The musical stylings of healing and progress…

I am not a fan of Baby Beethoven, Baby Mozart or any other tinkling, chiming adaptation of classical music for the sake of making it appealing to children.  J had always, until he started the First Grade in an elementary school in California, experienced classical music from a collection of CDs that my classical music-loving father gave him.  The kid was exposed to Casals, Yo Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Beverly Sills, Plácido Domingo, et al before he even heard the likes of Baby Einstein‘s adaptations.  The day a cello was replaced by whirligigs moving in tune to xylophones was a sad day in our household.  I think I literally wept and cried out “Einstein?  Einstein would be appalled that this dumbed down version has his name on it!!!!”  Apparently his estate is involved in the production of these…go figure!

Let’s face it: the whole wave of “make your baby smarter” products didn’t really do much to move children forward, but it definitely improved the bottom line for some merchandisers.  That J jumped on that bandwagon thanks to school was terribly disappointing.  The teacher enthusiastically told me “look at that!  Your son is listening to Beethoven!  Where else would he get that chance????”  Once I recovered from wanting to assume the crash position, I -more outwardly composed than I felt on the inside- said “at home…he loves Mozart and hates Tchaikovsky; Mahler makes him cry, and Chopin is cathartic to him.  He also enjoys Brazilian music and Gregorian chants.  I’m assuming there isn’t a Baby Einstein that can trample on those for us.”

Call me a snob.  (No…seriously…go ahead.  Take your time.  I don’t mind.  I know I’m a snob.)  I don’t think dumbing things down or making them twinkly and sparkly helps make children more open to them, it simply makes them twinkly and sparkly.  Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak (in my humble opinion) didn’t “talk down” to kids…they simply talked to kids, and kids listened and understood.  Read Jabberwocky out loud to any kid and they’ll soon be mesmerized by its cadence, its language.  Try to do it with a cutesy voice…it doesn’t quite work.  Read Horton Hatches the Egg and give Mayzie a Southern drawl.  Kids LOVE that.  Play Pavarotti singing La Donna è Mobile from Rigoletto to a four year-old and you’ll soon see them trying to lip-sync and emoting, having the time of their lives.  I know Baby Beethoven has some merit, but…why not display a little faith in the kid and play the real thing?

At home, Baby Beethoven became the thing J listened to when he was sick, miserable and in a regressive phase.  No, I’m not imagining it…Baby Beethoven and his cohorts usually brought out things like not making it to the potty on time, wanting to suck our soda from the carpet, grunting and crying rather than pointing.  No sooner would J get sick and whiny than Baby Beethoven would come out of its hiding place and set the mood.

I say this because, for the past few days, J has been sitting downstairs and I’ve up here, on the third floor, listening to him through the baby monitor.  (Yes, my back is still giving me grief and, no, he doesn’t want to come upstairs.)  As I go about the slow business of doing my morning chores (peppered with ouch, ugh, yelp and eek here and there,) I have been followed around by the signs of doom.  You might call them “the Baby Einstein videos.”  Dada and TGG both cringed when they heard that, and I can’t blame them.  It’s not the videos themselves (heaven help me, no…I can’t blame this on the stay-at-home mom who came up with this idea.  I’m sure her heart was in the right place,) but rather what J associates with them: a classroom full of autistic kids who were subjected to Rosetta Stone as a learning tool when they could barely figure out what they were supposed to be doing with that, and then being rewarded with Baby Einstein while the aides took a much needed break.  A kid who at home had his pick of composers, bands, singers and instrumentalists cannot have related clink, whir, spin and bells with a reward.

At this moment I can hear my son listening to NPR and alternating with his iPod and CDs.  So far we have traversed the vast musical territory that encompasses Verdi’s Rigoletto, Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries,  Mumford and Sons, Lena Horne, Blossom Dearie, Vince Guaraldi, The Black Keys, and Bow Wow Wow.  In the middle of bouts of sneezing, a coruscation of joy arises.

I don’t tell you this purely as criticism of the so-called “child friendly” adaptations; I’m sure that these products have introduced many a child to classical music in the same way that toy pianos and xylophones made some us bang away happily thinking we were “making music” while our parents reached for the gin.  I simply would have preferred if, for a time, we had not been subjected to Baby Beethoven and Baby Mozart when Disney (Baby Einstein‘s parent company) did it so much better.  Fantasia is, to this day, a shining example of combining child-friendly with actual classical music played as it should be.  During the Forties, Disney produced a solid catalog of musical compilation movies that actually helped introduce many a kid (who either saw them in the theater or enjoyed them years later in The Wonderful World of Disney as vignettes) to different musical genres.  Both J and TGG are avid fans of music they first heard from these videos, and that experience has helped expand their musical tastes to encompass just about anything.  (I type this as Hendrix starts floating up the stairs and curling around the banisters…)

The music, in a nutshell, tells me that J is feeling better and that tomorrow will be an improvement on today just like we’ve moved forward from the state of demanding misery we experienced yesterday.  I am saying this because, among the pile of DVDs he carried down to the basement with him, J has Melody Time, Make Mine Music, The Three Caballeros (in which “Os Quindins de Yayá” always elicits inspired and spirited dancing), Fun and Fancy Free, and Saludos Amigos.  It’s bound to be a varied musical selection today, and unless Mahler trots out and brings us down, we should be fine.

Yeah…J’s feeling better on this Baby Beethoven-free morning.  And, quite frankly and in spite of my aching back, so am I!




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