Through the ages, the lullaby was probably the first music the child ever heard. To my knowledge, every culture in the world has bedtime songs for their babies. For this recording I chose lullabies that have reference to my own background: Afrikaans, English, German and isiZulu. It is amazing how some themes keep recurring, despite the differences in their cultural setting.
Very often there is reference to nature, which is coming to rest. In Flies’s Mozart-Wiegenlied the sheep, birds and mice are silent; in Brahms’s Sandmännchen the flowers are nodding their heads.
In Endler’s Wiegeliedjie, the sheep and goats have gone to bed. In Mariä Wiegenlied the birds are singing, and in Brahms’s Wiegenlied there are roses and carnations on Baby’s bed.
In Afrikaanse Wiegeliedjie, set to a poem by the beloved Langenhoven, the mother sings about the wind, streams, trees, flowers and stars, but then turns more serious: The mother knows that Baby will soon grow up, and face the winding twists and turns of life on his own. She expresses a longing for her baby to remain small, safe in her arms. Bei der Wiege by Mendelssohn is also about this theme: the brevity of babyhood, and the inevitability of growing up.
The parent constantly assures his child that he is watching, as are
the angels, sent by God (e.g. in All through the night, Slaapdeuntjie, Schubert’s and Brahms’s Wiegenlied). Some of the songs are wistful and dreamy (A Gartan Mother’s Lullaby, Op my ou Ramkietjie, Hulle sê daar’s ‘n man in die maan, Gut Nacht). Sometimes the mother sings of the father that is absent, but would
soon return (Bye Baby Bunting). Often a reward is promised (O thula mtwana, Schubert’s Wiegenlied).
Slaap Pikaninie contains many of these themes: ‘Sleep, little child, our flocks are in the kraal (enclosure), all our sheep and goats. Early tomorrow you’ll get a meal of sweet porridge, and two crisp white socks. Daddy will return tomorrow from the dam, riding on his fat old billy-goat. When he hears that you have been good, my lamb, how your Daddy will cheer! Snuggle deep into your fur blanket, Mommy is baking fresh tarts. If you don’t sleep, your Mommy gets what she wants: To kiss her child on his bottom!’ It also adds an absurd verse; which I regard as a little joke between mother and child; a ‘tickling verse’: ‘Sleep, little child, the old baboon knows you from long ago. If you don’t sleep, you can certainly know, he’ll bite off your nose and ears!’
Some of the songs are not lullabies in the strictest sense of the word, like Swing low / Steal away, but they do comfort the child as well as the mother. One such song is Op berge en in dale, which my mother sang to me, and is also now a favourite of my own children, probably because of the phrase translated as: ‘He looks after the swallows, feeds the smallest worm, cares for the entire universe!’
Is it not a beautiful experience when your mother sings you to sleep? Nothing can replace the voice of a baby’s own mother. However, I believe in the rat race of our age, that habit is changing.
It is my wish that many parents would choose one or two of these songs, and start singing it to their own babies. Would that not make the world a better place?
In her formative years, Gretel Coetzee learned to play the piano and violin, but didn’t pursue singing seriously. She studied B.Mus. at the University of the Free State (1990-1993). However, during her studies she started voice training as an extra subject, under Margaret van der Post. During this time she became a member of the PACOFS opera chorus, and also took part in the PACOFS youth concerto festival. Gradually singing became her main focus.
Taking up a teaching post, she also continued her vocal training with Eric Muller. Eric’s knowledge of good diction and pronunciation proved invaluable, especially with German and Italian.
A time in England followed, during which she continued her training under Peter T. Harrison, and also performed in opera and oratorio. Peter helped her on the road to free to voice, developing strength and flexibility. Recently she had an opportunity to visit him again for a time of intensive training at his voice studio in Oporto, Portugal.
Back in South Africa, she performed regularly in Cape Town, also training under Marita Napier.
In 2002 the family settled in Windhoek, Namibia. Here she performed as soloist in the Saint-Säens Oratorio de Noel, Brahms Requiem, Vivaldi Gloria and Mozart Requiem.
Her opera performances include the following: Madame Silberklang (Schauspieldirektor), Die Erste Dame (Zauberflöte), Fiordiligi (Così fan Tutte), Flora (La Traviata), Violetta(understudy) and Rosalinde (Die Fledermaus).
She regularly collaborates with the Namibian Chamber Ensemble and is also an avid Lieder recitalist.
In the beginning of 2010 she made a recording of lullabies in German, Afrikaans, English and isiZulu, titled Thula Baba.
Gretel is also a voice teacher and educator. She is passionate about encouraging good singing among young people. Inspired by the teaching philosophy of Frederick Husler, Yvonne Rodd-Marling, and Peter T. Harrison, she aims to help her students to achieve vocal freedom. The Husler/Rodd-Marling teaching philosophy draws on knowledge of the intricate anatomy of the voice and its relation to the rest of the body.
Each student poses different challenges, and it is very rewarding to witness how voices as well as personalities achieve increasing freedom.