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A lullaby is a soothing piece of music, usually played or sung to young children before they go to sleep, with the intention of aiding that process. As a result, the music is often simple and repetitive. Lullabies can be found in many countries, and have existed since ancient times. Tonally, most lullabies are simple, often merely alternating tonic and dominant harmonies.
"Wherever you go in the world, women use the same tones, the same sort of way of singing to their babies". Rhythmically, there are shared patterns. Lullabies are usually in triple metre or 6/8 time, giving them a "characteristic swinging or rocking motion," says Sally Goddard Blythe of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology. This mimics the movement a baby experiences in the womb as a mother moves.
Studies conducted by Dr. Jeffery Perlman, chief of newborn medicine at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital's Komansky Center for Children's Health, find that gentle music therapy not only slows down the heart rate of prematurely delivered babies but also helps them feed and sleep better. This helps them gain weight and speeds their recovery. A study published in May in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics under the aegis of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City found that the type of music matters. Therapeutically designed "live" music – and lullabies sung in person – can influence cardiac and respiratory function. Another study published in February 2011 in Arts in Psychotherapy by Jayne M. Standley of the National Institute for Infant and Child Medical Music Therapy at Florida State University suggests that babies who receive this kind of therapy leave the hospital sooner.
Many lullabies, regardless of the meaning of their words, possess a peaceful hypnotic quality. Others are mournful or dark, like a lament. The Gaelic lullaby "Ba, Ba, Mo Leanabh Beag" was written in 1848 during the potato famine, which caused much hardship in the Scottish Highlands. The song mentions, soft potatoes, the mother's situation, and her fears for her child. In the 1920s, poet Federico García Lorca studied Spanish lullabies and noted the "poetic character" and "depth of sadness" of many of them. Lorca's theory was that a large part of the function of the lullaby is to help a mother vocalise her worries and concerns. In short, they also serve as therapy for the mother.
In classical music
Lullabies written by established classical composers are often given the form-name berceuse, which is French for lullaby, or cradle song. The most famous lullaby is the one by Johannes Brahms ("Wiegenlied", 1868).
Chopin's Opus 57 is a berceuse for solo piano. Other famous examples of the genre include Maurice Ravel's Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré for violin and piano; the Berceuse élégiaque by Ferruccio Busoni; the Berceuse from the opera Jocelyn by Benjamin Godard; the Berceuse by Igor Stravinsky which is featured in the Firebird ballet, and Lullaby for String Quartet by George Gershwin. The English composer Nicholas Maw's orchestral nocturne, The World in the Evening, is subtitled "lullaby for large orchestra". German composer's Paul Graener last movement of his Suite From The Realm of Pan is entitled Pan sings the world a lullaby. American composer's Michael Glenn Williams Berceuse for solo piano uses an ostinato similar to Chopin's but in a 21st-century harmonic context.
In popular music
Asia also has its own versions of the lullaby.
In Bangladesh, the lullaby is termed "Ghum-Parrani-Gaan" (song to make sleep). Examples of Bangla lullabies are "Ghum-Parrani Maashi,Pishi" and "Baash baganer mathar upor".
In Hindi and in many Indian languages, the lullaby is called "Lori". Mostly, lullabies are sung in folk languages. Lullabies have been also an integral part of Indian cinema. Many lullabies were written and composed in the fifties, such as:
- "Aaja Ri Aa Nindiya Tu Aa" – Do Bigha Zamin
- "Main Gaoon Tu Chhup Ho Jaa" – Do Aankhen Barah Haath
- "So Jaa Re Lalna Jhulao Tohe Palna" – Journey Beyond Three Seas
In the Malayalam language, there is a rich collection of traditional lullabies, known as "tharaattu Pattu". One of the most famous is "Omanathinkal Kidavo", written and composed by poet lyricist Iravi Varman Thampi who is widely known as Irayimman Thampi. This lullaby was written for the queen of Travancore to sing to her son young prince Swathi Thirunal, who later became the king and a famous musician (composed many Keerthanas in a Ragaa Dheerasankarabharanam commonly known as Sankarabharanam).
In Telugu language, a lullaby is called a "Jola" or "Jola pata". A famous Telugu lullaby is "jo achuthaa nanda jo jo mukunda".
In the Tamil language, a lullaby is called a thaalattu (thal means "tongue"). A melodious sound is created by frequent movement of the tongue at the beginning of the song.
In the Philippines the song is known as the oyayi. The province of Batangas has a very specialized form of lullaby known as the huluna. Though only composed of simple words, it is notable for being very difficult to sing, due to the lengthy melismas. Like many traditional songs from Spain, it is full of fioriture yet unlike many of the western type songs, it has no time signature.
In Vietnamese, lullabies are called "bài hát ru". A famous one is "Ầu ơ ví dầu". They are hard to sing due to the melismas. The lullabies usually use images of the old villages and countryside, such as the bamboo bridges, rice fields, farming, daily meals that the mother cooks. They usually have a sad tone.
Other lullabies from Asia include the "Northeastern Cradle Song" from China, "Nina Bobo" from Indonesia, the "Itsuki Lullaby", "Chūgoku Region Lullaby", "Edo Lullaby", "Shimabara Lullaby", "Takeda Lullaby" from Japan, and "Hine E Hine" from New Zealand.
Many medieval English verses associated with the birth of Jesus take the form of a lullaby, including "Lullay, my liking, my dere son, my sweting" and may be versions of contemporary lullabies. However, most of those used today date from the seventeenth century onwards, and some of the best known English-language lullabies originate from the US. Notable English-language lullabies include "Bye, baby Bunting", "Scottish Lullaby", "Suo Gân" (Welsh Lullaby), and "Hush, Little Baby".
