Wednesday 21 May 2014

Music To Watch Toddlers By

Culturebaby is increasingly showing a propensity to sing and dance anywhere and everywhere, and Culturetot never looks happier than when she is in the presence of live music, so with that in mind I've been looking for opportunities to continue to introduce them to good quality music. 

One of the fabulous things about living near London, is the kaleidoscopic array of cultural opportunities for children, and within this, there are some really exciting initiatives emerging within the Tot's music scene. Now parents can go along to a number of beautiful venues around the capital, sip coffee and listen with their babies to a range of live classical concerts specifically designed and performed by professional musicians for them. I've been meaning for a while to go along to these inspired Bach to Baby events, where feeding is accepted, crying is expected and toddlers can happily dance and have the opportunity to examine live instruments. Given my love for the genre, when their founder, award-winning professional musician and professor of music Miaomiao Yu invited me along to their first Jazz month I leapt at the opportunity. 

We headed over to a 4pm session in Highbury where Oliver Weston, professional saxophonist and Jazz educator, and Jonathan Taylor, professional pianist and jazz teacher, took us on a great journey through the history of Jazz from the 1920s to modern day. They talked us through each piece and I felt like I too learned something and had an enriching experience for myself - so important when you spend all day in toddler classes or playing with your little ones. And the children LOVED it. The wonderful thing about these concerts is that they showcase excellent composition, introduce improvisation- so important to the development of creativity- and through their intelligent choices of music they show a fundamental respect for the child. Children can enjoy and concentrate on complex or classical melodies or rhythms. They can be introduced to the glorious nature of a live concert in an inspiring venue. I love what Miaomiao says about the inspiration behind her idea: "My idea is to provide top quality classical music to entertain adults, while giving children the chance to hear and explore live instruments up close during the crucial early years. Children have an innate ability to understand complexity almost through osmosis. It is my firm belief that the music our children listen to doesn't have to be dumbed down". I absolutely agree.

Culturebaby at just under two and a half, sat engrossed for a while, interacted with her four month old baby sister who was happy and engaged throughout, and though she made the odd tear away dash at the tempting altar steps she spent much of the later half of the concert dancing, alone or with other toddlers. The canter through jazz history culminated in a wonderful selection of improvised nursery rhyme pieces. The audience was asked what they wanted to hear and were rewarded with innovative and inspiring versions. We filmed a few short clips and Culturebaby watched these over and over for weeks afterwards. She declared that she wanted to attend another concert and we will absolutely be going back.
I'm delighted to hear that Bach to Baby have just raised enough seed funding to produce their own CD. We can't wait to hear it. For a list of upcoming concerts and information about the CD do have a look at their website. Adults pay £10 per concert and children are free. It's worth every penny. If you go to the Foundling Museum sessions you even get museum entry for free. 

Happily, chatting to Miaomiao, we were introduced to another exciting musical project for pre-schoolers. Nicole Wilson, who is Principal Second Violin at English National Opera, and a group of her professional musician colleagues have produced a fabulous nursery rhyme album called Funkey Rhymes. You'll hear me enthuse in a variety of posts about the value of nursery rhymes for babies and young children. Interesting research shows that singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is "an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing" as "song is a special type of speech" and "lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language." At one stage Culturebaby loved them so much that we had at least 6 nursery rhyme books on the go and they often replaced bedtime stories. We've been known to spend over an hour entertaining her on car journeys with one request after another so there had to come a time when some recordings were a must - certainly for the sake of Culturedad's sanity and my voice box. 

There are, as you have no doubt discovered, some pretty excruciating nursery rhyme CDs out there so I was delighted to be sent this innovative recording, and to discover that this was happily no ordinary nursery rhyme compilation. Rather a test is that we can listen to it over and over whilst we play, and there are even certain tracks that I personally really enjoy. Produced with a real variety of musical styles and instruments, Funkey Rhymes features a couple of original tracks plus some brilliant adaptations of classics. Imagine This Old Man with a Big Band, Madness performing Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes, The Grand Old Duke leading an Orchestra and Oh Soldier Soldier with his own speakeasy - this latter one really is the coolest version of this song you could imagine. The only track that is not my bag is a cockney version of three blind mice, but it makes Culturebaby laugh, so who am I to argue? Many of the tracks are absolutely brilliant for dancing and for getting out our basket of instruments and playing along to. Here are samples of three of their tracks:

This Old Man
I'm A Little Teapot
Old MacDonald

Funkey Rhymes has also produced an App, which includes 6 tracks from the album, some really cute artwork and the opportunity for children to record themselves singing along and even email it to Grandma. I gather that this App, which is currently a bargain at 69p, will soon have a new version with 6 more songs.

It's a great initiative to support - we absolutely need more artists producing quality for our babies. Go and buy this album. Here.


  1. On your recommendation, Heidi (40 months) and I went along to the Bach to Baby concert at St Alfege Church in Greenwich yesterday. We were treated to a programme of pieces collectively grouped under the theme 'The Magic Flute', performed by a talented Renate Sokolovska (flute) and Alexander Karpeyev (piano). Heidi enjoyed the proximity of the musicians to us, and sat engaged throughout the concert. Renate gave interesting introductions to each piece played, that certainly satisfied my desire to get something out of attending myself. We'll definitely be going again to a concert, although I'm hoping that Bach to Baby can soon include details of the performers/instruments at each concert on their website, as we'd like to experience something different next time, and possibly a larger ensemble. Thank you for bringing the opportunity to our awareness!
    Rob Field (your old archaeology 'Dad')

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback Dad. Nice to know I make my old man proud ;o) Always good to hear what others think about the events we post about. You are always welcome to do a guest post... x

  2. Hi Rob,
    I'm Miaomiao, who founded Bach to Baby, so am absolutely delighted that you and Heidi enjoyed our concert in Greenwich!
    Copies of the programme given out at each concert, where you can have a keep-sake of the repertoire performed, as well as performers biogs.

    Alternatively, by clicking on the date of the concerts on the website, a lightbox will appear showing you what the upcoming programme is, and who the performers are.

    I hope that helps, and look forward to welcoming you at a concert again very soon!


  3. The Bach to Baby sounds great. Very similar (although on a larger scale) than the cushion concerts in Oxford, which do tend to all be classically based as far as I can work out. Shame they're so far, I'm definitely going to have to watch out for more locally - I might speak to my local arts centre and see if they could try and organise some.

    Think I'll wait for the update to the app, as that sounds good fun. N's not a fan of nursery rhymes (unless he's singing them) so we tend to listen to my music or the radio in the car. Not really songs he can sing along to.

    Thanks for linking up again #MusicExploration

    1. Love the sound of the cushion concerts. Do you have further details?

  4. Wow the Bach to Baby sessions sound ideal, I'm really looking forward to getting my boy Diggory to some live music events and something family friendly would be a good place to start. I think we're going to go to some outdoor live music things in the park first, so it's easy to walk away if he gets cranky.

    I totally agree about the baby nursery rhymes that are out there too. So many to cringe at and hardly anything original. As a singer/songwriter I'm trying to start recording baby songs for this very reason - though as a new mum I'm finding time a bit limited - I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ones I've done so far:

    Came to you via the #MusicExploration linky, thanks for sharing :)

    1. Saskia, I think what you are doing is lovely! You'll find down the line these become really important to your relationship too. My mum used to compose little tunes to help me remember things and I find I can still remember them and I'm passing them on.


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