“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.”
-William Congreve, “The Mourning Bride,” 1697
That quote has, over the years, been paraphrased into something like “music soothes the savage beast.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) But here, in this space, I always strive for as much accuracy as a two-minute Google search can provide. You’re welcome in advance, and maybe you’ll win Final Jeopardy! one day if you can remember this.
Anyway, it’s no secret among parenting circles that music is a very powerful resource for soothing babies, savage ones or otherwise, and it seems the consensus is that the earlier you get them started, the better. Many of the baby classes Gina and I went to discussed and recommended playing music for our child while he was still in the womb, which is pretty much as early as you can get. There’s no definitive research that this will actually make babies smarter, even though there’s evidence that they can actually hear and react to it, but if playing Chopin or Led Zeppelin or Johnny Cash can do anything at all to increase his odds of becoming our meal ticket to a gold-plated retirement, I say “go for it!”
In truth, this was the easiest item to check off our pre-baby list. Both Gina and I are listening to music of all kinds for several hours every day, and though we usually don’t crank very much up in the evenings, you can’t always rule out an impromptu dance party in our house based on some tune we can’t get out of our heads. But since I play in our church band, I’m usually trying to rehearse the songs at least once or twice a week, and of course there are weekends or evenings when I just feel like grabbing the guitar and playing a bunch of covers. And to top it off, in a painstakingly slow manner, I’m also writing my own original material. You’ve got the radio, YouTube clips, movie scores, singing in the shower, humming along to that song one of us heard in the grocery store… suffice it to say, Noah was – and still is – exposed to a variety of music.
And you know what? It really does make a difference. On the days when I’m watching him alone, if he’s being really fussy, all I have to do is pick up the guitar or mandolin and he calms right down. The only slight problem with this is that once I start, I cannot stop the sound of the instrument for even a split second or the wailing will begin anew. This leads to a lot of half-formed chords and banging noises in between songs, or maybe me just speak-singing to a generally awful-sounding dissonance while I fumble to remember the next tune or cue up a new tab. It sounds like a crappy premise for an action movie, but maybe now I know how Sandra Bullock’s character in Speed 2 felt?
I discovered this magical coping technique at about the right time, a couple of months ago, and it saved us from many extended bouts of fussy baby. Now I make sure an instrument is handy at all times, which is quicker than even cuing up a song on my phone.
The other new musical aspect of our home is what I’ll call “vocal transitions.” Does Noah need to go take a bath? To make that whole process more fun, let’s sing as we go from the play-yard to the tub! Does Noah need to calm down late at night in the nursery? We’ve got your lullabies covered. Does Noah have a dirty diaper? Let’s sing about it as we change him!
Spend a little time in our house these days and you are 100% more likely to hear a song about poop. A terrible song, yes, but perhaps entertaining for the sheer inanity of it. But really, we’re only playing to our one biggest fan, and so far he’s easy to please. Consider a recent composition by Gina:
“Poopy-oopy-oopy in your pants, pants, pants
Poopy-oopy-oopy in your pants”
I mean, it’s not Dylan, but it’ll do.
This is all well and good, but now we have a new problem: we haven’t yet figured out what to do now when Noah makes ear-piercing noise even when he’s not upset. A typical day in our house now consists of a few seconds of blessed silence that are quickly shredded by high-pitched yells with all the volume his five-year-old lungs can muster. NOAH WANTS TO BE HEARD! Gina calls it “testing out his voice.” I can verify that it works. And yeah yeah yeah, I know, it’s only going to get worse until we can start to teach him about the concept of “volume.” When I had a fever and an accompanying headache recently, that wouldn’t have been welcome advice.
Until that glorious day when Noah discovers his inside voice, picks up an instrument or two, practices a ton, gets famous, and is our meal ticket out of here, I guess we’ll be content with the lot we have… and singing about poop.