Long Ago Lullabye

D Mode

The lapis lazuli or bull's head lyre from the royal tombs of Ur, now in the Pennsylvania museum. Front panels are described below.

The title "Lullaby" came to be changed to avoid confusion when we found out that there are hundreds of songs with that same name.

"Long Ago Lullaby" (its new name) is actually the first tune composed for this project, on a little psaltery that served as a substitue for an ancient lyre. "What kind of music must have existed from time immemorial?" was the starting question.

Perhaps lullabies, were a good place to start, since mothers have been lulling their babies to sleep ever since babies were invented. The soothing sound of a human voice can be very effective.

The images to the left are whimisical designs from the front panel of the lapis lazuli bull's head lyre from Ur, and seemed entertaining enough to interest youngsters. Click for larger pictures.

Top panel: Mr. Dog seems to be bringing out a small table with (roasted heads and legs?) while Mr. Lion follows to the feast carring a large amphora , perhaps of beer, and also a dish of freshly baked barley cakes.

The melody of Long Ago Lullaby is a simple tune written for this project. The names for lullabies in different languages are interesting. An Italian mamma sings a ninna nanna, a French maman sings a berceause, from the word for cradle or bower. A Sumerian mother sang a song to her baby referred to in at least one instance as an ua a ua.

Babies don't seem to be very particular what language lullabies are in, just so long as the voice sounds like some one they know (especially mama) who is warm. Some kind of motion, usually back and forth, will do, but of course being carried around is best.

Readers are invited to send us other names for mother and lullaby in their language at jcsmith8@pacbell.net.

Middle panel: Mr. Jackass is merrily playing a huge bull-headed lyre, which is being supported by Mr. Bear. A smaller creature (a cat or a jackal?) is shaking a rattle or other percussion instrument of some kind.

The one exception to this prescription for sleep is the baby of a neighbor, according to my mother, who would only go to sleep if driven around in the car for a good forty minutes or so beforehand. This proved to be inconvenient on occasion, so my mom's friend, who was very resourceful, devised a clever solution.
t seems they had a vacuum cleaner that sounded a lot like their car at the time. Acting on a stroke of genius, she put the vaccuum under her baby's bed. She would dress the baby up in his night gown, lay him down in his crib, switch on the vacuum cleaner, and leave the room, slamming the door a couple of times on the way out before turning off the light.

The baby seemed to find this charade sufficiently convincing to drift happily off to sleep.

Scorpian man and his goat have also been invited to the party. They bring glasses of wine and perhaps gifts of cheese and bread for the hostess. What could be in that large jar?

"Long Ago Lullaby" is very easy to play on a harp or lyre because it has no large intervals; it is easy to find the next note without getting lost on the way. Simple back and forth, rocking motifs, two or three strings apart; work just fine for lullingt a small baby as it drifts off to dream land. The range is also limited, and any mama could sing it, on key or off, with the same results.

The size of the big lyre makes its range quite low. The Sumerian lyre definitely does not sound like anyone's mother, although fathers can sing ua a ua's too, of course. The soothing, gentle sound of the harp actually takes a more leading role in this particular lullabye. But the lyre is given two solos, one near the beginning (higher up) after the first vocal chorus, and another at the end of the song, which sounds more like daddy's voice.

The Silver Lyre from Ur has eleven strings. Its range is approximately from the bottom line G of the present day bass cleff up to about middle C. The first lyre solo in "Long Ago Lullabye" is played somewhat above its true range. This is possible only because our sampled sounds can be made to extend beyond, both above and below, the range of the original instrument on the keyboard of the synthesizer. Arranging samples needs to be done skillfully, or else the higher sounds will sound like munchkins and the lower ones like trolls.

Stephen Clark, who recorded the samples from Dr. Kilmer's lyre, knew how to make the lyre samples sound very convincing over a very large range. This enables the synthesizer to play the equivalent of a bass, tenor, alto and soprano version of an instrument family even if we actually have only one member of the family available to work with.

1. Berber Wedding Song
2. The Music Class
3. Twilight on the Water
4. Hurrian Moonrise
5. Ninkasi’s Dance
6. Lament for Linus
7. Solitary Theme
8. Long Ago Lullaby
9. Fortune-Telling Song
10. Hurrian Moonset
11. Ea, the Creator
12. The Queen of Sheba
13. Hal Libba Marya


©Bella Roma Music 2002