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30 days of music: Day 10: A song that makes you fall asleep

Saturday, 12 March, 2011

(Read the full list for 30 days of music.)

I'm kind of ignoring the definition of “song” here by talking about Frederic Chopin's “Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor Op 11 II Romance—Larghetto”. Oh well; I couldn't think of any other songs that make me fall asleep. (Bother; two just popped into my head. Never mind.)

I think that most songs are too short to really get you into a sleep frame of mind. One of the things I've learned from the copious hours I've spent trying to get Astrid to sleep is that the conditions have to be right. It's sort of obvious, given all the tips there are on how to get a good night's sleep, but even though babies sleep a lot, they can't just fall asleep anywhere at any time. (Though occasionally they do it in the most surprising of places at the most surprising of times.) I think Astrid is a bit like me: it takes a while to fall asleep—to let your body enter that restful state where it can just drift off quietly. And certainly part of the job of parenting is helping your child achieve that.

The other thing that is probably significant for this post is that when I was a child, my parents used to help me get to sleep by playing me a tape of classical music. It included things like Ravel's “Bolero” and Gade's “Tango Jalousie”. (I later discovered that many of the tracks on that tape had come from an LP called Echoes of Spain, performed by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony orchestra.) I'm not sure if this practice resulted in me developing a strong association between sleep and classical music, but I do know that it did result in a love of classical music generally, even if I am more of a dabbler and only listen to it occasionally.

Anyway, I think I first heard Chopin's “Piano Concerto No. 1” in the score to The Truman Show. It occurs in the flashback sequence with Truman and Lauren/Sylvia falling for each other in high school, then sneaking out of the library and ending up at the beach. That's where the version I have comes from. It's a truly beautiful piece of music, starting soft with the strings rising and falling before a solo piano takes the lead, heralded by French horns. (I noticed recently that a lot of the classical music I have features the piano. Completely unintentional …) I love how the melody stays quite simple, but then Chopin adds little embellishments—little runs and arpeggios—but never strays too far from the tranquil mood he begins with. Even in the more animated sections of the piece when the strings come back in, it's still quite subdued and restrained. At times, it sounds like it's wallowing into melodrama, but then he pulls it back, returning to his theme. It's almost reassuring—as if to say, “We went off on this tangent for a bit, but now we're coming back to where it's safe—where it's home. Don't worry; we're not going anywhere too scary.” I'm sure all these musical forays do something to the brain: I like to think that each one leads you to drift closer and closer to the land of Nod.

In one of Astrid's sleep playlist, this piece appears as the third track, preceded only by Mozart's “Serenade for Winds (3rd movement)” and Debussy's “Prélude á L'Apres-Midi d'Un Faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”). By the time she reaches the concerto, about 20 minutes has passed, and most of the time, she'll be just about ready to succumb to slumber. I have no proof but I like to think Chopin is what tips her over the edge. Certainly sometimes when I'm sitting beside her cot, that's what he does to me.

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