Eleemosynary: the Telephone Book Lullaby revisited

by Peggy on November 8, 2014

The Denton Record-Chronicle‘s former opinion page editor, Mike Trimble, called big vocabulary $50 words. He knew a lot of them and used them to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle. Occasionally, he dropped one in his Mark Twain-like editorials, which sent you running to the dictionary. But we reporters are not allowed to use them in news stories, so my vocabulary muscles get flabby sometimes.

Five years ago, I stumbled on a $50 word that inspired understanding of an important concept for me as the parent of someone with autism. You can read some random thoughts about neoteny here.

Today’s $50 word, eleemosynary, means charity or alms giving. It’s also the title of a 1985 play by Lee Blessing, who is best known for A Walk in the Woods. Eleemosynary is filled with $50 words because the story involves a precocious teenage girl and her obsession with winning a spelling bee.

I learned the word today because of The Telephone Book Lullaby. I blogged about this little tune, written by Alec Wilder, about two years ago. It befuddled me how many times people landed on that page after a specific search for the lullaby. I thought I was writing about something pretty obscure. I suppose the lullaby still is obscure, since my blog post comes up so high in internet searches for it.

Occasionally, a reader has sent an email asking how to find the music to the lullaby. (Yes, Internet people, you can borrow a book of sheet music through interlibrary loan, just like any other kind of book). When I received yet another request recently, I asked why.

The woman told me that she was putting on the play and the playwright called for lullabies during the transitions between each act. Blessing calls for The Telephone Book Lullaby in one of the transitions.

The play appears to be enjoying a bit of a revival, based on how many recent productions showed up in a news search I did today. That suggests why people are looking for this obscure piece of music. As far as I know, it’s only available in an out-of-print children’s book.

I added a little piano recording to the original post to help out.

It’s nice to solve that little mystery, but it has lead to another one: How did Blessing know Alec Wilder and The Telephone Book Lullaby and why did he call for it? 

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