As it is, newborn children in Georgia often come home from the hospital with a bag of free goodies: baby wipes, diapers, instructions about breast feeding and immunizations. Now Gov. Zell Miller wants to throw in a little something extra, a cassette tape or compact disc of classical music.
The music wouldn’t be intended to soothe the frazzled nerves of parents getting their first doses of sleep deprivation from their babies. Miller, a devoted fan of country and bluegrass music, is convinced that Bach and Mozart can stimulate brain development at very early ages.
That is why the Georgia Democrat proposed as part of his $12.5 billion state budget Tuesday to spend $105,000 to make music available to each of the approximately 100,000 children born in the state each year.
“No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” Miller said Wednesday. “Having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”
Some experts do question Miller’s premise, or at least argue that it has yet to be scientifically established.
“I’m familiar with those findings and, at the moment, I don’t think we have the evidence to make that statement unambiguously,” said Sandra Trehaub, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who studies infants’ perception of music. “If we really think you can swallow a pill, buy a record or a particular book or have any one experience and that that’s going to be the thing that gets you into Harvard or Princeton, then that’s an illusion.”
Miller said he became intrigued by the connection between music and child development at a series of recent seminars sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. As a great-grandfather and the author of “They Hear Georgia Singing” (Mercer University Press, 1983), an encyclopedia of the state’s musical history, Miller said his fascination came naturally.
He said he has a stack of research on the subject, but also said that his experiences growing up in the mountains of north Georgia had proved convincing.
“Musicians were folks that not only could play a fiddle, but they also were good mechanics,” he said. “They could fix your car.”
During his budget address Tuesday, Miller played a bit of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on a tape recorder and then asked the lawmakers, “Now don’t you feel smarter already? Smart enough to vote for this budget item, I hope.”
If the General Assembly goes along, Miller has enlisted Yoel Levi, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, to compile a sampler of pieces that the symphony has recorded in the past. Levi said he had selected offerings like Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” Holst’s “The Planets,” and Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals.”
Legislators, as is their wont, have ideas of their own.
“I asked about the possibility of some Charlie Daniels or something like that,” said Rep. Homer M. (Buddy) DeLoach, a Republican from Hinesville, “but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact.”