“Without music, life would be a mistake.”-Friedrich Nietzsche
“Want to come in my room and listen to my music, Mom?” -MT, age 7
Like many of you reading this blog, I believe music inspires, moves, soothes, and speaks to us. Music has always held a very important place in my life (just ask my brother how my musical tastes shaped him!).
I love all types of music and have particularly vivid memories of the 80s and my time following my favorite bands (can you say r.e.m. addict?). We play music all the time in our home, in our car, on vacation. Our children are growing up with what we hope are rich and varied musical tastes that include jazz, rap, hip-hop, country, rock, alternative, bluegrass, and more.
Today, my musings here are not about music and why I love it or can’t live without it, but rather about my unexpected gift to see, feel, hear and discover music in a new way thanks to my son.
Many children with sensory issues or autism spectrum disorders have a unique and special connection to music. It creates calm and focus. It connects them to the world.
When he was little, M immediately adored the soundtrack from Baby Mozart and wanted to hear it over and over again. As he got a little older, our Music Together class soundtracks quickly took the number one spot on his playlist. When they were toddlers, I happily observed how M and his sister loved music and enjoyed dancing. In fact, I grew up dancing in my parent’s kitchen at every opportunity (especially during the holidays) and wanted to carry on that tradition in my home. My observations about M’s love of and connection to music weren’t earth-shattering — I thought it was cute and not much else.
Then, one day in kindergarten after a grueling day trying to figure out why he was having such a tough time in school, I stopped and really looked and listened and realized that M was deeply engaged in the music I was playing — not like a child, but rather like me or my husband. He was actually listening to the music, the instruments, the guitar riffs, the impromptu jazz solos and he was really appreciating it. As time went on, we learned that he could tell us if a song was Mozart or The Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Madonna or Ray LaMontagne. He hears the harmony, can keep a beat and loves classical and rock and everything in between. His hearing is very sensitive. Kindergarten was a rough year for us all — we were still in the dark about a lot of M’s needs and challenges. But, that light-bulb moment in the kitchen opened a door for our whole family.
Today, as I watch him, I feel the excitement and wonder I felt when I was young and playing Motown records in my room or the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever or listening to the radio for a song’s debut or attending my first concert — but it’s on a completely different scale.
And as my son discovers music, I discover it along with him — his way. I hear the details. I feel the beats. I see the songs. And I experience the lyrics and magic along with him. And, I’m happy to say, I react like he does (sometimes jumping on his bed or crashing into bean bag chairs, or spinning wildly — all great for sensory input). He rewinds songs to play me a certain phrase or a specific part of the tune and time stands still. We listen, faces pressed close, breathing in sync, giggling and smiling.
Now, he regularly asks for copies of the latest albums from Lucinda Williams or the Black Eyed Peas or Bob Dylan.
It’s hard to explain, but when my son invites me to join him in his room to listen to his Cd’s — I feel like that teenager again, like I am hearing it for the first time as we sit there on his racetrack rug, Cd’s scattered all around us, pillows and lyric sheets sandwiched between John Deere tractors, car-y the car pillow and his Lightening McQueen fleece blanket, like the only two people in the world.
There is freedom in music — there are no rules for listening and no rules for how to enjoy it. Most of all, it is a sensory experience for all of us, not just my son.