The Mozart Conspiracy
by Cynthia Sue Larson
August 8, 2000

I attended a workshop on "Harnessing the Healing Power of Music" by Steven Halpern this spring at the International Conference on Science and Consciousness. I had only the vaguest awareness of what kind of music he composed and recorded, and was eager to learn how he felt about the "Mozart Effect" -- the idea that classical music can enhance concentration, relaxation, and intellectual development in people who listen to it. I was not to be disappointed.

Halpern began his workshop by playing one of his compositions and asking, "This music helps people experience inner peace... but where is the melody? Where is the beat?"

Indeed... the melody of his song was difficult to pin down, and there was no discernable beat.

Rhythm Entrainment

Halpern then demonstrated the phenomenon known as rhythm entrainment, in which an external stimulus can override our internal rhythm. I can actually feel my heart beat faster when the rhythm of the music I am listening to speeds up. When the rhythm of the music slows down, my heart beat slows down, too.

I was thrilled to learn this. Finally, there is an explanation for why my young daughters feel compelled to race around the house any time I play the 1812 William Tell Overture. Their hearts start racing when they hear the rhythm change from the calm introduction of the tune to the urgent call to arms -- and they feel a wild compulsion to jump on their hobby horses and ride like the wind!

The absence of an obvious beat in Halpern's music allows each listener's heartbeat to relax into its own natural rhythm.

Mozart Effect

But what about the so-called Mozart Effect... the phenomenon responsible for sending so many people out in search of the perfect classical recording for making their children and themselves smarter?

Halpern continued to explain that rhythm entrainment doesn't just happen with music, but that everything in our external environment (TV, radio, people talking, city noise) has the ability to alter our bodily rhythms. While resonance can create healing in us, Halpern was quick to point out that "Most of what we experience in the material world is not for our own healing and balance."

Anyone awakened to the jolting sound of a jack-hammer or garbage truck already knows this to be true!

Music's Healing Powers

Halpern also shared with us the American Medical Association's politically correct and legally safe position on music's effects on people: "Music assists the body to heal itself". This statement is quite different from, "This piece of music will heal you" -- since every person responds uniquely to music. We each have a responsibility to ourselves to discover what kind of listener we are.

Halpern played two recordings of Bach's to illustrate this point for us... two different versions of the same song can sound completely different, and have vastly different effects on the listener!

Halpern began to play musical scales on the piano (a series of chords and notes that rise in predictable fashion), and then asked, "How many of you are holding your breath?" Most of us laughed, as we realized it was true -- we were holding our breath as the sequence of notes rose and we anticipated what might be played next! "A lot of music holds your breath hostage", explained Halpern, "Chords will do the same thing. You feel a tension if you know what's supposed to happen and if a piece is played differently than you anticipate, tension results".

Free from the Conspiracy

Have you ever noticed how some people use background music as a kind of room freshener to conceal disturbing environmental sounds, often achieving very different results from what they are intending? Most people tend to assume that classical music is ideal background music for studying or other mental work, because it lacks the pounding beats typical of the built-in tension found in pop and rap music. Halpern had just proved this assumption to be untrue, since classical pieces can be so distracting that they take our breath away. He demonstrated the healing, uplifting quality of his compositions by playing "Spectrum Suite", which is designed to gently stimulate each of the body's chakras -- and left me feeling energized and exquisitely relaxed.

Halpern played some more of his songs that omit catchy melodies, chord progressions and pounding beats. Halpern's music facilitates easy absorption of information in a state of relaxed awareness -- ideal for mediation or background music that doesn't drive one to distraction. "Our bodies are healed in a state of deep relaxation", said Halpern. "We're hard-wired for coherence and balance, and most of that happens with sound".

Halpern defined conspiration as "breathing together". It occurred to me after Halpern's workshop that people who believe Mozart (and other classical music) to be superior to all other music are indeed "breathing together" as they anticipate the next parts of the melody. This can often be a wonderful experience, as people share feelings through music... and as we know what we're doing to our bodies as we select the music we choose to listen to.

Even Steven Halpern admits he enjoys listening to many different kinds of music at various times -- as most of us do. It makes such a difference when we start paying attention to how music affects us, and select the music that best suits our needs.

I'm relieved to learn this priceless lesson about music that sets my breathing... and every cell in my body... free.


Are you curious to learn more about music that helps you feel more energized and relaxed without adding to your levels of stress? You can satisfy that craving by visiting Stephen Halpern's excellent web site at:
Steven Halpern's Inner Peace Music
"Listening to Steven's music is like getting a birthday present from an old friend that you didn't even know had your address." Experience the benefits of effortless relaxation and inner peace for yourself.


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