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.
Of 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 of 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.
Experience 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:
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.”