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Birth of a musical snob - and Barney lover


My 2-year-old daughter, Isabelle, has kind of a primal connection to music.

Since before she could walk, she has moved to all the rhythms around her: the washing machine, the air conditioner, the songs of her wacky toys, anything.

When she was a baby, and I was her unemployed Mr. Mom, I could quiet her only with my voice. Mostly, I sang the Beatles' "Michelle," over and over and over.

This thrilled me, of course.

Years before, in another life, I had dreamed of a life of music. I had been a singer who, as most singers do, thought I was much better than I actually was.

I had been Tony in West Side Story, toured with a burlesque comedy troupe and sung covers with a college band at smallish parties and the like.

As a married man and a father and a practical, upstanding sort of person, I had abandoned performing completely.

But with my Belle, as I call her, the fire lit up. Vicariously, I could dream again.

Maybe I could make a musician out of her, I thought. I promised myself I would be a much gentler version of Mozart's father: less stern, perhaps. And I wouldn't wear a wig.

If not that, I could teach her to be a great listener. Alone in my peculiar music tastes at home, I could groom a gorgeous, precocious little music snob.

I fantasized about giving her the classics, the Chopin, the Beethoven, etc., and then the blues my wife hates, the funk, the gospel, the Latin jazz, the rock gods, all of it.

For a time, everything went just as I planned.

To get her ready to perform, I sang incessantly. "Michelle" gave way to other songs once she could talk, mostly show tunes I had sung in musicals such as Lil' Abner or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She loved them all, and in many cases, asked for them again and again once she was old enough, so much that she now has them all memorized.

And when I couldn't sing, we'd huddle in a small room in our house to look at flashy album covers and dance together. I would turn it up as loud as it could get without blowing the speakers, and we danced to old funk bands such as Parliament, vintage Stevie Wonder, select hip-hop tracks with swear words bleeped out and more modern folk-pop bands such as Guster.

She had pet names for her favorites, including: "Screaming One," a famous aria from Mozart's Magic Flute, or "See Birds" for Guster's "Ramona," or "Shake it," for Outkast's "Hey Ya."

While we danced, her long, curled auburn hair seemed to flutter in the ether. She would throw her head back and laugh riotously. It was glorious.

Somewhere along the way, though, everything went wrong. She started to develop her own musical preferences. Much to my chagrin, they were terrible.

At night, when she goes to sleep, I am allowed just a few songs now. I will do spirited renditions of "Who Am I?," Jean Valjean's hymn of confession in Les Miserables, or Billy Joel's "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)."

But more often than not, she yells at me to "Stop, Daddy!" so she can sing alone or listen to other music on a little CD player she controls warily.

She prefers Raffi, the bearded children's troubadour, who sings folk songs in a mellifluous Canadian French, as well as other songs about baby sperm whales and corner stores.

Worse, she loves Barney and Teletubbies and a horrible Australian foursome named the Wiggles. I try to explain to her that they all have poor pitch, and don't use vibrato very well, if at all. Their singing is boring, I tell her.

She doesn't listen though. It seems she has her own tastes and all her own wiles.

She mimics their singing and dancing. She loves how ridiculous they look and how much they make her laugh. She loves all their fits of gibberish and mediocrity.

My little snob is not a snob at all, despite my best efforts.

Lately, I've been receiving tutorials of my own. I tried to resist at first, but there is an odd catchiness to it. I mean, what is it about that purple dinosaur, anyway?

I go to work now and instead of the obscure opera or alt-pop song, I'll hum a little ditty about a confused pirate who thinks he might be a duck.

I don't scowl, though. I just laugh.



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