How Virginia Woolf’s work was shaped by music


Virginia Woolf listened to a wide variety of music, including Russian ballet music which she heard when the Ballets Russes visited London in 1912.
Wikimedia

Emma Sutton, University of St Andrews

Many of Virginia Woolf’s early reviewers noted parallels between her literary innovations and those of contemporary composers, such as Claude Debussy. Woolf’s interest in music was overlooked after her death. However, 80 years on, we are now beginning to explore how her extraordinary experimental uses of narrative perspective, repetition and variation derive from her close study of particular musical works and specific musical forms.

Music provided Woolf (and other modernists including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Katherine Mansfield) with a vocabulary to imagine and describe their creative practice and formal innovations. Woolf, for instance, compares her diary writing to a pianist practising their scales. She describes her reading as a process of “tuning up” for her writing. And in 1940 she famously observed:

It’s odd, for I’m not regularly musical but I always think of my books as music before I write them.

Music in Woolf’s life

Woolf grew up immersed in music. As a young woman, she attended operas and concerts at the Royal Opera House three or four times a week – sometimes, every night. Like most women of her age and social class, she had received basic music education in singing and piano. But her passion as a listener far outstripped her abilities as a performer.

Her letters and diaries repeatedly convey her love of classical repertoire – particularly the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner. But she heard a wide variety of music in varied settings. She heard folk music as she travelled in England, Scotland and continental Europe. Took in comic and patriotic songs in music halls. Delighted in the work of Arnold Schoenberg and another avant-garde repertoire through her subscription membership of the National Gramophonic Society, and Russian ballet music when the Ballets Russes visited London in 1912.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf.
Virginia Woolf painted by Roger Eliot Fry.
Leeds Museums and Galleries, CC BY-NC

Woolf’s Hogarth Press also published studies of contemporary music, composers and popular books of music appreciation. Her understanding of – and in some cases intimate friendships with – leading composers, music critics, conductors and other musicians of her time gave her an insight into professional musical life, too. Friends included the composers and critics Eddy Sackville-West and Gerald Berners, the conductor and educator Nadia Boulanger, and the composer and feminist Ethel Smyth.

Music in Woolf’s writing

Woolf’s feminism, pacificism and cosmopolitanism were significantly shaped by her enduring, passionate love of music. The social conventions surrounding music education, performance and composition catalyse some of her wittiest and most acerbic social comedy but also inform her critiques of, for example, women’s unequal access to music education.

In her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), Woolf references specific musical works to challenge the established expectation that men and women should play different repertoire. The novel’s female protagonist, who is an accomplished amateur pianist, plays Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. These works were frequently characterised as too technically and intellectually demanding for women performers. Essays addressed to amateur female pianists characterised the works as “simply unattainable”.

Music also influences Woolf’s creative innovations. The double narrative structure of Mrs Dalloway, for example, which contrasts and entwines the lives of society hostess Clarissa Dalloway and traumatised veteran Septimus Warren Smith, may well be modelled on the double form of musical fugues (“fugue” was a contemporary term for shell shock).

Woolf observed in 1909 that, “We are miserably aware how little words can do to render music.” But this difficulty frequently catalyses and becomes a subject of her writing.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that her prose has been a rich source of creative inspiration for composers. For instance, her work inspired Dominick Argento’s 1974 song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf and more oblique responses, such as Max Richter’s music for the 2015 ballet Woolf Works.

In the last 15 years, musical responses to Woolf’s writing have proliferated, from the string quartet and songs premiered by the Virginia Woolf and Music project, to the recent announcement that composer Thea Musgrave is writing an opera inspired by Orlando.

In a 1905 essay, Woolf invited contemporary writers to remember words’ allegiance to music and take inspiration from that. Scholars of Woolf’s work and composers are now, it seems, doing just that.The Conversation

Emma Sutton, Professor of English, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Learning music early can make your child a better reader



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As we look to improve the reading outcomes of our young children, more music education in our preschools and primary schools could be the answer.
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Anita Collins, University of Canberra and Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

Neuroscience has found a clear relationship between music and language acquisition. Put simply, learning music in the early years of schooling can help children learn to read.

Music, language and the brain

Music processing and language development share an overlapping network in the brain. From an evolutionary perspective, the human brain developed music processing well before language and then used that processing to create and learn language.

At birth, babies understand language as if it was music.
They respond to the rhythm and melody of language before they understand what the words mean.

Babies and young children mimic the language they hear using those elements of rhythm and melody, and this is the sing-song style of speech we know and love in toddlers.

Musically trained children are better readers

The foundation of reading is speech and to learn how to speak, children must first be able to distinguish speech from all other sounds. Music helps them do this.

Reading is ultimately about making meaning from the words on the page. A number of skills combine to help us make those meanings, including the ability to distinguish between the sounds in words, and fluency of reading.




Read more:
How do we learn to read?


Fluency includes the ability to adjust the the patterns of stress and intonation of a phrase, such as from angry to happy and the ability the choose the correct inflection, such as a question or an exclamation. These highly developed auditory processing skills are enhanced by musical training.

Musically trained children also have better reading comprehension skills.

Music can also give us clues about a child’s struggles with reading.
Research has found three- and four-year-old children who could keep a steady musical beat were more reading-ready at the age of five, than those who couldn’t keep a beat.

Children should be taught to read music as well, which reinforces the symbol to sound connection crucial for learning to read.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

What parents and teachers can do

Language learning starts from day one of life with parents talking and singing to their babies. Babies bond with their parents and community primarily through their voice, so singing to your baby both forms a bond with them and engages their auditory processing network.

Taking toddlers to a well-structured, high quality music class each week will build the musical skills that have been found to be so effective in learning to read. It is vital to look for classes that include movement activities, singing, and responding to both sound and silence. They should use good quality music-making toys and instruments.

