Monday, June 14, 2010

leave your sleep

I know, I'm always saying this, but I love the blogging community. I am fortunate enough to have the most generous and inspiring blog friends. Last week, my dear friend FireLight, knowing how much I love, not only poetry, but children's books, as well, surprised me with a splendid gift.
Leave Your Sleep is Natalie Merchant's new album, just released in April; a double CD with 25 tracks in a variety of styles, from reggae to klezmer, from orchestra-and-voice to bluegrass. This album is so unique because the songs are settings for poems by e.e. cummings, Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ogden Nash, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.

As Merchant set the poems to music, she called on 130 musicians, in groups as diverse as the Irish band Lunasa; session greats the Memphis Boys; the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York; the Klezmatics; jazz-jam band Medeski, Martin and Wood; and playful L.A. girl duo the Ditty Bops. It truly is an anthology of not only poets, but musicians, as well. What started out to be a children's album, grew into something quite special, that's not just for kids.

Albert Bigelow Paine
Below is a sample of one of the songs, the poem "The Dancing Bear" by Albert Bigelow Paine. I absolutely adore the fabulous Eastern European klezmer feel to this piece.

Paine (1861–1937) was an American author and biographer best known for his work with Mark Twain. Paine was a member of the Pulitzer Prize Committee and wrote in several genres, including fiction, humour, and verse. He also wrote several children's books, the first of which was published in 1898. For a time he served as an editor of St. Nicholas Magazine, a leading children's periodical of the time.

Take a listen. I've added the words to the poem, too.


Oh, it's fiddle-de-dum and fiddle-de-dee,
The dancing bear ran away with me;
For the organ-grinder he came to town
With a jolly old bear in a coat of brown.
And the funny old chap joined hands with me,
While I cut a caper and so did he.
Then 'twas fiddle-de-dum and fiddle-de-dee,
I looked at him, and he winked at me,
And I whispered a word in his shaggy ear,
And I said, "I will go with you, my dear."

Then the dancing bear he smiled and said,
Well, he didn't say much, but he nodded his head,
As the organ-grinder began to play
"Over the hills and far away."
With a fiddle-de-dum and a fiddle-de-dee;
Oh, I looked at him and he winked at me,
And my heart was light and the day was fair,
And away I went with the dancing bear.

Oh, ’tis fiddle-de-dum and fiddle-de-dee,
The dancing bear came back with me;
For the sugar-plum trees were stripped and bare,
And we couldn't find cookies anywhere.
And the solemn old fellow he sighed and said,
Well, he didn't say much, but he shook his head,
While I looked at him and he blinked at me
Till I shed a tear and so did he;
And both of us thought of our supper that lay
Over the hills and far away.
Then the dancing bear he took my hand,
And we hurried away through the twilight land;
And 'twas fiddle-de-dum and fiddle-de-dee


  1. Does anyone remember Dancing Bear on Captain Kangaroo? I adored that show. The Captain was my hero.

  2. First, yes I loved Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Moose. I am so excited to hear about this new Natalie Merchant CD. She is one of our all time favorites. The first date I ever went on with my husband was a Natalie Merchant concert. We are both near tears every time we hear "Beloved Wife", such a sad but beautiful song. My husband thinks it's the saddest thing he's ever heard. Sorry for the crazy long comment, we just really like her and I'm thrilled to see she has put out something new!

  3. Everton, I was unfamiliar with Merchant until this album. Now I've got to explore her other works. Happy to have posted something near and dear to your heart!

  4. ha. i have not thought of captian kangaroo in a long time...and mr. green jeans....

  5. I do remember the Dancing Bear on Captain Kangaroo! lol I also loved Mr. Moose.

    I had never heard of this artist before--I shall take notice. Thank you for the heads up, Willow.

  6. Loved the Natalie Merchant song you posted! I kept seeing a video as I listened to it! Really good cartoon animation is what popped into my brain.

    "Over the Hills and Far Away" -- wonder if that is the 17th century English folk song they used in the music of the Sharpe's Rifles PBS series?

  7. What a delightful surprise to hear the song, and have the lyrics/poem right there to follow along. Thank you.

  8. Yeah...I love this too. I found this a while back. Hope you enjoy.

  9. Ya I remember the Dancing Bear.This artist is new to me but I love this song and the violins. I am going to check out her music too. Been listening to NPR? Heard 2 women singers on there I loved, of course I can't remember the names. One is being inducted into the Hall of Fame of Song Writers.

