Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everybody Sing (Babble)

Since my daughter was about eighteen months old, I don’t think a single day of her life has gone by that she hasn’t sung.  That’s not hyperbole, she really sings every single day.  She’s always been able to sing on key, and she has a pretty voice and an excellent memory.  Music is part of who Aden is, not just something she does.  She makes up little recitative-like narration to her games, she comes up with jingles (there’s one she developed for the drive to the YMCA that is particularly catchy) and she loves to sing along with CD’s.  The natural thing was to sign her up for choir, and that’s been good so far.

Mona sings in the Milwaukee Children’s Choir along with her sister, even though when she started she was technically a bit young for it, but they let her in anyway as a kind of sibling preference deal.  She wants to be a part of whatever Aden’s doing, so I don’t think she would do choir of her own accord, but I’m glad she’s involved.  She has a sweet, little girl’s voice, and when combined with Aden’s the sound is one of the most beautiful things I know.  When Mona was small she used to only sing along with the instrumental portions of the CD’s we listened to in the car which was weird and amusing and very interesting.  Like her sister, she often sings as she plays by herself.

Quinn is chatty more than he’s musical, but he can carry a tune well.   He does like to belt out a song as we ride in the car.  The favorite for most of this summer was Belinda Carlisle, Heaven is a Place on Earth.  (He really puts a lot of heart into the line “I’m not afraid—anymore!”)  We got that on a CD that came in a kids’ meal from Wendy’s and it was in heavy rotation for months.  (Another song on that disc is Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell, and I once spent an amusing evening lying in my bed listening to my kids down the hall debating about the lyrics.  There’s a line about the IRS, which Aden was hearing as the ARS, and she and Mona were coming up with theories about what that could be and why it was supposed to be funny that the singer was worried about it.  Quinn is like a little echo machine and he repeated both parts of that conversation as it was happening.  Eventually I told them it was the agency that collects our taxes, but they still weren’t sure about the joke.)  In any case, there are only four songs on that CD but it was like a little 80’s revival every time we got in the minivan.  The other big favorite this year has been the Here Comes Science CD by They Might Be Giants.  My personal favorite on that disc is their song Meet the Elements, but really all the tunes on that one are good.  It’s one of the few kids’ CD’s that I have on occasion put in when the kids weren’t even around.  I’m impressed that even my three year old can remember all those complicated lyrics.

But what I really wanted to touch on with this post is that there are many things–singing among them–that I’m glad my kids are still able to enjoy without being overly self-conscious.  Something about becoming an adult for many of us means feeling we are no longer qualified to participate in certain kinds of activities, and I think it’s a shame.  Often people hit a certain age and decide that they can’t draw, or dance, or sing, even though these are all things as kids they probably derived great joy from and didn’t worry what others thought.  I’m not saying that everyone has great untapped talent in these areas, I just don’t think you should deny yourself something fun because of some outside standard.  I talk to people in my music store all the time about how they would like to play the violin but that it’s probably “too late.”  Too late for what?  How many people started at the “right” age and did not become professional musicians?  You play because it’s fun and satisfying and a beautiful challenge.  There is no “too late” for that in my opinion.  People forget that drawing is fun.  A lot of people think that only people with some kind of magical gift can draw, but it’s skill based on work.  Talent is where you start, not an endpoint.  People with true genius have the added spark that transforms all that talent and hard work into art, but it’s still work.  (Brilliant people just make it look easy, but it isn’t.)

Watching my kids throw themselves into creative endeavors with great abandon is inspiring.  They like to sing loudly, they like to dance fast, and if they decide some toy animal would be better with wings they find spare materials lying around and just go ahead and make wings. But my girls are starting to hit ages where if the labels “singer,” “dancer,” or “artist” aren’t bestowed on them from an outside source, they are likely to doubt their abilities in those areas, and possibly let them go even if it’s with reluctance.  That makes me sad.  I want them to feel as limitless as I know they are.  I want them to feel entitled to pursue what interests them regardless of outside scrutiny or other people’s expectations. 

Part of the reason I wanted them in a real choir was not just for the learning experience, but to feel ownership of their voices in a way that they feel ‘qualified’ to sing anywhere, even as other children start to believe singing is only for a select few.  Their teachers openly acknowledge their artistic abilities which makes me glad.  I always tell them how much I like whatever new move they’ve added to their dance routines, but I’d like to talk them into trying a ballet class again for fun next summer.  I’m hoping the echoes of that kind of approval will resonate with them when they are older.  That if they have a memory of themselves as being officially artists or singers or dancers, then those might be outlets they don’t divorce themselves from prematurely someday.  I want them to enjoy being alive and not deny themselves ways of expressing that just because they might risk embarrassment or because it’s not part of their assumed identity.

I admit, this is primarily a pep talk for myself.  I am hopelessly self-conscious, even though I know it’s a waste of time.  My brothers live life without vanity and as a result have incredibly interesting experiences.  They never worry about if they look silly, and as a result even when they do look silly it comes off as pretty cool.  I’m not like that, even though I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter if I look silly.  I love to dance, but only alone, which is stupid.  I can trace it back to the day after a school dance in Jr. High when a boy I thought was kind of nice imitated how I danced to get a laugh.  I was deeply embarrassed and have never been able to dance in public without feeling self-conscious since.  Although my husband pointed out all these years later when I told him that story, that I missed the main point.  It wasn’t that the boy was making fun of me, it was that the boy had been watching me at the dance.  This perspective did help mend my ego a little, but not enough that I’m ready to hit the dance floor anytime in the near future.

I’m trying not to be as shy about singing.  I don’t really sing (there is a reason I play instruments instead) but boy it’s fun.  On the rare occasions that the kids don’t tell me to stop singing along in the car (why are parents never allowed to sing along?–I still get uncomfortable when my mom sings along so that kind of embarrassment must be hardwired) it always improves my mood to sing.  It feels good.  When I think about how much we encourage our kids to sing, from Twinkle Twinkle and The Itsy Bitsy Spider to holiday songs, all the way up to my kids’ choir or eventually school musicals, it’s amazing how few of the adults around them ever do it themselves.  It shouldn’t matter if we know someone else does it better.  Someone else always does whatever it is better, and those at the top are chasing the ghosts of talented people of the past most of the time.  That shouldn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves in the present.  Singing is fun, even if we don’t do it as well as we’d like or in a way that we even think is presentable.  I think many of us would be better off if we participated in more of the things we enjoy seeing our children do.  Life’s too short not to sing.  (Even if for cowards like myself it’s often just in the car.)

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