University City

Southern accent: Katy Perry, Emily Dickinson compete for memory space

Ever since my 6-year-old discovered she could create a Katy Perry station on Pandora, the musical atmosphere of our house has changed dramatically.

I prefer to play classical music most of the time. Not that I don’t like other kinds of music, but I wanted to make sure my kids are familiar with, and used to hearing, Bach and Beethoven.

I purchased an album called “Beethoven’s Wig” that adds funny lyrics to famous classics. Imagine those first few dramatic notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. Now, add “Bee-tho-ven’s wig (da-da-da-DUM!) is ve-ry big.”

Silly, yes, but not as silly as “California Gurls.”

Part of my educational philosophy is that atmosphere is crucial. What we read, watch and listen to will become the gallery of our minds.

It’s why I won’t watch “Walking Dead” with my husband. It’s also why I insist that my children learn things by heart: times tables, piano pieces, poetry.

When my older son was in first grade, and before my daughter started school, I worked diligently with him on poetry memorization. Win learned several nursery rhymes, a few serious poems by Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes, and the entirety of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

It was actually pretty cute. Win paces when he’s excited, on the phone or trying to commit something to memory. When he was learning to count to 100, he’d do laps around the downstairs until he reached his goal. With poetry, he walked a mile before he got to “And to all a good-night!”

If I send him out back and charge him with the task of learning “The Odyssey,” he’ll have us a pool dug by next summer.

As I said, Win learned those poems in first grade. This past year, when Mia started school and her younger brother was in the “terrific 2s” stage, poetry just didn’t happen.

Enter Katy Perry. Now, instead of pacing the floor while reciting “If,” my kids are dancing on the couch to “Teenage Dream.” Oh, yes, we real cool.

So what’s wrong with that? I spent my own childhood learning Madonna and Michael Jackson lyrics. But because I was unfamiliar with the cadences of good poetry and the complexity of classical music, my mental gallery wasn’t equipped for later studies. Learning was always hard work.

It’s not that I’m snooty or some sort of taskmaster. But I understand that what we learn as kids will always be with us. The more you learn by heart when you’re young, the easier it is to learn new things when you’re older.

It’s why I know all the lyrics to “Borderline” and “Like a Virgin,” but memorizing a few lines of Shakespeare is much tougher for me.

Memory work has been called the “children’s art.” I suppose I’m trying to make sure that my children’s mental gallery isn’t all Andy Warhol.

So next year, we’re back to poetry. I ordered a new program with 72 poems on CD and in print, with a progress chart. I even downloaded a poetry memorization app. It’s right there on my iPhone, next to Pandora.

My efforts may prove fruitless. Even Katy Perry grew up listening to gospel. But, to quote Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Hope, and the cover art for “Dark Horse.”

And don’t tell my kids, but I actually like Katy Perry.