gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

The Seal Lullaby

on May 11, 2013

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Some of you know that we are a very musical family through all generations. Last weekend my father was singing in his male voice choir, the oldest member of which is a sprightly 92. Their guest choir sang a gorgeous tune which I had never heard before and since I have been playing it on repeat ever since I thought you might like to discover it for yourself. The Seal Lullaby is composed by one of my favourite modern composers, Eric Whitacre. With words from Rudyard Kipling. And it was almost never heard by the world. I will let him tell you the story in his own words –
The Seal Lullaby

In the spring of 2004 I was lucky enough to have my show Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings presented at the ASCAP Musical Theater Workshop. The workshop is the brainchild of legendary composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspelll), and his insights about the creative process were profoundly helpful. He became a great mentor and friend to the show and, I am honored to say, to me personally.
Soon after the workshop I received a call from a major film studio. Stephen had recommended me to them and they wanted to know if I might be interested in writing music for an animated feature. I was incredibly excited, said yes, and took the meeting.
The creative executives with whom I met explained that the studio heads had always wanted to make an epic adventure, a classic animated film based on Kipling’s The White Seal. I have always loved animation (the early Disney films; Looney Tunes; everything Pixar makes) and I couldn’t believe that I might get a chance to work in that grand tradition on such great material.
The White Seal is a beautiful story, classic Kipling, dark and rich and not at all condescending to kids. Best of all, Kipling begins his tale with the mother seal singing softly to her young pup. (The opening poem is called The Seal Lullaby).
I was struck so deeply by those first beautiful words, and a simple, sweet Disney-esque song just came gushing out of me. I wrote it down as quickly as I could, had my wife record it while I accompanies her at the piano, and then dropped it off at the film studio.
I didn’t hear anything from them for weeks and weeks, and I began to despair. Did they hate it? Was it too melodically complex? Did they even listen to it? Finally, I called them, begging to know the reason that they had rejected my tender little song. “Oh,” said the exec, “we decided to make Kung Fu Panda instead.”
So I didn’t do anything with it, just sang it to my baby son every night to get him to go to sleep. (Success rate: less than 50%.) And a few years later the Towne Singers graciously commissioned this arrangement of it. I’m grateful to them for giving it a new life. And I’m especially grateful to Stephen Schwartz, to whom the piece is dedicated. His friendship and invaluable tutelage has meant more to me than I could ever tell him.

The Seal Lullaby
Oh! Hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us,
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas!

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936


Eric Whitacre blog post
If you get a chance in the next couple of days please make yourself a cup of tea, track down this piece on ITunes or Spotify, find a quiet corner and just let the sound wash over you for a few minutes. You’ll be sleeping like a baby.

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Tomorrow evening Gillyboy number 3 is singing, and rapping, and Mrs Gillybirds herself is making a rare public appearance on the alto sax at an event intriguingly entitled “The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen”. We may not be in the same league as the gorgeous Eric, but we should keep everyone awake for an hour or so.

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