Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Hard not to cry’: Local families work with musicians to create personalized lullabies

The performance of four lullabies was met with applause – not snores – from a small crowd Saturday at downtown Spokane’s Central Library.

Working with local musicians, four families received personalized lullabies inspired by letters they wrote to their children.

Jessie Cook, a mom who participated, said it was “hard not to cry” hearing their family’s lullaby, “Your Light Burns Bright,” Saturday.

“It was a really great experience,” she said.

Lullaby project coordinator Michael Ebinger said his viola teacher brought the idea to him after seeing something similar done by Carnegie Hall. The idea started in 2019, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lullaby Project could not move forward until last year.

Ebinger said he connected with Carnegie Hall’s message about bringing music to families who might not have the opportunity to create lullabies and exposing people to the process of music and music’s power to bring people together.

The idea of the project is to help families connect with their newborns and young children through a lullaby, said Alexandra Rannow, Spokane Symphony education and community engagement manager. The Spokane Symphony and Spokane Public Library work together to find organizations like the YWCA who can help find families who would benefit from creating a lullaby for their children.

Those parents write letters to their children, and songwriters work with them to create a song based on the letters and a violinist helps orchestrate the lullabies, she said.

Ebinger said the YWCA helped connect three families with the project but the fourth family, who is Salish, found out about the project themselves and wrote and performed their song in both Salish and English.

Spokane Symphony violinist David Armstrong is the violinist orchestrating the songs and his experience writing arrangements and rehearsing prior to Saturday’s performance has been unique because of the lyrics and the style of music.

“That’s just something that’s enjoyable, to get to play … a few songs that are all in very diverse characters with a short amount of time for the concert,” Armstrong said.

Rannow said it is important to offer projects that offer depth and not just breadth.

“You can have concerts, and you can bring thousands of kids to the Fox, and they can have an incredible experience with the symphony and be so impacted by that and that’s great,” she said. “But projects like this where you just have focused time with … those four families to make this impact to learn about their lives, to learn about their kids, and I just think that goes so deep and it’s really powerful.”

Rannow said she appreciates the partnership with the Spokane Public Library because of the resources they offer such as a recording studio and songwriters who work with the Symphony’s musicians.

“I just can’t believe that we’re so lucky to have that in our community,” she said. “It’s powerful. It’s really exciting.”

Andy Rumsey, Spokane Public Library music education specialist, became involved in the planning process for the project in 2019 and continued the planning throughout the pandemic. He is now one of the songwriters working with the parents to create the lullabies.

Rumsey said growing up, music was a big part of his life and has never left, and he sees music integrated in human traits.

“It seems to be all across time and all across the world that human beings need music and want music,” he said. “I think that it’s just the most powerful thing in the world for a mother or father to sing a lullaby to their child. It helps facilitate bonding and it helps facilitate intimacy in a way that almost nothing else does.”

Rumsey, Rannow and a Spokane Symphony quartet performed the four lullabies Saturday at the library.

Couple Brittney Shining and Michael Stratton used the words “beautiful” and “incredible” to describe the performance of their lullaby, “Through and Through.” They had only heard the lyrics with a guitar prior to Saturday.

“It was really cool to see it all come together,” Shining said.

The couple said their young daughters, Sophia and Sidney Stratton, took the lead on how they wanted the song, which centered on their daughters’ relationship with each other.

Shining said their daughters are “polar opposite” of each other. But, the moral of the song is wherever their daughters’ paths lead, they will always be connected to each other, she said.

“I want a family, I want some kids,” the lyrics read. “I want to save the world. Our paths may lead down two different roads, but whatever you carry I’ll lighten the load.”

“I just think it’s an awesome program, and I’m hoping that it continues, because I think it will be a really great experience for a lot of families,” Shining said.

Cook said she was overwhelmed “in a very positive way” by the performance of the lullaby she and her husband, Jade Warpenburg, helped create. Like Shining and Stratton, they had only heard the lyrics with an acoustic guitar before Saturday.

The couple have a 1½-year-old son.

“We listen to music all the time with him, so I think that we tried to have as many influences in the song that he’s had in the past year and a half,” Warpenburg said.

The couple worked with Liz Rognes, a local musician and singer songwriter, and Rumsey.

“It’s just been a really cool community, creative, empowering experience, so we’re very grateful,” Cook said.

The lullabies performed on Saturday will soon be distributed as a CD to the four families.