Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Jane Taylor, and Nueroaesthetics

Today, my 13 month old son, Shepherd, is sitting on my shoulders when we take a walk and he's humming/singing/mumbling.

The song he's mumble-humming is the tune to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Stars." It's very distinct, and I begin to sing the song to him to his great joy.

And I say to myself, "Where in the world did this song come from, that of all the songs we sing around our children, that this is the song they gravitate towards?"

I remember when my first child was his age, and she too loved to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and I distinctly remember it really being one of the first songs she participated in singing.

So this lead my on my own personal Google and Wikipedia search to attempt to figure out a couple of things.

First, to whom I owe my appreciation to for creating this simple and for whatever reason attractive song.

Second, why in the world this song has such a gravitational pull?


So the who part of the research was easy and interesting. The tune (which also is the tune to the traditional American ABC song) is actually a french traditional "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" which was published in 1761, which were then further popularized by Mozart when he used this for this piano piece "Twelve Variations on Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" presumed to have been published around 1781.

The words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star were published in 1806 in a book called Rhymes for the Nursery by Jane and Ann Taylor. The poem, titled The Star was written by Jane (there is a free archived version of the book available here).

The poem actually has multiple stanzas that go beyond our current version of the song, back when people probably really were looking to stars saying "how I wonder what you are?"

I am unable to find when the french tune and the poem were married to one another and popularized.


I ask myself, "Why do little kids get drawn to this song." Is there something inherit to our souls that is captured by those in initial staccato notes, or the descending partial scales?

And yet, I didn't find an answer here, other than I learned a new word...neuroaesthetics, in which a science blogger just a few weeks ago wrote about his or her interest in the world of the science behind why we find art attractive.

This blogger discusses how someone truly interested in neuroaesthetics is going to study simple things like the Wiggles or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, as opposed to studying fine gallery art, and while in the comments someone asks "Please tell me nobody funds such nonsense?"

And yet, there's a part of me that would be fascinated to read a scientific study on why we're attracted to this melody/poem pairing. I don't know that if I'd personally fund it, but I'd love to read the study.

Thank you Jane Taylor, Mozart, and whoever is the Frenchman/Frenchwoman who wrote this tune, for creating something my infants have loved, in which you surely did not receive adequate royalties.

Artwork pictured is from the free archieve of the not copywrite protected, 1849 printing Rhymes for Children found here.

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