'I can't read music, I can't hold a tune, but I want my child to be musical.'

Mamamia’s Rachel Curtis took her son to the Opera House for his first experience of  live classical music.

Even before my baby was born I shared my musical hopes for him with a room full of strangers at a prenatal class.

The room nodded in agreement, we all wanted our unborn children to be musical. The Portuguese couple Pedro and Fatima agreed, so did the Spanish pair, Salvador and Alicia. It seemed to cross cultures – we all wanted our babies to speak a musical language.

So now that my baby boy is a toddler, I thought it was time to show some commitment to the idea.

On Saturday morning I took him to Sydney’s famous Opera House to start his musical journey at the Babies Proms.

The children got a chance to meet the musicians. Image courtesy Daniel Boud.

Sensory language.

In a place where I had assumed babies wouldn’t quite belong, a room filled up with excited crawling, walking, bouncing, babies, toddlers and children. They owned the space, until the music began.

Arts and education expert, Professor Judith McLean, says children use sensory language predominantly until the age of two.  She says exposing babies to music can help deepen their sensory language and expand and develop their “feelings state” - and she believes it's never to early to start.

"When you gurgle with your child, when your child gurgles with you and you extend that range, so you might make a noise and a child might repeat that back. It’s called matching. That is the beginning of music," she said.

"You’re beginning to show your children that their voices have range, have dynamism, have tone, can communicate."

The ensemble performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Image courtesy Daniel Boud.

The QUT Chair of Arts Education and QPAC Scholar in Residence says musicality begins "from the moment your child begins to connect with you and notice you".

Sensory language is said to be directly related to the limbic area of the brain and is where our feelings and emotions are developed and held.

So according to the professor, my 20-month-old son, Charlie, could be potentially forming some kind of “emotional vocabulary” from this live classical music experience.

Children were introduced to the instruments and their sounds. Image courtesy Daniel Boud.

Raising "a happy child".

I have no musicality, I can’t hold a tune, I can’t read music but I would love it if my son was musical. I sometimes sing nursery rhymes with him and Professor McLean tells me that can help release happy hormones.

"It’s one of the best ways to raise a happy child, to sing with them, because you’ve got feel good hormones just flooding the child and the parent together," says Professor McLean.


"Oxytocin is the hormone that is released when your child is born and you have that sense of this totally overwhelming unconditional love. Then singing is just another dose of it. For both you and the child."

Inside the Opera House, we listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. My son let’s out a loud yelp by the time we are half-way through spring: “Yaaayy!” he says.

By the time the ensemble is performing summer, Charlie is brave enough to join the children in the thunderstorm on the carpet.

"Music is a universal language. It doesn’t matter where you’re born, what your circumstances are, we have an innate response to music. It is a human condition," says Professor Judith McLean.

A little girl that looks like she just learnt to walk is dancing in front of me and the whole room seems engrossed in the performance.

One little girl said she liked the sad part. Image courtesy Daniel Boud.

"There are no rules."

My son starts to get really creative with some floor rolls, when he is meant to be a growing flower, but there’s no doubt he’s absolutely delighted to be there.

I don’t know how to interpret classical music for my son but Professor Judith McLean tells me not to be intimidated.

“If you haven’t come from a music background don’t beat yourself up and don’t think that you have to be perfect at knowing how to respond.

“Don’t think it, just go and listen to the music and let it affect you how it does and respond to that. There are no rules and there shouldn’t be rules,” she said.

However, she warns against not exposing children to a wide range of activities.

“Children are totally sensory beings, it’s their first language. So indeed not to give them the best of sensory language is really to deny them the opportunity to expand and to deepen their own feelings state,” said professor McLean.


Sydney Opera House steps. Image via Getty.

So after the show I can’t really tell if Charlie now has a deepened emotional state.

We meet one of the ensemble members and chat with some of the other mothers about the show.

Sydney mother Sophie and her daughter Poppy are regulars at the Babies Proms. Poppy is nearly three-years-old and tells me her favourite part was when it was sad.

“When was it sad?” asks her mother.

“In winter,” says Poppy.

So there’s a clear emotional response - she even liked the sad bit. Charlie just asks me if he can have a cookie but he’s happy.

Professor McLean says I have made an investment in my child's future by exposing him to a new musical experience.

"If you do this -  [allow your child to have varied musical experiences] - you’re giving your child a winning edge at being a socially and culturally more literate human being," she says.

He pays me back for my efforts with a long afternoon sleep.

Babies Proms: The Four Seasons is on now at Sydney Opera House. Find out more here.

Watch: ICYMI: Is parenthood bad for creativity?

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