A Sound Start

Opus Osm's Baia Dzagnidze on a Czech Philharmonic program aimed at expectant mothers

This article originally appeared in Opus Osm, the free-of-charge, paperless daily magazine about Czech classical music, opera, and ballet, published in Prague for an international audience.

In the half-dark Josef Suk hall in the Rudolfinum, where the small stage is lighted only with one chandelier and blue lights line the walls, future mothers gather to listen to a concert designed especially for them. The sound of the ocean, with a picture of birds on the slideshow screen, makes you relaxed and prepares you for the concert.

Then you hear Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran's recording on children, translated into Czech, saying:
"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

Every evening starts like this, but the musicians and the Music as an Endearment for Future Mothers (Hudba jako pohlazení pro budoucí maminky) concerts sponsored by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra are different every time.

How the program started
"It all started last summer when I went to Japan," says the Mothers program manager Markéta Vejvodová. "I am a pianist myself, and my father and I were invited to play in the Suzuki Method program."

The Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children acquire a skill and that this skill can progress and be improved through a nurturing environment. "The mother teaches the child everything," she continues. "It is clear that before birth, at the prenatal age of 4 months, kids can hear music, and after their birth, they can still recognize that music. It's been confirmed that when the child listens to music together with the mother, it has a calming effect on them."

These concerts have two purposes: one is to make the fetuses relaxed, and another is to prepare them for our world. The best therapy for a baby is to make the mother happy, Mrs. Vejvedová explains to Opus Osm.

"A Suzuki Method teacher goes to hospitals and play concerts to the future mothers there," she continues, "but I had to think how to make the mothers come here." Mrs. Vejvodová cooperates with the music therapist Zdeněk Šimanovský and together they decide the character of the music that should be played at the concerts.

Every concert has its theme. According to the theme, she chooses images for the video screen. For instance, on the theme of love, she showed a beautiful picture of whales making love in the sea -- or simply a healing picture full of [the color pink] is screened. The first concert, performed on October 19, 2010, had the theme of meditation because "a mother should know how to contact her unborn child," explains Mrs. Vejvodová.

Sensitive, supportive music, performers, and atmosphere help mothers-to-be relax and connect with their unborn children, who will recognize the music again as babies.

She also discusses the musical instruments with the music therapists in order to ensure selection of the softest sounds. She then carefully chooses the musicians, because she believes it's important that musicians understand the whole concept and all together they select the pieces to fulfill the most melodic music. There are usually two soloists at each concert, but there are exceptions when trios or quartets perform, depending on the program.

The program may also include Czech folk songs, which are easy for kids to understand. The day the program theme was Czech folk songs, several families came with their kids, Mrs. Vejvodová notes.

Finally, she ensures that a music therapist is available after each concert, "so that mothers can come, ask them questions and receive professional advice," says Mrs. Vejvodová. The future moms' program director also speaks during the concert, mostly providing advice and information important for the future mothers.

Great but different expectations
Mrs. Vejvodová explains to Opus Osm that people who come to listen to the concert don't sit as straight as they usually do in ordinary concert halls; they sit more loosely, in order to rest and feel the music. That's also why there are blue lights -- "and it should be that way," adds harpist Kateřina Englichová, performing tonight.

Mezzo-soprano Karolína Bubleová Berková, also performing tonight, finds the idea very interesting, and explains that every evening is different.

The musicians can feel something different while performing at an expectant moms' concerts, they say. "All of a sudden you become two persons," says Mrs. Englichová. "You start to talk to a person inside you."

"It's a basic instinct," adds Mrs. Bubleová Berková.

• The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra's Music as an Endearment for Future Mothers program organizes concerts twice a month, usually on Tuesday afternoons at 5pm

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