I’m not really worried about teaching my kid to eat healthy foods. I feel pretty confident about teaching my son how to read. One thing does worry me a lot lately, though, and that’s teaching my son about music.
I have a pretty strong background in music. I play several instruments, grew up in a very musical family, and worked as a music teacher for several years. I know how to teach kids how to read music and play music and make music sound good. But I don’t know a lot about sharing music with my son. I am still learning.
Music is so important to me. I was the mom who put headphones on her pregnant belly and played playlists I made specifically for baby.
I take my son to my brass group’s rehearsals every week and hope that maybe he is enjoying them when actually most of the time he just crawls around or falls asleep because he is a baby.
I play shitty covers of folk songs to him on my guitar, and my husband sings him to sleep every night because we hope he will associate music with joy, peace, and calm.
What I’m getting at here is that I worry about teaching my son to enjoy music. Am I alone in this?
It scares me to think I'm the one in charge of showing him what good music sounds like; the one in charge of introducing him to the greats; the one in charge of what music he will know for the first few years of his life at least.
It’s daunting to me for two reasons.
First, I worry about the way I listen to my music.
I, like most people probably, listen to different kinds of music in phases. I have my archive of musicians who I love and who have been the foundation for my overall taste in music, but most of what I listen to on a daily basis depends upon the phase I am currently in.
For instance, during the past few months, I listened to a lot of more relaxing ambient music including some of those foundational favorites for me like Sufjan Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Bon Iver, and Fleet Foxes. I also integrated some bands I only recently got into, like Washed Out and Toro y Moi.
During the past few weeks I have been majorly into some recent more popular tracks as well, like Beyonce’s “Formation,” Rihanna’s “Work,” and anything Fetty Wap touches. The music I listen to in the car or around the house changes a lot from day-to-day and phase-to-phase.
But the thing about babies is that, as many baby books will tell you, they thrive on consistency. They benefit from things that are familiar, i.e. having the same books read to them from day-to-day, being around the same people often, etc.
So, while I need to be constantly listening to new and different music for my own sanity, my son would probably benefit from hearing the same songs regularly. It worries me that I don’t give him the consistency that he needs with music for it to make an impression on him.
Second, I worry about the way I introduce music to him.
When I get in my head that I want to play a certain musician’s work for him, I grow excited and tend to overdo it. I tell him that I really like a band and that I think he will like it for x, y, or z reason. But he is only fourteen months old, so obviously sometimes he really couldn’t give less of a crap about what I’m saying. Like, okay, the other day he was playing with this zebra toy. So I told him I wanted to play him a song about a zebra by a band called Beach House. By the time I had pulled up their page on Spotify my son had already chucked the zebra toy and moved onto stacking blocks and subsequently knocking that stack over. That’s because babies like to play.
Sometimes I worry that my introductions might even just be wrong factually. Like that time, I said that the Decemberists had originally written “Bridges and Balloons” when really it was JOANNA NEWSOM OF COURSE. But okay, these things don’t really matter to babies. I get that, but I still think about it a lot.
And because of the way I feel about certain music at the moment I feel like my introductions to musicians might not be as real now as they would have been at a different time in my life. Like if I had shown my son Holst’s “The Planets” during my senior year of high school (that is, of course, if I had had a son at that time) then I would have presented it with the sheer passion and obsession that comes from having just discovered a piece like Holst’s “The Planets.” Now I’ve heard the suite thousands of times and some of that spark would certainly be gone when I told him about it.
There’s a ton of music, too, that I’m sure we can all agree is quality, significant music, but that we are just plain sick of. Like, you know when people turn on “Stairway to Heaven” at a party and you’re just like UGH TURN THIS OFF but you know in your heart of hearts that everyone needs to hear “Stairway to Heaven” at some point?
I listened to Bob Seeger’s “Turn the Page” upwards of 7 million times in the year 2012 (I don’t know why, it’s just such an effing good song), so I can’t listen to it as often now. Sure, I can play it once or twice, but can I sit there in my car with the windows down blaring that bad boy at stoplights acting all badass like people who listen to Bob Seeger are badass? No, I really can’t anymore. It moves me, but I just need maybe four years or so away from it to rekindle that flame.
So I feel weird about playing a lot of music for my son right now because I just feel like I won’t be able to portray authentically to him just how much it meant to me when I truly couldn’t get enough of it.
“More Than A Feeling” came on the other day when we were in the car running late for a doctor’s appointment. I was nervous. It caught me off guard and I just wasn’t ready to experience my son’s first time listening to “More Than A Feeling” with him like that, late for our appointment, with me dropping goldfish all over the place trying to pass them to him in the backseat. It didn’t feel right.
Am I crazy?
I think these sorts of things but I do know that they are ridiculous thoughts. Obviously, there will be plenty of opportunities for my son and I to talk about music in the future. Songs will mean things to him in their own way, and they don’t require the proper presentation or introduction to make an impression.
He will like the songs he likes, and that will probably have little to do with what I like. Heck, he might even hate everything I like. But I still feel a little bit of pressure passing on the thing that I feel brings us all together – defines so much of our culture and who we are as people – to the most important person in my life.
Each new experience and tradition we shared with one another went off without a hitch. In fact, we soon learned our differences as a Jewish man and a Irish Catholic woman actually helped to bring us closer.