Children have the right to music

A fantastic guest post today from Alison Campbell of Marble Moon childrenswear.

Marble Moon

Alison writes:

The first music my oldest daughter heard ex utero was Joanna Newsom and Isan, carefully selected by my weary husband to welcome her into our music-loving home and introducing her from the very start to my preference for quirky female singers and his Electronic leanings. We continued to listen to whatever we fancied, mixed in with a few nursery rhymes and baby-signing tunes, until she was able to express a preference. And thanks to the signing, that may have been sooner than most toddlers.

Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom

“No Mummy, not that one, I want mine” accompanied me putting on “My very first album” for the umpteenth time and consigning my own tunes to work-time only. And after a while, my affection grew for the third-rate version of Postman Pat in a Welsh accent, the passionate boy-band style rendition of “wind the bobbin up”, and “row, row your boat” apparently sung by David Cameron. But it grated that she allowed her dad to play his electronic music with impunity, and I had to admit defeat, one child deaf to the pleasures of indie music.

Two and half years later, we had a precious little boy, who we named Theo. He was born with no heart rate, and though he was resuscitated, he died a few hours later. I always felt that he would have been my musical child soulmate, based on the scant evidence of him causing me to nearly faint at a Plaid gig when pregnant and once kicking in time to the Peep Show theme music. I also believe Theo is a guitarist’s name; witness the protagonist’s son in Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” and a minor character in School of Rock.

Our third child, Weeza, has had basically no choice and is equally happy listening to her 90s rock namesakes, her dad’s more extreme adventures in electronica, or the Tom Gray-penned songs from the storybook Penguin (probably her favourite, if I’m honest). Seeing her bob up and down or stamp her feet with joy to any music is a pleasure that can’t be beaten. She also knows how to use the volume dial, to ear splitting effect and an innocent “oh dear!” from out of her 16-month old mouth.

Recently, aged nearly 5, our Senior Daughter watched Labyrinth for the first time and coincidentally, and rather inexplicably, spent several PE classes preparing a dance routine to Bowie’s Starman. Here was my chance. On hearing that the Goblin King and Starman singer were one and the same, she inquired “Are there any more David Bowie songs, Mum?”. The floodgates opened. We listened to Hunky Dory, which I followed on with Blondie’s Parallel Lines, wanting to lay down the right musical foundations. But where to go from there? So much of my favourite 90s indie I wanted to lead her through turned out to be truly inappropriate: Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Sleeper….so much drugs, so much sex. It almost seemed worse than much of the hip-hop that her dad had recently been listening to because I thought that hearing English voices, she would be more likely to make out the words and ask what they meant. This was unexpected.

I decided to play her a demo CD made by a band I and your usual blog host’s wife had been in, together with a Swedish friend, in the mid noughties. Jackpot – she loved it! We played it all the time and Senior Daughter started playing rock stars in the playground and singing our songs. Until I let her watch a video we had made for one of our odder tracks, The Thin Man, having forgotten how weird it was. She was really freaked out, and no surprise given that it features a floppy man wearing a creepy mask who comes to life, chases us and ends up being dumped in the sea in a suitcase.

Now we seem to be in a comfortable middle ground. Senior Daughter still often asks for Bowie (she’s a purist though – only the early 70s stuff), but we once again enjoy a heartfelt sing-a-long to Frozen, or even good old nursery rhymes. And I’ve come to realise that there is a reason for children’s music to exist. It is a safe space for simple enjoyment of rhythm, rhyme (or not) and sounds that may or may not tell a story or help a child to learn. The earliest pre-school music is not invested with emotion, which may be one reason why we as adults find it hard to put up with.

Now, children growing up too fast is something we always lament as a society, and perhaps we shouldn’t hasten this by encouraging them to listen to music with adult themes, just as we steer them away from films, books or computer games that are age-inappropriate. I enjoyed my teenage journey of musical discovery on my own terms – I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it dictated by my parents. Or other adults, remembering a time at middle school when a PE teacher had to sub one of our music lessons and she just played us a Pink Floyd album to, in her view, give us an education in music. This may be amongst the reasons why I can’t bear Pink Floyd.

So I won’t be pushing any more indie classics on the children for now. I hope they have the rich and rewarding experience of discovering the music they love at their own pace.