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So much for instilling my taste in music

By Kristin H. Macomber / December 9, 2002

When my kids were little, I made a couple of parenting rules for myself. Mostly they had to do with things I would not inflict upon my children before they were ready and willing, including cooked vegetables, swimming lessons, and piano scales. Call it the "I'll not repeat my parents' mistakes" school of child rearing.

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In the category of "things I want to replicate from my childhood," however, and with a nod to my parents' good musical sense, I made one rule that I've enforced for more than a decade: No purple singing dinosaurs, no "Old MacDonald," no Raffi tapes at our house. My sons will have no dumbed-down music.

From the beginning, Ian and Eric listened to what I liked listening to: Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, classical music, jazz, and the really good music that came out of my own formative years. Claude Bolling, the Beatles, Yo-Yo Ma. Joni Mitchell. John Coltrane. Lyle Lovett. No do-re-mi pablum, no corny kiddie sing-alongs.

If there were sing-alongs to be sung at our house, they would be show tunes. Why? Partly by habit, mostly by tradition. It began when I was little. My dad would come home from a business convention in Boston or Philadelphia and always, always, there would be a new LP in his luggage. It was a souvenir from whatever show he and my mom had seen on stage.

A new record was by far my favorite business-trip prize. Before my parents could even finish unpacking, I would slip the record out of its paper sleeve, gently place it on the turntable, and then let the needle drop down, just so. From there I would be transported by the first strains of a brand-new overture, a musical adventure.

I spent hours lying on the carpet in our front hall, my ear next to the fuzzy weave of the hi-fi speaker. I memorized the words to "South Pacific" and "Annie Get Your Gun" and, one of my odd and enduring favorites, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Whatever show was being revived in Boston or Philadelphia, or was new and exciting on Broadway, that was what I listened to. It was the best gift I could ask for.

And that was the musical gift I wanted to be sure my children got. So when we sang on the road, my boys from their car seats in the back, me up front at the wheel, it was show tunes. No wheels on the bus going round and round, no John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. We listened to Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Lowe. The good stuff.

Oh, there were concessions that had to be made. Occasionally entire tracks needed to be skipped. Marvin Hamlisch's ode to plastic surgery in "A Chorus Line" - "got myself a fancy pair, tightened up the derrière." I am still obliged to fast-forward through it, although I knew my kids would hear worse by the time they reached fourth grade.

More often, though, it wasn't just the bad word choices. There are an awful lot of show tunes out there that are full of the kind of outdated messages you don't want your kid to take to grammar school. Like why Ado Annie "cain't say no," for instance, or what do they mean by that last line in "Gee Officer Krupke"? What's a social disease, by the way? And why, exactly, do those Dolls make all those Guys act the way they do? Some questions were simply left unanswered.

I could get away with that, back then.