Thursday, January 7, 2010

Giving Gifts

It has already been determined, by this week in the new year, what of the Christmas loot will make a lasting impression. This year the gift we are still unwrapping, still holding a sense of excitement and offering the most delight, and (the mother will include in this criteria), the least annoyance to the rest of the family, are a set of new music cd's.

But these aren't just any cd's. Rather, we have been told, they are legends; the Holy Grail of albums, the foundation of music as we know it; selected by my musician-brothers and presented reverently to my children, along with a brief treatise to a two and four-year old on the enduring significance of this music upon their lives, and a lecture to the parents on our inherent responsibility to provide our children with a proper foundation of good music.

This year, it's the Beatles and the Beach Boys. And my girls love them. They'll sing and dance to anything, but these songs filter through our home like warmth on these cold, snowy days. Perhaps even more than the kids, the parents appreciate this music. It is the music we were raised with, as well, carrying with it that familiar energy and nostalgia. And I cannot help but adore this gift of music even more for what it is not- it's not music for children. Finally, my kids want to listen to something that doesn't stress me out or make me want to bury my head under a pillow.

I am amazed at how much really bad music is marketed, and deemed acceptable, for children. Shouting kids, a hyper rhythm, and a few lines repeated over and over seems to be all that is required to make music for kids.  I suppose if there are no other options, they will like it. Kids love music, any music will make them dance and sing. But why do we offer them music that we ourselves cannot stand to listen to?

I have to take the same issue with the books we read to kids. Books with flat characters, a shallow plot, and garish illustrations are to kids what cheap novels or low-budget t.v. is to adults. And yet we offer it to them without asking the same questions we would ask when choosing a book for ourselves- Is it true? Is it lovely? Is it good? "Good" in the sense of containing mystery and inspiring wonder, not "good" because it is labeled "Christian" or contains a lot of moral lessons. For children, books and music are for joy, not behavior lessons. They will quickly see the lecture hidden in the story, and lose interest in all books.  
Madeleine L'Engle answered the question, "Why do you write for children?" with, "I don't. ... If it's not good enough for adults, it's not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words. Sometimes I answer that if I have something I want to say that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children. This is usually good for a slightly startled laugh, but it's perfectly true. Children still haven't closed themselves off with fear of the unknown, fear of revolution, or the scramble for security. They are still familiar with the inborn vocabulary of myth. It was adults who thought that children would be afraid of the Dark Thing in Wrinkle, not children, who understand the need to see thingness, non-ness, and to fight it."
I love this Christmas present given to my kids by their uncles because we all enjoy the music, but most of all I appreciate the value of passing on a passion from one generation to the next. My brothers have spent years listening to music, learning about music, and playing music. It is the subject they care about most, and so it is with great affection that they begin to educate their young nieces and nephew in good music.  Perhaps this is what gift-giving is meant to be: passing on what we love best.

1 comment:

charrette said...

We (and our children) are love the Beatles. Our kids were raised on it.

And I love Madeleine L'Engle! What a great quote.

I tend to separate the good from the not-so-good with this talisman:

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

Feel free to enjoy anything that meets those criteria, guilt free!