STARTING AT HOME IN TOWERS AND ETHNIC NEIGHBORHOODS
By Julia Soto Lebentritt
Before there was NEW YORK CITY LULLABIES, I was a single recently divorced and childless forty-year-old woman living in my first apartment alone on the twenty-fifth floor of a housing project in Lower Eastside Manhattan. There were many obstacles to clear before beginning field research on the lullaby project like working out rental of tape recorders, and wandering around with a check to purchase equipment. I did not have the tax exemption number, I could not reach people, got answering machines, no answers back, and I had no answering machine.
April 23, 1982: Up Greenwich Village area I wandered into Washington Square Park and did not even sit down on a bench remembering all the times my ex-husband brought me there when I first arrived in NYC two years ago. I realized slowly on return to the Lower Eastside that I felt more comfortable here stopping at a vegetable market corner of Canal and Essex to buy greens and grapefruits. The Jewish family looked tired but strong counting money and vegetables behind the counter. Walking my bike down Rutgers I began to notice I felt more at home in this neighborhood of towers and ethnic communities.
The tall white woman who had children was crossing the street to a car. I have a grant to do a project called 'New York City Lullabies.' I want to record singers of lullabies in ethnic communities.
The woman who takes care of my child is from Santo Domingo. Stop by for coffee tomorrow, 19D .
The project was starting. I came back to look in the atlas: Santo Domingo, capital of Dominican Republic on same island as Haiti near Cuba, in the West Indies between Florida and South America in the Caribbean. My alienation lifted. A door was opening in my own building!
I am more at home here in Lower East Side N.Y. City. I am not comfortable with the high-energy art life. I need the roots of family; patterns, rituals, religions, easier going security around me even if I am living alone. The lullaby project was good for me I needed it, the lives I would come to know, understand, and grow.
A friend said it was important to see through N.Y. City, that it is just like everyplace else, just another level, not to be alienated by the power, walls, buildings, masses, but to see through it and want to get in touch with and work with people here, to care for its problems.
I recall raising my hand to do research on lullabies as a short-lived music therapy student. I had been a busy Poet in the schools and arts administrator in Hartford, Connecticut during the seventies before coming to Manhattan. When I read that poetry (rhythmic and musical language) thrives in the nursery, I found my life work.
On April 13, I met for the first time with consultant Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (BKG) in her NYU office as Director of Performance Studies. While waiting to see her, I read a quote from Robert Graves sent by a friend in the mail that day: Magic originates with women, but is extended as a love-gift to man. The concealed purpose of modern university education for women is to drain off the magic. The Duende
I looked at the women in the NYU office. How different I look and am. I thought that these women would not do the lullaby project. They are moving too fast. I am still very close to the Dreamtime. I think I am still in tune with magic and origins; this is needed to approach something as native and essential, natural as the mother-worker caretaker singer and baby in the home, the womb, and the nest still.
Asked for suggestions for interview questions, BKG flowed with exciting ideas. When we spoke about finding informants, and N. Y. City areas to choose, the obvious or less obvious, BKG broke it down very scientifically by languages. Nevertheless, after an erudite and involved discussion of language trees, BKG and I both agreed, that I should simply go where I want to go, start at home in my own neighborhood.