Lady Lullaby Links

Lady Lullaby Blog

Lullabies for babies, grown-ups and everyone in between!

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Birth of a Song

Some years ago I was driving through the Iowa countryside, on my way back from a trip to the big city, and I was suddenly awestruck by the beauty of the gentle rolling hills and orderly rows of crops. I saw the rich black soil giving rise to sprouts of green, and  thought, “It’s like black gold, rich and valuable. It’s Iowa Gold.”

And just like that, words and melody flowed into my head: “Iowa gold, this land is filled with wonder, precious as any rare jewel you could hold.”

I pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out my trusty Day-Timer and a pencil.
Words kept coming as if I was just taking dictation: “Precious to the life of this mighty nation, treasure our Iowa gold.” A chorus was born.

Now, how to start the song? Describe Iowa to those who don’t see much beyond their sides of the country. I’ve lived on both coasts, and when I moved to Iowa most everyone said, “Iowa? Isn’t that out there somewhere in the middle?”

“The West coast has mountains and a mighty ocean, on the East coast the world can be bought and sold, but here in the heartland each field is a treasure brimming with soil that is gold . . .”

The second verse of a song has to either move the story ahead, or provide a back story. What came to me next was a wave of gratitude for the various Native American tribes, the pioneers, the settlers, and the early farmers who were the careful custodians of this rich land.

“Generations before us united with nature, and nurtured the land that we now have and hold.”

Why is this land so important? In today’s global environment it goes beyond feeding a family or a tribe. This heartland provides stability and sustenance for much of the country and the world.

“The whole world depends on the fruits of our labors, depends on our Iowa Gold.”

Our job now is to keep this land rich, pure, and wholesome so that generations to come will be able to reap those fruits (and corn and wheat and soy and pumpkins and zucchini and green beans and tomatoes . . .)

I hope you enjoy this music video of “Iowa Gold”, created with the gorgeous photographs of Iowa landscape photographer Ken West. 

Sweet Dreams,

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Improvising Life

Stores are full of toys of all kinds, and there are zillions of children’s songs out there. Many of the toys and songs are wonderfully valuable and will help your child to have fun and grow smart. But sometimes the best toys are the ordinary things of life, and the very best songs are the ones that your own child composes for herself.

My four-year-old granddaughter slept over at my apartment last night. There is an extra big bathtub here, so it had to be explored, but because this is a temporary place I wasn’t prepared for a proper bath time with proper bath toys. Not a proper bucket or plastic boat or toy mermaid in sight.

What to do? Invade the kitchen for any less than obvious treasures---empty food containers, a strainer, wooden tongs. “I need something to go in them,” she said, bravely making the best of it. I went back for another round of exploration. An orange seemed relatively waterproof, as did an apple. Would that work?

Oh yes! A fantastic song---more of an opera—unfolded. The poison apple that Snow White ate led to the glass slipper of Cinderella, a pumpkin and a beautiful dress appeared, and a beautiful princess slept for 100 years. Mommy and Daddy and baby brother made it into the story at one point, as did Mia the cat.

The plastic containers were boats that the orange and apple rode in on their way to the ball. The strainer was a waterfall that they got to ride through. The tongs were used to capture the orange and apple when they started to run away. Thirty straight minutes of song and play (with intermission for the most bubbly shampoo in history) and not a “real” toy in sight.

Last night, at her own house, she brought new things into the bath: a strand of beads, a small mirror, and a comb. I happily take this as a sign that she understands that creativity lurks everywhere, that magic can be found in any object, and the best toy of all is one’s own limitless imagination.

Give your little one a “kitchen bath” and see what happens! At the least it will make for a very good night’s sleep for all concerned.

Sweet dreams,

Monday, April 29, 2013

Music as Medicine for Premature babies

"Historically, premature infants were thought to be best off left alone in a quiet, closed incubator with no stimulation," said Joanne Loewy, director of Beth Israel's Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine, in an interview with CBS News. "In more recent times, we're seeing that the right kind of stimulation -- particularly live, interactive music -- can enhance babies' neurological function and increase their quiet-alert state. It helps them through those tough moments...”

