Don Campbell, the author and entrepreneur whose best-selling books The Mozart Effect and The Mozart Effect for Children provocatively argued for music's power to build mental health, died June 2 of pancreatic cancer. He was 65 and lived in Boulder, CO.
Campbell began his career as a music critic and went on to write 23 books, mostly about music and its health benefits. He also founded the Institute of Music, Health and Education in Boulder in 1998, and lectured widely.
But it was his book The Mozart Effect, published in 1997, that elicited the most attention and controversy.
In the years following the book's release, Campbell built a robust online business selling CDs like "Music for the Mozart Effect," designed to enhance children's creativity and school performance. On his web site, he argued that parents of children with dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder should buy his CDs to improve their children's neuropsychiatric conditions. "Music for the Mozart Effect" was a fixture on the Billboard classical chart for more than three years.
Campbell's theories grew out of a 1991 study that claimed that listening to Mozart for ten minutes a day can improve your performance on spatial-reasoning tasks given immediately after the listening session. It stuck a popular chord. U.S. congressmen passed resolutions and the governor of Georgia appropriated funds to buy a Mozart CD for every newborn baby Georgian. Commentators hailed Mozart music as a magic bullet to boost children's intelligence.
The actual study contained many scientific flaws, and it was hard to replicate, as a variety of researchers later determined. In 2010 a University of Vienna team conducted a meta-analysis of the "Mozart effect" in the journal Intelligence, looking at the entirety of the scientific record on the topic. "Based on the accumulated evidence, there remains no support for gains in spatial ability specifically due to listening to Mozart music," they wrote.
Still, some researchers believe that while the specific claims tied to The Mozart Effect were flawed, it helped to bring wider attention to music's cognitive benefits. As the neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin noted in his book, This is Your Brain on Music, "The Mozart Effect referred to immediate benefits, but other research has revealed long-term effects of musical activity." Other scientists have shown music's ability to promote positive moods, lower blood pressure and treat speech disorders.
The American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado Boulder is creating a collection to house Campbell's materials, including 200 private letters from French composer, conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger.
The Daily Camera of Boulder, CO has a full obituary.