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Music exposure in utero transforms a chore into a boogiesome pleasure

The Wednesday before last I reviewed the first project in the RSNO's revamped Monster Music series, a long-running project for very young children.

It had been completely re-thought, not so much from top to bottom as inside out, with a new presenter in actress Claire Knight, a new focus which shifted the emphasis right away from the "classical symphony orchestra" experience towards something more akin to an entertainment, albeit one with a subtle educational agenda.

After the show, in which the age range of the audience was extended backwards to the tiniest of tots and forwards to allow members of the general public into what has been a closed-door event and an unusual experience, I went upstairs from the Henry Wood Hall auditorium into the administration area of the orchestra.

RSNO chief executive Michael Elliott was there, chatting to a member of the RSNO board, to whom the executive officer introduced me. I can't remember if my view on the show was invited or if I just wellied in feet first with my big mouth. I remarked how taken I had been with the concept and the new presentation. I was aware, as I commented that the RSNO and the music seemed "incidental" to the occasion and the experience, that Elliott visibly flinched.

But I meant "incidental" in the sense that a play or other theatrical event, or indeed a film, might feature incidental music as an integral but discreet element in the presentation of that event. The RSNO was not in the foreground of Monster Music. It was integral and indispensible. But the foreground was the narrative and the presentation. And that, for me, represented the crucial development in the presentation of music for very young children. There was not one moment in the show where anyone might have thought "this is a classical music concert", with all the prejudices still attached to that description.

My mind was racing, following the experience of watching all these babies and pre-nursery tots being enthralled by the unfolding and lightly told interactive narrative. And it raised a question: the bottom line here is that these kids were being exposed to what we know are the engaging and illuminating characteristics of classical music. But it was just happening naturally. How young can children be for this to be potentially effective?

We know the answer, of course, but it's always revealing to see and hear it being endorsed. Many years ago, on a trip to Finland to study how the country's then-fantastic music education system operated (I have no idea what it's like now in our austerity era) I had the opportunity to ask a member of staff at the Finnish Music Information Centre at what age the exposure of children to music might begin. "In the womb, before birth," was the reply.

And I thought of that again, some years later when, reviewing a BBC SSO concert in Ayr Town Hall, I took along the latest instalment of Tumelty children, twins, as yet unborn. They were always active in the womb, those two. But that night was special. SSO conductor for the night was the Estonian Olari Elts, in an early appearance in Scotland before he became associated with the SCO.

In the early stages of the concert the twins were, relatively, at rest. But when Elts launched the orchestra into an energetic and action-packed performance of a Beethoven symphony (I think it might have been the Eighth Symphony) all hell broke loose beside me as a double bump began to gyrate and boogie to almost seismic effect, and strangely in rhythm. One of them, nine years on and totally out there, is still doing it, ignited even by the rhythm of tooth-brushing at night. Hyper? You have no idea: have you ever been in a boogie-ing bathroom?

Believe me: there is no lower age for exposure to music, so long may Monster Music thrive. There is only one cost to the auld yins: your sanity.

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