A new study published online in Pediatrics on April 15 has shown that lullabies and other music therapies have many benefits for premature infants, giving them a better chance at a healthy life.

Babies usually hear the mother’s heartbeat 26 million times before birth, so in this study a wooden instrument called a “Gato box” was played softly to replicate the sound and rhythm of the mother’s heartbeat. It seemed to help the babies make up for the millions of heartbeats that they were missing by being born so early, for they responded with a lowered and more stabilized heart rate.

Another instrument was the “Remo ocean disc,” imitating the watery sounds of the womb. It helped to lower the respiration rate of the babies who were struggling for normal breath and regulate the blood-oxygen levels.

And singing! The best results for wakefulness and lowering of stress were found when the parents sang quietly to their babies. The song didn’t matter---one mother sang “Eight Days A Week” and it had positive effects just like “Twinkle Twinkle.”
They were all sung as lullabies, and worked the way a lullaby works: to relax, calm, and soothe. The singing helped babies get to that “quiet alert state,” which is the best condition of the nervous system for maximum development.

This new study is just more evidence of the great power of music, starting from the beginning of our human lives. Or in this case, when the beginning was even earlier than it was supposed to be!

Here is a short New York Times video interview about the study :

Wishing everyone of all ages a good and healing night’s sleep.

Sweet Dreams,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

May there always be sunshine: The Russian "Twinkle"

The title says it all: optimism, hope for the future, and gratitude rolled into one line. 
The rest of the words of this lullaby are just as simple and profound:

May there always be sunshine
May there always be blue skies                           

May there always be mama
May there always be me

Is this an ancient folk song? Or something penned by one of the world's great poets?
No, these perfect lines were written in 1928 by four-year-old Kostya Barranikov. As Pete Seeger tells the story, Kostya drew a picture of a big sun and blue skies, and two stick figured, and this was his interpretation of the drawing. 

In 1962 it was turned into a more complete song and won first prize at an international song festival. It immediately became a hit song throughout the USSR and the rest of the world. 

It transcended politics, and was sung by young Soviets at their training camps, schools, and even in pre-schools. It became known as a song of peace, and is one of the few songs of the Soviet era to have remained popular to this day. 

In fact, Today "May There Always" is the "Twinkle Tinkle" of Russia and many other countries, and like our "Twinkle" it's one of the first songs that children learn. Musically it's ideal for this: the melody is almost all in step wise motion so it's very easy to learn and remember--the basis of a universal classic lullaby. 

Over the years, new lyrics were added and this is how I learned and recorded it:

Click here to listen to the whole song

May there always be flowers
May there always be green grass
May there always be papa
May there always be me

May there always be friendship
May there always be peace
May there always be love
May there always be me

And may you always have sweet dreams!

- Jane 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Princess For a Day

It was obviously the In Place for all princesses. Katie Holmes knew it and was there. So my forever-friend Ina and I, who had dressed up like princesses and danced in her basement long ago, took our grown-up daughters and pretended they were six again, like Suri.

The Sleeping Beauty is a timeless story and Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music has made it into one of the world’s most beloved ballets, and the New York City Ballet created a magical world of dance and fairy tale. Every one of the thousands of little and big girls in the audience felt like they were dancing too, dreaming of a prince and falling into a hundred-year sleep right along with the beautiful Princess Aurora. The whole place, main floor and all five tiers of balconies, helped the dancers by humming along to the famous waltz---even those who didn’t know that they knew the melody hummed along.

This is Sophia, who dressed for the occasion and was the object of much admiration from young to old. She watched the two hours of dancing and music mesmerized, and she will never forget the experience.

Why spend hard-earned money on something like a ballet, even in the fifth tier balcony? Because, as Sophia’s mother knew, an experience like that becomes part of who we are. The more music, dance, art, and theater we expose our children to, the more they will integrate that world of high-quality imagination and creativity.  I remember clearly the first chamber music concert my parents took me to, dressed up and fidgeting until the flutist appeared.  Pure magic came out of a little silver tube! I begged for lessons and even long after I stopped playing I kept the instrument just because I loved it.

