Ravel’s Bolero is my favourite orchestral/ballet composition.When I want to cheer up I listen to it, and it pops up often, like this morning.
A few years back this came up in conversation with my mom. Only then did I learn it had been the piece of music she had put on every day for the last 3 months of my gestation. It wasn’t a problem-free pregnancy and she had had problems before so when her work started affecting her condition her doctors advised her to stay home, and not do much. Knowing her as I do she was probably bored to death (’82 so no internet people!). She loves classical music but didn’t own many records. She had this collection of classical works, and had a preference for Ravel. I found it interesting to find out that the other pieces in that collection include most of my favourite works by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Carl Orff.
There is an extensive body of literature on prenatal influences of music (mostly within the Developmental Psychology field, where music has been used to study prenatal memory, auditory development, etc.) (see Parncutt, 2009 for a discussion on prenatal development and the phylogeny and ontogeny of music).
Obviously, this personal experience has influenced the way I think about the issues in my field of research. But I am not so interested in finding out if music makes your children more intelligent or if it prepares them to develop some sort of musical ability (I happen to think music ability is in all of us, but that’s another discussion). I am more interest in the tabula rasa, and nature/nurture debate. For me, this personal evidence speaks of a life that starts before you are born, a memory that develops way before you are conscious of your self. But it also reflects my mom’s preferences, and her influence on my own. This makes me think that even though our innate human characteristics made me sensitive to sound before I was born, it was my mom’s preference for Ravel that influenced my inclination towards this specific piece of music.
Now, why do I prefer Ravel over the other pieces? Since it wasn’t recorded, I can’t really be sure it’s because I was more exposed to it than the others. It could be something to do with the inherent characteristics of the pieces themselves, and my mom’s emotional and physiological reactions to that specific piece of music (for an understanding on how music listening rewards and reinforces itself, see Levitin, 2006).
So many ideas pop up about this! I could go on this topic the whole day really…But let me move on to talk about my favourite performance of Ravel’s Bolero.
Les uns et les autres (1981) is one of the best movies I have ever seen. The way it ends if fantastic, and a great opportunity to see the amazing Jorge Donn perform under Maurice Béjart’s choreographic directions.When I want to listen to Ravel’s Bolero, this is what I have in mind:
What about you? Do you have any similar experience with prenatal music you’d like to share? 🙂
Parncutt, R. (2009 d). Prenatal development and the phylogeny and ontogeny of musical behaviour. In S. Hallam, I. Cross, & M. Thaut (Eds.), Oxford handbook of music psychology (pp. 219-228). Oxford: Oxford University Press.