Mount Allison University Archives receives musical notations and lyrics of 1917 English lullabies, preserved in new online exhibition
SACKVILLE, NB – Last November the Mount Allison University Archives was pleased to receive manuscript copies of a group of fascinating and little-known 20th-century English lullabies donated by retired Music Librarian and Adjunct Professor, Peter Higham.
The lullabies, as part of the aural tradition of music transmission, were well-known to Higham’s mother and aunt. His aunt had written down the words to the lullabies in 1917, and it is from these manuscripts that Higham’s mother later recalled the melodies. The family had recently moved from Yorkshire, England to Edmonton, Alberta and the songs undoubtedly provided a link to traditions back in England.
The lullabies have gained a new life this winter, as part of an online archival exhibition entitled, A Posy of Lullabies, curated by Higham and University Archivist David Mawhinney.
“Mount Allison’s Archives is indebted to Peter Higham for having the foresight to preserve these charming lullabies for future generations,” says Mawhinney. “This exhibition will enable these century-old musical gems to be shared and enjoyed by current and future generations of all ages. We thank the Higham family for this gift to our collection.”
Circa 2002, Higham’s mother gave him the sheets of paper on which the lullaby lyrics had been written by his aunt, and sometime after that he recorded his mother singing the lullabies so that he might notate the melodies. Subsequently, Higham composed accompaniments to the lullabies for guitar.
All seven of the songs in the collection are believed to come from the English lullaby song tradition. Two of the lullabies were subsequently found to have been published, but currently there are no known publications or recordings of the other five.
“The seven songs touch upon universal themes that were created to help young children go off to sleep including: a rocking cradle, two brown hares, a boat, the new moon and moonbeams,” says Mawhinney. “They are charming examples of a song tradition that continues to this day. Modern examples include “Soft Kitty” from the wildly popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.”
The Mount Allison Libraries and Archives have chosen to highlight this special musical collection in an online virtual exhibition launched this month. In a time when we cannot congregate, this wonderful resource helps to promote aurally conveyed traditional music and share it with a wider audience.