By Deenaz Raisinghani
Music knows no language and boundaries and is, therefore, one of the best therapies for a child. I remember using music with headphones on my belly when I was expecting my daughter, with the same track every night. Call it coincidence but that particular track is one of her favourite pieces of music now. Exposing your child to different kinds of music, be it genre wise or just instrumental pieces is a great way to develop a keen ear for sound. One of the easiest ways to introduce all of their senses to music is to take them to a music festival when they are young. Here, I will help you with all you need to keep in mind while exposing your child to music festivals/concerts so you can start early:
As an adult, we may have attended a huge number of concerts in different places and would have seen people going as close to the speakers and stage as possible to really feel the music and interact with the performer. While this is a lot of fun, exposing your young child to blaring levels of music from speakers can be harmful to their eardrums, specifically the cochlea. It is also unwise to expose them to strobing lights that music stages often use during performances as this can trigger seizures in some kids. A lot of parents see no harm in dancing with their babies on their shoulders with extremely loud music next to the speakers but that may be harmful to the kid after all. A live concert usually has a decibel level of 90-100 dB (often going upwards) while a regular human conversation is only 40-60dB; it is up to us to do the math and make a judgment. A better option would be to opt for acoustic concerts, where the music is not relayed using amplifiers. This makes the concerts more intimate and there is no potential damage to the kids’ eardrums.
We attended the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) last year, and the entire festival had primarily acoustic sound. Although the crowd was huge, and the performances were on stage, no one really had to strain to listen to each other as the sound was not blaring from the speakers. Our daughter listened to Portuguese guitar, Rajasthani folk, Indian classical, Spanish vocals, African beats and other world music over the course of two days. She enjoyed this festival because of the quality of sound and variety of performances. This festival happens in Jodhpur in the month of October every year.
While this is not guaranteed at an adults only music fest, a lot of festivals that allow kids these days have a couple of booths that have some kid-friendly activities such as hoola hoop stalls, prop photo booths, or even dedicated kiddie games, so it may be a good idea to read up before planning for it. Festivals that have music concerts as part of the entire celebration also have lots of other zones to visit that kids may enjoy. Like I have pointed out before, do not shy away from exposing your child to different genres of music like folk fusion, classical, western, contemporary and world music. The child may actually listen in rapt attention and develop a liking for that particular kind of instrument or music instead of regular Bollywood numbers most of the time.
If there is a music concert or festival with amplified sound that you would love to attend with your kids, remember to invest in good quality ear plugs/earmuffs for your children (maybe yourself as well). These earmuffs will protect your kids from extremely amplified sound at concerts and will make sure they don’t damage their hearing while they are there. Music festivals that are about a day or two longer consist of a huge lineup of performances at a significantly higher level of sound. Listening to these levels of sound for more than a few hours at a stretch may cause considerable damage to your ears in the form of temporary loss of hearing or ringing in the ears (also called tinnitus). Always protect your child from chances of such damage with certified ear muffs and test them yourself first.
I travelled to Bengaluru with my daughter for the NH7 Weekender Music Festival (happens annually) when she was nine months old, and I made sure she was well-protected with earmuffs all through the concert. Although she could hear and see everything that was going on, the levels entering her ears was safe for kids and she did not show any signs of discomfort due to amplified sound. I also made sure we did not watch the concerts in the late evening to avoid the strobing lights in the darkness and listened to all the performances during the day itself. I think I may have found a serious music lover in her since that first introduction to a music festival.
This has helped us a great deal when we wanted to look at the map quickly to find a toilet or locate the exit. Festivals usually happen in huge areas, are jam-packed with people and have multiple areas for different things, including the music stages. Locating the toilet or a food stall in this area may feel very overwhelming especially with a kid, but reading the route map may help you align yourself in a particular direction. Taking the kids to the toilet (please use disposable toilet covers in public toilets) right after you enter the venue will make sure you have some time to enjoy the festival without interruption. Also, check out the exit area before the concert completely ends and try and walk out a little earlier with your kids so you do not get stuck in a sea of people and also at the car parking with a couple of cranky kids. Making your kids aware of the entry and exit points and the festival staff will help in case of a safety situation. Tell them to find a festival staffer (usually wearing the same colour jackets) carrying a walkie-talkie in case they lose you in the crowd. You can also show them one particular booth that they can wait at in case nothing works until you reach them.
No matter how old your kid, there will be a demand that seems to come from them at the unlikeliest of places. For us, this happens right after we get into the car, flight or train and we have now made a list of all predictable demands coming from her. We usually carry some on the go snacks (fruits, trail mixes, biscuits, sandwiches) and drinks, a set of clothes, sunscreen, flip-flops, disposable bags and a small toy along with us in a common backpack when we enter the festival venue and almost all the time, the security gates have let us in after they check the stuff for the kid. Do not enter with them feeling hungry and expect that you will feed them something at the venue, as the rush may be too much to get into right away or the food options may be too spicy for them.
When we recently attended the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, we were welcomed by a swarm of food stalls and too many options to choose from. The stalls were also located at a distance from the festival arena so we had to walk up and down the hilly area each time we wanted to eat something. Thankfully, we had carried some snacks with us that helped our daughter stay in one place while we watched the initial performances without her asking for food. The Hornbill Festival happens in Nagaland annually in the month of December.
Most music festivals are organised in an open area, where there is usually ample space to perch yourselves while enjoying the music from a distance. A good idea would be to carry a small waterproof rug/mat that you can all fit into, and probably lie down for a bit. You can also carry a foldable umbrella for the kids if it will be too sunny and a stroller with sun shade if you have an infant along. Let the kids rest and even take a nap if they want to while the music is going on. If you are going to be camping at the fest (such as the Ziro Music Festival in Arunachal Pradesh or Rajasthan in Jaisalmer), you may want to carry a spare sleeping bag and a small camping essentials kit along even if the organisers are arranging the tent for you. Setting up a comfort zone helps your kids relax amid the huge crowd and will also help you bond together during the fest.
I hope these pointers help you plan your next music festival holiday with kids. An ear for good music is the best gift you can give your children so please plan away. Happy listening, folks!
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)