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What’s On Baby’s Playlist?

Why is it that most cds of baby music sound as if they were not just written for babies, but written and recorded by babies as well?
I received a cd of “Christmas Music for Infants” last month.  Intrigued, I looked at the songs listing: what new songs had been written with the baby POV for Christmas?  “Aren’t Swaddling Clothes Tight”, perhaps, or “Time to Wake Mommy and Daddy”?  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Christmas music for infants is the exact same music adults listen to, with one very important difference; baby Christmas music is played on rinky-dink instruments and about half speed.  Apparently, that’s what makes it baby music.

Have studies been done of which I’m not aware, proving babies don’t have the capacity to listen to and enjoy complex musical arrangements?  Why is the original Mozart composition supposed to be so good for an infant before birth, but must be reduced post-natal day to the melody line played on a cheesy synthesizer?  Will counter-point and multiple strings cause some developmental delay or meltdown that I’m not aware of?
Now, I understand that in order to calm a soothing baby, you want slow, low, mellifluous tunes rather than a scorching rock song.  So I do see the reasoning behind some of the baby “Lullaby” albums.  I still say, though, that just because babies can’t vote with their wallet is no reason to skimp on the production values.  After all, mommy and daddy have to listen to the thing over and over again, too.
And I recognize the need to choose songs with simple melody lines and lyrics that children can learn quickly so they might sing along, and that having these songs recorded by children will make the music feel more accessible to my daughter.  We’ve got a cd of favorite bible camp songs from my childhood that I already can’t listen to all the way through without feeling a bit of a diabetic coma coming on, but I know when Maddie’s three it’ll probably be on heavy rotation.  And of course we’ve got our Raffi cd that, if Abby’s son Isaiah is any indicator (see previous post) will be with us for years to come.  But at least his songs are interesting and varied, and not played on one plastic Casio!
So my husband and I are drawing the line and deciding for ourselves what constitutes “baby” music.
First, the lullaby thing.  Early on we knew we wanted to make a lullaby cd a part of Maddie’s nightly routine.  One of the best gifts she was first given was a homemade lullaby cd from our friends Todd and Bev (other parents with impeccable music taste).  The album had Debussy, Saint-Saens, Billy Joel, Sara Mclachlan, and more.  Elated and liberated from the “kids” section of the music store, we used their gift as a jumping-off point and piled additional songs onto her lullaby album, which includes all of the above plus Sara Groves, Ginny Owens, and The Beatles, to name just a few.  And guess what?  Every single song is either instrumental or an actual lullaby.  As a funny side note, I’ve seen Billy Joel’s “Goodnight My Angel” on a few “lullaby” cds, but they are all dumbed-down instrumental versions!  What do people see in his lush piano and subtle but buoyant strings in that piece that will cause an infant to wake screaming?
So that solved our nighttime music.  As for the daytime thing, we’ve found a couple of CDs we really love – one is “Catch the Moon” by Lisa Loeb, and the other’s “Stationwagon” by Sara Groves.  “Catch the Moon” is Lisa’s version of a children’s album: just her and her guitar for the most part, singing favorites like “Oh, Susannah” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain”.  We use some songs from it for Maddie’s soothing mix (daytime fussiness solver!) and some for her play mix, when she wants something peppy to jump and roll around to.  “Stationwagon” is billed as an album for parents; it’s all songs Sara wrote in celebration of her two kids, and covers topics like a mother’s worry, the marvel of a sleeping baby, and her desire to raise independent kids – just not too independent.  (She says her husband told her she puts the “mother” in “smother”).  Her lullaby “Morning Will Be On the Other Side” is on Maddie’s lullaby CD and is one of our favorites.
And in case the classical section seems intimidating, start with easy ones like Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, written by him to teach children about the instruments of the orchestra, or Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals”.  Both have a story narration to them, the latter written by the funny poet Ogden Nash, and are short and fun to listen to.

We’ve got other CDs – the Raffi, for example – but these are a couple gems we found and I wanted to pass on.  And if you have a gem of your own, by all means let me know!  Pass it on!  We say, throw out the cheesy synthesizer music and raise your child on the classics the way they were originally written! 

After all, a child raised on the Beatles and U2 is a child raised right, or so says my husband.


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