Leading up to the birth of my first child, I did all the requisite things that expectant fathers should do: compile a birth plan as well as a list of important phone numbers, attend all of the prenatal appointments, birthing class, etc. However, the one thing I did, which elicited a great deal of amusement and eye-rolling from my wife (as much as she did appreciate it in the long run), was compile a six-hour playlist of music on my iPod, to be played through the labor and birthing process–a playlist simply called “Birthy.”
On this playlist were songs and compositions that I knew would establish, or at least nurture, a mood of steady tranquility during, what I expected to be, an extraordinary undertaking. Represented on this varied mix were Bach cello sonatas, John Coltrane, Cat Power, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, and Konono #1. As much as this playlist was to serve as a warm and familiar aural blanket to envelope my wife and I throughout the assembled hours it would take to birth a child, I was aware that any one of these particular songs could be the first bit of recorded music my child ever experienced. At the time, this seemed like a significant matter.
After the birth, and the following whirlwind that are the first few hours of parenthood, we took the boy home and then the parenting, as well as the musical education, began.
I was reminded of this nearly forgotten moment when I recently came upon this piece of NPR reporting that echoed my prenatal intentions. While I would guess a child’s first musical moment is largely inconsequential, as their focus is likely more attuned to the utter surreal nature of being, rather than if that was Brahms “Intermezzo in C Major” or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” they were listening to, I do think there is extraordinary value to exposing your young child to a wide variety of eclectic musical forms and styles.
There is a whole racket out there offloading baby-friendly CD’s that are marketed to increase cognitive function, intelligence, and improve general disposition among the newest of listeners (I am looking at you, Baby Eintstein!). While I don’t think any of these musical marketing opportunities really do any damage, I am somewhat skeptical and am thoroughly convinced that children tend to enjoy music that evidently provides genuine pleasure for their parents (obviously there are exceptions to this rule). This could be anything from Mozart to Lil Wayne. I think the key is variety, as well as matching the mood and temperament of your child. No one wants to hear Swedish Death Metal as they are trying to go down for a nap.
So, all you parent DJ’s out there… what music has been your parent/child soundtrack? Is music listening a big part of your routine? Have you been surprised by any particular music or musical artist that your child has gravitated toward? Does music have a profound effect on your child’s mood and/or development?
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.
Parenting at the Crossroads