This chapter was so interesting; it started with a story of the author’s second son who was diagnosed with a hearing impairment and despite how his hearing continued to hover at 60 decibels and he would not speak outside of the home and nor could he read, he became a chorister. The Master of Choristers mentioned that in his choir all the choristers’ reading ability improved dramatically, whether they were poor readers to begin with or not. The author’s son eventually went to university on a choral scholarship, and she noted that the years her son made the greatest progress was when he started to sing.
Music becomes the second language for a child after movement. An infant in utero can hear from external sources only low to medium frequencies that correspond to the range of most vocal melodies and the range of notes on a piano. The rhythm, cadence, and timbre of the mother’s voice, a intra-uterine source of sound, provides the first link for the development of language and speech.
An infant’s ears are partially filled with fluid for a few days after birth. In this way, “the baby inhabits an auditory hinterland between the uterine and extra-uterine world.” Once the fluid clears up,the infant narrows down hearing to the frequency range used in his or her own language. (What was not mentioned here, which I wonder about, are infants whose parents speak to them in two or three separate languages from birth. It would seem the range of frequencies would be ever expanded). The author does remark, “In the first three years of life, a child has a potential to learn any language on earth if it is exposed to the sounds of that language regularly over a long enough period of time. After three years of age, the window of opportunity starts to close, and by six years of age the capacity to learn language as an innate skill starts to diminish.”
Hearing starts to develop also with auditory orientation, the way we can locate where a sound is coming from even without seeing the source. The author remarks on page 73: “Vision tells us what is happening in front and to the sides; hearing and balance help us to know what is happening behind.” This ability to match sounds and sights become the basis for reading and writing.
Using voice in play, through chanting, through speech and through song are vitally important for hearing and speech development. Our next chapter is about music and the brain and will explore this further…