Truth: Whatever your young child is listening to these days – be it Baby Shark or Blackpink – it will never be as good as the tunes you grew up with. The CDs we bought with our pocket money will always be better than the noisy rubbish streaming to our kids today. And because all parents believe this, we would have, at some point, tried to impress upon our younglings the cultural superiority of our favourite music.
You might’ve stealthily queued into their playlist the happy pop that is Britney Spears and Maroon 5, the wispy warbles of Radiohead and Coldplay, or even the sassy stomps by Beyonce and Rihanna… all in the hopes that they will – for the love of God – stop asking for the Kill-Me-Already Infinity Remix of ‘Let It Go’.
For me, I always knew it would be an uphill climb to get my five-year-old daughter, JJ, to enjoy the avuncular cooing of troubadour James Taylor. So my next best bet was to try a child-friendlier favourite that I grew up with: the timeless melodies from the Broadway classic, The Sound of Music.
Of course, it helped that all those catchy songs from the 1959 musical neatly threaded the feel-good storyline: A young, effervescent nun-to-be (Maria) is sent to nanny a rich widower’s brood of seven; she teaches the Von Trapp children fun songs and enlivens their motherless mansion with “the sound of music”; predictably, she falls in love and marries the brooding widower; and together, the happy family flee from nasty Nazi quislings who will not stand for such melodious felicity!
Even though the 1965 movie version was nearly three hours long, little JJ lapped it all up as if Maria was some kind of magical Disney princess (now, now, don’t give Disney any ideas). Which is also why when I asked JJ excitedly if she would be keen to watch The Sound of Music musical (!!!) staged ‘live’ (!!!) at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre (!!!), her answer was a resounding…
“So do we have to watch it on the iPad or not?”
It dawned on me quickly that watching a movie with my five-year-old in the comfort of your living room, slovenly slouched across our sofa, is quite different from going out to experience a 155-minute ‘live’ theatre performance. You won’t be able to sing along loudly while dressed in your PJs; you can’t pause for toilet or Tim Tam breaks; and you certainly can’t fast-forward the part when a teenage Liesl Von Trapp kisses her boyfriend on the lips (but she’s only 16 going on 17!).
Well, if JJ is going to be watching actors on stage pretending to be teenagers pretending to be in love and pretending to kiss (“Why, JJ, of course they’re pretending to kiss – you don’t just kiss anyone willy nilly – in fact, kissing is bad… yes, repeat after me: kissing is bad….”), then her wise, protective father had better be there to distract her with the many teachable moments that the ‘live’ performance of The Sound of Music has to offer.
Teachable moment: Learn some big words
Word #1: Flibbertigibbet; from ‘Maria’
Lyric: “How do you find a word that means Maria / A flibbertigibbet!”
Child-friendly definition: “A person who is talkative and fun!”
Say: Flee-ber-tee-jee-birt (but really quickly)
Word #2: Table d’hote; from ‘The Lonely Goatherd’
Lyric: “Men in the midst of a table d’hote heard / Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo”
Child-friendly definition: “A set meal at a restaurant.”
Say: Tah-bleu-dote (but in French)
Word #3: Roue; from ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’
Lyric: “Eager young lads and roues and cads / Will offer you food and wine”
Child-friendly definition: “A smooth-talking man you should avoid for the rest of your life.”
Say: Roo-way (rhymes with ‘go away’!)
Teachable moment: A fun music lesson
When Maria uses the song ‘Do-Re-Mi’ to teach the children singing, she’s really also conducting a music class for everyone in the audience, young and old. The entire solfege scale (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti) comes naturally to us – you can sing it even if you’ve not had any musical training. This is mainly because we’ve been exposed to endless permutations of these seven notes in all the songs we love (and even those we don’t, like ‘Let It Go’). The song is a self-contained lesson in the basics of music, and even if it doesn’t feel like it, your child is learning the relationships between musical notes and identifying the patterns that form any melody. And when she exhorts the Von Trapps to accompany her main melody (“When you know the notes to sing…”) by singing the catchy counterpoint (Do-Mi-Mi / Mi-So-So, etc), that’s just a bonus lesson in music harmony.
Teachable moment: Intermissions are important
An intermission in musical theatre splits the performance into two parts, and is usually a 20-minute break for the performers to catch their breath, and for audience members to empty their bladders. Teachable moment? There’s going to be a long queue, so either make a quick dash for the loo as soon as the intermission lights come on, or go before the show.
Bonus tip: After one hour of sitting perfectly still without Tim Tam breaks, your five-year-old might be restless and cranky. Be prepared to pay for overpriced popcorn and ice cream at the concession stands to bribe them into serene submission. It might be the best $30 you’ve ever spent.
Teachable moment: Show them the orchestra pit
The orchestra pit is literally just that: A big hole in the ground (usually right in front of the stage), where the orchestra is. The orchestra that accompanies the singers is usually not under the spotlight in musical theatre but plays such an important role in the performance. It’s important to teach children that while there are “stars” in the show, singing, dancing and wearing fancy costumes, there is also a whole machinery of less glamorous but indispensable players that make the performance possible. This might also be a good time to point out the sound and lighting controls at the back of the audience, and the folks who create the audio and visual magic of musical theatre.
Fun fact: The orchestra pit is really a moving stage that can be raised up to showcase the musicians of the orchestra, usually at the end of the performance, during the curtain call (see next).
Teachable moment: Curtain call – applaud or pee
At the end of the show, the entire cast returns to the stage to take in the applause. This goes on for quite some time as the cast members reappear in groups based on their “star status”. Meanwhile, the orchestra continues to play, usually one of the main musical themes of the show. Guide your child to clap in time with the orchestra and there you would’ve ended the night with a complete music lesson of melody, harmony and rhythm!
Alternatively, leave now before the toilet queues build up again!
Ray Goh, the editorial director of The Singapore Women’s Weekly, is 49 going on 50, and doing his best to learn the Do-Re-Mi’s of parenting for the sake of his five-year-old daughter. His past life as a musician certainly guided his teachable moments.
The Sound of Music runs till December 18, 2022, at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre. More info and ticketing details available here.