Monday, June 11, 2007

Sing Sweet Celtic Lullabies?

Dear Nanny,

My grandmother used to sing such sweet lullabies to me and my sister when we were young, but her memory is not what it used to be. Any recommendations for lullabies or other songs for me to share with my baby? What songs resonant with infants?


Dear Looking,

What a sweet tradition to share with your baby! I spent many precious hours (many of them in the wee hours of the night) singing to my children and then, grandchildren, in turn. For most infants what you sing (and how well you sing) is not nearly as important as the sound of your voice and the bonding created when you communicate with them through music. For aficionados of Irish music or lullabies (like me) this is a good thing, since many Irish songs are tragic laments of loss and longing, with a fair amount of death and dismemberment thrown in. I know that one of my daughters-in-law looked a bit askew at me rocking her newborn son to sleep as I sang a slow, sweet melody wrapped around the graphic lyrics commemorating an Irish rebel’s violent death at the gallows in the 1700s.

Nevertheless, I am thrilled to share with you some of my favorite lullabies. The Stolen Child, is ensconced in our family legend for working its consoling magic on a colicky grandson who refused to sleep for much of the first six months of his life. This is a William Butler Yeats’ poem based on the Irish legend about faeries enticing children to leave this world to join them in the fairy realm. Fairy theft of children is a common motif in legends around the world and was a way for early cultures to explain the tragically high infant mortality rates prior to modern advances in medicine. (It served the added benefit of teaching children to stay close to home and not wander into the woods or forests---although, for many (myself included), I am sure it was the source of numerous unspecified night terrors.) The poem is one of Yeats’ most memorable early works and various artists have tried to capture its special magic by setting it to music. While the haunting lyrics may not be the most cheerful, the rhythm and music of the language touch a gentle chord in my heart

Other songs that have lulled generations of my family to sleep include the Skye Boat Song, a Scottish melody that is so compelling the words are nearly irrelevant; Down by the Salley Gardens, also a Yeats’ poem, but in this instance, Yeats put to poem an old Irish song he remembered fragments of from his youth; Wild Mountain Thyme, another ancient Scottish tune that instantly transports the listener to the Celtic countryside, and finally, the sweet classic, The Water is Wide, originating in the 1600s in England and continuing in popularity to this day.

Here's more on some of my favorite lullabies:

By William Butler Yeats, 1886
The Irish group The Waterboys set the poem to music and their rendition is a compelling compilation of music and spoken word. Loreena McKennitt also recorded a wonderful version.

words and music Sir Harold Boulton, 1884
Many, many wonderful recordings of this beautiful song are available---both with and without lyrics. My favorite is Phil Coulter’s lyricless recording, with a close second going to Moira Kerr’s Celtic Soul rendition (which does include the lyrics).

words and music by Francis McPeake
Although many have recorded this classic Scottish tune, my favorite is by the ever versatile and talented Cheiftans.

This classic song has been recorded innumerable times. Modern
renditions, include among others, versions by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez,
James Taylor, Eva Cassidy, Carol Noonan and a collaboration by Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, & the Indigo Girls. My favorite versions are by: James Taylor, Mae Robertson (who has a number of wonderful CDs of lovely lullabies) and Orla Fallon.

Readers do you have any favorite lullabies you’d like to share? Leave a comment and let me know!


Monday, June 4, 2007

Distressed grandmother seeks advice

Dear Nanny,

Perhaps with your many grandchildren, you can help me! My daughter and I are quite close, and when her first baby, my first grandchild arrived 8 months ago, I was ecstatic! I loved being with my granddaughter! I saw her almost daily: fed her, clothed her, bathed her, sang to her, and held her close. I even took her for a number of overnight visits. When my grandbaby was 6 months old, my sister, who lives out of state, became ill and I spent the next month caring for her as she recovered. When I returned, my granddaughter wanted nothing to do with me!! I am heart broken and don’t know what to do!

--Confused Granny

Dear Confused,

It certainly sounds as if you have had a challenging time! What a lucky family you have to be the recipient of so much of your tender love and care. As luck would have it, one of my grandbabies, when just a bit younger than your granddaughter, went on a trip with his parents to Ireland and I missed him sorely for the two weeks he was away. When he returned, he certainly was a bit reticent about staying with his Nanny. You see, babies normally form strong attachments to one or two adult caregivers. These attachments give them a feeling of safety. If they are separated from their attachment figures (such as a beloved parent or, in this instance, a granny), babies may actually experience psychological stress. A month long separation, which probably felt quite short to you while caring for your ailing sister, can feel like an eternity to a young child.

Give your granddaughter time to get used to having you back in her life. It may take a little while for her to trust that you won’t disappear again, but soon your granny-grandbaby bond will be as strong as ever!