"Spi, Janíčku, spi" ("Sleep, Johny, sleep") – This playful lullaby was collected in Moravia by František Sušil (1804–1868), a priest and an activist of Czech national revival. He collected songs in Moravia and Silesia as well as in Slavic villages in Austria. This lullaby uses a specific name of the child, Janíček, a familiar form of the very common male name Jan. Nonsense is employed here, as the boy is promised not only a green and a red apple but also a blue one if he falls asleep.
"Ukolébavka" ("Lullaby") – This lullaby was published in 1633 in The Informatorium of the School of Infancy by Johann Amos Comenius (1592–1670). The book is likely to be the first treatise on the development and educating infants and children up to six in the family. Comenius stressed among other things the necessity of sensory and emotional stimuli at an early age. Thus, he included for mothers and nurses the Czech text and the score of the originally German lullaby by 16th century preacher Mathesius.
"Hajej, můj andílku" ("Sleep, My Little Angel") – This is one of the most melodious Czech lullabies, first collected by Karel Jaromír Erben (1811–1870), Czech romantic writer, poet and collector of Czech folk songs and fairy tales. The text refers specifically to the mother rocking her baby.
"Halí, dítě" ("Hullee, baby") – This lullaby was collected by František Bartoš (1837–1906), pedagogue and ethnographer who collected Moravian songs. The second line says the carer will leave after the child falls asleep, but in the third line we learn that only to the garden in the valley to pick raspberries.
"Halaj, belaj, malučký" ("Sleep, Sleep, Little One") – This lullaby is from the east of Moravia, where the dialect is influenced by the Slovak language, and also folk songs are similar to the Slovak ones from across the border. A boy is promised the essential food for infants, kašička, a smooth mixture made of milk and flour.
"Dorme neném" (Sleep Little Baby) - This Lullaby is sung all over the country and includes a reference to "Cuca" a folk character very feared by children.
"Solen er så rød, mor" ("The Sun is so Red, Mom") – This is a classic Danish lullaby, written in 1920 by the Danish novelist, playwright and poet Harald Bergstedt (1877–1965), with music composed by classical composer Carl Nielsen (1865–1931).
"Elefantens vuggevise" ("The Elephant’s Lullaby") – This lullaby is considered one of the most popular lullabies in Denmark. Using exotic animals as theme, the lyrics are simple and easily understood by a child. It was made politically correct in the 1990s: The word negerdreng (negro boy) was changed to kokosnød (coconut). The song was written in 1948 by the Danish writer and poet Harald H. Lund with music composed by writer-musician Mogens Jermiin Nissen (1906–72).
"Godnatsang" ("Goodnight Song") – This is a popular lullaby that was composed (lyrics and music) by Sigurd Barrett (born 1967), pianist, composer and host of a children’s TV programme in Denmark, and fellow musician Steen Nikolaj Hansen. Sigurd usually sings this song at the end of his children’s show. This lullaby has sleeping time as theme: The day is over and we must sleep and rest so we will be fresh again in the morning.
"Mues sang få Hansemand" ("Mother’s Song to Little Hans") – This lullaby originated from south Jutland and is very old (year of composition is unknown). It is not well known in Denmark. This may, in part, be due to the fact that it was written in Jutlandic dialect. The lyrics were written by Marie Thulesen (1878–1924) with music by the Danish musician Oluf Ring (1884–1946).
"Jeg vil tælle stjernerne" ("I Will Count the Stars") – This lullaby was written in 1951 by the Danish poet and writer Halfdan Rasmussen (1915–2002). Rasmussen had written numerous rhymes and jingles, some of which are still being used in Danish beginner classes in public schools (e.g. the picture book "Halfdans ABC"). This lullaby’s music was composed by Hans Dalgaard (1919–81). The song is a simple story of a child who tries to count the stars with his/her fingers and toes.
"Slaap kindje slaap" – Most famous Dutch lullaby. The text is mostly chosen for its rhyme. Sleep, little child, sleep. Outside a sheep is walking. A sheep with white feet, it drinks its milk so sweet.
"Maantje tuurt, maantje gluurt" – Older Dutch lullaby. Look the moon peeps and spies through the window. Have the children already gone to bed? Yes moon, they're lying in bed. Good, tomorrow will be a new day of playing and learning.
"Suja suja kindje" – The child is spoken to. Is your stomach aching or do you have cold feet? We will make a fire, make porridge. The cradle is rocking.
"Suze Naanje, ik waige die" – Also the child is spoken to in this lullaby. I rock you, but if you were older I would slap you. The language is Gronings dialect.
"Laay Laay, Laay, Laay, Gol-e Laaleh" is one of the most famous and oldest Persian lullabies which comes from the Gorgan region in North-Eastern [Iran]. "Laay Laya, Laay Laya, Rolay shirinm Laya" is an ancient Kurdish lullabies.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 6.
- Perry, Nina. "The universal language of lullabies", BBC News, 20 January 2013
- Clark, Daniel and Humphries, Rachel. "Lullaby Medicine for Premature Babies", ABC News, 18 June 2013
- "Lullabies and dandlings", Foghlam Alba
- H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 326.
- "politisk korrekthed – Gyldendal – Den Store Danske". Den Store Danske. Gyldendal. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
- "Persian Lullaby in Swedish Church". PDN. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
- Lacy, Lyn Ellen (1986). Art and Design in Children's Books. Chicago: American Library Association. p. 76. ISBN 0-8389-0446-7.
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- Languages from the Cradle a European Union-funded project to collect the lullabies of Europe
- "Kist O Dreams", lullabies and children's songs from Scottish tradition