Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random Ruminations of Refrain

My son has ceased his violin lessons for the time being, and I will admit that while it was the sweetest vision: his tiny 1/10 scale violin clutched in his little hands, his brow furrowed in concentration...he really wasn't all that "into" it even though he was learning quickly. He's four. We decided not to push it (especially since he'll start violin in Kindergarten at the Elementary School we're zoned for) and concentrate again on the play of music. Because seriously? Isn't that the best early childhood music instructor?

Rhythm sticks, tambourines, maracas, castanets; we've found most of these at thrift stores and from family members. Some have been found inexpensively at specialty stores like Imagine Childhood. During my time at the library the giant part of my story times was music - something about cracking out that giant, jingly bag with all the hand bells, tambourines, shaking eggs stirred the preschoolers into a frenzy. It's so simple. Make it nothing but fun, the theory can come later. Last weekend we went to a kids drum circle and while Xander enjoyed the drumming, it was a little organized for his taste (he wanted to know why he couldn't play a gong) and we only stayed for a half hour or so. But it was enough...we came home and he was pounding out the rhythm the leader had taught the kids on his little cylinders (oatmeal containers) that he's turned into his drum set.

Just last night we pounded on his makeshift percussion and watched Sigur Ros w/Bjork live on youtube, doing one of Xander's favorite songs: Gobbledigook. The uninhibited JOY that was had in this home, so late at night, so past his bedtime was almost tangible. Xander has actually been exposed to little "kids" music besides Dan Zanes and a smattering of Schoolhouse Rock. This isn't a snobbery decision, just a personal preference for us. At two he would beg to hear "JackWhiteMahDoorbell" (White Stripes - My Doorbell) and "Wittle Ghost" while we danced hyper-breakbeat style in our basement. I guess I should just close this scattered, smothered, and covered essay with one of my favorite things, a list. It's Sunday morning and little dude has a cold, so I'm a bit preoccupied.

Some of Xander's favorite songs/artists:

1. Dan Zanes - especially "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister" (anything with kids singing in accompaniment he adores - most kids love to hear other kids sing)

2. Black Lodge Singers - "Mighty Mouse" The Black Lodge Singers are a traditional Native American drum circle. Who happen to perform loads of TV theme songs. Oh, sweet justice CHECK IT OUT. I've found that most kids (in story time, too) LOVE anything drums and especially Native Drums. It's the heartbeat thing. They can totally feel the ancient beats in their feet and chests. It rules to see them stomp out, no one shows them, they just start stomping out in beat to the drums. Did you know that the old "hi ya ya ya" beat has been traced to several ancient cultures? They found it in Ethiopia, in Greece (the beat itself is translated there to God is the beginning or something like that)...Anthropologists found this same sequence all over the world.

3. Anything Sigur Ros (especially the aforementioned Gobbledigook.) He (and I) have really grown attached to this unreal Icelandic group.

4. Anything vibrant and classical. When Xander was two and three and in that influential memorization age, he could tell you what was Beethoven and what was Mozart just by the sounds...we could probably start drilling him on this or something to impress our friends and coworkers, but we won't. Intelligent kids tend to attach themselves to lists of facts. There was one boy who used to come into the library who could tell you who wrote and illustrated famous children's books. He was three. You'd say, Goodnight Moon! And he'd say, Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. Cute, until he stopped wanting to do it and his mom kept pushing him. He usually ran away to the listening station to get away from her (seriously!). We don't want to be that kind of parent, so...we don't quiz him in parts of the violin if he doesn't want to play that game or the composer game.

5. Star Wars theme, Darth Vader's theme, Luke's Theme, etc. For obvious reasons.

6. New Orleans Playground! One of those Putamayo Kids records. I think I've talked about it here before...but man, were those songs a hit at story time. Again, they're not kids music produced for kids but songs selected and recorded that kids really, really enjoy. Adults love them, too. I guess the big thing with so many examples of kids music is its patronizing tone. Kids can handle and enjoy the real thing. Expose them to it. Side note: Kids LOVE Louis Armstrong.

7. When Xander was a newborn, we sang to him to calm his frets and soothe him to sleep. Every song we knew some nights. I remember singing some Replacements, some Elvis, a little classic lullabies like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Alouette. But nothing, I mean nothing soothed him like me singing Blackbird (Beatles) and Baby Mine (from Dumbo)...funny, when his father sang to him he calmed down to the theme from Indiana Jones. I couldn't get that effect from him (almost instant calm) with John Williams scores but Blackbird calmed him every time for me. So much that I put it on a loop during some rough days around his one month birthday. Blackbird, fly.

He's sick now with a small head cold, so I'll put on something ambient and mellow. Like the soundtrack to Lost in Translation.

My lesson for him is this: there is nothing more full of the stuff of life than music - and that's even coming from me, the reader of all books. If that's what he gets out of our little informal "lessons"...I'll be feeling harmonious.

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