It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I needed a weekend project to prompt myself to write the next entry. It’s cold outside, and sitting indoors I decided to try and answer a question I’ve been thinking about for several weeks now: if I was going to make a playlist for my child, what would be on it?
In reading through the pile of you’re-going-to-be-a-father literature I have piling up on my nightstand, I came across the happy thought that babies, even in utero, are listening to us. The excellent “The Expectant Father” by Armin Brott and Jennifer Ash notes studies that show babies will—within minutes of being born—recognize their mother’s voice. When a mother whispers in one ear, and a stranger in the other, the baby turns to face the mother 80 percent of the time.
There was another passage that really got my interest. The author relates the story of a Canadian orchestra conductor:
“As a young man, I was mystified by this ability I had to play certain pieces sight unseen. I’d be conducting a score for the first time and, suddenly, the cello line would jump out at me: I’d know the plow of the piece before I turned the page of the score. One day, I mentioned this to my mother, who is a professional cellist. I thought she’d be intrigued because it was always the cello line that was so distinct in my mind. She was; but when she heard what the pieces were, the mystery quickly solved itself. All the scores I know sight unseen were ones she had played when she was pregnant with me.”
I thought that was really exciting. Music is something I have strong feelings about. Playing an instrument (trumpet) was a great creative, expressive outlet when I was young. It provided me some balance; I was a soft-spoken kid, but I played a loud instrument.
These days, music is less a creative pursuit for me than it is a way to enjoy life. I would love dearly to pass my musical affinity on to my daughter, so I resolved to attach a pair of headphones to E’s belly. I would do this with her assent, optimally, to play music for our baby, at times she is moving around and we are reasonably certain she’s awake.
We’ve got a little less than three months while she is still a captive audience. Given, that—what is it I want to pass down to her? What is on the playlist? If she will forever recognize the songs I play for her in the womb, I’ve got to choose carefully. It seemed like a good project for an unexpectedly cold weekend.
First, I came up with some basic criteria:
- Lyrics and melody. First, I am a sentimental fool. If I can picture myself singing a song to my baby daughter, it may be on this list. That includes songs about pretty girls, emotional love, and fun, silly things. Second, I wanted songs with pleasing melodies. Words give a song meaning, but a tune makes it memorable and beautiful. On this, my apologies to Bob Dylan and to hip-hop artists, generally. Much respect, but this list is not for you.
- Timelessness. I’m reaching for songs or artists that could reasonably be called iconic. The songs need to have been relevant for a generation or so, and as such, it won’t be ridiculous to picture my daughter listening to them 10 or 15 years from now. This is a brief course in music appreciation… so if it’s on the iTunes top ten at this second, it’s probably not here.
- Soothing sounds. This is an introduction. We’re not trying to scare the baby or get her riled up. There is plenty of beautiful music I can jump up and down to; those songs are not on this list. To make the list, it will preserve the baby’s calm. If I can picture myself reclining on the couch with a smile on my face while I listen to the song, it could be here.
- Nothing suggestive. There are several songs that meet the above criteria but are suggestive of physical love or other… er, um… mature behavior. I enjoy many of them. There will be plenty of time for my daughter to listen to songs like these when she is 24 years old. Again, this rules out about 98 percent of hip-hop music.
I haven’t gone so far as to assign point values to songs… but these were all in my mind as I combed my personal iTunes library to compile a list. Fitting “research” around my assorted weekend tasks and appointments, I’ve come up with a playlist I’m reasonably satisfied with, though the results are by no means definitive.
I’ll end the post here, as the introduction got a little longer than expected. I’ll unveil the playlist during the week; in the meantime, please feel free to make suggestions.