the lullaby

I had a moment, last night, of feeling cradled.

It happened at Albany High. My daughter Jeanne is a senior there and sings in assorted ensembles. I was in the auditorium for the third and last of the school’s year-capping spring concerts when choir director Brendan Hoffman — “Hoff,” as the kids affectionately call him — asked everyone in the wings to move into the middle. Just one song, he promised. The students are going to surround you. Then everyone can move back.

I dutifully dislodged and parked myself in the center. As promised, the kids lined up around us. There were 80 or so of them, of every background, bent, ethnicity — the world sprawled beautifully across their faces. Hoff stood in the aisle, poised at that moment of rapt inaction before the hands snapped into motion and the music began.

And then he moved. And then they sang: Eric Whitacre’s “Allelulia,” a gorgeous piece that repeats and distends the one word, over and over and over, with layers of ecstatic harmony and solos spiked with airy dissonance. It isn’t an easy thing by any stretch. But it’s exquisite.

And we in the audience sat there, awed. It wasn’t just the song that awed us, or the enduring power of art, or the gift of an inspiring teacher — or even the miracle, and that is not too strong a word, of a publicly funded music program that feeds so many kids.

There was something else going on. Something maybe we felt but didn’t quite pinpoint, not till later. I know it didn’t hit me until late last night as I was lying in bed, my brain skittering fitfully through the day. I realized belatedly that we in the crowd — the proud parents of girls and boys so lately become women and men — had been serenaded by our own babies. Circling us in that big hall, embracing us in song, their young, strong voices hushed and held us as our own long-ago voices had once hushed and held them with lullabies.

We were cradled, in that middle strip of auditorium, by our own children. They gave us a song, a thing of beauty, a timeless snatch of enveloping love and joy. From the moment of birth, every parent anticipates a day when the tables are turned, when the son becomes the father, when the daughter spoons pudding into her mother’s soft and pliant mouth. That day will come, whether I’m aware of its arrival or not. What I never expected was last night’s gift, this sense of being soothed and nurtured by the child to whom I sang at bedtime not so long ago.

Maybe this is the power of art, after all: music that gives and gives, moments that stretch and stretch, children who grow up and sing to their parents, transformed.

8 thoughts on “the lullaby

  1. Thank you for “Lullaby.” I have been in Albany Pro Musica for over 30 years and understand the power of choral music. We have performed a good number of Eric Whitacre’s pieces to much acclaim. Tomorrow, (6/17 at noon,) we will introduce our next Artistic Director. Hope you will be there!

  2. Beautiful.
    And this? “There were 80 or so of them, of every background, bent, ethnicity — the world sprawled beautifully across their faces.” — This is the story of Albany’s schools that doesn’t get told. My daughter is only 3. We live in Albany. And everyone expects us to move before she hits school age. But in my heart I want her to be a part of what you’re describing. I really appreciate the stories you tell about Albany’s public schools, and the very positive sides of them that no one seems to talk about. Thank you.

  3. I love the lullaby piece, Amy. …the facts of it and the director and young people who made the happening , the beauty of the idea, the beauty of the music and the beauty of the effect on its audience . Most of all, I love the beauty of the amazing person who so clearly perceived what had happened and so warmly and effectively shared that event with us readers.

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