Arts | Outings + Activities | Seattle

Lullaby Project: Homeless Moms Reclaim Home and Family Through Making Music

Project of the Seattle Symphony and Mary's Place shows the power of a song

The Lullaby Project, 2014
A Lullaby Project workshop. Photo credit: Tracy Salazar

"I went in really nervous," Charlotte said of her experience with the Lullaby Project. Charlotte* is a mother of two boys — 7 and 5 years old—and until recently had been seeking assistance from Mary’s Place, an organization that provides homeless women with the resources they need to support themselves and their families and to reclaim their lives. Charlotte was one of about a dozen women from the agency who participated in the project, which is part of the Seattle Symphony’s Community Connections program.

The project pairs mothers in distressed situations with musicians who work with them to create a personal lullaby for their children. "The musician, Shelby, who helped me, was fantastic. By day one we really had a great rough draft," says Charlotte. It was really amazing to see my words on paper and on the sheet music."

Daisy, another mother at Mary’s Place, said "My 3 year-old loves Frozen — it's his bedtime thing.” Participating in the project “would give me something for him when we're in our own home that I can play for him at night for him to go to sleep to."

"I've been really surprised and inspired by the different styles and original ideas that came from the mothers," relates Joy Payton-Stevens, a cellist with the Seattle Symphony. "When I think of a lullaby I have a very specific concept in mind, but walking around the room that first day, you heard eight distinct, new ideas and none of them sounded anything alike."

The Lullaby Project, 2014
Photo credit: Tracy Salazar

The musicians gave the mothers a chance to hear what each instrument sounded like. “They had us play just a little bit so they could hear what a cello would sound like with their song. They were able to pick and start to decide 'Do I want a cello? Do I want a flute? Do I want a guitar?'" said Payton-Stevens.

After an initial brainstorming, the musicians converted the mothers’ ideas into sheet music. They reconvened at Benaroya Hall for a recording session, where the musicians and some of the mothers performed their songs, "for better or for worse,” Charlotte told me.

The Lullaby Project was pioneered by Carnegie Hall, and over the last few years has spread across the country. The Seattle Symphony pitched the idea to Mary’s Place two years ago, piloted the program last year, and plans to expand it to other organizations going forward.

"We recently moved into housing and they [the kids] have had a hard time transitioning from the shelter life to back having a home.” Charlotte said. “Living in shelter with them we all slept in the same bed and before we were in a shelter we were living in a car we were all sleeping together and now there's that separation where they each have their own room. So having something that's calming and soothing for them was really important because they're having a hard time with that."

For Charlotte, the lullaby offers a chance to recoup memories lost. "I've lost all their baby pictures, their baby books, the blanket they came home with. For me having something that's a maybe little babyish is a chance to reconnect with that. Something just to remind them that they're safe now."

A Lullaby Project workshop. Photo credit: Tracy Salazar
A Lullaby Project workshop. Photo credit: Tracy Salazar

Marty Hartman, Executive Director of Mary’s Place has been pleased with the outcomes of the project, which she sees as very much in line with the agency’s mission. "These songs are just a reminder that there is hope, that there is love, that there is comfort for their child and for them. There's no greater gift than that."

Want to hear some of these mother-created lullabies for yourself? They will be presented at a Lullaby Project concert on Saturday, May 9 at 3 p.m. at Soundbridge, the Seattle Symphony’s music discovery center.

One of the lullabies will also be performed at the Ten Grands concert, a family-friendly event that takes place at Benaroya Hall on Friday, May 8 at 7 p.m. (See below for concert details.) You can also hear some of the 2014 lullabies on the Seattle Symphony website

Each mother will receive a CD with a recording of their lullaby, which they’ll receive at a sharing session on Wednesday, May 6.

*Mothers' last names have not been included in the article to protect their privacy.

Lullaby Project concerts and more mom- (and family-friendly) concerts in May

10 Grands concert. Courtesy of Seattle Symphony

Ten Grands Concert

Friday, May 8, 7 p.m.
Benaroya Hall
All ages
One of the lullabies will be performed at this spectacular, family-friendly concert featuring ten concert pianists and dozens of talented young musicians.

Lullaby Project concert

Saturday, May 9, 3 p.m.
Soundbridge at Benaroya Hall
All ages

Lullabies from the project will be presented at a concert at Soundbridge, the Seattle Symphony’s music discovery center. Free, no RSVP required.

Link Up's The Orchestra Rocks

Saturday, May 9, 11 a.m.
Benaroya Hall, Seattle; $15–$20
Ages 6–11
One of the many standouts in the Seattle Symphony’s Family Music series, this concert, conducted by Stilian Kirov, explores rhythm, pulse and groove, drawing on selected pieces that include Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Families are invited to participate.

Symphony Kids: Stone Soup

Saturday, May 16, 2015, 10 a.m and 11:30 a.m., $12
Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall
Ages 3–6

The classic folk tale told through an interactive concert featuring symphony musicians, storytelling and visuals, sets and costumes. Pre-concert activities begin 30 minutes before each performance in the Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby.

Northwest Folklife: Kindiependent Showcase

Monday, May 25, 2015, 11:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
Fountain Lawn Stage at Seattle Center, by donation
All ages

There are literally hundreds of reasons for families to visit Northwest Folklife Festival, which takes place from May 22-25 over Memorial Day weekend, but the Monday kindie showcase is an especial favorite. Rockin' kids' bands including Johnny Bregar, Brian Vogan and his Good Buddies, The Not-Its, Recess Monkey, and the Harmonica Pocket take the stage for an outdoor show. Kids can also take advantage of the Discovery Zone, which includes activities, workshops, and performances throughout the weekend.

Northwest Folklife Festival
Northwest Folklife Festival

Pinkalicious: The Musical

Friday–Sunday, May 17–June 7, 2015
Second Story Repertory, Redmond, $10 ($5 for children 1–3 on Sundays)
All ages

This musical, based on the popular book by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann, follows the story of Pinkalicious, a young girl who can’t stop eating pink cupcakes. Her love of all things pink lands her in the doctor’s office after she comes down with Pinkititis, a condition that turns her pink from h$ead to toe!

Big Top Rock! Dream On

May 17, 23, 24, and 30, 11:00 a.m.
Teatro ZinZanni, Seattle; $20–$25
All ages

An ideal first rock concert, ZinZanni's family-friendly rock show includes great live music, a kiddie mosh pit, high-flying circus acts and more.

Big Top Rock: Dream On
Big Top Rock: Dream On

Claire Jones and Paul Mataruse: Music of Zimbabwe

Thursday, May 21, 2015. 7:30 p.m.
Meany Hall, University of Washington

Visiting artists to the UW School of Music present a concert that surveys the musical styles of Zimbabwe on traditional instruments (marimba and mbira). The concert features Northwest marimba ensemble Ruzivio and the Mahonyera Mbira Ensemble.

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