By Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, August 2010 edition of the The Angelus magazine.
The Mozart Effect
Most classical music lovers will have heard of The Mozart Effect. Don Campbell, author of this book, explains that music can help transform health, education, and well-being. Music was found to reduce stress, depression, or anxiety and improve memory. Mozart was seen to drastically lessen epileptic fits in a comatose state, help direct rats out of a maze, and make cows yield more milk. The tastiest results occurred when Japanese yeast listened (!) to Mozart. The discoverer of the Mozart effect comes from overseas. He has many reasons to be given the title which we give him here of Doctor Mozart.
The Tomatis Effect
Alfred Tomatis grew up in a musical family in France. His father was an opera singer, and he spent much of his childhood traveling with him and watching his opera performances from the wings. At an early age, however, he and his parents decided he was not fit for the stage. He thus went into medicine and eventually became an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor.
Soon after he began his practice, his father began sending him opera colleagues with voice problems. Alfred soon discovered that traditional treatments did not work; further, there had been very little research on the voice. Many of the voice problems he diagnosed were really hearing problems.
He expressed his theory, now called, after him, the “Tomatis Effect,” in three laws:
- The voice does not produce what the ear does not hear.
- If the hearing is modified, the voice is immediately and unconsciously modified.
- Vocalization can be transformed permanently when auditive stimulation is maintained over a certain time.
He developed these theories by studying patients at hand when he found out that the voices of opera singers had damaged their own ears. While the ear can be damaged with sounds of 80 or 90 decibels, a male opera singer often produced 150 decibels. With damaged hearing, they were forcing their voices to produce sounds in registers they could no longer hear. In his attempt to retrain the singers, he developed his device, the Electronic Ear, which used earphones and sound filters to enhance the missing frequencies. The goal was to sensitize them to the missing frequencies.
Tomatis began treating a number of other problems with the same methods, including reading problems, dyslexia, depression, severe schizophrenia, and even autism. He was convinced that many of these problems result from a failure of communication, which has to do with listening and the ear. The emerging knowledge of the physiology of the ear showed that the ear starts forming a few days after conception and that the ear is fully developed by the fourth month of pregnancy. Our doctor theorized that information coming from the fetal ear stimulates and guides the development of the brain. He believed that autism is a communication problem that begins in pregnancy, with the fetus not properly responding to the voice of the mother. His most controversial method attempts to lead autistic children to recognize and respond to their mother’s voice. He devised an apparatus to simulate the sound of the mother’s voice as heard in the uterus, and to lead the child gradually to accept and respond to her real unfiltered voice. He reported that this method often brought startling results, with children crying with joy as they recognized their mother’s voice for the first time.
In his autobiography, the doctor recounts the many conflicts he had with the medical establishment in both France and Canada, where he later worked. He finally gave up and turned in his medical license, admitting that he was practicing very little medicine. He named his new field audio-psycho-phonology.
Sound Advice to Psychological Problems
He believed that many speech problems were caused by some trauma resulting from broken relationships and poor communication. He found that treatment of these maladies requires the cooperation of the parents. One of his best-known patients was Gerard Depardieu, the French actor. Many moviegoers have heard Depardieu speak with a mellifluous voice, but in the mid-1960s, he was a tongue-tied young man still struggling to become an actor. Coming from a background of family difficulties, educational failures, and personal sorrows, Depardieu could not express himself. He could hardly speak. And the more he tried, the worse his stammering became. Tomatis diagnosed the cause of Depardieu’s voice and memory problems as deeper emotional problems underlying his physiological difficulties and told him that he could help him. Depardieu asked what the treatment would involve–surgery, medication, or speech therapy. The doctor’s response astounded him:
For the next several weeks, I want you to come here every day for two hours and listen to Mozart.
The next day Depardieu returned to the “Tomatis Center” to don headphones and listen to Mozart. After only a few sessions, he began to experience positive changes in his daily routine. His appetite improved, he slept better, and he found himself with more energy. And soon he was speaking more clearly. After several months, Depardieu returned to acting school with new poise and confidence, and went on to become one of the consummate actors of his generation.
“Before Tomatis,” Depardieu says, looking back, “I could not complete any of my sentences. He helped give continuity to my thoughts, and he gave me the power to synthesize and understand what I was thinking.” (1)
This is one example out of thousands. But the constant law seemed to be that audition could be affected by emotion, and he even suggested it could have been the case of Beethoven’s strange deafness.