There is a Cycle of Appreciation: if you have some musical experience you can appreciate performances more, and when you see live performances you are inspired more to enjoy or even create it yourself. I think the same thing must happen with sports---by going to high-school basketball games with my son, my four year old granddaughter has an impressive understanding of the game. I firmly believe that she will be the first ballerina princess (tutu and all) to play center on her high school team.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hunting for Mother Goose

Old Mother Goose when she wanted to wander
Would ride through the air on a very fine gander.
Jack’s mother came in and caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back flew up to the moon.

Mother Goose was hatched in France in the early 17th century, with the first book with that name appearing in 1695.  At that point it was more like fairy tales than poems, but soon a book of nursery rhymes called Mother Goose’s Melody was published in England. Ever since then Mother Goose has been associated with children’s literature.

But where has Mother Goose flown to? A study conducted by Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts found that kindergartners barely recognize the classic collection of rhymes. It’s just not being used in schools or home the way it was in past years.

Why do these old-fashioned poems matter, anyway?  According to Gari Stein, author of “The More We Get Together: Nurturing Relationships Through Music, Play, Books, and Art, ”and the Bridgewater researcher Mary E. Shorey, it does matter. For centuries now Mother Goose has been a first introduction to literature, poetry, rhyme, vocabulary, humor, and nonsense---and a literary heritage that Shorey says “links generations together.” She also found that “one of the best indicators of how well children will learn to read is their ability to recite nursery rhymes when they walk in the kindergarten!”

So what are kids learning at home instead of Mother Goose? You guessed it: songs from the big children’s TV shows. Now, I like Dora and Diego as much as anyone---I’m learning Spanish from them, and enjoy all sorts of new adventures.  The songs may be catchy--but will they survive four hundred years from now, as Humpty Dumpty has done despite his problem with balance?

So dig up your Mother Goose book from your childhood, get a copy from the library, look online for the individual poems, and enjoy sharing it with your own children. There is long-standing proof that they’ll love it.

Sweet Dreams,

p.s. If we need to accept technology, though, the Mother Goose Club does a great job of making these poems fun enough to compete with Dora:  Here’s a new version of Little Miss Muffet:

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lullaby Angel

It was the first time in years I’d actually made it to bed before 10 p.m.  It’s always a goal, but somehow it doesn’t happen. Now, however, there was strong motivation: my toddler grandson who sometimes sleeps all night and sometimes doesn’t. You don’t fool around at these times—it’s a matter of survival.

Sure enough, after a few hours of sleep, I heard the battle cry: “Bubbie, Bubbie!”  While it was, thrillingly, recognition of the bond that we had formed---he remembered to call for me instead of his out-of-town parents---I resolved to not give in. It took eight minutes for this resolve to crumble. I went in and picked him up.

We sat in the big chair in his room and I rocked and hummed a lullaby. He settled down and I slowly moved to put him back in the crib. No way. Another lullaby, more settling, another move, more refusal. After a few rounds of this I lovingly but firmly put him back in his crib to scream it out. I admitted defeat, and questioning my right to the title of Lady Lullaby, I slunk out of the room.

Just then a 23-year-old angel appeared. Her name was Veronica, and we’d signed her on just in case this happened for four nights in a row. Young parents do this many nights in a row---I did too, once upon a time---but now this grandmother becomes a useless zombie after not sleeping for a couple nights. To save us all from that fate, the angel offered to take over.

I heard soft singing and the screams gradually turned to whimpers. As I started to relax and fully appreciate being horizontal, the singing continued and the whimpering grew quieter. Songs flowed on and on, one after another, until finally there was real quiet.

In the morning I hugged the angel and asked what she was singing all that time. She didn’t remember any lullabies, she said, so she just went through all the songs she knew: from high school and college musicals she’d been part of; the hit songs of her teen-age years; church hymns and fight songs; and finally all the music from “Les Mis,” sung lullaby style.

The words didn’t matter and the tunes didn’t matter---it was the sweetness, the joy of singing, the loving feelings, and the youthful endurance that came through. This is what the lullaby instinct is all about---this is the heart of lulling a baby to sleep.

And tonight, back in my own bed, I wish his parents---and all parents---patience, endurance, and a memory full of songs of all kinds.

Sweet dreams to young and old,