Sleep well, baby

It’s my daughter’s birthday – she’s one – and I’ve some scattered thoughts about musicals relating to this glorious occasion.It’s mostly lullabies, naturally, but the existence of a baby in our home has meant that singing has returned after a long absence. My wife’s voice was part of the reason I married her. Before parenthood, years went by without her singing a thing. Now I get to hear Sleepy Man every night (we change it to Sleepy Girl and the key sexual component is missing.) It’s from the folk musical comedy, The Robber Bridegroom, and the lyric makes great use of diffused rhymes.

Been a busy day
With some heavy seas
But you’ve done your best, sleepy man
Let your troubles lay
Let your breathing ease
While I rub your chest, sleepy man…
Not a girl I know
Has a better deal
Than my life with you, sleepy man
If I let it show
How you make me feel
We’ll be up ’til 2, sleepy man

So, lyricist Alfred Uhry reaps the benefits of formal precision while listeners are unaware they’re hearing rhymes. It’s a stratagem I’ve used from time to time.In addition to getting to hear my wife sing, fatherhood has meant that I’m frequently singing. During the day it’s often Frank Loesser’s Adelaide, or, when the baby kicks, You Mustn’t Kick It Around by Rodgers and Hart. But I, too, am on lullaby duty, and I’m often overcome with emotion singing not a man I know has a better deal than my life with you.

I’ve a similar reaction when I sing Bock and Harnick’s Go To Sleep, Whatever You Are. In The Apple Tree, Eve sings it to the world’s first baby, and the idea that she doesn’t know she’s holding a very young human is simultaneously droll and moving.

Doesn’t faze me if you grow up to be pony or poodle or sheep
You’re my own, whatever you are

The act of singing is, I should say, an essential exercise for songwriters. You gain an understanding of how melodic lines fit on the voice, and what syllables and sounds are hard to wrap one’s lips around. I know many modestly demur “I can’t sing” but if you want to write for singers, you have to.

I could say something of perverse lullabies, like the comic one in Street Scene, or unsettling ones, like Not While I’m Around, but it’s one from off-Broadway that’s been more on my mind this past year. Lay Down Your Head, from Violet by Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori, is an ideal lullaby, one of the few truly sublime compositions of the past twenty years. It starts unaccompanied, which helps it to feel instantly authentic. And it has an emotional resonance far beyond the act of putting a child to sleep.

Perhaps I think of Violet so often because the plot involves a father making a terrible mistake, a fear that is always in the back of my mind. But every time I look at Adelaide, I’m overtaken by amazement at her beauty. The mere idea that such gorgeousness is just one notch down on the gene pool brings to mind another show tune:

Gorgeous, gorgeous,
They produced a baby that was gorgeous, gorgeous…
Who’d have ever thought that we would see such a flawless gem
Out of two meeskites like them?”

Of course this doesn’t apply to my wife at all, but you know how songs from shows have this way of entering my mind.

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2 Responses to Sleep well, baby

  1. Jim says:

    Beautifully said, my friend. My baby girl is going in 31 years now, but we have our first grandchild… 9 months old… Children are incredible additions to anyone’s life, but its newly refreshed with the birth of grandchildren… All are incredibly special.

    Your daughter is gorgeous! Enjoy her many blessings she will bestowe on you the rest of your life!!! Happy 1st birthday!!!

  2. What a lovely lovely expression of love. For your daughter, for your wife, for your legacy as a father and a husband. What a special day. I didn’t get to be part of it by popping in – but how nice to have been part of it in some small way – how nice to be on the receiving end of these lovely thoughts you share. Continued joy until we meet again.

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