It is not excluded that the fragility of Beethoven’s audition could be explained by psychological mechanisms. It is today an accepted idea that audition can be widely influenced by the psyche, as more than 90% of the fibers of the auditory nerve proceed from the brain in the direction of the ear. In other words, this means that the ear perceives only what it wants to hear. For that reason, when interpersonal relationships are characterized by unbearable, intolerable tensions, there is a way to avoid those difficult encounters. To put an end to any verbal contact, one just has to learn how not to listen. There is therefore a psychological deafness. And this deafness can be selective. For example, a child, at loggerheads with a father who treats him harshly, who scares him with a very big voice and exercises over him a very restricting authority, finds a refuge by suppressing the frequency band corresponding to his father. He may lose totally any desire to communicate with him. Unfortunately, he will lose by the same token any desire to communicate with other adults. He will have difficulties with language, writing and reading. Furthermore, as he loses faith in his father, he will lose faith in his future as well, as fathers symbolize the future. We can observe this day after day during psychological consultations, and the results are without exception the same. They reveal all the distortions that modify the communication, suppress the dialogue, and disturb the behavior. (2)
This book, Pourquoi Mozart?–Why Mozart?, which has had little impact in the English world, (3) echoes the endless questions of his 100,000 patients worldwide. He answers them as all children have always done and will always do: “Parce que”–because … that is the way it is!” In other words, his choice was Mozart because where all other composers fail, he alone succeeds.
The author goes to great pains through 70 pages of endless epithets and exclamation points to tell us that Mozart was a precocious genius who had already enjoyed a broad intra-uterine life of music, and had no real problems with the world. Thus, he brings us back to the state of pure innocence, which was the state of his soul, childlike, spontaneous, worriless and free from human burdens. Because his music was the language by which he could best express himself, he had to secrete it through and through. He was, moreover, the only composer ever to know he was the best in the world, having traveled extensively to all the courts of Europe as a child prodigy.
But, on a more profound “note,” Doctor Mozart explains that man is an antenna, a ceaseless receptor of the waves and rhythms in the universe.
Through our body, we resonate to the natural rhythms of the Cosmos, captured by the nervous system. Ideally, the biological and neuro-physiological rhythms are attuned to and in balance with the cosmic rhythms that are beyond human auditory perception. There are musical rhythms that are felt as if they are blocking the rhythms of the body that are preventing them from beating at their own pace, and thus interfere with human automatisms and endanger the processes of creativity. (4)
So ideally, we need someone who acts as “a revealer” and can awaken the fundamental rhythms existing in each of us. In this case, the rhythm of the music and the rhythms of the body coincide. Music is not felt as imposed upon us. Cardiac and respiratory rhythms are freed. Movements are in harmony with the totality of the deeper rhythms. There is therefore a spontaneous consent that can only be induced by a music that is equally “free,” a music that does not try to impose its own rhythms to the detriment of the vital rhythms of human beings.
Mozart is the only one I know who reached that level or, more exactly, who never left it….He knew how to put man in musical resonance with the universe. This is the Mozart miracle. He knew how to adapt the eternal rhythms to our neurons. So, if the music of Mozart awakens in ourselves the musician, it is because it puts the rhythms of the cosmos and the rhythms of the body-instrument in resonance, in tune, so we can start to experience what Plato described as the music of the spheres or the music of Heaven. His genius is to make us aware of that universal harmony which is already in us in a latent stage. (5)
Why Not Beethoven, Bach, and Others?
Tomatis is alert to the questions of other composers. His choice proceeds by elimination. We shall only follow him with two of the most likely and likable composers.
Beethoven requires that we know already how to listen. Beethoven is for the music lover. Mozart allows the listener to pass from hearing to listening. Mozart leads the listener to discover music….In this sense, he transforms him into a musician, that is, someone who is able to perceive, to discover music, including the music underlying any linguistic structure. Mozart’s music invites the non-initiate to enter into an unknown sphere. It encourages the nervous system to integrate the music. In short, the listener’s ears are opened to listening and are enabled to discriminate frequencies. (6)
“Bach is a born composer who shapes all the elements brought by his inspiration in a quasi-mathematical form. Mozart escapes the rigidity of any dogmatic structure. He allows the inspiration to flow through him in its purest form. He is always a child that benefits of what he finds and perceives. He translates everything that goes through him and integrates it into a unique language. He won’t have to learn, like Bach, the rules of composition. He behaves like a child who does not care for grammar before he starts to talk. Bach provides us with a fantastic ladder to reach the heights; Mozart is literally parachuted from above. The work of Bach is the perfect model of a composition built by a human being. It is very difficult to hope for better music in terms of the architectural construction of the sonic cathedrals that he designed. He carried on this task with an extraordinary diligence and stubbornness, knowing how to shape the music to a point of perfection. Mozart, on the other hand, is totally different.” (7)
What, then, defines properly the Mozartian music? It is the tempo, structure, melodic and harmonic consonance and predictability. (8) Tomatis explains that:
There is in Mozart an ineffable something that makes him different from others. He has in himself, in his phrasing, in the search of his rhythms, in his sequences, both a plenitude and a liberty that allow us to breathe and think at ease. He brings out in us the musician as if we were the authors of what he writes. It seems as if the musical phrases flow in us in a way that they could not be different. (9)
And, analyzing the spectrograms of different composers, the author defines thus the specific characteristics of Mozartian music:
Firstly, the loose aspect of the music phrase offers a fluid flow, with no monotony, and this, in whichever work you examine. Then, the great mobility of the sonorous bundles contributes to secure this specifically vivid and joyful side of the Mozartian compositions. Finally, the remarkable rhythmic base is inscribed in a permanent tempo, truly a downbeat of 120 pulsations per minute. This modulation can be identified systematically and is found again in any composition. (10)
Alfred Tomatis was by trade an ear doctor, and could not but be very interested in the three functions of the ear: (11)
- The function of balance. The vestibule is a part of the inner ear which informs the brain of the slightest body movement; it intervenes therefore in the control of posture and the maintenance of balance–our vestibular system.
