Bless You, Keep You
We converged on Atlantic City, from every high school in the state. Not to gamble or surf or sunbathe: we came together to sing. I practiced for weeks for the tryouts, and somehow, with my teacher’s encouragement and training, the judges selected me: to sing in the New Jersey All-State Chorus. Three days in Atlantic City in 1980, rehearsing, perfecting, bringing together pitch and tempo and nuance, four hundred voices moving together as four, like the ocean in its swelling and racing and tumbling and calm. We gathered for dinner in the ballroom, the first night, seated and hungry at round tables with white tablecloths. I was accustomed to prayer in my home over steaming meals, asking the Father in the name of the Son to bless the food for our nourishment and health and strength and wisdom and protection, though I did not expect prayer would be offered that night at the hotel in Atlantic City – would one say Lord Jesus or Adonai or Allah…? Would one say Amen? But then the room eased into spontaneous song, a prayer sung, without accompaniment, only song. Soft and gentle. The Lord bless you and keep you. I did not know this hymn. I had never heard this hymn. Slow and reverent. The Lord lift his countenance upon you. How could I never have heard this melodic sweetness? From the first notes I felt swept away toward some immense imminent mysterious culmination of Beauty and Spirit. Even the syncopated coun-te-nance trickled into a soft pool of silence suspending the line in time, bridging to the next but savoring the sound of now before moving on. Lifting and lofty. And give you peace. And give you peace. A Numbers 6:24 blessing pronounced upon the children of Mosaic Israel. An anno domini 1900 blessing of peace composed by choirmaster-professor-dean Peter C. Lutkin. An offering of peace composed for the first American a cappella choir. And here we were, an a cappella choir of 400 souls singing his benediction. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. And in that moment the face of God and the love of God and the beauty of God felt so exquisitely real. And be gracious. The Lord be gracious unto you. And I knew God was gracious for allowing me to receive this song. And all of this lyrical melodic harmonic beauty presaged a chorus of the glorious folding swelling four-voiced sevenfold A-m-e-n rising to permeate the grand hall and press against constraining ceilings and walls, hovering, hovering, and slowly settling with one long low final A – m – e – n – softly upon the soul, the beautiful wave foregoing its crash and roil to resolve imperceptibly into receiving coastal sands. And as the sound waned, I sat bewildered and weeping, and wondering what miraculous extraordinary thing had just graced the world, and the utter hush that followed.
double LP album cover
Enjoy this inspiring two-minute rendition of Peter Lutkin’s benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Lead photo by my son Caleb James Baker of southern Utah (c).
Caymmi crooning How sweet to die at sea, singing the anguish and longing of the fisherman’s widow and mother and child. On the green waves of the sea. Painting with his guitar. Sculpting with song. He sings the good souls of the penurious pescador, fishermen, uncut gemstones, too often squandered at sea – singing the unsung. He made his bed in the bosom of Iemanjá, the great sea goddess of African Candomblé. Take a four-logged Asian jang, add logs five and six for a Brazilian jangada, a poor man’s fishing skiff. Launch at sunset into the surf and the curious sail hauls him out 75 miles, six logs and a sail and a fisherman, inconsequential specks on an unending ocean, under starlight, under storm. The ocean wrenches his soul toward fishing. Watch over our pescador, Lady of the Sea. Bring our boy home. His name is Chico Ferreira e Bento – my Chico. Bring his jangada home. And the storm arose and the ocean swelled into roiling liquid mountains and that little flat raft bobbed and dipped and splintered and flung Chico into the bosom of Iemenjá. And his jangada, the Pôr do Sol – Sunset – tumbled to shore two days after, with no Chico, with no Chico. When the fisherman leaves, he never knows if he will return. His mother kneels in the surf, Crying as if not crying. Logs fastened with hardwood pegs and hemp fiber lashings and an upstretched sail of stitched cloth. The fisherman has two loves: One on land, and One at sea. On a plywood square a student poured glue and meted colored gravel carefully for a sandy surf and a tumbling blue and that creamy sail turned upward to the sky, wind-bent and heavy, and the brown fishermen working nets and lines and paddle and sail. The glue and the gravel lie fixed but I hear the water flowing and the sand shifting and the men whistling about the big fish they will heft home for their Chiquinha and Iaiá, their children, to eat, and the big fish they will sell for food and school books and a trinket or two on their birthdays. I went for a walk one day, and every path led to the sea. He who comes to the sea will never wish to forsake her. Sail home, Chico: sail your jangada home.
