Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Lullaby Sound

My definition of lullaby presupposes a woman's voice, though I will allow for poetic license in lines such as "The rain made a lullaby sound on the roof," which phrase I'm pretty sure stuck in my mind from reading The Maggie B. a hundred times. But some people must think a lullaby is anything boring enough to make a child flee in desperation to the Land of Nod. That is my conclusion after listening to a recording titled "Lullabies" in the car today.

Before I set off this morning for a long drive, I rummaged through the box of CD's temporarily in storage during the remodel, and spied two collections of such songs, which made me think, "Why not brush up on your lullaby repertoire?" So I brought them along, and as I was listening to the Lifescapes CD I realized that it was for the first time.

When I had babies in the house, I never thought of playing a recording for them at bedtime. When I borrowed LP's from the library or bought lullaby songbooks it was so that I might discover a new soothing melody to croon myself. For years B. and I would sit on the children's beds or on the floor at night and sing to them for a long time as they drifted off.

I did know a grandma, long before I was a grandma myself, who played recorded music for her grandchildren in their beds when they came to visit, but at least it was of a woman singing sweetly--if maybe a little too sweetly for my taste. One young mother filled me with dismay, and pity for her children's impressionable souls, when she complained that she couldn't get her kids to settle down unless she played the "Christian rock" radio station at nap time.

My own children had their father and me to sing to them, or they had silence, or in the case of one baby, she got to the point where she groused at me when I stood by her crib singing, and when I gave up and left the room, she contentedly babbled herself to sleep.

Some favorite bedtime songs that come to mind, of the family collection, were: the Italian "Nina, Nana, Cocolo Della Mama," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "All the Pretty Little Horses," "Summertime," "Hush, Little Baby, Don't Say a Word," and many Psalms that had been put to folksy tunes by Jesus People. "Trot Along, My Little Pony" was a huge favorite. My most recent acquisition is "A La Na Nita Nana," which may actually be a Christmas song, but I think babies don't mind.

I didn't pick up any new ideas from the Lifescapes anthology. There were many traditional lullabies that I already knew, but bereft of any lyrics, and with minimalist and s-l-o-w string renditions even on "Dance to Your Daddy." I hit the skip button many times because I couldn't stand the dragging sensation, kind of like being tranquilized by annoyingly tasteless sweets.

The last fifteen minutes of the CD is pretty much equally divided among non-tunes. Not rain-on-the-roof, but "Running Water," "Womb," and "Heartbeat." Running water I didn't think was a good idea. It immediately made me think of the bathtub overflowing, and I wondered how was a child eventually to learn to be alarmed at the sound of water trickling in a house? Womb sounds were not so boring, but reminded me of a recording of humpback whales we once had, and whose songs I found more lovely. "Heartbeat" was, of course, tedious to an old woman, whereas it might be comforting to an infant. Perhaps the producers put five minutes of an adult-speed beating heart at the very end, thinking that if nothing else had lulled the baby to sleep after the first tiresome hour, that fundamental lub-dub might do the trick.

It's likely that these sounds would calm a child, especially if the same recording were played every night. That could be true, though, of many sounds coming from a machine. It seems right to give my children what I myself like and what seems most wholesome. In a real live human voice you can be embraced and loved even after you are in your cradle. If the babies could tell us, I think that is what they would say.

4 comments:

Marfa said...

I agree that a human voice, lullaby would be better than a recording. When my girls were very young, I used to turn on a cassette player with lullabies and leave the room, it was better, because they had difficulty going to sleep with ME around (thinking about nursing or more interested in watching me, instead of sleeping)! If I did stay and sing or rock them to sleep, they would watch me...and I realized I had to close my eyes, pretend I was going to sleep too!

GretchenJoanna said...

Marfa, you remind me that I did the same thing, in the middle of the night especially: *try* to be as boring as possible so as not to give the impression that nighttime was for fun with Mama! I kept my eyes shut also and wouldn't make a peep.

Kari of Writing Up A Storm said...

The thought of you singing lullabies to your children completely enchants me! I grew up in a home without music. No singing, no musical instruments of any kind, no radio, no record players, no TV. Of course, I didn't miss music because I didn't know about it. My mother read to us every night, and as soon as we could read, we were allowed to read in bed until we got sleepy and turned the lights out ourselves. But now, looking back, I can imagine how wonderful the sound of a lullaby must be to a baby or a child. I love the word "lullaby" and often use it when I write to refer to a sound that is not only soft but also deep and deep-hearted, the kind of sound that comes with a loving heartbeat, I guess! xo Kari

Jeannette said...

All the pretty little horses...I think I might hum that one tonight as I fall asleep... pintos and bays, dapples and grays...all the pretty little horses.

sweet post...