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By HANNA BROADBRIDGE
What does a baby in the womb sense, hear or absorb? Mothers have shared many responses that their baby who listened to a certain piece of music in the womb, after birth reacted to it and often calmed down when it was played.
One mother said to me that she had many times while pregnant played Albinoni’s Adagio, as it gave her peace of mind and a relaxed feeling in her body. When her little girl had reached a speaking stage and they still every now and then listened to the Adagio, the girl reacted as if she knew what it was, and one day she asked her mother why she had a funny feeling in her body, or as she put it, in her ’tummy’ when the music was played? The mother was surprised and said that she has played it many times when the baby was in her mommy’s tummy.
Virtually every church in Denmark now has a baby hymn-singing group of about 10-12 mothers and babies, and many churches have waiting lists or need to organize parallel groups to satisfy the demand. The churches are very willing to do what they can to accommodate these (mainly) mothers’ wishes and thus provide a very low threshold for young mothers to come to church.
Each of the 10 sessions takes about an hour plus 30 min for a chat over coffee and a biscuit or a bit of fruit. It takes place in the church in front of the altar where soft blankets have been placed and where, strange as it may sound, even the babies seem to have a sense of sanctity, of sacredness of the place. The babies are usually between age 3 and 10 months. When they come the first time, they are a bit unruly or unsure of what is going on. The next week they feel at ease and are noticeably happy and show clear signs of enjoyment. Of course the mums sense that happiness too, and they share these special moments not only with their own baby, but also with their friends.
What happens is that the leader, male or female, usually a person with some musical background, often the organist, but it may also be a musician, leads the singing of simple traditional hymns from the Sunday services and lullabies, while the mothers rock or dance the babies and sing along. The leader may use some simple rhythmic instruments to support the musical impact. Thus the treasure from the Danish church tradition is sung into the small children and makes them familiar with the sounds and rhythms of the church and thus sensitivizes the children and develops their sensory motoric abilities.
It is the brainchild of Inge Marstal, professor emerita of Music Pedagogy, and Pastor Helene Dam, both from Copenhagen, who in 2002 had a conference on the impact and value of music for very young children. The ideas were tried in Copenhagen churches the following year and spread like wildfire to churches all over Denmark. It is probably the biggest success of Danish church life since the Second World War where the church reaches and welcomes a completely new group of people who have the time available, as the mothers are still on maternity leave, and enjoy belonging to group of mothers in the same situation, and thus they build networks that seem to become lasting and worthwhile.
In the preparation talks before baptism pastors will often recommend to the young couple baby hymn singing as a way of strengthening the child’s sense of belonging to the church and aiding and supporting its growth into faith through activities suited to the age group.
Books have been published with ideas for this and with a description of the theory and practice, and with a selection of the hymns recorded both on a CD and a DVD. Some of the Danish books are also aimed at the mothers continuing the activity at home.
What is now being demanded by these groups of young mothers is a follow up for toddlers. So church musicians are working on developing courses for that age group with a strong emphasis on rhythm and dance movement, and more listening exercises as well as singing. However, this is not quite as easy to set up, as by now most mothers are back at work, and time becomes a problem of priority. But some churches have found ways of coping with that, often by placing the activity on Saturdays.
Let Dorthe, mother of 7-month old Anna, have the last word: ”My little girl and I couldn’t be without hymn singing. It goes straight to the heart when I look at her and see that she is one big smile because it is just so fantastic to be sung to, to be danced with, and to prick soap bubbles and to reach out for the hand dolls that also bring such enjoyment. It is also good to see how she is completely absorbed in the good morning song, in the small stories that are told, and not least, how she shows a special kind of peace and serenity when we sing goodbye. No doubt we shall miss hymn-singing in the future.”
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