A sweet lullaby makes even adults feel at ease and fall asleep. It seems the body remembers how a lullaby makes one feel. Just imagine yourself lying in bed with someone caressing your tummy while singing a lullaby quietly. Just thinking about it makes the eyelids droop in drowsiness. According to scientists, lullabies slow down babies’ heartbeats and ease their pain and discomfort, thus reducing the incidences of crying, frowning, or tossing and turning. Studies also found that babies who listened to lullabies gained more weight than those who didn’t. Some may think that lullabies sung by a professional singer are the best for babies, but lullabies that are sung live, preferably by someone who cares deeply for the baby, are more effective than recorded ones or those played with instruments only. Lullabies are more than just songs to babies. They are expressions of love. Here’s elderly lady Kim Deok-nam singing Gwangyang Lullaby from Jeollanam-do Province.
Gwangyang Lullaby/ Sung by Kim Deok-nam
This was “Gwangyang Lullaby” sung by Kim Deok-nam, an ordinary old lady from Gwangyang in southwestern Korea. The song describes how much the baby is cherished.
When my baby sleeps, don’t let the dog bark or the rooster crow.
When my baby sleeps, cover him in a flowery blanket and lay him on a soft mattress. He will become a loyal patriot, a filial son, and a friendly sibling.
How could a child who grew up on such a song go wrong? In Jeju Island, babies were reared in a basket called “baby gudeok구덕.” It is a bamboo cradle with a net woven with tough fibers in the middle where a blanket is placed for the baby to lie on. Since the net is suspended in the basket, the baby is less likely to get bitten by insects. Also, the baby is more likely to be kept cool in the summer as the air is circulated between the netting and kept warm in the winter because the net keeps the baby away from the cold ground. When the mother works in the field, the baby is kept in the gudeok so that she can rock the cradle with one foot while tending to the crops and singing a lullaby. Here’s Kang Deung-ja singing Jeju lullaby “Rocking the Cradle.”
Rocking the Cradle/ Sung by Kang Deung-ja
The traditional bamboo cradle has become a relic seen only in museums or folk villages. But the recent fad among young mothers is a gudeok cradle made of steel. Today’s mothers claim the steel cradle is perfect for rocking babies to sleep. It is probably the most useful tool to give some peace to mothers of babies and reduce their work.
The last song for this week’s Sounds of Korea is a passage from pansori Simcheongga심청가 where Cheong’s father rocks his baby daughter to sleep. Cheong’s mother passed away right after giving birth to her daughter. Cheong’s blind father must have despaired at his plight as a single father when his newborn baby kept crying for mother’s milk. As soon as the day broke, he went out to the village well to beg other women for breast milk. The kind ladies of the village happily shared their breast milk so that Cheong wouldn’t go hungry ever again. Thanks to the ladies’ generosity, Mr. Sim once again found the strength to raise the girl by himself. Today we’ll listen to the part where Mr. Sim begs for breast milk and rocks his daughter to sleep afterward. Here’s pansori diva Seong Chang-sun singing the select arias from Simcheongga.
Passage from Simcheongga/ Sung by Seong Chang-sun