- The function of Revitalization or Cortical Charge. The ear is very necessary in causing the cortex to be stimulated and recharged.
- The function of hearing. When this function is disrupted, difficulties in analysis, accommodation, spatialization or auditive lateralization are caused. The person experiences an influx of information, but perceives it in a distorted manner affecting comprehension, as well as impacting verbal expression. The person becomes fatigued, irritable and finally withdraws.
Tomatis analyzes also the diverse parts of the internal ear, the vestibule (in charge of the body movements and space) and the chochlea. The vestibule presumably deals with the ordering bodily movements and spatial activity, the chochlea with the organization and analysis. Be that as it may, it is clear that the vestibule plays an important role in the static posture and dynamic activity of the different members of the body. No muscle moves without its regulative activity. It also favors the body verticality and reacts to the law of gravity by sending stimuli to the nervous system. Hence, the more one is in vertical posture the more he is dynamized. Likewise, the more one is in good shape, the more he reaches verticality.
Certainly, the most striking function of the ear, and yet the most neglected, is the dynamo-genetic power of the brain, the generative principle of the nervous energy. The ear insures the cortical recharge. It generates energy.
For us, this notion is essential since it leads us to understanding the musical phenomena registered today in the world of sound technology. Among the energizing effects, we can define those related to the recharging sounds and those to the discharging ones. Here we need to discriminate between the bass and the treble sounds. Let us recall that, on the Corti element of the internal ear, the sensory cells are distributed unevenly according as they are in the zones of the bass sounds, of the medium or the treble. Rare in the zone of the bass sounds (100), they are more numerous among the middle range (500) and much more numerous in the region of the treble (24,000). Hence, the bass sounds are more easily integrated among the zones of discharge, esp. the tam-tams. We all know that their fastidious repetition leads the listeners to exhaustion. This state could be called ‘hypnotic’ in that the body image is lost as the vestibule is solicited but not its counterpart, the cochlea, which gives the cortical projection. On the other hand, the sharp sounds, in the proper zones and rhythms and intensities, become perfect generators of energy. In this case, the cortical charge surpasses greatly the body energy loss and becomes positively recharging. (12)
Why Use Gregorian Chant in Sound Therapy!
One could wonder why Tomatis evokes, in a book dedicated to Mozart and therapy, the virtues of Gregorian chant. What relation can there be between such different styles of music? And yet, they are intimately connected by their neuro-¬physiological results. This is why the Chant is an integral part of the therapy method.
“Woe to us if we wish to present Church singing as a therapeutic material. Yet, few works, besides Mozart’s, have such a radical impact on the human being. Does it raise the listener to a second state? Is it only music? No, and that is why it would be abusive to use it as a mere cure. In fact, the Gregorian chant does not cure, it saves. We can cure thanks to some therapeutic methods, but to save requires the concourse of an inspiration directly given by the creation. A soul attuned to the chant starts to vibrate to the first and essential rhythms. Gregorian chant allows us to perceive this vibration of the soul when it reaches the register of serenity. Then, man is involved in a timeless communication and regains his natural breathing, that is, unstressed and without gasping. Through the Gregorian modulations, he discovers a privileged space where his being momentarily can rest, aloof from the daily trials. To tell the truth, Gregorian chant gives a glimpse of paradise to those who wish it. Man is reintegrated into the creation and sings the glory of the Creator. The Gregorian muse is certainly a jewel which centuries have slowly elaborated. In matters of religious singing, it is assuredly the summit of what man can do in search of God. Obviously, there are here and there some variations due to the temperament of the composer or the requirement of the liturgy at a certain period. But regardless of those variations, the Gregorian pieces are universal in their musical and vibratory content. ” (13)
Why Use the Chant of Solesmes?
Are all Gregorian melodies apt to be used in this sort of educational process? For decades now, the Tomatis Center has selected Gregorian chant from Solesmes for the same reason that, where others fail, Solesmes works.
