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Lady Lullaby Blog

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

A House of Music

Last week I met a young woman who grew up in a house that has a drum kit in the living room. It also has a keyboard in the living room. And a piano. And three guitars and a banjo.

Guess what she plays? All of them, constantly and enthusiastically. She and her musical sister have started an all-volunteer run music venue — The Beauty Shop — in our hometown, a place where any young musician can come and play, collaborate, take lessons, hang out, and enjoy easy access to the creative process.

This is a picture of my new living room. Your job is to imagine the grand piano in it, which, when I find the right one, will take up the whole thing.

Though my friends raise their eyebrows at this plan, it feels right to me because, as a child, I thought that having a piano in the dining room instead of a dining room table was perfectly normal. After all, we can (and do) eat anywhere but you can’t stick a grand piano just anywhere.

What does this have to do with you and your babies?

Access. Priorities. Access. Encouragement. Access.

Even if you don’t play an instrument yourself, I encourage you to have instruments around — real instruments or toy instruments — for your child to hear, touch, play, enjoy. Have something right there, in the way, that can create magical sounds when touched, struck, or plucked.

The brain loves to hear music, and grows stronger from it, but it loves making music even more. When engaged in the process of creating music, our brains comes the closest to what scientists call “whole brain functioning” — many parts of the brain talking to each other in the same language. And this is a very good thing.

It doesn’t have to be a Steinway. It just has to provide access to making sounds, and eventually those sounds will — I promise — turn into music.

Sweet Dreams,
Friday, August 5, 2011

The Real Story of The Pretty Horses

Lullabies are for loving and for kvetching in small and big ways. To continue on the theme of last week, today we look at the story behind the song—in this case one of the most popular of our American lullabies.

“All The Pretty Little Horses” is from the African-American tradition. I loved singing this song when my kids were babies, but never thought about where it came from or what it meant. I couldn’t quite figure out how the horses and the butterflies fit together, but it was pretty and it worked to put the kids to sleep.

Like all traditional lullabies, there are many different versions. But most of them that are sung today have been softened from the hard truth of the original story: that African women slaves had to leave their babies alone to take care of the master’s baby instead. In the original version the woman is singing to that baby:

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, go to sleepy little baby
When you wake you will have all the pretty little horses
Dapples and greys, pintos and bays
All the pretty little horses

Way down yonder, down in the meadow
Sweet little baby crying “mama”
The birds and the butterflies peckin’ at his eyes
Sweet little baby crying “mama.”

All right, that explains the horses—that rich baby would grow up to own all those pintos and bays. In the sanitized version I learned, the last two lines are more charming:

The birds and the butterflies flutter all around his eyes,
Sweet little baby crying “mama.”

Although it’s a sad story, keep singing this song. Lullabies relay history that we shouldn’t ignore or forget. But sing it in a sweet and loving way, because no matter what the words say or what the real story is, at lullaby time the main message you want to convey to your baby is love.

Sweet Dreams,

Here is the legendary folksinger Odetta singing the real story:

Listen to "All The Pretty Little Horses":