by  Dr. Norman  Doidge

Inevitably, the question arises, "Why Mozart?"

Some practitioners use other composers and forms of music, but most Tomatis practitioners stick to Mozart, especially compositions with violins, because it is the instrument richest in higher frequencies and can produce continuous sounds that are easy on the ear. Tomatis also favored Mozart's more youthful compositions, which are simpler in structure and more appropriate for children. "Originally," says Paul, "Tomatis didn't use only Mozart. He was using Paganini, Vivaldi, Tele-mann, Haydn. But little by little, by natural selection, we finished up with just Mozart. It seemed like Mozart was working with everybody, and had the effect of both charging, stimulating, and relaxing and calming. Which means, to me, regulating them.

"Mozart, more than any other composer, prepared the path, primed the nervous system, primed the brain—wired the brain—and gave it the rhythms, melodies, flow, and movement required for the acquisition of language. Mozart himself started playing music extremely young, and by the time he was five was already writing surprisingly sophisticated compositions. He had wired the language of music into his brain so early that it was not much influenced by the rhythms of his own language, German. For Tomatis, that was the reason the music of Mozart is so universal. It doesn't have the strong imprint of a specific language, the way Ravel has a French imprint, and Vivaldi an Italian imprint. It is a music which goes beyond cultural or linguistic rhythms."

Mozart, continues Paul, "is the best pre-language material we have been able to find. It has nothing to do with making children more intelligent, as some think. It has to do with helping the prosody—the musical part of language, and the emotional flow of language—to come out more easily. That is why Mozart is such a good mother! Because the mother's voice does the same, is more personalized. Mozart is more universal, for all ages, races, social groups, as ethnomusicological studies have shown."*

Tomatis was so far ahead of his medical colleagues that he was all too often depicted as a quack who dishonored his profession by performing "nonmedical acts" with mere sound. His dumbfounded peers insisted that a physician can't cure a brain problem by passing sound into the ear. Instead of being cowed, he would shoot back a Tomatisism, saying that in fact the brain was a mere appendage of the ear and not the other way around. And he was, technically, quite correct: the primitive vestibular apparatus (the statocyst) actually evolved in animals long before the brain did.

* The modified Mozart used by Tomatis, Paul, iLs, and others over time in an individualized therapy must be distinguished from claims made in the media in the 1990s that mothers could raise the IQ of their children by having them briefly listen to unfiltered Mozart. This claim was based on a study not of mothers and babies but of college students who listened to Mozart ten minutes a day and improved IQ scores on spatial reasoning tests—an effect that lasted only ten to fifteen minutes! Hype aside, different studies by Gottfried Schlaug, Christo Pantev, Laurel Trainor, Sylvain Moreno, and Glenn Schellenberg have shown that sustained music training, such as learning to play an instrument, can lead to brain change, enhance verbal and math skills, and even modestly increase IQ.

Alfred Tomatis died on Christmas Day 2001. He did not live to see the explosion of understanding about the subcortical brain that we are now witnessing, which helps clarify how he achieved his astonishing results. Perhaps his critical peers should not be judged too harshly, either. The incredulity that attaches to "cures by instrumental music" may stem from our habit of linking music to beauty and leisure, and illness to pain and suffering. It also surely relates to musics uniqueness as an art form: as Eduard Hanslick wrote in 1854, in On the Musically Beautiful instrumental music is the one art in which form and content are indistinguishable. We cannot ever say, with total confidence, what a particular musical phrase is "about," because the "musical idea" (as Hanslick calls the melody and rhythm) is not "about" anything. A Manet painting of a picnic is about the picnic. The beauty of instrumental music seems to come not from outside itself but from within.

And yet though utterly intangible, this invisible art reaches places in the heart and mind that nothing else can touch. It is indeed a very mysterious medicine, especially for those who want concrete explanations of how things work, in a culture that often favors the visual over the acoustic, and where "seeing is believing." What is heard is often suspect; the voice is transitory; people speak dismissively of "hearsay" and scoff that "talk is cheap." Sound exists momentarily in the ether, while for many, "the real," "truths," and "lasting proofs" are what can be seen physically, concretely. We like our proofs visible, like those of geometry, which literally demonstrates its truths pictorially.

And yet regardless of the culture we are born into, we all begin life in darkness, and we do our most substantial growth within it. Our first contact with existence is enclosed within the vibrations of our mothers heartbeat, the tide of her breathing, and the music of her voice, its melody and rhythm, even without our knowing the meaning of her words. Such longing as this engenders remains with us forever.