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Peanut Butter and Harmony

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My cousin once asked my mother, “How did you get your kids to turn out so musical?”

“When they would cry as babies,” she answered, “Tom and I would match their pitch until they could hold it. And then we would go up a third. Harmonize.”

I can only imagine how confused I was, a screaming infant to have other noise invading my attention-grabbing airspace, but as it turns out, their strategy worked.

That story more or less sums up my family. My parents met in the church choir in their early thirties. My mother’s “career assessment” test from high school pegged her as a singing forest ranger who fixed her own truck. My father played in a few different bands in his teens, and dropped out after a semester of music education at UMass Lowell to get a day job that could accompany his playing the local club and bar circuits. Then he dropped the day job to go the Boston Conservatory for a degree in Opera.

By the time I came around, both of my parents were perfectly normal to the outside world–an audiologist and some mysterious financial technological consultant (that resulting from my father dropping his local playing for an M.B.A. and a day job and a family). Inside our house though, there was always music.

I can remember distinctly the moment I realized that most daddies don’t have CDs of their own original music lying around the house. My poor friend Alyssa’s only response when I asked her what instrument her father played was, “Um…he’s a security guard.” I hadn’t thought that should make a difference; after all, my dad was a computer something-or-other! His songs were as much a part of my childhood as the Disney soundtracks.

Growing up in an atmosphere like that set me and my brothers apart a bit. With the single exception of the “no singing at the table” rule (and to this day, none of us really understand why we had that), there was always music in the house.

My brother Geoff learned guitar early on, taking lessons first from my dad and then a local player. I started on piano when I was about eight. We were all always singing some ditty we had picked up.

All of this seems more or less believable. So what, we took music lessons! But we also played “guess the composer” on car rides with my dad – I’m still terrible. I gave up at age seven and have answered Beethoven for everything ever since.

We made up harmonies with each other on songs in church and on the radio. We fell asleep to lullabies we made our parents make up on the spot. We sang Christmas carols in 4four-part harmony every night during advent. These are the things that shaped me into who I am today – loud and a little obnoxious -always reminded of a song by anything, and usually bursting into that song at that moment.

Yes, I took lessons to learn piano, and yes I picked up the guitar from Internet tabs, but I look on things like that as almost secondary to why I love music. The background noise of childhood is what makes us – and mine is a chord progression instead of radio static.


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About Jen Herrmann

  • I love hearing about ways to start children’s music education early – and harmonising with their crying is a fantastic concept! I will definitely be trying that next time I see my nephews… 🙂