As they head into preschool, a crucial time for language development, look for the same well-structured music learning programs delivered daily by qualified educators. The songs, rhymes and rhythm activities our children do in preschool and daycare are actually preparing them for reading.




Read more:
Does your child struggle with spelling? This might help


Music programs should build skills sequentially. They should encourage children to work to sing in tune, use instruments and move in improvised and structured ways to music.

Children should also be taught to read musical notation and symbols when learning music. This reinforces the symbol to sound connection which is also crucial in reading words.

Importantly, active music learning is the key. Having loud music on in the background does little for their language development and could actually impede their ability to distinguish speech from all the other noise.

Parents should look for good quality music programs for their toddlers.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

This isn’t to say children need silence to learn. In fact, the opposite is true. They need a variety of sound environments and the ability to choose what their brains need in terms of auditory stimulation. Some students need noise to focus, some students need silence and each preference is affected by the type of learning they are being challenged to do.

Sound environments are more than just how loud the class is getting. It’s about the quality of the sounds. Squeaky brakes every three minutes, loud air-conditioning, background music that works for some and not others and irregular bangs and crashes all impact on a child’s ability to learn.

Teachers can allow students to get excited in their lessons and make noise appropriately, but keep some muffled headphones in your classroom for when students want to screen out sound.

Music for all

Our auditory processing network is the first and largest information gathering system in our brains. Music can enhance the biological building blocks for language. Music both prepares children for learning to read, and supports them as they continue their reading journey.

Unfortunately, it’s disadvantaged students who are least likely to have music learning in their schools. Yet research shows they could benefit the most from music learning.

As we look to ways to improve the reading outcomes of our young children, more music education in our preschools and primary schools may be one way clear way forward.The Conversation

Anita Collins, Adjunct assistant professor, University of Canberra and Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jamming with your toddler: how music trumps reading for childhood development


Liam Viney, The University of Queensland

Forget the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein, take it easy on acquisitions for your two-year-old’s private library, and don’t fret if your three-year-old hasn’t started violin lessons just yet.

The key to unlocking a child’s potential intelligence and happiness may indeed lie in music, but succumbing to the commercial juggernaut that is the baby-genius-making industry may not be in either your child or your wallet’s best interest.

Instead, try making up songs with your toddler. A new study suggests that regular informal music-making with very young children may even have benefits above and beyond those of reading.

But there’s an important, interesting, and somewhat beautiful catch – for best results, make it shared music-making in your home.

In an analysis of data generated from a study involving more than 3,000 children, a University of Queensland team investigated the associations between informal home music education for very young children and later cognitive and social-emotional outcomes.

The team found that informal music-making in the home from around the ages of two and three can lead to better literacy, numeracy, social skills, and attention and emotion regulation by the age of five.

By measuring the impact of music and reading both separately and in combined samples, the researchers were able to identify benefits from informal music activity over and above shared book reading, most strongly in relation to positive social behaviour, attention regulation and to a lesser but still significant extent, numeracy.

Part of an Australian Research Council funded study titled “Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development”, the study aims to provide a comprehensive account of how Australian families use music in their parenting practices and make recommendations for policy and practice in childcare and early learning and development.

Last month, the team was awarded the inaugural Music Trust Award for Research into the Benefits of Music Education.

Music and its relationship to mental and social development has long captured the attention of parents, researchers, even philosophers.

Science has shown that music’s effect on the brain is particularly strong, with studies demonstrating an improvement in IQ among students who receive music lessons. Advantages in the classroom have been identified for students who study musical instruments, and the effects of ageing on cognition may even be mitigated through lifelong musical activity.

So how is this study different, apart from its focus on early childhood?

Crucially, its findings are based on situations where the child’s musical activities were informal and shared, typically with a parent – essentially a playful social experience.

Simple and fun musical activities can have enormous power in developing numeracy and literacy: try improvising a counting song, or making up new rhymes to familiar tunes.

But the true power of musical play lies in the unique blend of creativity, sound and face-to-face interaction; the learning is strengthened by its basis in a positive, empathic emotional relationship.

Forget CDs and toys that beep, playing music should be a shared experience.
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Parents are increasingly enrolling very young children in specialist music classes – undoubtedly a positive development. Reading, however, is rarely “outsourced” in this way, and this study suggests that parents should feel encouraged and empowered in tapping their own inner musician before looking outside the home.

As with most aspects of parenting (in my personal non-scientific experience), there is no substitute for a parent’s personal involvement, even if it involves long-forgotten modes of behaviour such as taking simple pleasure in making sounds.

Being playful with sound is something we’re all born with – indeed, toddlers are humanity’s greatest virtuosos in that regard – yet too many are silenced over the years by the “better seen than heard” brigade.

It’s no accident that we talk about “playing” a musical instrument; a turn of phrase that too easily becomes sadly ironic if formal music lesson structures calcify into strictures.

Jam sessions with your toddler can be an enormous developmental asset.
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So recapturing a sense of play (if you’re an adult) is crucial to the process of shared music-making, and this research invites parents to focus on the element of “playing” music with toddlers, using any tools at hand.

The human voice is a great place to start, and the kitchen cabinet contains a wealth of percussion instruments. Whistles and bells could be the next step, followed by a toy piano for more ambitious stage parents.

Long before conventional music lessons start, jam sessions with your toddler (not of the messy sticky preserved fruit variety) can be an enormous developmental asset.

You might even find it a two-way street – if children can teach adults anything, it’s how to play. So take the time, play with your child, and “play” music together.

Along with the newly-confirmed bonus benefits for baby, you’ll both be connected to music: a fundamental component of a happy and healthy life.

The Conversation

Liam Viney, Piano Performance Fellow , The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.