Man's Spiritual
Music & Language

Man's Spiritual Expressions: Language and Music, 1956

This article was written in 1956 by Mario Montessori, Maria Montessori's son,  to announce the publication of one of the booklets made by Anna Maccheroni about the Montessori music material.

When Man appeared upon the earth something appeared with him that had been denied to animals: a spiritual nature to which later was given the name of soul. Because of this nature human beings could not live alone, for no spirit can survive in a total isolation. Yet each human being was in danger of another kind of solitude, for no language existed that could be inherited or transmitted by heredity.

Human feelings there were, and the urge of human ideas. There was, we imagine, a flow of sentiment that sprang from man's spirit but none of these could span the gap that separated individual from individual. This was the plight of the few groups of men and women scattered over the wilderness of the earth.

Out of the very breath of life a solution was found. By slightly increasing its power as it came from the mouth, by letting it play upon the harp that man housed in his throat, sounds could be produced. A conventional meaning was given to groups of these sounds and words were fashioned. Ephemeral they were - they ceased to exist as soon as they were uttered but they shattered the chains that held imprisoned the newly fashioned souls which, to continue to exist, needed communication. Wherever human beings found themselves together, in the tropics or in the icy wastes, out of the human mind a language was born - a life-giving link more enduring than life itself - for people died but language lasted, and through it mind could communicate with mind forever after.

Another need these souls had, just as impelling though more obscurely felt. This was so deep that words alone were inadequate for its needs. It required another form of expression; something that could mirror more adequately the sentiments of men when the joys and sorrows overflowed the channels of expression offered by language; something that could portray the majesty of those higher feelings, touched with the perfume of the sacred and divine that rise on occasion from the innermost recesses of man's soul. It had to take a form that would enable the soul to thrill with other souls or, at other times, to rise to unknown heights and - itself immersed in spiritual silence - to be transported by a flood of sound that fused it with other spirits similarly uplifted.

In answer to this need music was born. Thereafter, language for communication between minds and music for the communion of souls formed part of the sacred heritage that each group of men transmitted to their children.

Some facts about small children
At birth the child possesses neither language nor music but who has not seen a weeping baby become calm when music is played to him? Who has not been amused to see a child of two - or younger - attempt dancing steps hearing rhythmic music? What parent is not alarmed if his child at two has not yet begun to talk? Evidently, both language and music exercise a powerful attraction upon the psyche of the children.

In spite of their extreme immaturity small children seem able to appreciate, understand and retain every detail of pronunciation, construction and other intricacies of language with greater ease than more mature minds. What is more difficult in fact, even for scholars, than to learn Greek? Yet how rapidly, as it seems to us, do Grecian three-year-olds prattle in their own country. The same is true of music. Generally, it is very difficult for a European to understand Indian music, even after years of living in the country but young Indian children follow enraptured quite long concerts, shaking their heads in the proper tempo and moving their hands to mark the seemingly peculiar pattern of the music. The young child's mind is different from that of older people. To learn a foreign language, for instance, the latter have to apply themselves deliberately and expend purposeful effort. The child does not study books, does not follow lessons, exerts no effort. The child does not learn language, he absorbs it as a dry sponge absorbs water. Language seems to grow in the child. Given the chance, music can also grow in the child as he himself grows.

Dr. Montessori and the child.
Dr. Montessori was one of the truest interpreters of the child's nature and of the child's needs. Her books, The Discovery of the Child, The Secret of Childhood and The Absorbent Mind, by unfolding the real purport of psychic organisation, reveal the greatness of the child's contribution to human society.

These are some of Dr. Montessori's own words:
"if the child is born without speech, without movement, without any reasoning intelligence and grows into the active, intelligent, talkative little person that we know by the age of three, there must be a vital, irresistible force at work in him which leads him to acquire these attributes".
"An adult finds it very difficult to become adapted to a new environment and to a totally different pattern of culture. The child becomes adapted to any environment or to any culture within which he grows. The mind of the child has the power to absorb without effort everything that it finds in its neighbourhood. Nature seems to have entrusted the children with the stupendous task of building men and women perfectly adapted to their surroundings."

When Dr. Montessori began her educational work she looked around to see what facilities existed for the child. "Not a chair", she says, "not a table, not a thing for the child to use while building within himself the culture of his country and his day. Children lived in a world of giants whose possessions they were forbidden to touch." This was the situation as regards external things. The grown-up's attitude towards the child is best indicated by the precepts of the time-.
 "Children should be seen and not heard".
 "The child must be obedient".
 "The child has to be fed, washed, dressed, combed. He must not be allowed to do these things for himself. He lacks the ability, he is too slow, too clumsy, too untidy".
 "Don't touch".
 "Keep still".
"If the child has to take the culture of the country from his environment", thought Dr. Montessori, "his task will be made easier if an environment is provided proportionate both to his size and to his intelligence". "Experience, activity and movement", she proclaimed, "are necessary for the normal development of the child". She provided both and was deeply touched by the transformation which came over the first group of children to be entrusted to her care. From their reactions guidance was obtained as to the best ways in which to aid children's tendencies in their natural development. It was others who labelled these the Montessori Method.

But what Dr. Montessori really had at heart was the plight of childhood, the needs which were not realised by society. The task of making the child understood - and of preparing "the world of the child" - became almost a religious duty for Dr. Montessori. She was soon joined by several young women. They formed a group that lived and worked together and they set out to implement their mission with the discipline and determination of a Religious Order.

One of the young ladies who joined Dr. Montessori was Professor Anna Maccheroni, whose accomplishments included a thorough knowledge of music. Under Dr. Montessori's direction she began to explore ways of including music among the items to be absorbed in the course of children's natural development.

Music for children
"If language and music are natural needs of the human being, why is the study of music such a tiresome burden?" This question is asked even today. The answer is simple. There is nothing in the environment that enables the child to grow into music as he grows into language. Without a suitable environment the child is unable to carry out his constructive activities. We have seen that Greek is difficult to learn when studied at school but the three-year-olds of Greece speak it fluently.

Professor Maccheroni, who on the 11th of August 1956 will be eighty years old, has dedicated fifty years of her life to the preparation of a musical environment suitable for children of different ages, to the determination of the nature of activities and, following the lines laid down by Dr. Montessori, to the establishment of methods of introducing them to the children.

It is impossible to illustrate adequately what Professor Maccheroni has accomplished. Her work is an exquisite miniature of tiny details in which music and the child's psyche are closely interwoven. Beginning with the child who, at two-and-a-half, seems to fall in love with the sound of a single note that he produces by striking a bell with a tiny wooden hammer and passing through many activities which, at three, include 'Walking along the Melody', she accompanies the child until he is twelve. By then, the child has had experience in singing, in executing dance steps, in the playing of simple instruments and in listening to concert music. But the impressive fact is that without effort, without tiresome drudgery, through a process that gives the child the feeling of having discovered it all himself, he becomes familiar with the various aspects of musical theory. Incredibly, he is conversant with rhythmic design; with the degree and the family of scales; with transposition and modulation; with the analysis of musical phrases and graphics, writing of music; homophony, polyphony and harmony. Nor is that all. Through Professor Maccheroni's efforts the child has at last been enabled to enter into possession of the second part of the spiritual inheritance humanity bestows upon its children.

Now, her task finished, her book ready for publication, Professor Maccheroni has honoured the Association Montessori Internationale with the task of making known this facet of the Montessori Method.

Maria M. Montessori

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