The universe positively hums, all matter obeying incessant rhythm . . . from atomic dance or cyclical seasons to the tempos of blood and brain. Even the immaterial resonates: Without pause, primordial starlight laps at us no less than immediate sunshine--natural or artificial--breaks in waves over this page. And the visible spectrum also creates mental art; how faithfully Marc Chagall practiced his colorful credo that "Everything vibrates," while the most farsighted seer, Olaf Stapledon, imagined an achromatic conceit: "Man himself, at the very least, is music . . . ." Not a single instance remains silent to existential song which, among local members of the cosmic orchestra, humans both hear and play best: We appreciate or perform absolutely apart from other Earthlings, lately--born of necessity--taking to rather virtuosic improvisations upon the indigenous score.
Amplifying this deepest harmony, our lives follow tunes at every turn, outside and in, sensed or secret. Each behavior, thought itself, the sacred places once firmly identified as heart and soul--no feature affecting us (indeed, the entire realm evolution has bequeathed life) registers apart from order opposing its absence, the monolithic meaning behind knowledge which also shapes the unknown. Little wonder religions summon their adherents for worship with chimes, gongs, bells, or drums, while precipitating the transcendental intonation of prayer through hypnotic chants. Whatever the chemical response of body and mind, supplicants dearly embrace the psychodynamic effects these acts return. The holy must speak in melodious tongues.
Rites of passage--birth, puberty, marriage, accomplishment, death--receive predominately sonic veneration: Percussive instruments typically mark the notable event (bloodline reinforcers like weddings merit joyous volume). In many societies, the moment when individual chaos first conforms to collective instruction--a baby's departure from the womb--is vividly observed. That patterning process--exemplified and espoused by our kind more than any other creature we know--often describes the tribal welcome to life, sometimes inferred not at gestation's end like Western cultures but over the preceding months. From Papua New Guinea's Iatmuls to rural Madagascar, even less remote areas of contemporary Polynesia, Africa, and Asia maintain selective treatment or prebirth rituals where ancient refrains pulse a penetrating tattoo before pregnant mothers, some even swaying with forceful footsteps into labor contractions or unmimicked delivery.
Influenced by the Confucian belief that fetal environment helps shape human character, 2000 years ago China institutionalized awareness of this stimulatory art, a sensitivity presuming the womb's protohuman possessed receptive and expressive powers; refinement in the prescribed techniques occurred during the late 1800s as the Quing dynasty was engendering a republic, with utopian recommendations comprising the Ta-T'ung (Book of Great Harmony), some notably eugenic. Wives were separated from spouses in bucolic settings, at tranquility clinics for repose and meditation under sage auspices; along with poetry or song, instructions about proper diet, cleanliness, and stress reduction were accompanied by gentle melodies from stringed instruments complementing mellow woodwinds.
About 1000 CE this heritage migrated to Japan, where on the streets of Tokyo today its name is still recognized--taikyo. Over the centuries, what had begun as a preventive--to ward off noxious spirits from the forming infant--was transformed by the tenor of successive times, superstition giving way to theistic interests then political pragmatism; gods could be propitiated if an unborn novitiate received appropriate counsel, venerating the emperor in advance. Finally, after World War II, a secular incarnation took place: Elevated to that status previously occupied by nobility or above, from national democratization and rising affluence children themselves became deified in all but name, an industriously enlightened generation gracing the Ghinza, their parents mixing inherited though now vague notions with modern educational methodology. Attention directed wombward had acquired a scholastic slant.
If amalgamated in understanding or approach, contemporary Eastern prenatal practices remain not just positivistic but anticipatory: When pregnant mothers in Beijing, Seoul, and Taipei listen to popular tunes on radio or television, they are drawing from a vast cultural reservoir by sensing an experience presumably of mutual benefit . . . reinforced when their inner audience registers responsive movements. Other precedents promoting fetal intervention for postnatal value include mention in Indian texts from 100 BCE to 600 CE, also sixth-century Talmudic writings; by 400 CE the surgeon Susruta felt that an unborn child starts seeking sensation before the first trimester ends, its mind already extant five months from conception. Sage Vyasa--primary source for Sanskrit's epic Mahabarata, about 1500 BCE either compiling or authoring many of its 100,000 legendary and didactic couplets--was exposed in the womb to repetitive mantras, vedas, and slokas, this sonic background directly connected by an entire culture with his reputed omniscience. But such awareness is no longer confined to one geography: A planet has been rather abruptly awakened by an altogether original rhythm--the music of earliest learning.