Tag Archives: Lullaby

Bless You, Keep You

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).

 

jangada

jangada

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.

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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

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

Summer Song

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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.

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.

Good Night My Dear (Lullaby)

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.