Music is the universal language. It excites, inspires, calms, and motivates. It soothes the savage beast. And evidently, horses love their tunes, too. The barns on our farm are filled with the sounds of music 24/7. Country music, specifically. The horses don’t know the words to the songs (that’s why they just hum along), but are soothed and inspired, nonetheless, by the rhythms and beats. Studies have actually been done on the effects of certain kinds of music on horses’ mood and behavior. Horses in equine science clinical trials were exposed to various genres of music, to different effects. Rap music made them antsy and anxious, resulting in erratic eating habits and pacing. Rock music made them uneasy as well. But, interestingly, both classical and country music had similar effects. Both genres calmed, soothed and encouraged eating, while at the same time, masking the sounds of tractors and other farm equipment outside the barns that may agitate the horses.
I love the idea of playing music to calm and encourage eating, resting, chilling, maturation and growth. If I could go back in time, I would use that philosophy while raising my three daughters years ago. While I didn’t have music playing 24/7 (but almost) I did try to be mindful of the messages my music choices were sending to them. The stakes were high to influence them to be smart, strong, capable, empathetic women.
Looking back now, if I were curating a list of music to be raised by, it might include the following:
Linda Ronstadt: I love, love, loved Linda when I was an adolescent. My sister always said Linda sang “music to kill yourself by,” but I’m a sucker for a good torch song, a tearjerker. More to the point, Linda was a beautiful young woman with a huge voice who could sing any old damn thing she wanted: operetta (“Pirates of Penzance”), big band swing (“What’s New,” “For Sentimental Reasons”), Mexican, (“Canciones de me Padre”), country, and of course, rock. Some of my favorites were: “Simple Dreams,” “Blue Bayou,” “It’s So Easy,” “Tracks of My Tears.” Linda would teach how to reach, stretch, explore, not be pigeon holed, and sing out loud.
Dolly Parton: Years ago, my husband and I simultaneously heard Dolly interviewed on NPR about her then new album, Little Sparrow. We both walked in the door that evening, breathlessly saying, “We’ve got to get that album.” And we did. We played it a lot on daytime family road trips. It was full of lessons for young women: beware the stranger, (“Little Sparrow,” “Mountain Angel,” “Down from Dover”) the joys of love found, (“I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” “I Get a Kick Out of You”). Dolly’s voice is so sincere, sweet, pained and also joyful and playful. Dolly would show that you live through the hard stuff, and sometimes make beauty out of it.
Dixie Chicks: My country music-loving sister-in-law introduced me to one their music at a concert on their Wide Open Spaces tour. I was blown away and quickly introduced them to my girls. That album became our road trip soundtrack for many years. And the song “I’ll Take Care of You” was my own personal love story to each of my daughters during the trials and tribulations of middle school. The song “Wide Open Spaces” taught my girls that the world was theirs. It’s an anthem to girl power, growing up and staking your claim on life. I loved it then, but as they actually do just that, grow up and move far away, it’s bitter sweet. I want to say to them now, “Don’t forget about me when I have chin hairs, need help clipping my toenails and fluffing that patch of hair on the back of my head!” Is there a song for that? Dixie Chicks would share the virtues of being a girl group: we are stronger together and have way more fun that way.
Taylor Swift: Yes, T Swizzle. I love her and I don’t care who knows it. She was and is a role model for young women making it on their own terms, turning personal pain into art and outing douchebag boyfriends. She’s a so-so singer, but a great lyricist and she taught my girls important lessons. Haters gonna hate (“Shake It Off”), you can live through bad choices (“I Knew You Were Trouble”), revel in romance (“Love Story”) and, my personal favorite, which my youngest daughter sang in her senior year choral concert and dedicated to me, “Best Day” (I cannot make it through that song without snot crying). Taylor Swift would show how to keep learning and evolving, keep trying, and stay classy.
India Arie: The song “Video.” I love her for making that song. “I’m not the kind of girl from a video. My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes … My teeth, my eyes, my lips, my thighs. I’m loving what I see.” Amen. God doesn’t make mistakes. I played that song for my girls a lot when they were in middle school, subliminally telling them, “You are a beautiful creature and my treasured girl. Be nice to yourself.” India Arie would send messages about positive body image and celebrating oneself.
Bonnie Riatt: Another gal who can really wring out a good torch song: “Too Soon to Tell,” “Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again.” But, she also sings joyously and rocks, as in “The Road is My Middle Name.” Bonnie would show how a woman can age gracefully, but also kick ass.
Joni Mitchell: Ah, Joni. My girls and I love her. She’s full of wisdom, naiveté, heartache, and beauty. Yes, I would play the entire Court & Spark album on repeat. Joni would model how to sing through the laughter and the tears of life.
Barbara Streisand: Old school, Babs, not the screamy stuff from the late 80’s. Again, she was amazing with the torch songs, jazz standards and quirky forgotten melodies: “My Man,” “Why Did I Choose You,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Babs always rocked her non-movie star nose with pride (I’m sure its size help create the gorgeous resonance of her tone). And those nails … like butta. Babs would demonstrate how to not only sing out loud and proud but also, to be comfortable with one’s imperfections.
My child rearing playlist wouldn’t all be mushy songs, though. It would include the entire Jagged Little Pill album by Alannis Morrisette because she’s a survivor. The entire M!sunduzstood album by Pink because she lives with self doubt, but still succeeds (granted, I did have to turn down the music at just the right second in order to bleep bad words in both those albums). I love a dance song that gets me moving, setting off endorphins, so I would include: “I Like Big Butts” by Sir Mixalot ; “Use Me Up,”by Bill Withers and “Superstition”by Stevie Wonder because strong bass funk is grounding for the soul; “Stronger” by Kanye West, because, “that that don’t kill me makes me stronger”; “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul because it’s a great beat and also is a good message of “Don’t waste my time. Shit or get off the pot”; “Faith” by George Michael, because it discourages sex without love. And recently, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake (or any of his dance music) for the unbridled joy of dancing like no one is watching. Oh, and “Twisting by the Pool” by the Dire Straits.
I could go on and on. I haven’t even touched on the importance of show tunes from, among others, Hamilton, West Side Story, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Legally Blonde…. Stage and movie musicals on my playlist would feed the imagination, transport listeners to anywhere in the world, and tell them it’s okay to be quirky, screwy and not too cool.
With all of Life’s outside noise these days – politics, news, disasters, politics, politics, politics – I am more and more inclined to follow the lead of our equine friends, turn off the talk radio and crank up the music, if only for while. Who doesn’t need a little help soothing the soul, encouraging relaxation, eating and digestion? I know I do.
Find these songs and more on Spotify, here: https://open.spotify.com/user/mcsullivan3/playlist/15rVOWd4J22wQ0czNvSFsg?si=2Gxh8T4VRFKSBXkjhOU42g