When our blended family was newly blending and my daughter wasn't sure how much space to set aside in her heart for these new people, music worked as a gentle nudge. A little more, a little more.
My husband would play his favorite songs for her when they drove places, which meant no one had to talk, but neither were they stuck in stony silence.
And because his tastes tend toward older stuff ("Cloudburst" by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, "Rhode Island Is Famous for You," by Blossom Dearie), the songs were always new – and invariably hilarious – to my daughter. (Especially when my husband sang along.)
I was reminded of the power of music and the beauty of sharing it with the ones you love when I read my friend William's recent Facebook post. His fifth-grade son selected the music for a family road trip, and one of the albums he picked was a favorite of William's – the album, in fact, that William had played for his wife on their fourth date.
"I feel tremendously lucky," William wrote.
There's something so sweet, I think, about a son knowing and loving the music his parents fell in love to.
And there's something so indelible about music enjoyed together, as opposed to music enjoyed solo, through earbuds, the way we go through so much of our lives now.
On our own recent road trip, my husband and two of our kids took turns calling out songs for my daughter to track down on her phone and play for all the car to hear. (Never before have Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Ella Fitzgerald been played in such close succession.)
It passed the time and, I like to believe, nudged our already open hearts ever wider. Instead of being walled off in our own little worlds (looking at you, earbuds), we were sampling one another's.
I asked some other friends, through Facebook, to tell me stories of music shared with their families. What have you learned to love? What have you loved to learn?
"My college age son is the deejay on road trips, and I have acquired most of my musical taste and favorites from him," my friend John wrote. "He's introduced me to rap and hip-hop and the modern era of folk music, and I love it all. It's just the most joyful way to connect."
My childhood friend Jamie, whose dad used to strum his guitar and sing Cat Stevens' "Moon Shadow" to us, said her dad also used to play "Real or Fake" in the car.
"He would sing a song and we would have to decide if it was real or he made it up," she wrote. "He chose songs with silly lyrics to throw us off. I still love hearing those songs on the radio."
Saadia, a friend I met through my kids' school, said she plays a Pakistani song about butterflies on long road trips.
"I think it started when our oldest was 4 and now she's 10," she wrote. "They always remember it when it comes on, and they are peaceful listening to it. It's a way to let them connect to our culture through song and music."
Arthur, a friend I met through my husband, wrote about his family's annual tradition of listening to Buddy Holly on the long drive to and from his daughter's summer camp.
"We have a kumquat tree, and when the lyric 'Come what may, do you ever long for true love from me?' came around we'd sing/shout 'Kumquat way!' instead of 'Come what may,'" Arthur wrote. "She's graduating from UC Davis in December and she still loves Buddy Holly."
Skyler, a friend I met when I wrote about the Shakespeare program she runs, said she used to experience the Rocky Mountains with a film-worthy soundtrack.
"My dad would make mixes to put on when the mountains finally rose up above the plains," she wrote. "He'd put on movie music from westerns, 'Star Wars,' 'Dances With Wolves.' It made getting to the mountains that much more exciting."
Show tunes punctuated my friend Annie's childhood.
" 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'Newsies' and 'A Chorus Line' on repeat over and over and over again," she wrote. "I think I suffered from Stockholm Syndrome – I hated them at first, but the repetition forced me to love them. Now I sing 'Fiddler On The Roof' to Grant all of the time."
(Grant is 7 months old.)
My friend Sean used a little musical subliminal messaging on his daughters.
"On a very, very cold Sunday I took my girls to Starved Rock to see the bald eagles," he wrote. "We were the only ones in the park and saw them about 30 minutes before it got dark.
"On the drive home in twilight, through a very stark snow covered farmland expanse, I played 'I Remember,' by Deadmau5," he continued. "And to this day, they still do."
Especially, I bet, the part about them enjoying it all together.