Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Singing Lullabyes

I've started singing lullabyes to my kids when my wife and I put them to bed at night. There's nothing like two sleepy girls to make you think you've got an American Idol voice. Another one, Papa. Please?

The lullaby thing started with the Shema and has now taken on a life of it's own. I always start with the Shema, and then move on to Ma Tovu, and then Oseh Shalom. My little one (2 years old) makes me sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (or, as she says "Winkle Winkle"). My older one (4 years old) makes me sing a lullabye I made up for her when she was little (it doesn't really have name, but starts Hey little girl with eyes full of feathers). I don't have much of a history with lullabyes. I remember my Grandmother singing "Here comes the Sandman" to me when I was little, but I don't remember my folks singing lullabyes. Anyway, it occurred to me that if I did a little research into classic Jewish lullabyes, I could expand my repertoire a bit.

I came up with four primary ones, though I'm sure I'm missing a lot. The first is Rozinkes mit Mandlen, Raisins and Almonds (lyrics and audio here and here). According to Marsha Edelman's Discovering Jewish Music the melody for Rozinkes was written in the 1880's by Abraham Goldfaden for the Yiddish Theater, with a lyric adapted from an earlier lullaby. The lyric starts like this:
"In dem bays hamikdosh,
In a vinkl chayder
Zitzt di almone bas Tziyon aley.
Ir ben yochidl Yidele vigt si k'seyder."
In the room of the temple,
In a cosy corner
There sits a widow all alone.
With her only little child she rocks gently
The second I found was the Hebrew lullaby Numi Numi, Yaldati which, according to Edelman, was written by Joel Engel and YehielHeilperin in Palestine in the 1920's (lyrics and audio). Numi's main lyric goes like this

Numi, numi yaldati,
Numi, numi, nim.
Numi, numi k'tanati,
Numi, numi, nim.

Aba halach la'avoda -
Halach, halach Aba.
Yashuv im tzeit halevana -
Yavi lach matana!

Sleep, sleep, my little girl.
Sleep, sleep.
Sleep, sleep, my little one,
Sleep, sleep.

Daddy's gone to work -
He went, Daddy went.
He'll return when the moon comes out -
He'll bring you a present!

Sleep, sleep...

The third was the traditional Ladino lullaby Durme (or Duerme). The US Holocaust Museum has a lovely wire recording from 1943. The lyrics from this recording are:

Durme, durme, hermosa donzella,
Durme, durme, sin ansia i dolor,
Durme, durme, sin ansia i dolor.

Sleep, sleep, beautiful child,
Sleep, sleep, free from worry and pain,
Sleep, sleep, free from worry and pain.
The last lullaby is the Yiddish Tum Balalaika. Tum Balalaika is a riddle song that extols the benefits of having a clever wife.
Shteyt a bocher, shteyt un tracht,
tracht un tracht a gantze nacht.
Vemen tsu nemen un nit far shemen,
vemen tsu nemen un nit far shemen.

Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika
tumbalalaika, shpiel balalaika
tumbalalaika - freylach zol zayn.

A young lad is thinking, thinking all night
Would it be wrong, he asks, or maybe right,
Should he declare his love, dare he choose,
And would she accept, or will she refuse?

Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika
tumbalalaika, play Balalaika,
tumbalalaika - let us be merry
So, now that I've found some lullabyes I'll need to learn them. That's the next challenge. I've got decent prayer book Hebrew, enough high school Spanish to fake Ladino, and about 10 words in Yiddish. I think I can con a couple of preschoolers into thinking I know what I'm doing. My wife, who is cleverer that a couple of preschoolers and cleverer than her husband, will not be fooled. Oh well.

I've got one edge in learning them. As I was winding up my research for this post I found a marvelous album called From Generation to Generation: a Legacy of Lullabyes by Tanja Solnik. Generation to Generation is my favorite kind of album. Simple arrangements and a lovely voice that letting the beauty of the melodies come through. I fell asleep in a hotel room in Dallas listening to the song samples on eMusic. My grandma couldn't have done better. (Though she did Sandman wonderfully)

No comments: