When I was a kid I didn't have an alarm clock, I had a mother who knew Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Oh what a beautiful morning
Oh what a beautiful day!
I've got a wonderful feeling
Everything's going my way!
Yes, at the time it was highly irritating to be awoken in such fashion but it usually worked in getting me out of bed. In fact, Mom seemed to have a song to fit every occasion and I grew up hearing everything from Cole Porter to Ray Charles and it took years before I was able to sort them all out into their proper titles and origins.
My father, on the other hand, stuck to singing the Beatles (he was particularly fond of shocking Mom with singing loudly, "Why don't we do it in the road? No one will be watching us, WHYYYYY don't we do it in the road?") and other such bawdy ballads. We, of course, were ignorant of the subtleties of meaning and merely enjoyed seeing Mom squawk at him to mind his manners in front of the children but part of our initiation into the full Alaskan camping experience was to hear him singing "Queenie" while behind the wheel. Here's a sampling:
There's a burlesque the-atre where the gang likes to go
To see Queenie, the cutie of the bur-lesque show.
But the thrill of the evening is when out Queenie skips;
And the band plays the polka while she strips, strips, strips.
"Take it off! Take it off!" Rose a cry from the rear.
"Take it off! Take it off!" Was all you could hear.
But she's always a lady, even in pantomime;
And she stops . . . but only just in time!
It's an old 1942 Andrews Sisters' song but to me it was just a fun family tradition to sing it whenever we were heading out camping and the point of all this is that music, culturally speaking, is as important to our collective and individual consciousness as words and reading are.
No parent has any doubts as to the importance of reading to your children, of how it improves language and cognitive skills and encourages creativity but in many ways singing to your children is just as important. Studies show that singing to babies and toddlers before they can read improves their ability to recognize patterns in language, distinguish phonics, enjoy the beauty of language--even understand spacial relations. The tones and repetition are even thought to help nervous system development and all sorts of other helpful issues but besides all of the physiological, educational and psychological reasons to sing with your children, it's a huge way that you bond over a shared cultural experience.
I know that's a silly sentence but what I'm saying is that passing on songs to your children is no different than passing on stories or memories. That while they're learning about tone and language and singing they'll also be accumulating cultural information that helps them feel connected to you and to society.
Think about what music means in your own life. What song was played at your prom? ("Stairway to Heaven") When was the first time you heard a U2 song? ("Where the Streets Have No Names," played on the New Seward Highway coming home from a research project at the library) What songs were popular your freshman year of college? What song did they play at your wedding? What songs remind you of your spouse or past relationships?
Sing to your kids and teach them your favorite songs. Teach them some that are silly, some that are old-fashioned, some that they won't hear on the radio today. Just like kids should grow up knowing the fairy tales and Mother Goose and the alphabet they need to know "Ring Around a Rosy," "The Hokey Pokey," "Pop Goes the Weasel" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad." They should know show tunes and Beatles songs and even a few country classics here and there (though in moderation--always in moderation. It is still country music, after all, and must be administered carefully).
Introduce them to different kinds of music and sing to them when they can't run away--like in the car. When the kids were little I made a habit of keeping the radio off and using the time to sing together or (if I was really tired) I'd put in a CD that did the job for me so all I had to do was sing along. Sing before bedtime and sing to wake them up. Have songs for bath time and songs for bed time and if you don't know of any make some up. That's how such classics as "Mad Grizzly" developed in our house.
Every kid should be able to have their own songs like "Queenie" that make them smile and remember home.
And speaking of music appreciation . . . there are great concerts going on all summer long in Anchorage. Tuesdays at noon at the library are always great for some culture and I informed the children last week that we'd be going to the Taiko drum performance. They grumbled and did the "Do we have to?" thing (to which I said "Yes!") and it turns out that--who knew?--Taiko drums are actually really "sick." Spencer dragged his feet going in but was tapping by the time we left.
Tomorrow they're presenting a selection of operatic arias and we're going again though they're highly skeptical about the whole situation. They'll thank me eventually.
Sponsored by Polkadot Peacock for children's bedding.