For months Lijah was just in love with brass band music, and specifically the more uptempo tunes of the Youngblood Brass Band. Not so much lately, but when he was between six and twelve months all I needed to do was turn on "Brooklyn" and, no matter how much he had been fussing, he'd just relax into my shoulder and be asleep before the song was done. In the car it was "Pastime Paradise", which was also a favorite of the other two boys; sometimes we'd even start it before we tried to get him into his seat, since that sweet sousaphone beat made the buckling-up so much easier.
Why was that? Did he really like the songs so much they eclipsed all his other concerns and annoyances? Maybe, but I have a theory that there's something else involved—namely, that pre-verbal babies have a preternatural perception of body language. When they're freaking out it stresses their parents, and when the parents are stressed it adds to the baby's stress and makes it still harder for him to calm down. When you find something your baby likes it short-circuits that negative feedback loop. It was YBB for Lijah; for other babes the magic might be from being rocked a certain way, or hearing mama singing a particular song. But the important thing is that, having launched into the guaranteed-good calming process, the parent can feel like everything is under control and relax. Self-fulfilling prophecy, it works.
With the third kid I've come to the opinion that, for me at least, recorded music is the way to go. While I have plenty of philosophical reasons to prefer singing—and I sang a lot to Harvey—there's a problem with having to produce the magic yourself. Sometimes I'm too tired for good vocal production! With the right song cued up on my phone all I need to do is fumble it out of my pocked and push the button; poof, instant calm.
Now that Lijah's more of a rational being, the magic of "Brookyln" is diminished some. Once he started being able to think, "Oh hey wait, this is the sleepy song—must resist!", the system started to break down. Of course, he still loves music, and it's always easier to calm him when I have something playing. Now that I think about it, it's a fair trade-off: it takes two or three songs instead of half of one to get him to sleep, but I don't have that one driven so deeply into my brain that it rises every moment when I'm not thinking of something else. It's nice to hear a variety of tunes. And even when Lijah doesn't need the music, I've decided that I do. If I'm going to be rocking with him for who-knows-how-long since his nose is so stuffy he can't breathe lying down, I want something to mark the passage of time and keep me sane. I've spent nights up with him listening to the entirety of Counting Crows' first album and half of This Desert Life, and they're totally bearable; so much better than would be an hour and a half marked only by sniffing and the ticking of our three downstairs clocks.
So, future parents, I recommend recorded music. Sometimes it's magic, and even when it's not it helps a lot. Plus I have high hopes for these boys' musical sensibility as they mature; they've listened to a lot of good tunes!