Celebrating and Scaling the Love of Music

May 13 2019

Authors: GFRP Team

Celebrating and Scaling the Love of Music

Photo Credit: Fadi Kheir, Lullaby Project: Catholic Guardian

Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project is transforming and scaling its model based on research and family voice. 

Editors Note: In a recent blog, Sheetal Singh of the Early Learning Lab raised the important question of how organizations that co-create and design with families might scale and sustain innovation, especially given the time and intensity of resources this work requires. This article continues the conversation and explores how Carnegie Hall's Lullaby Project is transforming and scaling its model based on research and family voice.

Lullaby Project: Why Making Music Matters

Many new parents naturally sing to their babies and young children. But sometimes personal struggles can interrupt those early parent-child connections. When that happens, valuable opportunities to support young children’s language development, brain growth, and emotional health can be missed.


Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor, Lullaby Project Creative Session

Since 2011, Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project has celebrated the role that music and songs play in bonding with a new baby—especially for mothers and fathers facing poverty, homelessness, incarceration, or other circumstances that can affect being a parent. As an example of Carnegie Hall’s social impact work, teaching artists collaborate one on one with new and expectant parents to help them write and record an original lullaby for their babies and encourage parents to continue singing it as part of the bonding process. To celebrate the work, each year the Lullaby team chooses some of the most heartfelt lullabies to be professionally recorded and performed live at Carnegie Hall. World-renowned musicians even covered some of the lullabies for an album titled “Hopes & Dreams,” proceeds of which benefit the original songwriters and support the Lullaby Project.

“There are different layers to the Lullaby Project,” says Tiffany Ortiz, the assistant director of Early-Childhood Programs at Carnegie Hall. “But at its heart, it’s really about the process of writing a personal song and having that process bring parents and their young children together through music making.”

Barbara, a mother featured in one of the Lullaby Project’s videos, talks about looking forward to her young daughter recognizing her singing voice. “I want people to listen to it too and say, ‘Oh look, there’s somebody who really cares about her child, you know, who wants her to really be something, somebody, do something.’”

Using Evaluation to Spark Spread, Scale, and Sustainability

What started as a program for teen mothers at Jacobi Medical Center in New York City has grown to now include more than 15 New York City sites, 30 local teaching artists, 28 partner organizations globally, and 600 families per year. 

In order to spread and scale to this magnitude, it was necessary for the Lullaby Project to refine its model. Globally, the program is designed to be highly adaptable, allowing partnering organizations to modify and evolve the program in a way that best supports families in their communities. In New York City, the program shifted from a three- to four-week intensive interaction between a parent and teaching artist to only one or two hourlong sessions, allowing the program to reach many more families using the same amount of resources. And it was research and evaluation that gave Lullaby the warrant to do so. Specifically, an evaluation conducted by Dennie Palmer Wolf, in partnership with the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, revealed two important findings:

  1. As a result of taking part in the lullaby workshops, mothers and fathers experienced a growing sense of their own creativity and well-being. Despite parenting in very difficult circumstances, by the conclusion of the lullaby workshops, participating parents saw themselves, their children, and their shared future with increased hope and sense of possibility.
  2. The project team learned that multiple sessions over three to four weeks were not necessary to establish a sense of trust between the parent and the teaching artist. In fact, that relationship could form in a matter of minutes.

This data allowed the Lullaby Project to streamline the model to include shorter interactions–sometimes just one session–and still have it be an impactful and personal process. Ortiz explains, “We were surprised to learn that spending more time on the lullaby writing process didn’t necessarily result in better lullabies, or ones that parents felt comfortable singing with their child afterward. In a short amount of time, parents are able to create and express simple loving messages and musical ideas and are more likely to record the song using their own voice versus asking our teaching artists to sing it for them. We want parents to feel ownership of their songs, and to feel comfortable singing it with their children,” Ortiz explains.

The shift to shorter one-on-one sessions did, however, impact the ability to foster relationships among parents and the staff members at facilities or agencies involved. To better support community building, the project organized specific group activities and celebratory sharing sessions to bring parents, children, and staff together. 

An Emphasis on Equity

The Lullaby Project is a free program in partnership with community centers and agencies, with a focus on supporting the well-being of families in communities and systems that are heavily affected by inequity. Encouraging parents to use their voices, and respecting the culture, language, and musical choices of the participating families, are critical aspects of the program. The Lullaby Project has recorded lullabies in over 20 languages, and actively involves teaching artists who can speak the languages of the parents they are working with, including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindi, among others. And if a parent wants a lullaby rap, then that’s the direction in which the writing process goes. “We must find ways to understand and respect people, to get to know them, to be sensitive, and to not impose certain ideas or standards,”Ortiz says.

In her evaluation, Wolf highlights how simple songs also support children’s vocabulary and imagination. She uses these lyrics as an example:

You are teaching me the meaning of peace
To choose the right over the wrong
Welcoming you into my life
Is like catching a shooting star
That star will be shining in my heart forever.
 Queenasia, Lullaby Participant 

Monthly professional development sessions for the teaching artists—including both guest speakers and time for discussion—focus on topics such as child development, community building, collaborative songwriting, and healing-centered practices. These conversations provide support for the artists and strengthen their abilities to work in environments that can be filled with stress, fear, or negativity.

Part of equity also involves allowing for creative and responsive adaptations to take place. For example, in Austin, Texas, mothers also learn how to play guitar so they can provide their own accompaniment for their songs. And at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Alaska, there is a lullaby-writing group for both mothers and fathers. Teaching artists there also work in schools to help young students to write responsive lullabies back to incarcerated parents.


Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor, Lullaby Project Workshop Session


Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor, Lullaby Project Creative Session

New Directions: “Tons of Ripple Effects”

The project has also had a positive effect on the staff members of the programs and agencies where the teaching artists work. The staff members are learning new things about the families, and at one clinic, staff even got together and wrote their own lullaby and performed the song.

The Lullaby Project creates opportunities for the staff members to see their families “in a positive light,” Ortiz says. “There are tons of ripple effects that we did not expect.”

With strong results over the past eight years, Lullaby Project leaders are interested in moving beyond the single experience of creating a song to working with parents over a longer period of time through a series of early childhood programs, concerts, and music-making activities.

Website and other reports/resources/videos to draw from: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Education/Social-Impact/Lullaby-Project