Support Overthinking It by becoming a member for $5/month!
In one of their storied® two-handers, Peter Fenzel has a question for Matthew Wrather. Right now, pause the show and write down on a piece of paper what you think the topic of the question is. If you’re right, leave a comment below, because we want to know about it!
Subscribe: iTunes Other Apps
Newborns are tough as their needs are few but insistent. I love tormenting new parents by casually asking them how they are sleeping. Small babies are frustrating but adorable which is clearly a necessary evolutionary development.
I greatly enjoy music but I am totally tonedeaf and completely unable to sing at any sort of competence other than merely reciting lyrics. When my wife lost her job for taking an extended maternity leave (yes, that used to be a thing) she went back to school taking some night classes.
That left me alone with our baby for three or four nights a week for several hours. And as I insist to people, this is known as ‘parenting’ not ‘babysitting’, especially if the parent involved is male.
So I was at odds on what to do with this minimally communicative very small human who was incapable of self-propulsion. Having no musical skills, singing lullabies was not an option even for just an audience of the baby and myself. If it were just myself I would have been content to do nothing but watch Clarissa Explains It All reruns on the USA Network, but those would have no interest to child without enough cognitive ability to follow the storylines and running motifs.
What I landed on was placing my baby in is swinging chair and reading Allen Ginsberg poetry to him. While I have lots and lots of books, few are suited for reading aloud. I did however have a large trade paperback edition of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems 1947-1980.
I will admit part of what drew me to this was the subversive Bad Parenting sense of reading occasionally profane beat poetry to impressionable ears. Yet they ended up being oddly appropriate for reading to a baby. There is no need for the words to make any rational coherent sense. The poems are long enough to read at a single sitting without being so short that one is constantly having to start a new one.
The open verse and meter keep the tone changing so one doesn’t lapse into the sing-songy-ness of sonnets or other formal forms of poetry.
This only went on for a few months and we moved on to more conventional forms of entertaining babies but I took joy in finding a non-traditional way of bonding with that nearly useless bundle of flesh I had helped create.
About the only extent of my musical background was a few months in junior high school when the music teacher was desperate for an additional violinist. It…went about as well as one would expect. But if the topic has ended up at the intersection of musical notes and primitive communication, I feel obliged to mention Solresol (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solresol), an early nineteenth-century stab at a language so universal that it could be used across any medium. The premise is that it had seven “letters,” which (for a European) maps to seven named notes per octave, seven colors, and so forth, that are sufficiently independent that there’s no trouble with “pronunciation.”
The language looks like a total nightmare, especially for someone never trained to deal with relative or absolute pitch, but it’s an amusing concept, especially the way it comes semi-close to predicting digital data storage in the sense of “we just specify bits; you represent and work with them however you please.”
However, despite my lack of experience in music, I once worked with someone who decided to play in an Irish music band. He didn’t have any experience playing an instrument (and I forget what instrument he eventually played), but he was an old-guard electrical engineer for the Cold War defense industry. So, too embarrassed to sit for lessons with a teacher until he was minimally competent (and this being a pre-YouTube world by a few years), he set up an oscilloscope and compared his playing with recordings until it was close. Because of that, when he needed to transpose a song to his instrument, he ran the math on the frequencies and worked out a bunch of music theory on his own, before a band-mate pointed out that there were easy rules for that kind of work. It was fun to watch.
I have much less to say about babies. My experience has been that they’re usually delighted when you just treat them like tiny adults, though I don’t know whether that’s novelty, confusion, or just not needing to compete for attention with the big people…