There’s a scene in the movie “The Incredibles” in which babysitter Kari is assuring Helen “Elastigirl” Parr that she’s up to the task of watching baby Jack Jack.
They’ll work with flashcards, the teenager promises, and listen to Mozart while he sleeps, because “leading experts say Mozart makes babies smarter.”
Well, leading experts don’t say that. The so-called “Mozart effect” has been pretty much debunked. Still, there are plenty of sound educational and developmental reasons why children should be exposed to music.
That’s a point the Spokane Symphony is hoping parents keep in mind as they consider bringing the family to one of the two free symphony concerts this weekend – Saturday at Liberty Lake’s Pavillion Park and Monday at Comstock Park on Spokane’s South Hill.
“We all have key experiences in our lives, experiences that shape our imagination, discipline and purpose in life,” said Spokane Symphony Conductor Eckart Preu in a news release. “When kids experience the magic of orchestral sound it often provides them with this experience of a lifetime – how the whole is better than the sum of its parts, how the collective effort of individuals can create something that an individual would never be able to achieve, how learning and playing an instrument can make you a better person.”
Plenty of studies indicate that playing music in childhood helps children concentrate and learn discipline and that it can increase test scores and cognitive abilities.
The Liberty Lake concert is supported by the Friends of Pavillion Park and is the final program in a summer series of film screenings and live music at the park, all presented free. The Comstock concert, a nearly 30-year-old tradition rescued from cancellation three years ago, is presented by Sterling Bank.
“Exposing children to classical music is one of the reasons why Sterling Bank was inspired to save Spokane’s Labor Day tradition three years ago,” said Ezra Eckhardt, president of Sterling Bank, in the news release. Taking your kids to the parks concert or events like “The Nutcracker” can help instill in them a lifelong love of classical music, Eckhardt said.
Janet Napoles, manager of the symphony’s education programs, said the concert is appropriate for children of any age.
“Even babies can appreciate the music,” she said.
Parents shouldn’t worry about young children not sitting still or not actively listening. A park setting is the perfect place for youngsters to experience the music.
“I would say if you’re in a concert hall, you’d need to think twice about (children disrupting others),” she said. “In the park setting, if they’re not really into sitting and listening, there are swings nearby. I’ve seen people bring a Frisbee or … a ball. (The kids) still hear the music even if they aren’t actively listening.”
The hope, Napoles said, is that hearing the concert will inspire a child to pick up an instrument and learn to play.
“One of the more recent studies show that music activities engage both the left and the right hemispheres of the brain, so both sides of the brain light up” she said.
Before the concert, an instrument “petting zoo” will be set up to allow kids to see the instruments up close, she added.
Beyond the academic benefits of music, there are social benefits as well, said David Weatherred, Spokane Public Schools’ visual and performing arts coordinator. When children hear music that comes from different places, it opens their eyes to cultures and histories different than their own.
“Why not expose a child to more than they’re going to see in their own backyard?” he said. “The more exposure they get to (classical music), the better and more well-rounded adults they become.”
Both concerts will feature light classics, popular favorites and patriotic tunes. Among the composers featured will be Johann Strauss, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and Aaron Copland.