I never considered myself to be much of a singer, but all that changed the first time I heard my baby cry (and cry and cry). Without thinking or any hesitation, my mouth opened and I started singing. At first it was whatever tune popped into my head, in some kind of desperation to stop the crying. At times even making up lyrics to instrumental music. Other times I sang the same song over and over again.
Gradually, from some deep, primal part of my memory, I started to resurrect the songs that I remembered my father singing to me. I was a little surprised, but not completely, to discover that I manipulate all the songs the same way my father used to. I change lyrics, add verses, replace names, and jazz up the rhythms.
Like songbirds, we pass down songs to our young. Patiently sitting with the new generation, teaching them the melodies, rhythms, and rhymes that we inherited from our parents and close loved ones. And with each exchange, something new is added, enriching the experience for all involved.
Some years ago in my orchestra, we played a piece of music composed by ICOT, a group of Iranian composers in Toronto. At first, we were challenged to play the unfamiliar rhythms and pacing of the pieces because they were so different from what we were used to. I spoke with one of the composers about his piece. He explained that in his culture they are taught these rhythms and patterns from a young age, the kind of thing that is passed down from teacher to student.
There’s a reason why lullabies are universal (or nearly universal) in every culture around the world. It’s an accepted tradition to sing to babies as a way to comfort and soothe them. Music combines so many powerful elements like the use of calming tones, vibrations, and all the deep breathing required to carry a tune.
In addition to being soothing, lullabies are a way to form bonds, strengthen connections, and create new memories, or just have fun making up silly lyrics. The best part about singing to babies is that they are very forgiving when you’re out of tune or can’t quite remember all the words.
Happy Mothers’ Day!