Leave Your Sleep proves that poetry rocks (and pops, and lullabies, and folks around the world…)

July 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm Leave a comment

Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant; audio CD published by Nonesuch; 2010.

Inspiration comes when it is least expected; perhaps that is why some folks keep a pad of paper and a pencil on nightstands.  In the case of Natalie Merchant’s latest musical endeavor, inspiration came from within books.  Poetry books.  Poets from anonymous to Ogden Nash; Robert Louis Stevenson to Jack Prelutsky and e.e. cummings; Merchant heard melodies while reading poetry.  The result is a hypnotic, family-friendly 2-disc set, Leave Your Sleep. Please don’t let the name fool you: this is not a compilation of lullabies and nursery rhymes.  Yes, there are plenty of those bedtime-friendly songs to add to a naptime mix, but there are treats for all occasions.  There are songs to appeal to all members of the family and their unique musical tastes: reggae, rock, pop, and folk songs flavored by the whole world.  Some tunes that stand out for the early elementary school set include “The Sleepy Giant” (Charles E. Carryl), “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” (Jack Prelutsky), and “Topsy Turvey World” (William Brighty Rands) which is currently playing on NPR while I write this.

Each song enchants, as Merchant’s genius perfectly matches poem to musical genre.  The tone of the poem is expressed in the music and is also paired with its intended audience.  Somber, brooding Russian folk music sets us in the old world where “The Dancing Bear” runs away with me.  A fiddler accompanies Merchant’s vocals in the folk song version of “Calico Pie.”  Reggae riffs carry us through a “Topsy Turvey World.”  Lullabies and dance tunes grab the hands of the poets and the audience and lead us on an adventure.

As a librarian, I was taken with the packaging.  The CDs and liner notes are combined in a book of its own.  The cover shows the spines of the many poetry sources used.  Inside, the end pages hold the two discs and the body of the book contains the poems/lyrics and biographies of the poets.  Best of all, Merchant describes why she selected the poems and her connections to the poets themselves.  Photos help us put faces with the sources of her inspiration.  The “liner notes” themselves are a literary work worthy of a read, whether or not you listen to the music (which I highly recommend you do as well!).  Merchant’s website includes a link to Leave Your Sleep with links to read, watch, and listen.  All of the poems are included, as well as videos of the production process and audio clips of every song.  You can explore that here: http://www.nataliemerchant.com/p/leave-your-sleep.

Teachers should be using this to introduce poetry to even the youngest students.  Older students can study the original poetry before listening to the music.  Perhaps they can discuss whether or not they agree with the musical style used for each poem.  At the very least, this CD has to be used during National Poetry Month and included on a pathfinder about poetry resources.  What a fascinating way to encourage interest in some of the older poets and their body of work.  And I think we all needed the reminder that lyrics are simply poems set to music after all.


Entry filed under: Children's Music, Poetry/Verse. Tags: , , , .

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