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More Than Just 'Go To Sleep': Lullaby Project Empowers New Parents To Pen Original Songs

A person at a keyboard while another person nearby holds a baby.
Lund Residential Program, Courtesy
Evan Premo of Scrag Mountain Music helps a new parent from the Lund Center's playgroup to set an original lullaby to music through the Lullaby Project.

"I've made mistakes / I know it's true / but you're so strong, so reach the sky."

You haven't heard these lyrics before, but one new baby will — maybe each and every night, right before bathtime or bedtime or at 2 a.m., when the world seems scariest. It will be their song.

It was written by a new parent with help from local musicians and groups for something called The Lullaby Project,from Carnegie Hall's Weill Institute of Music.

The national project's mission is "supporting maternal health, aiding child development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child." A few parents who attend a weekly playgroup at Lund Family Center, in Burlington, were able to take part in the Vermont version of the project.

"A lot of the parents that we serve come from all walks of life," said Justine Mee, family educator at Lund Center who assists families in Chittenden County. "There's often times that parents can struggle with substance abuse and they might find themselves in the program, sometimes just [needing] additional help with some parenting skills and kind of trying to get things back on track."

Mee holds a once-a-week playgroup at the Lund Center, and this is where the Lullaby Project got its start.

After several visits to that playgroup setting, the musicians of Scrag Mountain Music were on hand to help the new parents create the melodies and rhythms, while the nonprofit Writers for Recovery worked with parents on penning personalized lyrics for their new babies.

Mary Bonhag and Evan Premo make up Scrag Mountain, which is now in its 10th year providing community-supported chamber music. 

"We're so grateful that we're finally kind of the Vermont chapter of the Lullaby Project," Premo said, noting that its a project the group had wanted to be part of for a while.

"Lullabies are such an interesting combination of art and necessity," Premo said. "Very practical art."

Bonhag described watching participants craft their lyrics during a session.

"The writing sessions were lead by Writers for Recovery, working on writing prompts with the parents. So that looked like giving the start to a sentence, like: ' Your mom is...' or 'you have come from' or 'I wish for you' or 'I'll never forget,'" Bonhag said. "It was really, really amazing what came out of those writing sessions. And then we worked with them one-on-one to help them set their lyrics to music."

Mee said the parents demonstrate a vulnerability with their songwriting.

"I give them so much credit," Mee said, "because a lot of what they chose to write is honest and probably somewhat difficult to put out there."

And as far as the intended audience, they seem to be responding well to the works.

"To be composing lullabies with parents with their baby in their arms and during the composing process to have the baby fall asleep was just a kind of a sign that you're on the right track," Premo said.

As a culmination of Lullaby Project, Scrag Mountain Music is presenting a series of concerts that features familiar bedtime and childhood-inspired songs from the classical repertoire together with these special new songs.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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