  10. This is great... the Dancing Bear reminds me of "Dr. Zhivago"....
    :) The Bach

  11. I have this double CD of 'Leave Your Sleep' and love it. My set arrived by courier on a wet dark day and I indulged myself listening to them all day. I love having the book to follow each piece and the history of the original poet, a wee bit bout their life adds to it.

  12. Jane, thanks for the link. I did a little poking around and it seems this is the George Farquhar version of the traditional English song, Over the Hills and Far Away, that dates back to the 1700's.

  13. Willow--you are so right! This blogging community is incredible. What people do for each other and the way that they respond to each other is beyond amazement to me. I feel so lucky to be part of it and feel so grateful to know you and others and call you all friends. Yes, Capt. Kangaroo...what a job to the memory! Do you remember Brother Buzz at all? I used to love that show. Complete with wonderful music in the intro!

  14. I remember Albert Bigelow Paine -- or at least, I remember his Hollow Tree and Deep Woods books. My grandfather used to read them to me.

    This sounds like a fantastic CD.

  15. I cried when he went off the air.

    And what a wonderful surprise and gift for you.

  16. I love her voice. There was an album of hers out back when she was with 10,000 Maniacs and every song on it was great. I just can't remember the name of the album. One of the songs was THESE ARE THE DAYS...

  17. I've just noticed that 'Leave your sleep' is already up on Spotify, so I shall listen at my liesure. Thanks for introducing her. Cro.

  18. Great song. Willow, you have just sold a CD. But I've been a fan of Natalie Merchant's since her 10,000maniacs days.
    Don't forget Rabbit, and Grandfather Clock!

  19. I am going to hear Natalie sing this wonderful album in July and feel blessed to hear her voice live bringing to life the poetry we know so well! great post!

  20. Oh, I just listened to "My Beloved Wife" on YouTube after reading Everton Terrace's post. It is an incredibly sad but beautiful song. Natalie Merchant has such a lovely voice. I enjoyed her "Dancing Bear" song, too. Ah, such memories all this talk of Captain Kangaroo has brought up - and of all the old shows we used to watch as children.

  21. Oh yes, I remember Captain Kangaroo!
    My children loved watching reruns.

    I am listening to the Dancing Bear as I write.
    How beautiful! Thanks you :-)

  22. What a wonderful gift. Like you, willow, I was not familiar with Natalie Merchant until the album was released in April. The PBS Arts Blog ran a few stories, with some great videos of her setting poems to music. For some technical reasons, the PBS online stuff is all down at the moment, but when it is working click here for one such post from the Arts Blog.

  23. Hello Willow,

    I loved learning of this from FireLight's recent posts and I too have explored some of Merchant's other music. You are indeed fortunate to have received such a lovely gift.

  24. I liked Mr. Green Jeans. That was a great show.

    I agree with you completely about the blog community. We are so rich here!

    Great music ... wow!

  25. What an education I am receiving! Loved the music. Sometimes my husband comes in and says, "What are you listening to? Or watching? Or reading?" It is so difficult to explain sometimes!

  26. Oh, I love Natalie Merchant, but I'd not heard this new album! Thanks for this heads up--I'm adding this to my ipod today. I listened all day long yesterday to Ronaldo Villazon singing "Una Furtina Lagrima," which is so beautiful, but when you listen to something 4 million times, it's time for a change, eh?! Wonderful, Willow!

  27. ps

    I just saw your note about Cpt Kangaroo. He and Mr Greenjeans were my best friends as a kid. Well, and Romper Room...I do indeed remember...and I guess I'm definitely showing my age.

  28. Dear Willow: Firelight aka Natalie Merchant is magnificent; what a beautiful and expressive voice. I love the gypsy melody and the idea of using famous poets poems as lyrics for songs is PHENOMENALLY BRILLIANT! I MUST have this album, AbSOULutely! Enlivening, endearing and embraceable! ps I use to watch Capn Kangaroo religiously; the dancing bear never said anything but the music in his head kept him dancing!

  29. Oh, so much good here!

    I haven't heard all of this CD, just a song here and there, but find the concept amazing, aand when you combine it with Natalie Merchant's voice it's sounds stunning.

