Lullaby Project Creation Sessions Awe and Amaze

Inspiration abounded for teen moms and their children at Longfellow Alternative High School this November. Five African American teen moms from Minneapolis worked with guest artist Melanie DeMore, Associate Conductor G. Phillip Shoultz, III, and members of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers to write lullabies for their babies. The program is part of the Lullaby Project, a national program of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which creates musical experiences for women facing pregnancy while enduring other hardships, such as teenage pregnancy, homelessness, or incarceration.

The lullabies will be recorded and performed by members of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers at a private listening and sharing session on Thursday, January 12, 2017. To learn more and contribute to the program, visit our website.

So many memories were created in the three-day session. Below are comments from VocalEssence Ensemble Singers about the program.

mcclain-judithJudith McClain Melander VocalEssence Ensemble Singer Alto

What surprised you about the experience?

The most surprising thing for me was how mature these young mothers are. They clearly take their school and parenting duties seriously, and they are motivated to succeed.

What lullaby touched you the most and why?

I was touched the most by Amina’s lullaby. This one was different from the usual “baby go to sleep” theme, and it captured a sense of joy, silliness, and closeness. The line “Just mommy (hey! hey!) and Mina (hey! hey!) Mina Mina!” feels very genuine to me, and made me remember back to when my own daughter was little.

What change did you see in the moms during the experience?

Sharing personal feelings and singing in front of strangers can be very scary, and I appreciated the way that the moms were willing to trust us. It took a while, but I am very grateful that we took the time to let things unfold in a natural way.

Why is this program important?

When people come together to make music, it is always wonderful, but for me, this program goes beyond creating songs and helping mothers feel a bond with their babies. For me personally, it is about the opportunity to spend time with some people that I would not have met otherwise, and get to know them, eat together, work on a creative project together, and simply be together. We are just a group of humans talking about the children we love, what kind of music we like, and connecting our spirits.

 

amelkin-sophieSophie Amelkin, VocalEssence Ensemble Singer Soprano

What surprised you about the experience?

Amazed is a better word than surprised. I was amazed to see how much strength and vivacity these young women have. Being a teenage parent, to some, may seem overwhelming but these young women seem to be empowered and driven by the love they hold for their children. It is inspiring. 

Why is this program important?

This program is important in so many ways. It empowers young women to understand their worth. It exposes people to musical experiences that they otherwise may not have had the opportunity to discover. It builds a bridge between different cultural and ethnic communities allowing everyone involved to ask openly and find joy in traditions and perceptions that may be different than their own. It provides a means for young mothers to bond with their children in a way that can last a lifetime. The Lullaby Project focuses on importance of love, music, connection, and respect which we all need a little more of in this world.

 

graham_robertRob Graham, VocalEssence Ensemble Singer Tenor

What surprised you about the experience?

The five lullabies were all so different, and the mothers took nearly 80% ownership of the actual composition of their melodies. Much different than last year, where Francisco provided more of the foundation for each melody and sought feedback from the mothers.

What lullaby touched you the most and why?

Amina’s Lullaby (written by mother, Arianna) was special to me, as I was part of the initial discussion with Arianna about what songs she sings to her daughter, Amina, on a regular basis. Arianna had trouble thinking of a song, but shared with us one that she made up herself: “A beep-beep, a boop-boop…etc”. This became the basis for the lullaby, and additional lyrics were added in, along with nick-names that Arianna calls her daughter.

What change did you see in the moms during the experience?

I noticed a significant change in the overall mood and attitude of the mothers from our first orientation session together, to the second full song-writing workshop day. They became more open and excited about the project, and really seemed to have formed a connection with the Ensemble Singers, Melanie and Phillip. I feel as though the mothers grew closer to their lead staff member, Geneva Dorsey (Dean of Students at Longfellow) who also wrote a lullaby for her grandchildren! We learned more about the dreams, goals and aspirations of the mothers, and I got the sense that they felt empowered by participating in this experience.

Why is this program important?

This program is crucial. It helps these young mothers develop a unique bond with their babies through lyrics and music written specifically for the child, which were also inspired by the child. It also empowers these young mothers to feel excited and confident about their personal goals (college, future career ideas, etc.) as well as the goals and aspirations they have for their babies. We learned that some (not all) of the mothers were not close with one or more of their parents, and some were not close with the fathers of their children. I cannot imagine how difficult life must be for some of them, and marvel at their courage, bravery and perseverance. Opportunities like the Lullaby project remind them that they are not alone, that they have cheerleaders and supporters from the community and from their school, and that they can do anything they set their minds to.