Monday, January 28, 2013

The Dadline: Kids love them, yeah, yeah, yeah

Fifty years ago this month, the Beatles released their first No. 1 single, but their music lives on with our children.

The Dadline

Ralph Berrier Jr.

The Dadline

About The Dadline

Veteran Roanoke Times features reporter Ralph Berrier Jr. Ralph became a father nearly five years ago, and has since learned, um, something about parenting.

He will share insights, trends and just plain funny stories by talking to people on the front lines. Questions? Find Ralph on the Roanoke Times Facebook page to share your own parenting stories.

In the fall of 2009, my wife and I took our then-3-year-old to see a caravan of characters from PBS kids' shows that had stopped by the Salem Civic Center. We saw Buddy from "Dinosaur Train," a couple of B-list Muppets and even the real live Mr. McFeely from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Mr. McFeely invited small kids to join him on stage and sing verses from their favorite songs into the microphone. The whole scene was extremely cute, right through the first 37 versions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." By the 38th time, people screamed for a verse of "I Love You, You Love Me," which had never before happened in human history.

When my tiny tot took the stage, she had the crowd right where she wanted them. Mr. McFeely held the microphone down at her level and she sang:

"In the town where I was born

Lived a man who sailed the sea

And he told us of his life

In the land of submarines รข? "

Heads turned toward the stage. Never mind that she sort of froze up on the next line. Mr. McFeely and many of the parents had already jumped ahead to the chorus of "Yellow Submarine." Everybody knew the song.

My two takeaways from that day are 1. "McFeely" will never again be considered an appropriate name for a character on a children's show and 2. the Beatles will be a favorite band of kids as long as there's a Strawberry Fields, which is forever, naturally.

Majorly learnable

Fifty years ago this month, the Beatles released their first number-one single in England, "Please Please Me." Beatlemania might have subsided, but Beatles music lives on.

The reason kids love singing Beatles songs is pretty obvious, in my opinion. They're just so darn singable. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were blessed with melodic gifts unsurpassed in the history of rock 'n' roll music. Most of their songs are based on classic verse-chorus patterns that are instantly recognizable.

Hence, an arena full of people can chime right in on "Yellow Submarine."

Even a musical expert such as David Stewart Wiley, Roanoke Symphony Orchestra's conductor and music director, agrees that Beatles songs are great for kids to learn.

"Their songs have great melody and a structure that seems natural and inevitable," said Wiley, who described himself as a "huge Beatles fan" known to drop a tune or two by the Fab Four into the symphony's concerts.

He and his wife have two children who love the Beatles, too, including a son who learned "Eleanor Rigby" on the cello.

"Kids are such sponges," Wiley said, "and they immediately recognize the Beatles. They've been exposed to their music in so many ways, from the elevator to the doctor's office or commercials. Like Elvis, their music is part of the fabric of the culture."

Carla Nelson, who runs the Music Together in Roanoke program that teaches children music fundamentals, has another scholarly way of describing why the Beatles are popular with kids.

"For starters, many of their songs are in a major key, [which] is a pleasing and accessible key for children," Nelson said, adding that most of the "kids music" CDs consist solely of songs in major keys, which lay a foundation for chipper, pleasant melodies.

It isn't just the music, either.

"Many of their tunes have very accessible lyrics with repeating phrases and rhymes," Nelson said.

She then turned to her young son and asked if he knew "Yellow Submarine" (a kids' classic, clearly). He sang the chorus, which as any 3-year-old can tell you, consists of the poetic line "We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine," sung twice.

Not exactly "A Day in the Life," but catchy and, above all, easy to sing.

Like father, like ... 

The Beatles were famous for producing childlike sing-alongs right beside "Revolution" or "Come Together" - both imminently singable songs in their own rights.

"Octopus's Garden," "Rocky Raccoon" and "Hello Goodbye" all sound like they should be coming out of the mouths of Muppets and monsters on "Sesame Street." And I mean that in a good way.

The Internet is filled with resources for kids who love the Beatles. Websites list the top Beatles songs and CDs. You can buy a CD of kids singing Beatles songs on Amazon.com. Or you can just play the real thing.

Of course, kids are going to sing what they hear around the house. My wife and I are huge Beatles fans, so that's what our daughter, now 6, will hear. Coincidentally, when I was her age, my favorite song was "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," done by none other than Paul McCartney. That was my very first record.

I once wrote in another column that it was the first song I ever learned to sing, then my mother, who watched the Beatles' American debut on Ed Sullivan in 1964, corrected me by saying "Do You Know the Muffin Man" was first.

Anyway, our family loves the Beatles - but it's not true that we named our daughter Lucy because of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

"I think that children still love The Beatles because their parents love them," Nelson said. "Children feel a connection with the things that their parents are interested in so the more you listen to The Beatles - or Metallica - the more your children will like it, too. Until they become teenagers."

Ralph Berrier Jr.'s column runs every other Monday in Extra.

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