“For the masters of “Solesmes,” Gregorian chant is the very expression of the movements of the soul. It is permanently sustained and controlled by a specific attitude. In fact, every cadence, every rhythm is the translation of a response corresponding to the capabilities of the entire nervous system. A chant of such quality can only translate the physiological rhythms that sustain life. But these are not always perceived and are often disturbed by emotional factors. For instance, changes in the way we breathe have an immediate effect on the cardiac rhythm, just to mention two of the major rhythms that can easily lose their own quiet cadence. Under stress, for example, the breathing becomes panting, and the diastole-systole cardiac cycle loses its regular ticking. This type of irregularity rapidly changes the functional balance of the body and has important neuro-physiological repercussions.” (14)
Not only are breathing and the heart beat controlled by the proper performance of the sacred Chant, but so are the body position and the timbre of the voice, which acquires the fullness of emission.
“Singing requires excellent listening skills, or to say it better, an exceptional self-control. These requirements are even more stringent for Gregorian chant. The ear must therefore be able to listen perfectly to sing Gregorian chants well. In fact, in order to be reproduced and controlled, Gregorian chant requires verticality. Those who sing are perfectly erect. In this position of true elongation, the vocal emission takes immediately a specific color that is in fact quite characteristic of the “bony voice.” It has a rich timbre, is surprisingly light and endowed with a versatility that can only be compared with the softness of emission. By this process, one achieves the maximum vocal production with the least effort. That bony sound is produced without any muscular tension, just playing on the normal relations of tension of the antagonists, that is, the flexor and extensor muscles of the entire body. It creates an impression of great relaxation. That dynamic relaxation that so many people are looking for goes hand in hand with the type of breathing described above, which also brings about a peaceful cardiac rhythm. And so, thanks to that posture and to that type of vocal emission, the resonance of the voice is amplified while the muscles relax and psychological stress fades away.” (15)
Gregorian Chant and Mozart
Of all the sacred songs, the chant of the monks is the one most deprived of any bodily expression, since it does not make any reference to the feelings that occur in life. It is directly plugged into creation, facing its Creator, whose praises it sings. Gregorian chant remains that celestial hymn and dance closely linked to listening, and listening to the Most High. Mozart too leads us towards that same ultimate point.
“His child’s heart vibrated with a fast and lively rhythm, quite different from the rhythm of Gregorian chant. We could even say that the Chant of Solesmes is rhythmically Mozart’s rhythm divided by two.” (16)
In fact, Mozart was not insensitive to this timeless music that seems to carry to us the quiet modulations of eternity. He did say at the end of his life that he would have gladly renounced his entire work for the joy of composing the Introit of the Mass of the Dead. This confession is extraordinarily humble, but it would have been a great loss for humanity if it had been carried out. What this shows is that Mozart discovered in Gregorian chant the language of plenitude of the adult man, which is fully reached in the heavens.
Conclusion: Sound Doc’s Advice
To finish, Tomatis does not leave the field of music with the optimistic mood of the great music composers of all times. He is wise enough to sound the alarm bell confronted as he is by the modern musical jungle around him.
“May I be allowed to address a wish to those responsible for the youth and who, too often, handle the sound technique with utter carelessness. One does not play on the nervous system of children with impunity, when one is wont to educate them and turn them into mature adults. Music is certainly the privileged path to instill language and the whole process of communication. It is the basis of singing, which intones the liberation of our being, too often a prey to the anguish of life. Hence, music holds a universal character at the service of all. If we have insisted on the ordering power of the Mozartian music, it is because we have been able to diagnose its exceptional and quasi unique work. Every musical artist must keep in mind that he does not compose only for himself or the few, but he is meant to dispense this musical gift which he has generously received. By his action, his care, his combats, he must remain attuned to the musical laws whose universality is the first criterion. Of course, I am alluding to these absurd compositions, veritable sound drugs, which are destined to enslave generations of youth by destroying, definitively perhaps, their nervous system.” (17)
2 Alfred Tomatis, “Pourquoi Mozart?” (Paris: Fixot editions, 1991), pp. 91-92.
3 It was given a rough English web version, http://www.tomatis.com/English/Articles/why _mozart.htm.
4 Ibid., pp. 79-81 passim.
5 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
6 Ibid., pp. 82-83.
7 Ibid., pp. 107-108.
8 According to the British Epilepsy Organization, the Mozart K448 and K488 showed a clear decrease in epilepsy fits. And the same effect was found with the Greek composer Yanni in his song “Acroyali/Standing in motion,” which has precisely all the characteristics of the Mozartian music.
9 Ibid., p. 27.
10 Ibid., p. 182.
12 Ibid., pp. 143-145.
13 Ibid., pp. 126-129 passim, and 134.
14 Ibid., pp. 132-133.
15 Ibid., p. 136.
16 Ibid., p. 137.
17 Ibid., pp. 161-162.