Tech & Media

Finding Children’s Music that Isn’t Lame

Feb 5, 2013

I like music. Regardless of style or genre, Madonna or Mastodon, Cash or Coltrane, I think there's magic in the way a good song changes your emotions or instantly invokes a memory.Music's always been an important part of my life. I was the guy who made mixed tapes daily, paid ransoms to get U2 singles from Japan, and desperately wanted to see unknown opening acts. I also wrote CD and band reviews for a Canadian music magazine.

So when my daughter, L, was born, I had very important plans on how she'd immediately love everything from rock to rap to reggae. Her uncle helped this directed development by buying her a guitalele and a drum kit long before she'd ever be able to use them.

Me? I started scouring the children's music section in our library, avoiding those countless CDs that try to transform alt anthems into saccharine synth-driven lullabies.

We made a few really good discoveries, like the fantastic Caspar Babypants - in a previous life, the guy who sang Lump with Presidents of the United States of America. His acoustic kid-centric pop is so good you leave it playing even after you've dropped your daughter off at daycare.

We learned that L had no interest in The Wiggles, and Anne Murray's Can-con classic There's a Hippo in My Tub earned a shrug, but Sharon, Lois, and Bram hit the girl hard. L performs "Skinnamarink" for her grandparents and "Caballito Blanco" for her abuelos. A few classic songs and nursery rhymes have also been added to heavy rotation on her mp3 player. ("Frère Jacques" became the punkish Pharaoh Chaka from her two-year-old lungs.)

We regularly make discoveries through the Kids' CBC online radio stream. Mamma Yamma is rapidly becoming her gateway to Canadian artists. Royal Wood's "It's So Great to Get a Hug", Joel Plaskett's "Fashionable People", and Kathleen Edwards' "Eat the Alphabet" are very well received. When a familiar song comes on, L's face lights up, and she sings along as her body begins to sway. Fortunately, she's inherited mommy's dancing ability. Unfortunately, she still "croons" like her daddy.

We also never shied away from exposing L to not-tot-specific music. Very early on, I started singing her Blur's "Tender" nightly, changing the "oh whys" and "oh mys" to "don't crys" and "sleep tights." My wife began doing it, too, and a Britpop hymn to love lost-and-found remains our daughter's lullaby. I'll never forget the first time I picked her up and she started singing it to me.

L likes the Clash, and about a third of David Bowie's "Low" (give her time). She digs the Roots, and slow-dances with stuffed bunnies to Elvis. This isn't to say she likes everything her dad does, though. The Beatles, surprisingly, remain a bust. And a lone attempt at hard rock (Toronto's Danko Jones) was nixed instantly. Once the singer started shouting, L's eyes grew wide and she asked, in the most heartbreaking way possible, "But why is the man so angry, Daddy?" I turned it off at once, and it's now reserved for solo drives.

It's an amazing feeling to share songs with my daughter. We dance and we duet. We'll change up lyrics to make them more appropriate for the activity at hand - tidying up, brushing teeth or getting ready for bed.

Over the next few years, I'm looking forward to helping L discover what kind of music she might like. And then, after that, I'm looking forward to her helping me find my new favourite band.

So what do your kids listen to? And how do you discover new music together? 



Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock 'n' roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are collaborating on a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who may already be smarter than both of them. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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