deeply, consistently and rewardingly. Check out Monday's noon-hour broadcast of the magnificent "Gran Partita" Serenade for Winds (beautifully performed by, of all groups, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band) to see whether he has the same effect on you. If the way listening to it makes you feel isn't enough justification for Mozart, or of any music , I don't know what is. That, for me, is the real "Mozart Effect," and the only one that matters.