As the Children Sleep, An Excerpt


As promised, tonight I post a brief passage from the book draft, but first, just an update as to my whereabouts:

I am in Easton, PA, hanging for a few days with my son Sam who is a junior at Lafayette College. He has a big swim meet Friday evening against arch rivals, Lehigh University. He’s gonna smash his times. Here we are today. Do I need to express further how much I love this beautiful young man???img_3995-002





Now, for an excerpt of work-in-progress.

This is a short scene that starts from a memory. Jan once told me about how she practiced while her children napped. I also remember her daughter Francesca talking about the treasure hunts Jan prepared for her and Mark on Shelter Island. I am in possession of a few pages of Jan’s notes she wrote to herself as she practiced. Many of us have the multiple “Janisms” on being a singing student and teacher she typed up and gave to us.  This brief moment comes from all this.

As the Children Sleep

I used to set them up playing. Made treasure hunts for them. Encouraged them to play from imagination.

When they napped, I practiced. I waited for quiet and then I sang.

I stood near the piano and started with breath. With posture. With Alexander Technique. Noticing my neck, shoulders, belly, diaphragm. The distance between my ears and the tops of my shoulders. The way my mouth opened and closed. Where the tongue wants to sit, where it must. Explored the space between my teeth and lips, the pockets of space between gums and cheeks. So many rooms in one’s face, my face. My long face, ending at my tiny chin. My cheeks ample, but I’m not round inside, all angular, rectangular; I work to discover what resonance this hollow space produces, allows, which sounds I will be able to offer the piece.

I study the piece.

The architecture: melody and harmony.

The language requires its own path of study. Words. Diction. Pronunciation. Stress and ease.

Text. The story. Intent. Meaning.

Speak the text. Speak it again and again. Learn the idea of it and the vowels and consonants that signify it.

The vowels speak first. Vowel shape and vowel color are different. The first is constant; the second, variable.

When working hard at language, allow all the muscles on the outside of the face full play and keep the drone going right behind the teeth.

Speak it in rhythm. [I won’t sing this new score until I’ve learned it completely.]

To decide color, I must understand what the composer wants. Why he has written this music. Why pitches rise, fall, stretch, skip. Why pitches have been assigned to words.

The pitches. Where they fall on the staff, in my body, my head, my tongue, these long cheeks. What do the words mean?

I sing them lullabies, one after the other, each in their own rooms, in the heavy afternoon sunlight bathing their faces, their bodies through opened windows. I sing lullabies and think, Do you use your musical ear all the time?  I sing and rock and pray for their rest. I have work to do.

Notes have meaning as well as words.


Jan and Francesca, age one.


About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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