Bringing up baby on country music

Educational video provides a twangy alternative to classical music

April 06, 2003|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

Here's the latest sign of how deeply country music has penetrated the nation's psyche: You can now raise your infant on it.

Like the "Baby Einstein" series of children's videos featuring simple images set to the sound of classical music, there's a new video on the block that does much the same thing but sounds less Richard Wagner and more Porter Wagoner.

It's called "Country Baby!" and it's the creation of Jeff Jacobsen, a 34-year-old Pikesville native, who was inspired by his 15-month-old daughter, Sophie.

"I have an eclectic taste and I was interested in exposing my child to all kinds of music," says Jacobsen. "The more I looked around for variety, the less I found."

Baby videos and CDs have become all the rage since the early '90s when research suggested a "Mozart effect" -- that certain types of reasoning skills improved when young children listened to classical music. The findings were controversial, and subsequent studies have disputed that conclusion.

Some recent research has suggested the developmental benefits of music are not necessarily restricted to classical music (or even to listening since playing musical instruments also seems to have similar value for youngsters, according to one Harvard University study).

Jacobsen says he believes in the educational benefits of a music video, and he's tried to make "Country Baby!" an interactive experience for a parent and child. The videos show images of toddlers playing and laughing. There are stuffed animals and motion, sequences of colors and expressive language.

The intent is for a parent to point to images on the screen and to encourage a child as young as 4 months old to respond.

"We didn't want to just re-create 'Baby Einstein' country style," says Jacobsen, who previously worked for the Lutherville company that handles Cal Ripken's business ventures. "There are a number of educational elements."

The music is a gentle country interpretation of a half-dozen nursery standards like "Old MacDonald" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." There's a familiar twang on the guitar, but it sounds more Garth Brooks or Dixie Chicks than hardcore country.

The video faces an uphill battle in a crowded marketplace. His 10-month-old company, MoPo Home Entertainment, is a two-person operation compared with Disney-owned "Baby Einstein." A distant cousin, Michelle Stiller, 28, is in charge of sales and marketing. She's an Owings Mills native who formerly ran Modern Bride Maryland magazine.

"My mother kept telling me I should call this boy Jeffrey who was really talented and in this new business, and here I am," says Stiller.

It seems unlikely that two people from Baltimore could have wound up in New York selling country music to infants, but they believe in their product. Sales of the $14.98 DVD and VHS recordings have been respectable since their release several months ago, they say, and have done particularly well in areas where grown-ups listen to country music, too.

"Country music fans seem to love it," says Jacobsen, who is currently working on a baby video that will feature many different styles of music. "They feel it's their kind of music -- something they want to their children to hear."

Debbie Wurzburger, owner of the Toy Chest toy stores in Pikesville, says her customers have had a positive reaction, too. She recently sold out of "Country Baby!" and plans to order more.

"They blew out the door," says Wurzburger. "It's very sweet. I sat down and watched it at 11 o'clock at night and it was very soothing. And very cute."

'Country Baby!'

What: An educational video for infants and toddlers with a countrified soundtrack.

Length: 30 minutes

From: MoPo Home Entertainment

Ages: 4 months to 3 years

Price: $14.98

Available at Amazon.com, www.countrybabyvideo.com, Babies R Us stores and the Toy Chest in Pikesville.

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