Sunday August 5, 2012
Music for the young soul
TOTS TO TEENS
By DAPHNE LEE
A GOOD friend of mine is expecting a baby in November. I do love it when new children come along. They are an excellent excuse to visit my favourite bookshop. Also, how exciting it is to have a child to read to, to share the magic of stories with.
I’ve written before on the best books for newborns, so today I shall recommend music for children.
When I was expecting my first child, and after he was born, his father and I had many conversations about music that was baby-friendly. Nothing loud – no Metallica, or Rammstein, thanks very much. I know there are parents who claim that their babies enjoy loud, angsty music, but studies show that children who are exposed to this sort of music are angrier, moodier and quicker to lose their cool.
I actually dislike those recordings of nursery rhymes sung by children. The children screech more than they sing, and the playback quality is questionable too. Also, I find that many recordings done specifically with children in mind are unbearably twee. If there is a narrator, he/she always puts on this high-pitched sing-song voice and sounds like a drug-addled half-wit. It’s really embarrassing.
I say you don’t even have to bother with music written and recorded specifically for children. Chances are, your favourite musicians have released material that would be totally suitable for baby.
Research has shown that the sound of music – the melodies, the arrangement, the volume and the beat – affects children more than the lyrics do, so when you pick songs to play for your little ones, just avoid heavy bass, pounding drums and screeching guitars. A strong melody is, of course, a big plus.
There are a great many songs by The Beatles that are child-friendly: Here Comes The Sun, Octopus’s Garden, Black Bird, Drive My Car, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and Yellow Submarine immediately come to mind. Paul McCartney has a few songs that I also think children will enjoy: C Moon, We All Stand Together (which also has a charming animated video – look out for Rupert the Bear), Silly Love Songs, among others.
The great pop duo, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle’s songbook is also full of excellent pieces for children: The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) was a big favourite with my son when he was two. At The Zoo is funny, and Scarborough Fair is good as a lullaby.
We also liked playing songs by folk singers and singer/songwriters like Donovan (Catch The Wind, Yellow Mellow, Colours), Lindisfarne (Meet Me On The Corner, Fog On The Tyne, January Song, Clear White Light) and Joni Mitchell (Circle Game, Both Sides Now, Big Yellow Taxi) for the children.
But it wasn’t just classic folk and rock that made the cut. Elesh used to sing along to the chorus of Why Does It Always Rain On Me by Scottish band Travis, and I-Shan loves indie rock band RiloKiley’s Breaking Up and indie folksters Fleet Foxes’s White Winter Hymnal.
A lovely album to get for your baby is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep. It’s a collection of poems by writers as diverse as Ogden Nash, E.E. Cummings, Charles Causeley and Mervyn Peake about childhood, set to original music by Merchant. The melodies are strong, rich and poignant, and Merchant’s vocals are smooth and warm, very calming. Two editions are available: two discs comprising a total of 26 songs, and an abridged version with 16 tracks, including the sublime and gorgeous Spring And Fall: To A Young Child (based on the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem).
There’s also an excellent album called Jazz For Kids: Sing, Clap, Wiggle & Shake – no, not written and recorded for kids – but compiled with kids in mind. It’s joyous, rambunctious and just lots of fun. It features, among other greats, Ella Fitzgerald singing The Muffin Man, Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens and What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. I especially love the exuberant Yes, We Have No Bananas, performed by Louis Prima & His Orchestra. I’ve seen the album in some music stores in the Klang Valley but you can also get it through Amazon.com.
Finally, Carole King set Maurice Sendak’s The Nutshell Library stories to music. I have the VCD and the DVD, but I haven’t been able to find either listed on Amazon.com. However, you can find the songs on YouTube: Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, Pierre, and One Was Johnny. Enjoy!
Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.