    Dancing Bear was just the best! I once had a boyfriend who my sister called Dancing Bear, so kind and big and gentle, alas not much of a talker!

    Thanks for the happy post!

  30. It's a wonderful, wonderful album! I've been listening to it for weeks!

  31. Love Natalie Merchant. You will enjoy exploring her other work. Its rich and deep.

  32. I used to be a big Ten Thousand Maniacs/Natalie Merchant fan back in the late-80s and into the 90s. I'd heard that Natalie Merchant had a new album out, but I hadn't had a chance to check it out. It looks really special. And I definitely remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans fondly!

  33. Thanks for the introduction of Natalie Merchant. I played it this morning and the music set off Polish/Russian husband and he has been dancing and stomping and hollering all morning!

  34. Willow.... you are a trailblazer!
    I have never heard of Natalie Merchant.... once, I was so knowledgeable of all styles of music, but I have been so caught up in Opera....I have lost track...and this album seems a must....I will check it out soon!
    Thank you for sharing!


    ♥ Robin ♥

    p.s. Made YOUR rhubarb/strawberry dessert for the "Walkure" cast a few weeks back..... they ADORED it....

  35. Blue Sky, well, it seems WT is in good company, then, because he's been dancing and stomping around WM, too!

  36. Robin, glad to hear your peeps enjoyed the rhubarb cake!

  37. What a fabulous artistic project! Bringing music to existent poetry. Thank you for sharing the sample. I rarely buy albums these days, with the ability to pick and choose on things like iTunes. However, this may well be an album "must have."


  38. I'm on my way to get more acquainted with Natalie Merchant!

  39. I so love her voice, and she radiates such beauty.
    I heard of this through another blogger not too long ago.. it is on my must savour list.

    thanks for the extra info, you are a treasured part of my blogging community :)

  40. What a fun sounding CD. Thoughts of Cpt. Kangaroo - Captain Kangaroo was my nickname in college because I had blod hair with the same cut as the Capt and a blond mustache to boot. Hadn't thoght about that for years.

  41. Oh this is simply wonderful, Willow! A fusion of such varied music and such varied poetry, it truly is a brilliant and beautiful idea. Thank you for sharing it, the poem/song was a delight to listen to. I must buy a copy of that album :)

  42. Yes, this CD has been on my radar. I need to give it a listen. Love Natalie, her voice to poetry sounds like heaven.

  43. Willow, that is FANTASTIC that you have found NM...she is in my Top 10 and I hope you'll enjoy the discovery of her music as much as I did!

    And Captain Kangaroo, ooh yes, my hero too - a staple in my youthful diet, with Dancing Bear and all :>]]

  44. Good Morning, Captain! I love the song and the probabilities this album (why do I still call them albums?) present. I want it!

  45. it's great, isn't it? i heard her interview on NPR last month or so and they played so many clips of the songs. i think it's a lovely way to set poetry to music in an unexpected manner.

  46. Oh yes, Captain Kangaroo's Dancing Bear was a sweetheart! I loved Grandfather Clock! I am so happy that you are enjoying this this collection. I am certain we will hear about this at the Grammy Awards! I received my tickets this week! And, surely she is coming to a venue near you!
    The sheer fun of this work -- every day I have a new favorite song: Saturday it was the lively Cajun "The Adventures of Isabel" -- Sunday it was the bluesy "Peppery Man" -- and this morning it is the 1920's jazzy "Janitor's Boy" and I know there will be more! Thank you for spreading the good news...
    And a big "THANK YOU M'AM" to Natalie Merchant!

  47. This is a wonderful album. Also listen to the House Carpenter's Daughter, which are folk music she feels shouldn't be lost. She is really putting a lot of research and beauty into everything she sings. I first heard her on 10,000 Maniacs but really prefer her later works.
    She has introduced me to a wide variety of new poets as well as reacquainting me to several old favorites.

  48. "these are the days" is perhaps, btw, Willow. her big song that launched her.

  49. I have noted this CD before in part because Natalie Merchant looks so different to her 10,000 manic days--the lass has grown up into a lovely woman. her voice as incredible as ever. I would love to listen to this album all the way through. What a great gift. nice clip too.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)