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© 2014-2018 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved


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On Music to Children

July 15, 2015

In his decidedly autobiographical play, ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ Tennessee Williams writes: ‘In memory, everything seems to happen to music.’ My own early memories play out to a rich and diverse soundtrack of Cat Stevens’ oh baby, baby it’s a wild world, the pipe calls of oh Danny boy, Pan’s second star to the right and Cosette’s castle on a cloud.


© 2012-2015 Karine Sawan All Rights Reserved


I have heard countless, arguably better songs in the lifetime that has unfolded since, but to this day, it is these, the first songs, which get caught in my throat and clench at my chest.


No human can take credit for the invention of the first melody; music predates recorded history. To sing is as instinctive to us as to breathe, and the ability to do so is perhaps derived from human mimicry of naturally recurring sounds and patterns. In children especially, the power of music is paramount to brain development:


A fetus’s ears begin to develop as early as three weeks into gestation. By week sixteen, the inner, middle, and outer ears are sufficiently developed for the baby to start recognizing sounds. First the mother’s heartbeat, then her breathing, then her voice. These sounds have a calming effect on the fetus’s heart rate.


By the time children are born, sound has become associated with memory; they can recognize their mother’s voice, and remember rhymes and lullabies heard in the womb. These melodies take on an enduring emotional dimension that carries on into adulthood.


Andy Warhol said: ‘Every song has a memory; every song has the ability to make or break your heart.’ There is a reason Johan Strauss II’s Die Fleidermaus makes us smile. It is Tom and Jerry, at 7am on a Sunday morning. Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture:  Bugs Bunny, 7:30. Rembrants’ I’ll be there for you: ‘Friends’ marathon, Friday night with the girls. Ricky Martin’s The Cup of Life: World Cup Final, Brazil-France, 1998. Ale, ale, ale…


Music acts as a ‘Proustian mnemonic, eliciting emotions and associations that had been long forgotten, giving access once again to mood and memories, thoughts and worlds that had seemingly been completely lost.’


It isn’t a cultural phenomenon. It is a neuronic command; listening to a song associated with personal memories activates the prefrontal cortex, which stores information relevant to our relationships and in turn release dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin… the pleasure neurochemicals.


The Old Rose Tree: ice cream trucks. Für Elise: middle school piano recitals. Overworld: Super Mario. Jingle Bells: Christmas Eve. Aud Lang Syne: New Year’s Day. Brahms’ Lullaby: yawn.


Every childhood should be filled with songs. Every child should have memories. My favorite is of a little boy I once loved, bouncing on the bed in his underwear and  happily bellowing away the lyrics to Abba’s Mamma Mia into a deodorant can. Mamma mia, another song that gets caught in my chest.


© 2012-2015 Karine Sawan All Rights Reserved 


‘Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.’

― Robert Browning, The Complete Poetical Works of Browning


Then I think of those children who cannot hear music.


There are 32 million children suffering from a hearing disability around the world. Of those, less than 10% (3% in developing countries) have access to hearing aids. The rest are left in silence. Ten year-old Ambar Burgos and her eight year-old sister, Rubely, were born deaf into a loving but struggling family in the Dominican Republic. They were ignored and picked on, they could not keep up at school. Imagine a silent childhood.


In February 2015, a team from the Starkey Hearing Foundation, the charitable arm of the US’s largest hearing-aid manufacturer, landed in Santo Domingo and, in three days, fitted two thousand people with free hearing aids. Ambar and Rubely were among them.


The foundation's goal is to fit one million free hearing aids by 2020. At this rate, it will have reached its target by 2017. Music.


We cannot all be Starkey. But we all have at least one song, and one child, for whom our hearts clench. It has been six years since the little singing boy left us, and five since his story, ‘Biography of a Little Prince,’ was published. Thus far the proceeds from the book’s sale have been put aside, waiting for the right cause. Today, we have found it.


Dear reader, if you purchased or plan on purchasing a copy of ‘Biography of a Little Prince’ on Amazon or in store in Lebanon, know that you will have made a direct contribution to IRAP, the first Rehabilitation Institute for Audio-Phonetics in Lebanon. Since 1960, IRAP has been providing specialized education for the deaf and hard of hearing, kindergarten to high school, in addition to medical, social, and technical training services.


These are people who bring music to children. It is an honor to contribute, however little, to their mission. I think, I hope the little prince would approve.


© 2012-2015 Karine Sawan All Rights Reserved


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