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Laurie Niles

Lullabies and children

April 24, 2008 at 10:03 PM

I just made a CD for my niece Madeline, my sister's first child, born just over a month ago. It's all lullabies and meditations.

I've been meaning to record myself playing, for a long time. I'd wanted to get some show-offy piece all perfected, so I'd have a little something to put next to my name on all these crazy websites to show that I do indeed have chops. I still may do that. But these days, I'm inspired by other things.

Like lullabies and children.

For all the mad technique we work to master over a lifetime – the spiccato, the sautille, the tenths, the runs in single and double stops, the trills and decorations – the music people want to hear is rather simple. The church hymn, played beautifully. The folk tune, the Christmas song, the song from the musical, the music that brings them back to their roots.

My own beautiful children are now seven and ten, but when they were babies, I sang to them. I rocked them in my arms and sang to them. And it's interesting what comes to mind when you are singing to a baby. Pag Caprice 24 – didn't come to mind. I found myself making up words to traditional lullabies (it's really hard to find good English words), singing camp songs, singing songs from musicals (modified, imagine “Summertime” and “Maria” sung by someone who has to stretch to reach an octave...).

I never did find a recording of lullabies that pleased me. A well-meaning, non-musician friend gave me a set of lullaby cassettes. I wanted to like it; she is such a good friend. But after just a few songs, I couldn't take that popsy-weird voice singing with a synthesizer.

During this time, I wrote a prayer for my daughter, which I revised a few years later with the birth of my son. Putting it to music was always problematic; I did not trust myself as a composer, but eventually I came up with a very simple tune to match my six-note vocal range. I still sing it every night with my son.

I wanted to share these things with my sister, now that she's at last a mom. Recording this CD came about quickly, when a student's parent (thank you Douglas Hunter!) volunteered his time and equipment to the effort...”Would next week be good?”

!

Come on now, I'm a violinist, I don't DO “next week.” But I did it, and I also discovered a wonderful collaborator in LA pianist Ben Salisbury, who is fully half this CD. We did Meditation from Thais in one take, then every time I wanted something tweaked in the other pieces, the harmony, the lefthand figure, something musical, he was on it almost before the words escaped my mouth. We recorded two violin pieces (Meditation from Thais and the “Romance” mvt. of the Wieniawski) and then four lullabies: Brahms, Schubert, “All Through the Night” and the prayer that I wrote, “My Prayer.”

I felt pretty shy about My Prayer when I gave it to Ben, kind of like, “Here is the prayer I wrote the words are great but I'm not a composer and it's obvious I'm not a composer and I don't know how to composer and as you can see, I'm not a composer.”

“It's beautiful,” he said kindly. “We can do this.” And with that, he played my little song, complete with harmony, apologizing for the possibility a few parallel fifths peppered in there. (Please!)

I know that pianists can do this, but he did it so well, in just the right style, without my having to explain a thing. It would have taken me weeks of torture to write a piano part, and then, well, it wouldn't have been the same. It would have been tortured. It seemed as easy as breathing for him; he just took it in and spun it out with the harmony.

So Ben, thank you for, well, completing my prayer.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM
Laurie, I believe that you published your prayer on this site several years ago, and I thought it was beautiful. It must be even more beautiful set to music. Making a CD can be a whole lot of work. In your case, it was a labor of love. It's so very personal. It's a wonderful gift for your sister.
From Patricia Baser
Posted on April 24, 2008 at 11:58 PM
How sweet!
From Ray Randall
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 12:43 AM
Very nice. I see why you like that violin.
From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 2:29 AM
Your children are blessed.
From Donna Clegg
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 3:15 AM
Oh so tender - I will learn it to sing (and perhaps play) for my grandchildren - if I ever have any! Thank you for sharing.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 3:39 AM
Wonderful story and precious Payer.
D.
From Thomas Gardner
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 11:36 AM
Very nice Laurie.
In regards to the Paganini caprices though, I have found them useful for bouncing a child on my knee.
From Theresa Martin
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 5:43 PM
Those are exactly the things I sang to my kids when they were little. Our favorite lullabyes were Pretty Little Horses and Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. And camp songs--yes! I used to thump on my younger son's chest, bouncing him in his car seat for hundreds of miles singing "Ran San San" and when they were a little older, endless variations of "Down by the Bay" and when they were even older, things like "Titanic" where the "husbands and wives, little children lost their lives...." But older son (now almost 18) goes to sleep listening to Beethoven, so there's a place for everything else too.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 6:37 PM
I'll have to try Pag 24 as a non-lullaby -- ;)

Theresa, did you also do Music Together with your kids? A lot of those songs are on there!

It's really a fun time to get back in touch with the most basic music. I actually learned a lot of songs that I hadn't known before.

Now my daughter, at age almost-11, is a bit more into her I-pod, but I'm still enjoying seeing what songs she chooses to listen to. So far, she's still willing to share that with me!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 8:57 PM
I listened to the Med. yesterday in a loop, and two hrs. had gone by before I realized it. Real enjoyable. The lullaby was disappointing, only because I was expecting singing! Hope you get some milage from the CD. Couldn't get either to play on the site player. For a check, other ppl's. worked. Had to paste in the url from the page source.

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