Artwork above by my father, Owen Nelson Baker, when a post-graduate student in Brazil.
Caymmi released his LP Dorival Caymmi E Seu Violão in 1956, each song a story of the hopes and griefs of poor Brazilian fishermen and their loved ones, and of the ocean’s capricious waters, both treacherous and divine. I still have the old vinyl LP, pictured here. These songs have stirred my soul longer and more deeply than any other music. The italicized lyrics in the essay, above, are my translations from the Portuguese. You can hear some of Caymmi’s folk songs here:
Whence Come these Lullabies
I once composed lullabies.
I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103◦ fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened. And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: Continue reading
(Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA)
Walking in the snow on Rabbit Lane I began thinking about Christmas bells ringing from church towers all over the celebrating world. I pondered the many emotions associated with pealing church bells. Happiness in marriage. Sorrow in death. Fear in disaster. Hope that “all is well”. The Liberty Bell rang in joyful celebration of America’s independence. I composed this song about church bells at Christmastime, attempting to embrace all of these emotions, especially excitement at the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Church Bells.
The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt. But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum. I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags. The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity. Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.
My children, when they were young, liked to be put to bed with a song. I composed many little lullabies and songs, some of which are posted on this blog. I tried to compose tunes and lyrics that would sooth and inspire each child. But sometimes I composed something to just make them smile and laugh. “Dreaming” is one such song and contemplates a child’s nonsensical but humorous dreams, ending with mother’s call to wake up in the morning. I hope you enjoy it! Click here for the sheet music: Dreaming.
The lonely apple tree on our one-acre property had survived from pioneer days, had made it through the decades of when the property housed the old Mormon church. After pruning my apple tree, I was able to climb into its highest branches, whence I could gaze over the sloping valley toward the silver ribbon of the Great Salt Lake to the north and west, or look the other direction to the Oquirrh Mountains to the east and south. From high in my apple tree, and on my walks on Rabbit Lane, I contemplated many strange and wonderful and dreadful aspects of life and living. These thought slowly distilled themselves into my song Wandering, attached here for you to enjoy.
(See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 43: Trees post, for further reference to my apply tree.)
Caleb (2) and I, lying together on his bed, looked out the window at the moon, talking quietly. He asked rather suddenly, “Would you write me a song about the moon?” Well, I thought, I guess I could try. The notes came quickly, and soon I was humming a tune to him with occasional key words rising up. As the song came together, I imagined the moon and the stars being living entities giving their light to the universe under the direction of benevolent gods that also watch over sleeping children. Here is the link to the sheet music for Caleb’s lullaby, Moonlight. (See this lullaby referenced in the post Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
I composed the little song “Baby Zebra” to help baby John go back to sleep, laying spread-eagle on my chest, when what he really wanted was for his mother to nurse him back to sleep. He asked me for a “be-be ze-ba” song: Baby Zebra, and I obliged. The animal “zebra” can be replaced by most any other land animal, including elephant, ostrich, horse (horsie), or pig (piggie). Change a few words around and it can work for birds and dolphins, too. I hope you enjoy the song. Here is a link to the sheet music to Baby Zebra. (This song is referenced in the post Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
In a safe environment, a child can see the world with wonder. He or she encounters the smiles and waves of a parent, loose garden soil between the toes, butterflies on flower blossoms, and being tucked into bed with a story or a lullaby. I wrote the song “Look Out the Window” after one of my children called to me from an upstairs window while I worked in the garden. She was happy to see me–“Hi Daddy!”–and raced down the stairs to join me in the garden. Every child deserves to be safe and to be loved, and to see the world with wonder. Here is the link to the sheet music to Look Out the Window.
As Angie helped each child wind down to go to sleep over the years, she would sit on the side of their bed and ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?” They would talk about watching a Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, a picnic at the park, rollerskating, or a trip to see grandparents. That question seemed the perfect opening line of a lullaby. Walking on Rabbit Lane, I played around with a tune, and settled on beginning with my favorite interval, the octave (or perfect 8th). The melody and lyrics came as the weeks and months clocked by. This song celebrates all of the end-of-day conversations between parents and children about their special moments together. Sing it alone to your child or as a parent-child dialog, with you and your child taking turns singing portions of the song to each other as indicated in the score found at the link below. (For more on this song, see the post Chapter 24: Remembering the Day of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
Remembering the Day
Nature’s creatures make beautiful music, especially on a Summer night, whether it be crickets or katydids, Canada Geese in formation or a clucking hen settled on her eggs, the wind in the leaves or the rain tapping on the rooftop. And lullabies comfort the sleepless, fretting child. My Hannah turns nine years old today. In honor of her birthday, I am posting her favorite of all my songs (so far), called “Summer Night,” which celebrates nature’s music in a lullaby. Sing it to your children or grandchildren, or just hum it to yourself, and let me know how you like it. Here is the link.
