By Angharad Jenkins, Live Music Now Cymru musician
Countless songwriters have compared song-writing to therapy. Just head to Google and you will be faced with a myriad of varying quotes on the theme. As a musician and a mother to two little children, I too can ascertain the cathartic effects of song-writing. Without sounding too dramatic, song-writing has been my saviour, and without which my mental health could have taken a turn for the worse during those difficult postpartum years. And it all started with a lullaby. Let me explain.
We all know what the basic function of a lullaby is. Many of us, if we’re lucky, will remember being sung to as children, and can still probably – even if a bit rusty – recollect some of our earliest musical repertoire. Even if we haven’t sung those songs for many years, it’s likely that the melodies and simple lyrics are entrenched there somewhere in the back of our minds, waiting for a time and a reason to be resurfaced.
However, it wasn’t until becoming a mother myself did I truly understand the power of a lullaby.
I learnt very quickly, in the first days and weeks of my daughter’s life, that the only way to communicate with a baby is to sing to them. I would sing to soothe and sing to entertain. Life turned into one long song, and every activity had a theme tune.
I started by using well-known melodies. Key-words from some of my favourite pop and folk songs were swapped with my daughter’s name (e.g. the Welsh song ‘Lleucu Llwyd’, became ‘Tanwen Haf’) and the tunes to Frère Jacques and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star became the melody on which I would recite our daily itinerary. Singing became a daily occurrence, and over time I noticed my voice improving.
Now, despite being a musician, I’ve never considered myself much of a singer. I was never very confident, and a sneering comment from an ABRSM music examiner in my early teens was the final nail in the coffin. The violin has been my main instrument ever since, and I’ve enjoyed a 15 year career playing predominantly instrumental music.
When becoming a mother for the first time, the frustration for me was that I no longer had the use of my hands. I couldn’t play the violin or make music in the way I had done before, simply because I needed to carry a baby in my arms all day. The violin became inaccessible, so I started singing not only as a way to connect with my daughter, but to occupy myself. And so – just like learning an instrument – this daily practise meant my voice was becoming better, stronger, and my range was improving. Except this didn’t feel like practice, but more like survival!
The song-writing journey begins
Over time, I became bored of the same old songs. I needed something else to occupy myself and to flex those creative muscles again, which I missed so much. And so, naturally, and as if by accident, I started song-writing as a way to deal with the monotony of life with a small child.
At this point, it’s perhaps interesting to note that I was raising my first child during the lockdown years, when there were no other forms of support and face-to-face interaction. There were certainly no baby groups, and so singing and song-writing filled that void. In a way, even though it was a difficult and strange time for us all, I’m grateful to have had that opportunity to explore that avenue, because once I started I couldn’t stop.
The songwriter and fellow Live Music Now musician Maz O’Connor once told me that song-writing is like opening a rusty tap. It takes a while to prize it open, but once the songs start flowing, they come thick and fast. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
I sent a couple to my friend, the multi-instrumentalist Aeddan Williams, who helped me work on the arrangements. He encouraged me to keep writing, and within 6 months I had 17 songs. It was a wonderfully productive, happy time. I was doing something I’d longed to do for so long, but couldn’t find a way in. And my muse? My daughter and my experiences as a mother. It was the start of figuring out what life as a mother and musician could be. I needed to get them recorded, and so, with a very real and immovable deadline of the due date of my second baby in March 2022, we set to it.
Working on the Lullaby Project
In 2021, just as I was dipping my toes into song-writing, I was invited by Live Music Now to attend an online training course with Emily Eagen, a teaching artist and composer working with Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The training clarified to me all these things I’d figured out instinctively as a mother about the benefits of lullabies. I enjoyed listening to every case study, anecdote and lullaby, and I almost felt part of the research. As a new mum, who was by now singing on a daily basis, everything Emily said resonated with me.
I knew that singing felt good for me and my baby, and I wanted others to feel the same benefits. Armed with this training, I felt set to start delivering Lullaby Projects in Wales on behalf of Live Music Now.
By now, I have delivered three projects and am about to embark on my fourth. The results and the connections made during these projects have been so profound and rewarding.
The song-writing process starts by writing a letter to the baby, and from those letters come the most beautiful, meaningful, personal and heartfelt messages. No matter how many times we deliver this project, and how many mothers we work with, the sentiments are often very similar, but what’s become apparent is that there is a thousand different ways to say it. Every mother has their own voice, and it’s a joy to see these lullabies come to life.
Debut Album Release
As this article comes out, I’m emerging from my second maternity leave to the sound of my first few singles being released into the world. It’s felt like a long time coming, but I’m relieved and excited to finally share some of my musical offerings. They are so different to anything I’ve created before. But I’ve learnt that life is too short to shy away. We all have a voice. And if – by releasing this album and by working on Live Music Now’s Lullaby Project – I can connect with other mothers and help them unlock the power of lullabies, then I will have done some good in the world.
Angharad’s debut album Motherland is due out in October 2023 on Libertino Records. You can follow her journey on her social media platforms @thisisangharad and listen to her music here: https://linktr.ee/thisisangharad