Monday, February 14, 2011

The sun and the rain and the appleseed

I have been thinking about what I will sing to my little one.

Both of my parents are kind of tone-deaf when it comes to singing so I did not grow up with what I consider to be a classic childhood of lullabies and folk melodies.  A friend once told me about how special it was to him to get to sing "too ra loo ra loo ra" to his granddaughter like his Irish mother sang to him.  As often happens, my suburban, totally ethnic-less upbringing made me completely jealous for that kind of generational continuity.  I am also often struck by a quote used in Oh Coward, a review of Noel Coward songs that I grew up listening to: "I was born into a generation that took light music seriously. The lyrics and melodies of [the Edwardian Era] were hummed and strummed into my consciousness at an early age. My mother played them, my father sang them, my nurse, Emma, breathed them through her teeth while she was washing me and putting me to bed.  My aunts and uncles, who were legion, sang them singly and in unison at the slightest provocation...."

This was not my experience.

However, I had a childhood full of music.  Both parents loved showtunes and we listened to cassettes that my father brought home from work where they had the amazing technology of transferring his LPs to cassettes.  They were adorned with manually typed labels that look like parchment paper.  I wonder now which old-school secretary he talked into putting such care into the tapes that we listened to in the big red van.  Before I understood recorded music, I remember marveling out loud that my favorite song was always on the radio when we got into the car.  I think I just lumped the entire soundtrack of They're Playing Our Song together as my favorite song.  A different memory of that musical revolves around being gently pulled aside into the adjoining dining room from the kitchen and being told that there were some songs we don't sing when my Great-Aunt Delores was visiting.  To my eternal gratitude, my parents were big fans of differential response to behavior that was appropriate in some settings but not in others.  I guess they thought we were smart enough to figure it out if they were instructive.  Or, they were wary of being hypocritical by punishing us whenever they realized that there was no possible way we could have predicted a social rule.

I had been singing the line, "To him 'broken heart' is a phrase I should write for his God-damn middle part."

So, there was a lot of singing in my house.  It just wasn't usually generated from the inside and sung as a serenade by the adults.  It was sung along with recorded media.  Of course I'm jealous at others' stories of family sing-alongs.

It's not really fair.  We often sang the Johnny Appleseed song before dinner and another pre-dinner song when with my grandma.  At Christmas, we celebrated Advent every four Sundays before Advent and would sing carols as part of the ritual, often to the accompaniment of the piano from the other room that my brother and I were painfully learning to play.  There was a lot of stopping and starting since neither of us actually liked practicing.

All four of us kids are actually above-average musical.  We all studied under Dick Whitecotton and all played instruments in the band to varying degrees of commitment.  I am also the dork that played in the varsity handbell choir in junior high.  Occasionally, we sing together in church or around the dinner table in nostalgia.  It sounds pretty good.

I don't know how to re-create that for my own kids given their likely urban setting with its fluid nature that will lack a stalwart influence like Dr. Whitecotton and his wife.

Also, since I still have a lovely voice (not to my own credit, at this point, since I continue to not actually like practicing), it seems like I should be somewhat intentional about singing to and with my kids.

There are lots of Jewish prayers we'll probably introduce into our routines including the Shema at bedtime and the Modah Ani in the morning.  But what will I bring to them from my own traditions?

Johnny Appleseed, definitely. 

But what else?  Lullabies?  I don't know any of the words past the chorus.  Are there any good recommendations for particular versions I could listen to in the car and learn the words?  I suppose there are songs like the itsy bitsy spider and such.  Any good resources for that?  Who wants to make me a mix CD?  Anyone?

I'm actually looking forward to figuring this out.  I know without some deliberate learning, I'll default to just turning on my iTunes.  But I think it will be more fun to actually sing as I go about my days, getting to know this child of mine.  What do you think?


ABG said...

Sounds lovely. I wish I had suggestions or resources. I know the Mennonites have a great sing-along book with folk tunes and hymns...lots will be familiar. I think it's called Rise Up Singing or something?

Anonymous said...

I wanted a "song" for my child too during my first pregnancy. I tried to remember my favorites (Puff, Marvelous Little Toy, everything from the Beatles), but I wanted a "christian song" too and I did not grow up hearing all the christian children's songs so I had no idea. I ended up picking a Mindy Smith song, Come to Jesus. But when my baby boy ended up in the NICU, out of nowhere, You Are My Sunshine came to me and I sang that to him every day he was in there; 5 yrs. later, I still sing it to him every night along with Come to Jesus.

So in the end you'll have lots of songs for your little one, but I bet one will probably just get placed on your heart, out of nowhere, and it will be perfect.