The Lullaby Project:
Strengthening family bonds through the power of music

Sara Lee, Artistic Director at the Irene Taylor Trust, tells us about the Lullaby Project, an initiative supporting parents in marginalised communities through the power of music and creative expression.

What is The Lullaby Project and who is involved?

The Lullaby Project offers parents across a whole range of settings, the opportunity to write a song for their child/children. In our case, we (the Irene Taylor Trust) work with parents in underserved communities, for whom opportunities like this hardly ever come around. We’ve worked with mums and dads in prison and in touch with the criminal justice system, refugee and migrant parents, and young mums in the community. Our musicians work alongside musicians from Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to help the parents create, record, and perform the songs they’ve written.

How did it get started?

The Lullaby Project started in the US back in 2012 and our first introduction to it was in Chicago in 2015 where we delivered the first in a series of projects alongside the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Right from the start, it struck me as a really important project and one which could have a huge impact on the groups we work with in the UK, in that it could strengthen or in some cases reignite the bond between parents and their children. Many of the people we work with haven’t seen or been with their children for long periods of time, so having the chance to create a unique ‘gift’ which is going to last forever, seemed a really positive way of keeping family ties strong.

“We are the ones singing for our baby here, this is something very different… More moving… you feel happy inside, you know?”
– Sophia, participant mum

Singers on a stage
Singers with microphones on a stage

How has it developed since its inception?

Our experience in Chicago gave us an understanding of what’s possible when you push boundaries outside what might be considered a more ‘traditional’ style of lullaby, so when we brought the project to the UK we continued to work with classical musicians, as taking a lesser-known musical genre to the communities we work with proved really popular. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that our groups may not have experienced classical sounding music before, the musicians were appreciated for their immense skill and of course, they were helping the parents do something of huge importance for their kids. A win win!

We also learned that we didn’t need to get too hung up on the word ‘lullaby’ which, if you are writing songs for children who are older, might not hold too much relevance. It’s kind of, ‘would you like to write a song for your child? If so, we can help you do that.’

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project to date?

The challenges are almost never to do with creating the songs, the tricky job is invariably raising the funding alongside the usual hurdles there are when trying to deliver projects in prisons or community settings. The pandemic threw additional curve balls at us which we had to navigate. Prior to the lockdown in March 2020, we had funding to deliver 6 projects across the country, working with a mix of prison and community groups, and we only managed to complete 2 of these before the pandemic hit. As the groups we work with are already vulnerable and would likely feel the additional isolation quite acutely, we decided to try and deliver some of the remaining projects remotely. This was fine with community groups, where all the work was done on Zoom, however prisons don’t utilise technology, so we had to wait until restrictions lifted to complete the final 2 projects.

“…I would hand on heart say, that I actually get more satisfaction as a musician from doing these projects.”
– RPO musician

Three singers gathered around studio mics, looking at something on a music stand
The Amies Freedom Choir during a performance with musicians at Praxis Community Project

What do you think the most significant impact of the project has been for the parents involved?

Having the opportunity to take part in something so meaningful definitely supports the mental wellbeing of those we work with. It helps them manage the difficult circumstances they’re in, it provides a positive experience from which to move forward, it helps counterbalance negative feelings and being in a difficult situation and it increases confidence and feelings of accomplishment which can be the first step towards a more positive life. And of course, the pride in being able to hand over something so personal to the most precious person in your life, something you have created for them from all the memories you have.

“I am trying to do it more for my son to have memories, I haven’t been in touch for a while… it’s hard to stay in touch when being in prison… it would be a great thing for them to be able to know that I am still there you know? I’m constantly thinking about them and that they do still mean the world to me.”
– Adrian, participant dad

“We are the ones singing for our baby here, this is something very different… More moving… you feel happy inside, you know?”
– Sophia, participant mum

Musicians and singers peform on a stage, with an image of other musicians and singers projected as backdrop

And the most significant impact for the musicians?

This is an interesting question for musicians as of course we spend our lives immersed in different kinds of music making, but I think we’d all agree that this particular project gives us something quite different to the kinds of things we experience in our everyday working lives. Being trusted with someone’s thoughts and feelings about their children, the most precious things in the world to them, is a huge responsibility and it allows us to tap into things within us to help tell the stories in the most effective way possible.

“I’ll say from my personal point of view, I love playing, I absolutely love playing and I know how lucky I am to be doing that. But I would hand on heart say, that I actually get more satisfaction as a musician from doing these projects.”
– RPO musician

“I think being able to create something new with people…which we never do in an orchestra, was important. […] I was stretched out of my comfort zone.” – RPO musician

What’s next for the project’s future developments?

Similar to any projects we do, we need to look back at and learn from what we’ve done and see if there’s anything we could do to improve them. After that, we’ll start to fundraise again!

Image credits:
Header – Photography by Micha Thiener
Next image – Photography by Micha Thiener
Next image – The Amies Freedom Choir
Next image – Photography by Tracey Anderson

25 April 2022


With thanks to Sara Lee, Artistic Director at the Irene Taylor Trust, for sharing information about the Lullaby Project.

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