Waking up to new lullaby tunes
The ‘Sing a Lullaby’ workshop has been connecting people across the globe through different languages and genres
Every Tuesday night at 8 p.m., a handful of people from India and around the world, get ready to immerse themselves into lullabies that carry with them the tenderness of time, the invisible embrace of voices gone by, and the gentle power of words asserting the beauty of language. The ‘Sing a Lullaby’ workshop — an ambitious 52 weeks for 52 lullabies — organised by Chennai-based singer-musician Vedanth Bharadwaj and Bengaluru-based singer, Gurupriya Atreya, comes at a time when the world is grappling with uncertainty and fear, bringing a cosy corner of warmth under the blanket of hope.
“We have actually been discussing this idea — of an album of lullabies — since 2014, when my wife and I were about to have our first child. And then again in 2016, when Gurupriya had her first child. Each time, we would go one step further and then it would inevitably stop,” says Vedanth. “In fact,” adds Gurupriya, “in 2018, there was another revival when NIMHANS roped us in for a project for their post-partum department, but the project was eventually scrapped due to budget issues.” Vedanth and Gurupriya, who have been collaborating on several concerts since 2007, finally found the right place and time for the idea to become a reality. “When procrastination became legal in 2020,” laughs Vedanth, “we thought, okay, now is the time.”
The posters and emails went out in October for a workshop that is open to all and follows the pay-as-you-can model, and within a week, they had over 200 registrations. “Two hundred and twenty two emails,” says Gurupriya. “It was overwhelming and heartening that so many were interested. And the stories they shared — one new mother, with a 40-day-old baby, said that everyone in her house seemed to have made a connection with the baby except her and she hoped, by learning lullabies and singing to her baby, she would find her connection too.”
On the first day of the workshop, 170 people turned up on Zoom and YouTube together, where the session is active for 24 hours to accommodate those from different time zones. Like Menga Asaridis-Taian, a retired Kindergarten teacher from Switzerland, who hasn’t missed a session till now. “Since the pandemic has been keeping us mostly at home, we have been actively using Zoom in order to teach or meet people or sing! That’s how I found the idea of singing lullabies a wonderful chance to widen my horizon. I am enjoying not only the singing, but also the atmosphere of the workshop — there is no stress, there is kindness and there is comfort,” she says. For Anand Kurien, father to a five-year-old and a teacher with the rare combination of teaching physics and music at Good Earth School in Chennai, this workshop was a chance to expand his repertoire of songs.
“The different genres of music, the variety of languages, and even just the experience of watching how one teaches music online… it’s invaluable for any music teacher. But even though I began with a specific reason, I have come to enjoy the sense of community this workshop brings. There is one participant who actually falls asleep listening to the songs! It’s wonderful. I think if you attend once, you will keep coming back for more.”
But is the workshop only for those who can hold a tune? Surely not, as that’s the thing about lullabies — you sing not for the perfection of the melody or words, but for the promise of accessing something ancient, a magic that we fully believe at the end of a long day, when all we want is for the child to fall asleep. “I still remember my out-of-tune grandmother’s lullaby singing,” says Radha Nagesh, counsellor, Viveka Counselling Centre, Bengaluru. “Now I sing for my grand-daughter, and am usually surprised because it is almost like she recognises it. It makes one wonder, what is that magic in a lullaby, the memory of which is etched over generations and longs to be passed on? Incidentally, my 80-year-old mother, Shanta Iyer, is also attending this workshop!”
It is this human connection that the workshop ultimately creates, the ones we cannot explain but can sing, when for a brief moment in time, a language and a tune break free from polarised silos and wrap themselves around our tongues. “At the end of this endeavour, we hope to have four albums with 13 songs each,” says Vedanth. “But for now, it is about showing up every week, and realising that this is more than just the two of us; it now has an entire community behind it.”
The independent writer
is based in Chennai.