by Ben Shine
My son learned to crawl at 10 months. That same week, as Wire's "Pink Flag" rotated on my turntable, he responded to music in a marked and excited way. Like his dad, he kind of freaked out. He bounced up and down, his smile beaming. We're not a "Wheels on the Bus" kind of house, at least not yet, so it makes sense that perky nursery rhymes weren't his first favorite tracks. Still, I was thrilled that Emerson liked experimental, edgy and frantic rock apparently as much as I do. More than anything, I was excited that he engaged with music in a real way, besides me making him air guitar or drum. The bounce might have made me more proud than the crawl.
All kids should get the chance to be creative. Music and arts help kids succeed academically. They teach them how to express themselves and take safe risks. But for me, it's more personal than that.
Music is central to my life. In fact, my priorities are: 1) people, 2) music, 3) food and 4) everything else. Some of my earliest memories of being alive involve songs and sounds. I can vividly recall the temperature and smells listening to "Sir Duke" and "Let 'Em In" on the radio in my mom's white VW Bug one hot Indiana summer when I was 3 or 4. When I was a preschooler, I played beneath the family piano as my mom practiced. Not long after I got my first lessons, learning to keep my fingers properly arched and in position with the help of a pencil placed between my hands and the keys. From years of lessons to the bands of my earliest adult years, practice, performance and concentrated listening, in not always equal measure, were huge parts of my day.
Creativity let me rebel, figure out who I was and figure out how to be brave. Music was the first thing I owned as my identity, and I wore my Led Zeppelin T-shirt, even if the snotty girl cliques at my grade school laughed at me. As a teen, I learned that if I thought about the melodies, vocal tracks, drum lines and solos of songs that I loved, I didn't have to think about things that sucked, hurt or made me lonely or bored. When I became an adult, I learned to trust my ear, which perfectly coincided with gaining trust in myself. No matter what, though, whether I was playing piano for judges as an under-practiced fifth grader or as a young gun jamming with older guys who had already been in established bands, I had to figure out how to get past being intimidated and just play.
I want that for my boy, whether he gets it from playing guitar, tap dancing or painting still lifes. I see him on that path already. That's why my proudest papa times are the ones when we're dancing, and he seems to be not just moving to the beat, but understanding that the beat is happening and it's special. Or when we're finger painting his Valentine's cards for school (yes, this happens in a 1-year-old daycare room these days), and he's making a giant arty mess of himself. Or when he hits our piano bench, calling out "sit, sit" until I come to play with him -- mainly, we both play with childlike whole-hand key slaps. Plus, his middle name "Arrow" is a direct reference to a Harry Nilsson song.
My only fear, in this swirl of sound and beauty, is that I'll somehow make it too important, or some nerdy cliché. That he'll be my Alex P. Keaton, rejecting what I like. That he'll feel like he has to be like me and won't get to be open to music in his own way. That he'll just like whatever is in front of him without thinking about it. Or, worse, that the arts won't matter at all.
So, even now, I'm trying to figure out what he likes. I want to follow his lead. Yes, he has his own Led Zeppelin T-shirt. I have him wear it now, because I won't make him wear it when he's 13. Confidence and curiosity are my central goals, for him and for me.
So, for the grown-up (or not) kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, teachers -- basically anyone who has been or known a child -- what do you think encourages kids to get excited and stay excited about art?