Blog: Go For Baroque

Luke Oram

Kids, I’m gonna fill you in on a secret: Handel can help you ace that homework.

If you don’t believe me, I’d suggest you look into Suggestopedia.

Suggestopedia, (not to be mistaken for a less than dependable version of the popular online knowledgebase), is a pseudoscience created in the 1970’s by Bulgarian psychologist, Dr. George Lozanov.

Lozanov believed that music was a potent tool that could shape the very architecture of our memories and he set out to prove it by using Baroque composers to teach his students foreign languages. His language lessons were delivered to the tune of certain classical pieces, all averaging the speed of 60 beats per minute.

Using his system, students learned around 1000 words and phrases in the space of a day – half a school term’s worth of learning - with a 92% retention rate. His students had a recall accuracy rate of almost 100% even after not reviewing the material for four years.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. After all, it’s simply empirical evidence of what we’ve known all along; music’s influence reaches right into our cerebral core. Scientists have proven that music affects our very brain chemistry, stimulating the neural pathways responsible for our memory and tugging at our reward centres.

But you already know this. Remember that song that was playing when your Primary School sweetheart broke your heart? Of course you do; every time it crawls on the radio you’re right back there on the back bleachers, holding back the pre-pubescent tears. Your brain registers the emotional impact of music; it’s able to attach a moment in time to a set of notes, sending you rushing back 20 years with three chords.

As the story goes, music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. When he couldn’t find the right wording for a section of the document, he’d grab his violin and play it. Same goes for Albert Einstein, the genius diagnosed “too stupid to learn” by his teachers. Einstein, an avid player, widely credited his genius to his instrument, often improvising on the violin to jumpstart his equations.

The scriptures present another swag of allegories altogether. Miriam chronicled the oral traditions of the Israelites through song, ensuring they would never forget them. David set his autobiography to music and used his harp as Prozac on an unstable king. Even in today’s church, we deliver new theology in soaring anthems.

We’re certain of the power of music. It’s evident around us. It’s the sound of the creation’s cycle repeating and repeating again. For a musician, it’s much more than just a delivery mechanism; it’s an attempt to make beauty tangible.

And we should never forget what Lozanov discovered; music is memory glue, it makes things stick.

The melody that you can’t get out of your head. The soundtrack that renders a fleeting moment immemorial. The generational catch cry. Give peace a chance. We shall not be moved. I ain’t no fortunate son. God defend New Zealand.

Musicians, you carry the weapon with which to change the world. Wield it well, say something worthwhile, and your song will stay with us forever.

This article features in our latest Parachute Magazine - read it here.