I could hear them as I approached the north end of Rabbit Lane. Ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh ka-swishhh–swika swika swika swika swika. With the blue sky above, the fields and pastures all around, and the butterflies and bees winging in warm air, the sound of the ground-line sprinklers was true music. A summer song.
Ground-line sprinklers in the green alfalfa hay
make such pretty music,
like the field song of crickets and katydids
on a hot, summer evening.
Cows’ tails swishing in the tall, dry grass,
and the breeze fluttering stiff poplar leaves,
add apropos percussion
to the sublimity and song.
I stopped to watch the pulsing airport beacon–my desert lighthouse–as I walked in the snow today on Rabbit Lane. White. Green. White. Green. “See that beacon?” I asked Hannah (8), whose gloved hand held mine while we gazed. “It’s like a lighthouse showing the way for ships in trouble to make for shore. Long before Hannah was born, I gazed out the window with Erin, then 5, as the old beacon bulbs swept slow arcs around the sky, lighting up the clouded underbelly of the sky. I imagined sailing ships rocking precariously amidst tumultuous waves, the sailors shouting commands and wondering how to obtain the shore in one piece. I also imagined their frightened families at home, wondering if they would ever see their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons again. With this troubled image in mind, I wrote this one-verse song about these sailors, nearly lost in the storms, coming home at last. (Read more about this beacon in Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)
Hannah (8) has added me to her bedtime routine. “I was wondering,” she begins, “if you could maybe sing me a few short songs tonight.” I sit on the edge of her princess bed and sing her one of my little songs, or a song from my 1970 Mister Rogers’ Songbook, a prized if tattered possession. A song only takes a minute. But many nights I feel burdened and tired. The thought of answering to one more child’s needs sometimes overwhelms me. It’s just one song, I say to myself with a sigh, and succumb. From the first note I feel glad that I didn’t give in to the excuse of being weary. A song only takes a minute. Here is one of my favorite songs. I wrote it years ago in response to a child’s request for a song from Dad. It is sweet, calming, and, best of all, short. The perfect lullaby for nights when Dad just needs to say “good-night” and go be by himself, or go to bed. I hope that you will sing it to your little ones. If you are so inclined, sing it through twice. A song only takes a minute.
Sun Has Gone
Brian, my firstborn, suffered typical colic from about six weeks to about six months of age, always beginning at 6:00 p.m., it seemed. A second year law student (and struggling with the stresses of law school), I frequently paced the living room floor trying to sooth the crying baby with gentle bounces, soft shushes, coos, and random soft melodies. In Brian’s moments of calm slumber, I looked on his beautiful face and felt overcome with feelings of love, peace, beauty, and gratitude. In these serene moments I began to compose a lullaby, metered to the my rocking arms. Although Brian is now a 6-foot-4 24-year-old, I think of his once tiny form every time I sing this song. Here it is for you to enjoy. While I have titled it “Little Brian Baby” in my own book of music, for you I have titled it simply “Little Baby” and have added brackets in the lyrics indicating where you can insert the name of your child or grandchild as you sing. Enjoy this lullaby as you rock your precious little ones to sleep. (To see the score, click on the link below.)
I wrote this lullaby for Erin, my second child, to comfort her in her nighttime fears. (See Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post). (To see the song score, click on the link below.)
Good Night My Dear
Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.
–Only small people seek to make other people feel small.–
Our first night in the country house, the children all slept in mom’s and dad’s room. We offered this arrangement until they felt comfortable sleeping in their own rooms. One night several weeks after moving to her own room, Erin (5) couldn’t sleep.
“Daddy,” Erin called in a loud whisper.
“What?” I moaned groggily after a moment.
“The lightning is keeping me awake.”
“What lightning?” I yawned. “I don’t hear any lightning.”
“No—look—it’s flashing right now, without thunder or rain,” she persisted.
I pushed myself up onto an elbow with a groan. Continue reading