“You don’t want any music?” I asked incredulously. “Why not?”
“I’m tired,” she explained.
I obliged and stopped the music. We drove in silence for a mile before she started singing. She sang her ABC’s, then she sang “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and then her all-time favorite, “Wheels On the Bus.” Clearly, she really did want music. Just not my music.
Music is an enormous part of my life; I am pretty much playing it all the time. Either my iPod is plugged up in my car, or my office, or the stereo at home, or our little clock radio in the beroom; or else I’m actually playing it myself on the guitar or piano. We played music for our little girl while she was still in the womb; everything from Ryan Adams to Metallica. I sang “Up On Cripple Creek” and The Beatles’ “Good Night” to put her to sleep as an infant. One night when I jokingly suggested I sing her “Danny Boy” to lull her to sleep, she eagerly asked for that song. I subsequently learned all the words (which are heartbreaking for a parent to sing to his child, by the way). She often asks me to put records on – real records (as you can see here) so that she can dance to them. She will pick one out of my record collection, although her favorites have been The Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms, Heart’s Little Queen (she loves “Barracuda”) and Boston’s Don’t Look Back. Recently she has found great joy in dancing to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebrate” and “Ladies’ Night.” I think that when she told me she didn’t want music in the car because she was tired, what she was really telling me was that she didn’t feel like dancing.
Obviously, I’m a ridiculous music nerd and I desperately want to share that with my daughter. There have been so many gifted musicians in this world who have produced so much amazing, touching, life-enriching art that I simply can’t wait to introduce her to. But I’m slow to recognize another powerful aspect of what music does for us as humans. In fact, it might be the most powerful aspect of music: the fact that we can make it any time we want.
Not many of us are gifted with the musical genius of Frank Zappa, or the technical dexterity of Eric Clapton, or a rich and powerful singing voice like Aretha Franklin or Emmylou Harris. But most of us have a voice. It is a recurring joke in all church music programs and choirs that the psalmist wrote in Psalm 98: “Make a joyful noise to YHWH.” Emphasis, of course, on the “noise” part. You don’t have to sing on key or have perfect rhythm; you just have to be joyful in the noise you make. Of course, this misses the first verse of that psalm, which says, “O sing to YHWH a new song.” That’s a bit of a loftier challenge: how many new songs do you think you can come up with?
I’m rather amazed at my daughter’s singing capabilities. I don’t mean that to suggest that she’s a Christina Aguilera child prodigy, because she certainly isn’t (yet). But I am impressed at how well she can remember tunes and melodies and words. She knows all the words to “Patty Cake” and “Old MacDonald” and she hits all the notes on tunes like “Frère Jacques,” although substituting her own words. And she’s not even three yet. That isn’t a testament to my child’s gifts and talents; it’s a testament to the fundamental powerful of music.
Using our own voice is a life-giving experience. Using our voice to sing is such an enriching, empowering, delightful gift. We start doing it literally from birth. As an infant grows and develops the capacity for language, she starts singing. We don’t sing lullabies to babies just to help them sleep; we do it to teach them how to soothe themselves and claim the beauty of their own voices. I would be convinced to believe in a divine creator solely for the reason that the human voice is one of the most unique and striking musical instruments anyone has ever heard.
My child might be singing nursery rhymes and folk tunes, but every time she opens her mouth to sing, it is a new song to me. The Bar-Kays are tight and funky and awesome, but I think our drive to school yesterday morning was a little richer accompanied by Curly Fries’ sweet and joyful singing. I still plan to introduce her to all of the music in the world that I love, and I can’t wait to take her to her first MerleFest. But the only thing I have to do to make her love music is honor and love the music she’s already making.