EDITORIAL: Improving on the "Mozart Effect" with movie music

(Image: yalescientific.org)

(Image: yalescientific.org)

For those website followers that don't know me on social media, I've become a first-time father in the past year-and-a-half and have a second child on the way due this fall.  For this column, I might turn into a parenting blogger more than a movie critic, but bear with me.  I think you will like it.  

Becoming a parent has been a remarkable life change, even if it has slowed down my movie-going.  As a school teacher by trade, far before my now-17-month-old daughter was born, the wheels in my head have always turned dreaming of gradually sharing my nerdy love of movies with my children as they grow up.  I've hatched plenty of disconnected ideas of what, when, and how to positively expose my kids to what I consider a passion as well as an art form.

The hard part is that I see the growing negatives as well as the positives with movies, especially in this day and age compared to when I grew up.  I didn't pick up on movies at volume until high school and college.  I played outside or learned to entertain myself.  In a present day inundated with endless vessels of technology, I see and teach too many kids with noses buried in devices, overloaded with distractions, and wildly out-of-whack focus.  I feel that they don't appreciate movies beyond being disposable entertainment.  I don't want that for my kids.  If I can avoid it, I want to moderate screen time.  I want the grandeur and power of movies to be special and meaningful.

An infant is too young to drop the full Scorsese on, so my first good idea at how to share movies with my daughter came last summer with the genre of music.  In making more trips to Buy Buy Baby than I ever dreamed of, I couldn't stand the Baby Einstein-inspired level of xylophone-heavy "baby" music that the purveying sentiment of parent consumerism shoved at me.  Swamped by baby book suggestions and "What to Expect When You're Expecting" emails that felt like impending doom of future dropped balls of parenting failures, I drank the Kool-Aid on the "Mozart Effect" of classical music making babies and kids smarter, so I dove in.  However, most of what was out there was weird, unnerving, repetitive, and uninteresting to me.  The closest I could tolerate were the offerings from the Rockabye Baby!, with their clever lullaby renditions of everything from Metallica to Jay-Z.  Even with a few winners there, I knew I could do better and I knew a piece of my passion would do just the trick.

One of the most sweeping and intoxicating things about movies for me has always been the memorable music and instrumental scores.  Both my workplace or workout iPod playlists are filled with more John Williams and the like than anything else.  That's my musical heartbeat and DNA.  That was what I knew I could start with and I know movie scores, when done right, have all the same complexity and quality as any classical piece of centuries ago.   

As the working parent coupled with a stay-at-home-mom (my wife, by the way, is featured on my "Pillow Rankings" page on the website), I didn't get as much bonding time with my daughter as my wife.  Where I set up my battleground to make up for that was that I insisted on doing bedtimes, no matter what.  I wanted to put my daughter to bed, just her and me.  Starting last summer, when she was big enough for a full crib, she and I began our many nights together rocking in a glider to sleep (and, yes, I feel asleep often too).  With an iPod playing on my shoulder, I began cycling through some calming movie score favorites.  At first, it was one song a night on a loop.  Soon, I built a whole playlist.  Sure enough, I found myself humming along with each one.  

For her, she calmed down wonderfully and absorbed the music.  Someday, I hope she hears a familiar cue in a movie and it strikes a chord, in more ways than one.  For me, I got my bonding time and the unexpected side effect of the most successful stress relief activity I could have ever imagined.  The rocking, the familiar music (and the backup white noise), the low light, and the one-on-one time with that little girl could erase even the worst possible days.

Throughout this expanding practice last summer, I chronicled my nightly movie score selections on Facebook among my friends.  I began a series of posts entitled "Summer Movie Bedtimes" and linked the song that was played that night (via YouTube track) for each day of summer.  As I mentioned before, the playlist has grown and is now a regular part of my bedtime routine here.  I will gladly do the same when my son arrives this fall.

As an ardent film music fan, I wanted to share this playlist with you.  I like this genre wrinkle on the "Mozart Effect."  Stay tuned for a follow-up column in the coming days after this editorial where I link and lay out the best of the best of movie scores that I've leaned on for amazing movie-themed lullabies.  I guarantee they trump any weak-sauce, xylophone-choked Baby Einstein CD you'll find at Target or Babies 'R Us.  Best of all, I'm going to have a way you can download them all to keep and use yourself!  Come back soon!