When my daughter was born, several kind friends gave me CDs of nursery rhymes and other music specifically designed for children. The other day I finally pulled the plastic wrappers off them and put one into the stereo to try it out.
It was an arrangement of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round, Round, Round” in a pop-ish style, sung in that overly enthusiastic, exaggerated, cajoling tone that people use to convince recalcitrant toddlers to eat their vegetables. I was instantly repelled and was about to turn it off and put on some good music (Mahler sprang to mind, for some reason) when I looked at my daughter, who was sitting in her rocker. She was entranced, and as the bouncy tune went on, she alternately sang along (her singing isn’t quite what you’d call melodic yet, but it’s very heartfelt) or burst into merry peals of infant laughter. I was perturbed and slightly disappointed that the offspring of two Doctors of Musical Arts should have such dreadful taste in music.
I mentioned this to a colleague whose field of expertise is music education of the very young, and she said “Oh, yes, they all love that sort of thing; it’s like crack cocaine for babies. They get better taste later.”
This made me think of an analogy with, of all things, food. (Not an original thought: others have written interestingly on the subject, including this clever, amusing piece by Jeremy Denk on music vs. broccoli.) Children like different foods from adults, don’t they? If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a huge market for chicken nuggets and that radioactive orange macaroni cheese in a box. Parents despair that their offspring are going to get scurvy, but most people start eating “proper” food eventually. I remember disliking a lot of foods as a child that I now like, such as mushrooms, bananas, most types of fish, pizza, and (mystifyingly enough) jam. I grew out of it.
So maybe I’ll grit my teeth and continue to put on the children’s pop songs, and not throw out a particularly irksome music-box toy someone gave us that sings, in 1990s pop ornamentation, “Baa baa black sheep, have you a-a-a-any wo-o-o-ol, yes sir yes sir, three baaaags full” when you push the button with a sheep on it. Our daughter will learn to love Mahler eventually, if only because she may have fond childhood memories of hearing her father practising the opening trumpet solo from the Fifth Symphony every day.