Children are born with certain preferences already ingrained in their minds because learning begins in the womb. It is for this very reason that newborns appreciate some music more than others. It is known that the sound of drums penetrate the amniotic fluid around the fetus, while other sounds of higher frequency do not. Newborns who were exposed to drum playing while in-utero have a tendency to smile and show appreciation when they hear the same sound after birth. These newborns have a tendency to have an emotional reaction to drum playing while remaining indifferent to other types of music.
It is often said in Haiti that wherever the drum plays, joy is shared. People in Haiti even go as far as to say that we have drum appreciation in our blood. According to Creasy’s medical textbook on maternal fetal medicine, fetuses who listen to drums while in-utero have a strong emotional bond to drumming. For many people, this is true because many of us were exposed to drum playing early in our development.
As learning starts in-utero, appreciation for drum playing has the same innate advantage that our native language has over second languages. When a mother speaks, her unborn child hears her voice within her womb. That voice shapes how the child begins to process language. It is the mother’s voice alone that reaches the fetus. Other voices are shielded by the amniotic fluid. The mother’s voice reaches the fetus because the two bodies are connected and so the vibrations caused by her speech is conducted to the fetus’ brain. If one were to play a recording of the mother’s voice, like all other voices originating from outside the mother’s body, the fetus would not hear the sound. Fetuses do not hear the voices of their fathers, brothers, sisters and so on.
While in-utero,the fetus hears the mother’s heart beat. Nowadays, when an infant is born, it is often placed on the mother’s chest so that the sound of her heart can comfort the newborn by providing it a familiar sound. This simple practice has become a modern element of good medical practice. It stems from recordings made within the womb in animal studies. These studies have revealed that high frequency sounds do not penetrate the amniotic fluid cavity but low frequency sounds do. In other words, the sounds that the fetus is able to hear is dictated by the laws of echography and not by any cultural biases regarding which instruments we like and which we dislike.
ManyHaitian Protestantconverts avoid exposure to drum playing for fear of involuntarily expressing the joy it would bring out of them. Although the sound of the drum is deeply engraved in their minds, intolerance rooted in the time of Christian enslavement of people of African descent,leaves them with a deep hatred for African culture, for drum playing, and for the Vodou religion. They can fight against Vodou drumming but they cannot undo the laws of nature that gives them an emotional attachment to African style drumming because their parents were Vodouists.
Exposure to drum playing while in-utero has the same advantage that exposure to our native language has in terms of our brains’ preference for it. This preference emerges because early exposure to certain stimulus create better cellular connections to record that exposure. These connections are the substance of memory, a core element of learning.As learning starts in-utero, newborn babbling differs depending on their native tongues. Their babbling is shaped by the intonations of their mothers speech that they were listening to while in the womb.
The photogragh accompanying this article is that of a drum made during the 19th century in South Carolina. It is now on display at the Smithsonian’s African American Museum in Washington D.C. There is a carving of a face on the drum. That face likely represents the Ancestors because Africans in the America’s used to play the drum as part of religious service to the Ancestors. This face on the drum shows appreciation for the Ancestors who passed down to us the art of playing and of making drums. We continue to pass down this tradition as we help each new generation learn to appreciate the sound of the drum.