Baby-Hymn-Singing

by Dr. Britta Martini

In Denmark, so-called Baby-Hymn-Singing has become a common practice in many congregations. The brand name Baby-Hymn-Singing truly is a brand name, for it has a recurring, recognizable pattern.

Baby 4Of course Baby-Hymn-Singing does not mean that unborns and infants sing hymns, but rather that hymns and songs are sung with them. In Danish it’s called Babysalmesång – not because one sings psalms, or sings psalm verses to psalm tones, but because in Danish “salme” means “hymn” or “song.”

In many Danish parishes, pregnant women and mothers with their newborns meet once a week over a period of two to three months in the church, in the sanctuary. Led by trained cantors and accompanied by organ, the parents sing an unchanging program Baby 6of old and new hymns and songs. The babies, still in the womb or in their mothers’ arms, hear the voices of their parents, take in the acoustic of the church space, and hear the pipe organ – a piece of organ music belongs to the standardized program. The babies feel the music bodily when their parents move rhythmically, or even dance, while singing and listening.

The parents, or other related individuals who come with the newborns to Baby-Hymn-Singing, learn the texts and melodies of hymns and songs during these weeks, and also sing them to their babies at home.

Baby 2Experience shows, it was reported to me, that infants accustomed to such singing are much quieter at their baptism in the very same church space. They already know the sound of singing voices and the pipe organ in the church space; all this is familiar to them and is good for them. Then as the babies become little children, during liturgies they want to run closer to the organ. Congregational singing and the sound of the organ belong to their earliest and most enduring experiences.

The author took this report, with small revisions, from her piece in Forum Kirchenmusik, 2/2013. She also has the following materials to share from her contacts in Denmark:

Download (PDF, 99KB)

 

Dr. Britta Martini, PhD (b. 1952) has studied German, political science, pedagogy, and church music; she is widely published and has worked as a congregational musican and a professor of church music in the Lutheran church in Germany. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Leipzig was on “Language and Reception of the Congregational Hymn.”

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2 comments

  1. When my mother was carrying me, she would place a radio loudspeaker tuned to the BBC classical music station in close proximity to her abdomen for hours every day. She believed that in this way she would form the hearing patterns and tastes of the unborn infant. Apparently she was not alone in doing this.

    The wife of one of our cathedral choir members brings her child not only to Mass but to choir rehearsals each week. The child already started to “sing” and to show an interest in playing the organ (not only “playing” the three manuals but also pressing down pedal keys) well before the age of 1. He is 13 months old now and will clearly become a church musician himself! His father is not only a bass in the choir but one of the deputy organists, a bassoonist, and a military band conductor.

  2. Studies have shown that amniotic fluid can amplify certain frequencies. While this isn’t a problem for most people and is probably only a concern if you are exposed to loud volume for extended periods of time, it is something to be aware of. Soft sounds are great and singing of this type can be wonderful during pregnancy. Newborns will often calm down upon hearing their father’s voice or other familiar sounds they were exposed to during pregnancy. Definitely worth trying!

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