Lullaby Project lets young parents' love sing
Rockport — An unusual partnership between musicians and young mothers proved fruitful for both when The Lullaby Project, run by Carnegie Hall, came to Maine.
Rebecca Doyle, of Rockland, who was 20 weeks pregnant when the project started in December, said it helped her connect to the baby in her womb and made the child seem more real. Her partner, Ryan Flanders, the only man who participated, agreed. He added that the experience reawakened his interested in music. “It gave me a lot of insight” into the creative process, he said.
Manuel Bagorro, artistic director of Bay Chamber Concerts, was the lynchpin in bringing the project to the Midcoast. He is also project manager of the Musical Connections program at Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, which runs the Lullaby Project. When Carnegie was looking for a few pilot sites for the Lullaby Project, he advocated bringing it here. It was also piloted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Austin (Texas) Classical Guitar Society.
The program pairs young parents, or parents-to-be, mostly mothers, with professional musicians to create a lullaby for their child and record it. The parents receive a CD of their lullaby to play for their child. It has previously been done in teen clinics at hospitals, justice settings and homeless shelters, according to the Carnegie Hall website.
Bay Chamber funded the project locally, and faculty members from its music school donated their time to work with the young parents, he said.
There were several reasons Bagorro wanted Bay Chamber to be involved with the project, which he said he hoped would be repeated here. First, it helps the organization reach out to people who would not normally come to its concerts and events, establishing its relevance in the community. Second, “Bay Chamber Concerts has a responsibility to offer positive and beneficial access to music in the broadest possible way,” Bagorro said.
In addition, the Lullaby Project offered a chance to bring musicians from the Bay Chamber Music School together with a community organization – Wayfinders School. Not only the students, but the musicians as well, benefited from the partnership, which exposed the musicians to a different kind of audience, he said.
Bagorro attended the song-writing and recording sessions and met students from Wayfinders' Passages program, which enables young parents or expectant parents to earn a high school diploma. He was impressed with the commitment of the five women and one man who took part.
The students were “in many cases really, really creative,” Bagorro said. He added that he thought the program was validating for the parents and helped them see themselves as loving.
Passages Director Martha Kempe agreed. That validation of their love and care for their children reinforced Wayfinders' aims, she said. Some of the coursework for Passages students concerns knowledge and skills needed for parenting, and the Lullaby Project combined many elements of being a good parent.
The project also meshed well with the school's efforts to tie in students' learning with what is going on in their lives, and gave them a chance to meet and work with musicians and recording-studio staff they might not have met otherwise. The school provided child care for students while they created.
The students, even one the Passages staff were not sure would engage, were excited about the opportunity to create something, and to have the product of their creativity taken seriously by professionals, Kempe said.
“I saw six students truly engaged in the creative process. … I saw all six have an inkling of what goes into creating music.”
Malcolm Brooks, who teaches composition at Bay Chamber Music School, co-led the Lullaby Project locally, along with its originator, composer Tom Cabaniss. Cabaniss came to Maine for the initial meeting, where students and musicians met and began work on their lullabies. Brooks coordinated with all the musicians involved in the project, as well as the engineers from Hearstudios, who donated their time and the use of the studio.
Other Bay Chamber Music School faculty who took part included Jessica Day, Kathryn DerMarderosian, John Mehrmann and April Reed-Cox.
Brooks and Day worked with Doyle and Flanders. They began by talking about their own childhoods, including memories of their parents and bedtime rituals, then moved to the young couple's hopes for their child. Unlike other students in the project who already were parents, they did not yet even know their child's sex, Brooks said.
The young parents wanted their baby to be resilient, confident and happy, so the group came up with lyrics like, “If you fall and skin your knees, I want you to stand up proudly.”
Doyle and Flanders' wish that their child should be obedient, but still free, led to “I want to see you eat cookies, but promise to eat your veggies.”
By listening closely to Doyle as she experimented with the melody, Day was able to capture the ornaments the mother-to-be added to the tune, Brooks said.
The couple went from shyness to feeling confident enough to sing along with Day on the recording of their song, Brooks said, adding that he enjoyed seeing the transformation. Shortly before press time, Kempe said Bagorro told her Doyle and Flanders' song will be featured in a Carnegie Hall concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on May 8.
He said the project was as exciting for the musicians as it was for the parents. Everyone was happy to have made new, homegrown music together. Although each of the musicians was intimately involved in creating one song, some of them played on multiple recordings, he said.
Brooks felt that the project enabled all the musicians and parents to bond. “There was a great sense of unity,” he said. And having some of the subjects of the lullabies – the children -- present as the songs were being created made the purpose of the work immediate, he said.
Between the initial meeting and the recording session, the musicians added arrangements to the basic melodies worked out with the parents, which were tweaked on the day of the recording session. At the third, and final, meeting, the parents each received a CD with their song, and heard all the other participants sing their lullaby to them, Brooks said.
Dakota Sprague of Warren wrote a lullaby for her 2-year-old daughter, Emma Elwell. She said at first she thought working with DerMarderosian would be boring, “but actually, it was really fun. It came out better than I had planned it to,” she said.
Emma “absolutely loved it,” her mother said, and wanted to hear it over and over.
Haileigh Ingraham of Union said she was not sure at first whether she could write a song for her year-old son, Tyeson Ingraham-Bissett. She was surprised at the variety of instruments offered as potential accompaniments for the lullabies, and the professionalism of the recording studio. She said writing the song made her feel closer to Tyeson.
Passages teacher Joy Knowlton enjoyed watching the songs come together. “It was such a natural process,” she said.
Erica Gates, another teacher, was happy to see the young parents go from uncertainty to being confident enough to sing in front of others.
“Just to see that change in confidence was huge.”
Brooks attributed the change, in part, to the students' discovery of their own creativity. He summed up the value of the process as “working together to make something that's loving and beautiful.”
The songs can be heard on the Soundcloud website available by clicking here http://tinyurl.com/kgljog8.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.