Sam had a hard time falling asleep when he was a toddler. Some nights we had to lay in the bed with him. It got so tiresome that when he finally nodded off, we’d just go to bed, too.
We had a few tapes of lullabies we’d play for the boys when they were little, and it helped on nights that Sam was less fitful and didn’t need a human teddy bear to fall asleep.
One of the tapes was of Jan DeGaetani singing Alec Wilder’s Night Songs and Lullabies. If I remember correctly, Ray Wright arranged them. We wore out a copy I made of a recording borrowed from the Rochester Public Library. If there is such a thing as local produce, there is of music, too. She was a great singer that taught at the Eastman School of Music, and Wright headed up the jazz department. Wilder had his own connections to the school. I knew that bootleg copy was a keeper and I was bummed the day it wouldn’t play anymore.
From time to time, I would call the people at Recycled Books and ask them if they had a recording of Jan DeGaetani singing Alec Wilder’s Night Songs and Lullabies. Never worked out. Earlier this year, I got on a tear again. Another artist recorded it, and I bought the CD. Reading the liner notes, I’m not sure they were even aware of the other recording. It’s lovely, but it’s not Rochester-local. I don’t know how to explain that.
Editions of that music book that I’ve seen for sale are collector’s items. Published in 1965, it was a music manuscript collection meant for children — it’s illustrated by Maurice Sendak (yes, the author of Where the Wild Things Are). I’ll bet in some families it’s an heirloom. This month, I borrowed it through interlibrary loan and started playing the lullabies and night songs on the piano.
Oh, the flood of memories. I swear music hits way more memory spots in your brain than smells and scents.
I asked Sam if he remembered any of them, and he didn’t. In a way, for him, that’s a good sign. When he was little, his memory was lists and lists, like a telephone book. He mapped out everything and it was always available — addresses, people’s birthdays, etc. But as he got older, his memory got less savant, you might say, and that’s ok.
Wilder’s book has about 50 little tunes in it, many of them completely original. As I played through them, I realized not all of them were on the original recording. One of the lullabies, if it had been, would have been Sam’s favorite as a kid — then he may have remembered it as an adult.
When I played it for him a few days ago, he followed along with the lyrics and laughed. This was a good lullaby for kids, he said.
I think all parents of kids (and not just parents of kids with autism), desperate enough for them to fall asleep that they might just start singing the phone book, would agree.
The Telephone Book Lullaby, by Alec Wilder
Ada Jones, Agnes Jones, Albert Jones, Alec Jones,
Alfred Jones, Alice Jones
Alma Jones, Alvin Jones, Andrew Jones, Anna Jones and
All the other Joneses.
For additional verses, Mr. Wilder suggests you see “Jones” in any telephone directory.