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Mar 18 2014

Teaching My Son to Be a Mensch Through Music

By at 3:18 pm

Music-mensch

When I say my 3-year-old son Ben is into music, I mean it. Toddler parents will get my seriousness when I say he loves music more than his beloved trucks, play kitchen, and extensive puzzle collection. Looking for Ben? Check his “concert,” a corner of our living room that’s become packed with kazoos, shakers, a ukulele and a “guitelele,” and–our third birthday present to him–a beautiful djembe drum.

My husband and I were both high school band types, and going out to hear live music was a big part of our pre-Ben social life. So it felt right to take Ben to his first concert at age 8 months, to a Saturday morning family show at Club Passim, the famous folk music club in Harvard Square.

Alastair Moock, the musician who played that show and later appeared at such prestigious venues as Ben’s second birthday party and the Grammy Awards, did not, to our delight, wear a costume or do a goofy “character” voice. He played real instruments–guitar, banjo, ukulele–and sang wonderful original songs plus folk classics I recognized from my parents’ record collection. Ben stared intently. He was in. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 13 2014

Why I Fudge the Truth When I Tell My Kids The Purim Story

By at 11:24 am

Book-of-esther-censored

The noisemakers are already going in my house. By “noisemakers,” I mean my kids. The groggers are going, too, of course, along with an endless medley of preschool Purim songs as my children’s excitement about the upcoming holiday reaches a fever pitch. It’s a little chaotic, but I’m glad that my kids are eager to celebrate Purim…and it’s not bad to get a reprieve from the constant refrains of “Let It Go” that have comprised our family’s unofficial soundtrack for the last three months.

“Mommy,” my 4-year-old asks, “Do you know any more Purim songs we could sing?” On a whim, I launch into that corny old Hebrew School chestnut, “Oh, Once There Was a Wicked, Wicked Man.” My children listen delightedly as I began to sing, then look at me in consternation as I pause abruptly, not wanting to sing the words “he would have murdered all the Jews” (describing Haman’s evil plot). I continue singing, instead substituting the words “he would have punished all the Jews.” My children smile at the song. I feel relieved, and very guilty.

As a rabbi, I’m committed to a view of Jewish sacred text that affirms the sanctity and importance of our foundational narratives. When I was an idealistic college student, struggling with passages in the Torah that I found ethically or historically troubling, I believed that such difficult sections of our sacred text should simply be excised. We’re an enlightened people. Why do we need Torah verses that seem (or are) sexist or homophobic? As I deepened my understanding of Jewish text and interpretation, though, I began to understand that each of our texts, even the troubling ones, have something to teach us. The sages of the Talmud imagined Rabbi Akiva as being so gifted in the art of Torah interpretation that he was able to derive meaning not only from the words of the Torah but even from the decorative crowns that adorn the letters in the Torah scroll. To the Jew, there is meaning in everything, and so every story must be retained, honored, and plumbed for its overt and hidden lessons. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 12 2014

Here’s to the People Who Made My Son’s Bar Mitzvah Special, Even if They Don’t Remember Us

By at 2:07 pm

jordan-bar-mitzvah

Think about when you are in the midst of labor and you are going through the most intense and difficult–yet simultaneously the most meaningful–experience of your life. You are bringing a new human being into the world and you know that you will never, ever, forget these people–the nurses, obstetricians, midwives, and other medical staff–who helped you through this amazing day.

You know how, later on–maybe much later on–you realize that as meaningful as that day was to you, that to the nurses, obstetricians, and midwives who helped you, it was just another work day, and your peak experience wasn’t anything special? Remember how that revelation made you feel kind of sad?

It’s the same with a bar mitzvah. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 17 2014

Jewish Day School Made Me Appreciate Diversity & Now I’m Choosing the Same For My Kids

By at 9:59 am

Diversity and the case for day school

I was recently prepping a meal to the soundtrack of my new favorite song, “Some Nights” by the indie rock band Fun. Suddenly, I realized the breakfast-for-dinner eggs were burning, and I was transfixed by the YouTube video streaming from my nearby laptop.

What was it about lead singer Nate Ruess that drew me in? Sure, he’s conventionally attractive. And his voice is a force—at once strong and lovely. But it was something else. How different he looked from anyone I knew. With those defined cheekbones, blue eyes, slightly upturned nose; he’s no Yeshiva boy.

It only made me want to know him more. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 13 2014

Two School Administrators Announce Snow Day With Best Rap Ever

By at 4:26 pm

Despite the apocalyptic weather conditions, New York City schools were OPEN today (because we’re crazy), but just about everywhere else in the country, flights were canceled, highways were gridlocked, and kids enjoyed a national snow day–even in North Carolina, which has been pummeled by an ice storm named Pax.

Well, two school administrators, headmaster Michael Ulku-Steiner and director Lee Hark at Durham Academy in North Carolina, broke the the news to students with a hilarious cover of Vanilla Ice’s ’90s hit–yup, you guessed it–“Ice, Ice, Baby.”

Enjoy the video and for god’s sake, don’t go outside!

(H/t Viral Viral Video)

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Feb 7 2014

What Does the Fox ACTUALLY Say?

