The reason Barista Kids asked me to write the recent post “Music Education is Essential” is a simple one: I am a certified Music Geek. My collection of CDs, LPs, tapes, and 45s reaches into thousands of recordings.
I spent a couple of years blogging about every album I own and only made it into the C’s before giving up the project as hopeless.
So when I became a father, music was high on my list of things to consider. My son was going to need exposure to good music (as defined by me!). But I was wary of pushing my personal tastes on him. In other words, he certainly needs to hear Miles Davis and The Ramones, but I had to accept that Bill Frisell and Mission of Burma might not be his cup of formula.
But what I feared most went by the names Raffi and Barney. I pictured long rides in the car, forced to enjoy cloying, saccharine kiddie music that wasn’t doing either of us any real good. “I don’t think there’s any big advantage to ‘kid’s music,’” says Leslie Lucas, director of Music Together of Montclair and Summit & Chatham. “I remember my child watching Barney, and I didn’t want to play him that stuff. We played him Santana, Miles Davis, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, classical music, we exposed him to all of that.” Her point was that kids just like music, and if you make listening to music a fun, interactive family experience, it doesn’t have to be sung by a purple dinosaur.
I’ve been trying to mix it up for my son, playing records and singing songs from my collection, but I’m also building a little pile of children’s music made by bands I like: They Might Be Giants, the Baby Loves Jazz series (played by seasoned NYC jazz vets), Elizabeth Mitchell (who’s in grown-up band Ida) and Dan Zanes (formerly of the Del Fuegos) all make music for kids that doesn’t talk down to little listeners. The latter two often use simple folk tunes that have stood the test of time and have inter-generational appeal. “Folk music is our tribal culture’s music,” says Lucas. “There are a lot of basic folk songs that are usually considered kids songs, like ‘Skip to My Lou’ or ‘Pop Goes the Weasel.’”
I’m trying to tell myself that I don’t care what my son listens to, just so long as he listens. But no parent really means that: we all think our music is the only good music…but we also forget that we probably came to our music in purposeful opposition to our parents’ record collections. So for now, my one-year-old son is listening to Bob Dylan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Clash and Coltrane, The Magnetic Fields and Mingus, Superchunk and Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads and A Tribe Called Quest, plus The Jonathan Schwartz show on weekends. He naps with his kiddie CDs on, and rides in the car listening to what’s on my iPod. Ideally, I’d love it if he eventually wants to listen to my music with me; but I’m really just going to be content if he’s listening to something and digging his music as much as I dig mine.
What sort of music do you play for your kids? And when do kids start defining their own tastes in music?