published Friday, August 12th, 2011

Phillips: Helping a music-lover-in-training take first steps

Just before his tragic death at the hands of a carjacker in the first issue of "Spider-Man," Ben Parker tells his nephew, Peter, that "With great power comes great responsibility."

It's one of the most-memorable lines in any comic and one that has been much on my mind lately since the birth of my nephew, Clark, on July 27.

I have no intention of being the victim of a fatal carjacking, and I doubt Clark will be swinging on webs anytime soon, but as his only uncle, I feel a great deal of responsibility as a major influence in his life.

One of the areas my brother and his wife told me I'm to be most influential is in his introduction to music.

Studies conducted with premature infants have shown links between exposure to music and increased feeding rate, weight gain and reduced infant distress. There is also the much-touted "Mozart effect," linking exposure to music to mental development.

Regardless of the physiological effects listening to music will have on him, I consider it a great honor to be trusted with teaching him to appreciate, if not love, the art form.

There isn't a guidebook when it comes to what infants should listen to, although research suggests they respond best to harmonious music. This is why many classical pieces, such as Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," are on suggested playlists.

That being said, I had my own list to check off to ensure he gets off on the right foot.

First and foremost, I wanted him to hear a live performance first, since so much of a song's substance is lost in the compression from the studio recording to an mp3 or CD.

Within five days of his birth, I had played Clark lullabies and other tunes on my mandolin. Even though he is still too young to elicit a response (that will come in a few months), I consider that mission accomplished.

I also love The Beatles, and within a week and a half, I made sure Clark heard two of my favorite songs, "Here Comes the Sun" and "Blackbird." Both are among the Fab Four's most low-key and seemed to calm him down.

If there's anyone I'm basing these decisions on, it's my own uncle, who passed away in late 2009.

Throughout my life, he introduced me to many amazing artists, from Jackson Browne and The Byrds to Merle Haggard and The Pogues. He also supported me when I began exploring outside my classical training.

There's not a memory I have of us together that doesn't include music. Everyone needs someone like that in their life.

At just a couple of weeks old, Clark is still very much a work-in-progress, developmentally speaking. There's no telling what music he'll ultimately like or whether he'll ever play an instrument.

Whatever path he takes, though, I'll be there to support and encourage him. That's the kind of uncle I had and the kind of uncle I want to be.

It's a high bar to set, for sure, but like Uncle Ben said: Great power, great responsibility.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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