By at 11:45 am

YLVIS

At this point, every child in America has danced to Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say?” You may have even seen the children’s book version in stores. I am not ashamed to admit that I know the lyrics by heart and have caught myself singing the interlude softly on many a morning commute:

The secret of the fo-o-ox

Ancient Mystery-y

Somewhere deep in the woods

He is hiding

What is his souuuuund?

Will we ever know?

Well, inspired by Ylvis, the other day, my kid and I–being the intrepid scientists that we are–decided to do a little research into what the fox actually says. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 29 2014

How Pete Seeger Calmed My Pregnancy Fears

By at 2:08 pm

pete seeger

As a mom, there have only been a handful of times I have let my children see me cry. Yesterday, when I learned of the death of the great Pete Seeger, was one of those times. When I tried to explain who he was and some of the things he stood for, I could not complete my sentences. So I turned to YouTube and let Pete speak and sing for himself. Within minutes, my 4-year-old was dancing to “If I Had a Hammer,” and then we were all singing “We Are Not Afraid, To-day.” And of course, since we are farmers,“Inch by Inch.”

Meanwhile, my family and friends started sharing their personal Pete Seeger stories. My father told me about seeing him play near his cousins’ New Jersey chicken farm when he was a boy. My husband’s mother recalled seeing Pete play concerts at Jewish Community Centers near her home in Bayonne, New Jersey, during the 1950s when he was black-listed and few would hire him. My friend’s parents had a first date at a Pete Seeger concert. Other people sailed with him on the Clearwater or sang with him at summer camp, a political rally, or on a street corner.

This is my Pete story. I was raised on his music and my parents still keep his CDs on pretty much continuous loop in their house. When I was pregnant with my son seven years ago, I had placenta previa, a medical term for a low-lying placenta. The doctors said I would need a C-section if things did not change. I got even more worried when I had another ultrasound and the doctor was questioning whether the placenta was healthy in general. This was late in my pregnancy and that night I had a dream. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 15 2014

What My Baby’s In Utero Music Tastes Say About Her (And Me)

By at 9:53 am

music

The other night, after dinner, my husband and I decided to play music for the fetus. We picked out a few of our favorite records, hooked a pair of studio monitor headphones into the record player, and began our baby’s musical education.

I’m the music teacher of my rural Maine island’s tiny k-12 public school and my husband and I are both musicians. We have a recording studio in our house, and spend all day surrounded by music, from beginner band to my husband unwinding with his nylon string guitar. I’m sure some of that filters through the amniotic sac and impacts the baby’s day, but we wanted to tailor a musical interlude to the baby.

I reclined on the couch and stretched the headphones across my 22-week belly. First up: Kraftwerk, Radio-Activity. We waited until the spoken introduction–a little ominous, I felt, was over and switched the audio into the headphones. The baby was quiet and still until the bass synth kicked in. She kicked, too, nailing the right headphone dead on. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

My Son’s New Retro Obsession

By at 9:57 am

record player

“What is that?” our 6-year-old son asked, as he made a beeline towards the curious box propped against the wall. The kids were wandering around a cool freshly renovated motel room we had just checked into, doing their usual assessment and getting the lay of the land within the couple square 100 feet that would be home for one night. To them, the dusty mechanism propped above a portable speaker and topped with a rotating wheel and a moveable arm had an intense appeal, as did the collection of thin square cardboard folios, each emblazoned with different images, standing next to it.

What was an essential part of my upbringing has become a readily mocked symbol of anachronistic-obsessed hipster culture– and an unknown artifact to my kids. I was embarrassed and stunned that they’d never seen a record player before. But best of all, they loved this thing.

Prince’s 1999 stood at the front of the selection, which contained other significant records and artists of my late 1970s-through-1980s childhood and adolescence: Prince, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder. This motel knows its demographic, i.e. what the 30/40-somethings and the younger set who didn’t grow up with this music first hand might dig. I pulled disc one of 1999 (this was the double LP edition) out from the sleeve and put on side one. It contains three cuts that are both some of Prince’s best and PG rated–ok, more like PG-13 when factoring in the innuendo. We gave the title song, “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious” a few listens, and headed out to the pool. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 15 2013

I Can’t Give Up My Music Just Because I’m a Mom

By at 12:12 pm

piano

Remember the things you used to do before you had kids? I used to practice music for hours. Like, three hours at a time. I’d work on some complicated passage and just go at it over and over and over until my fingers would cooperate effortlessly. It was a meditative practice for me, in a sense. I would go into my little isolated room and be by myself until I was ready to come out.

As you can imagine, with three small children at home, that kind of practicing does not happen anymore. And I used to use motherhood as an excuse for just not practicing at all.

On the rare occasion when I would sit down to practice, a few scenarios would happen: 1) I would be surrounded by little helpers, two on either side and one on my lap. While that had potential for a cute teaching moment, it was pretty much impossible to work on the actual music. 2) Someone would desperately need something. A toy. A drink. Attention. You name it. 3) The most heartbreaking scenario. One of my children would forlornly say, “Mommy, could you please not play that song?” Read the rest of this entry →

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