From singing to our babies in the womb, to dancing with our toddlers round the room, music is such an integral part of natural family life.
Mother of two and journalist, Madeleine Onraet, sings one scale of her family song.
DOE a deer, a female deer…
It is early morning. Sky grey with English cloud. I am walking through Richmond Park in South West London. It may look as though I am singing to the deer grazing peacefully beneath the trees. But I’m not. I’m singing to the tiny baby nestled in my womb. And I am feeling very happy.
Pregnancy did indeed bring out the ‘Julie Andrews’ song in me. And I am by no means an accomplished singer. Very opposite!
I just felt this sudden need to sing, all kinds of tunes. Along with a sudden need for absentmindedness that saw me leaving London cafes without bothering to pay. One Italian waiter actually chased me through the peak hour traffic down the street. Yep! Singing for my supper then! Not helped by the fact that my lovely three-month ‘bump’ was barely showing. Especially under heavy jumper, skirt and coat. Oh well.
“Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be…” I sang to baby. And off we went.
RAY a drop of golden sun…
The sun is shining outside. My husband and I are dancing inside. Dancing, singing, leaping around our lounge room floor. For it is a kind of dance. A new-parent kind of dance. And more importantly it’s working!
Baby Thomas giggles. Wiggles all his toes and is very happy. Baby tears are gone. Baby smile returns.
And so Mum and Dad are happy too.
Music soothed both our babies. My husband, Steve, played guitar and sang to both our boys. I sang and soothed and rocked them in my arms. We did not plan to. We did not think to. We just did it. Then, when Granny Lesley came to visit, I noticed she did too. Like mums and dads have done all around the world since time began.
Countless car trips soon became a “what can we sing now?” event. Pop, Rock, lullabies, the Gilligan’s Island theme song! You name it. We tried it. Even if a lack of words or pitch reduced it fast to da da daa. Babies don’t mind that. They love it more. Especially when there are the funny faces too.
ME a name, I call myself…
“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, ba-kers man, Bake me a cake just as fast as you can. Pat it and prick it, and mark it with B, And put it in ov-en for ba-by and me.”
Two year Thomas sits upon the front verandah with his Mother Goose (our favourite book). Thomas points one sticky finger (just eaten vegemite on bread for lunch) at the picture of the baker. Which is why I’m singing, and he’s open (smeary sandwich) mouthed and laughing. Because he’s been trying to sing ME too and we got muddled up.
Oh the magic of the rhymes! I had not thought of them for many years, but with the birth of both my sons, they rushed right back. All of a sudden, just give me a line, and rhythm and words were there in a flash.
Baa, baa, black sheep… Polly put the kettle on… How much is that dog…
I seemed to have them stored inside, just like a squirrel hiding nuts. And then it was the spring, and there they were.
Steve didn’t know these rhymes but was keen to learn. So by the time our second son was singing too, we had a band. Thomas on bucket (drums), Mum on rice cartons (shakers), Dad clicking spoons. Our very own Nursery Rhyme Rap!
FAR a long long way to run…
“RUN on your way to school, RUN to the swimming pool, RUN EVERYWHERE”
Yep, that’s a Wiggles song and three year Thomas runs around the lounge room floor. Mum runs too, though she is getting puffed. But then the song returns to WALK (thank goodness) and Mum can slow right down.
I remember, as a primary school child, asking my mother to play her vinyl 45’s. My two sisters and I would then dance in the downstairs room for hours. The Beatles, Buddy Holly. I recall a “Pick a bale of cotton” song by Lonnie Donergan that my youngest sister especially liked. We all ‘picked that bale of cotton’ with Lonnie again and again.
Now, much older, (and not quite so agile) I watch my sons hear tunes and instinctively desire to move. And I see my sister’s children move as well.
We all dance!
How could we not?
SEW a needle pulling thread…
It is a hot and still December evening. A thunderstorm could well be on the way. The children gather round their kindergarten teacher, while I sew a final stitch on the last pair of antlers needing help. Four year Thomas looks at me and smiles. I know they’re ready.
“Six white boomers, snow white boomers, racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
“Six white boomers, snow white boomers, on their Australian run.”
Twenty children (wearing lovely antlers!) gaily sing their song, while parents melt at such a happy sight.
I was so pleased that my son’s C&K teacher included dance and music in her program. As well as ritualistic “Happy Birthday’s”, the children sang a ‘tidy song’ at the end of play. A musician came each fortnight to play piano and sing with all the children. And she often brought in other instruments as well. But the real treat for us all was that lovely Christmas concert.
LA a note to follow so…
Five year Thomas looks with great concern at little six-month brother, Harry. We’ve all been in the car for quite some time now, and Harry’s growing fretful. No, more than fretful, he’s UPSET. “Mum! Dad!” cries Thomas loudly. “Harry doesn’t like it!” And then, before Mum or Dad can say a word, Thomas starts to sing to his little brother.
“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.”
“Up above the world so high, la la la la la la laaa…”
So I see Thomas try to soothe his brother in just the way I used to do with him. And I suppose that is how it all goes on – this natural serenade. Flowing down through all the generations over time, until little Harry’s laughing at the sound of “la la laaa”.
TEA… a drink with jam and bread…”
Six year Thomas seems so grown-up and ‘big’ in his Grade One uniform. Yet the more I look, the more that wide brimmed hat and bag seem to make him shrink again in size. The bag’s enormous!
Thomas gives his bag and hat to me then gets up on the wooden stool. Teacher sips his cup of tea (yes with jam and bread), then turns to face that ‘magic’ keyboard.
“We begin…” I hear his teacher say. “…with middle C.”
That moment did indeed begin my son’s ‘formal’ music education. From then on, there would be weekly half-hour lessons and daily practice too. It was an important milestone.
But when I thought about it later, I realised that it wasn’t just my son’s beginning, but a continuation of something started long before -. when my son was in the womb. Or maybe even at the moment of conception, when the genes were pooled and the family love of music passed itself down through the ages.
So my hope is now, not that these piano lessons will necessarily produce another Bach, or by some process of osmosis make him a mathematics whiz (as I’ve been told it can). Rather, my hope is that these lessons will carry Thomas further, with us all, on our wave of family song.
“That will bring us back to DO (oh-oh-oh)
“So – do!”