A few weeks ago my oldest daughter, still away at college, was recalling some of the songs I used to sing to her at bedtime, sending me a Facebook message wanting to know the name of the one about pretty horses. All the pretty little horses. I remember hearing William Warfield sing that in his deep, rich “Old Man River” voice to an intimate audience at the University of Illinois in the early ‘80’s. Surprising that he sang a lullaby, and it made quite an impression that a simple lullaby could be so beautiful. Another song my girls love is “My Funny Valentine,” an unlikely lullaby unless you heard Judith from Cheers sing it, explaining how she took voice lessons so she could feel good about singing lullabies when her baby was born. Frasier pooh poohed, but the friends at Cheers were touched, and so was I. There is the Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” which should be sung to every child so their dreams will come true. I also sang the old “Mockingbird” (Daddy’s gonna buy you…) and even “Jesus Loves Me.” There was a fun ditty about the sandman: There was a Mr. Sandman, he wore a big brown hat. And on his back he carried a bag with Samantha Pussycat.
Wasn’t it sweet that my big college girl was thinking of her momma singing to her when she was little? I treasure that in my heart. Her question made me realize that those songs we sing to our babies and those funny singsong rhymes we tell them will one day be important to them. When our babies grow up and have their own babies, they will want to remember the songs and rhymes their own mothers taught them. Those gifts of love will pass to the next generation.
I do think that many parents may have neglected to repeat to their children the songs and rhymes they grew up with. My own parents were guilty of being non-singers so I had some learning to do. I suspect part of the reason for our reticence to sing is that we believe unless we have voices like canaries someone overhearing will laugh or ridicule. Well, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Practice helps, but more important I like to remember the words to a poster my daughter’s elementary school music teacher had: If only the bird with the most beautiful voice sang, the forest would be very quiet.
Hush you bye, don’t you cry, go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have all the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapples and grays, all the pretty little horses.