Pass It On!

Pass It On!

The Journal of the Children's Music Network

Reclaiming Our Voice, One Song at a Time

by Sally Rogers

When the wheels of the bus go 'round and 'round on a long school field trip drive, do bored passengers resort to conversation, video games or "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"? Is group singing going the way of the dinosaur? What are we doing to keep our voices alive and strong?

I am a music teacher. I get paid to teach the kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth graders how to sing, dance and keep a steady beat. But the most important group I teach, I teach for free. I volunteer to teach the preschool students, the majority of whom come to school at age three, four and five not knowing "The Farmer in the Dell," "London Bridge" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Children used to learn these songs from their parents and grandparents or from children they played with in the neighborhood. But parents and grandparents are too busy or too shy to sing with their young ones. And children no longer play with children in their neighborhoods without strict adult supervision. If children know these songs, they've learned them from a TV screen or CD player and not from a human being. Some kids have no notion that people make music, too. It is my job to show them that they, too, have their own, unique voice. And the earlier they learn that truth, the more likely it is that they will use it as they grow up.

Sometimes I feel like a crusader chasing after an impossible dream: that we can reclaim our cultural heritage of song and dance so that we can relearn how to live together in community. If we feel powerless in our democracy, perhaps it is because our voices have been systematically stolen and sold back to us by the entertainment industry. Our voices come back to us as prepackaged Disney-fied sound that we listen to, but do not participate in. We watch TV but we do not dance. We listen to CD's but we do not sing. I want my students to know that Barney does not own "This Old Man," they do. And they are free to rewrite it however they need to sing it for any given occasion.

I have gone so far as to begin compiling a list of 100 songs I think kids should know by the time they leave fourth grade. This is a tough list to make. Whose list is it? Should it include songs in different languages? (I decided it should.) Should it include songs that are not "children's songs," like ballads, protest songs and songs from the civil rights movement? (I decided it should.) Should it include nursery rhymes and singing games? (I decided it should.) And now comes the real challenge: how do I teach all these songs to my students in the little bit of time we have together in our formal music classes at school? I have created other opportunities for singing in our school day. Every morning as soon as the intercom announcements finish, all the PK to grade 2 students pile into the hallway to sing one song together. Every day. One song at a time. Once a month we have a fifteen-minute, all-school sing in the gym where we get to revisit these songs as a school. I also make CDs of songs we are singing in music class for the teachers to play/sing along with in their own classroom. Some use these religiously. And the students learn the songs.

One great resource for those traditional songs is Ruth Crawford Seeger's American Folk Songs for Children as well as Mike and Peggy Seeger's companion recording by the same name. These songs come from Library of Congress field recordings of chain gangs, mine workers, housewives, cowboys and more. They are melodic gems, beguiling games, and stunning stories chosen by one of America's musical geniuses from our nation's repository of heritage song, songs recorded in working class America and reintroduced to the middle class in classrooms like mine. These songs can be sung as is or adapted to the moment in the classroom, on the playground or in the community. They have survived because they are easy and enjoyable to sing.

You may not agree that it is a good thing to make a list of songs we all should know. In discussions with others about this topic, concerns over political correctness and not leaving anyone's culture behind come up. Personally, I think the list is flexible depending on one's cultural heritage. And when students of different ethnicities come together it creates an opportunity for all to expand their lists. It is our challenge to create these opportunities for our kids to meet. Through song they can get to know each other. There is safety in singing together. Many songs cross cultural boundaries, such as "Frere Jacques" which is sung in most languages and can be rewritten to fit any occasion.

If we regain our voices knowing a common body of song, then perhaps when we join together on the picket line or in parades of public outcry we can sing songs with one voice. Songs we learned as children. Songs we have reworked to meet the needs of the moment. Songs that express who we are and how we feel. Songs that bring us together in community. After all, music can change the world. And it's time to get to work.

Editor's Note: Do you have a song or list of songs you think children should know by the time they leave fourth grade? We welcome your thoughts and will post your suggestions on the Web site in this issue of e-PIO! Please send your ideas to the CMN National office


100 Songs

This is my first draft of a list of 100+ songs that I feel kids should know in the Anglo American Culture. They are mostly songs from my own childhood that have served me well through the years. They are in no particular order, except that rounds are listed together. I would be interested in knowing a list from other cultures, particularly Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Jewish . Send your thoughts to me at sally@sallyrogers.com

Oh, Susanna,  White Coral Bells 
On Top of Old Smoky  Frere Jacques 
Over the River and through the Woods  Row, Row, Row Your Boat 
Skip to My Lou  White Coral Bells 
Bingo  Canoe Round 
Happy Wanderer  Peace Round 
Motherless Child  Make New Friends 
Study War No More  Music Alone Shall Live
Tumbalalaika  Oh, How Lovely is the Evening 
Allouette  Kookaburra 
Every Time I Feel the Spirit  Why Shouldn't My Goose 
Wayfaring Stranger  Benjie Saw the Bear 
Hush Little Baby, Don't Say a Word  Come, Follow, Follow 
All the Pretty Little Horses  Hey, Ho Nobody Home 
We Shall Overcome  Make New Friends 
Des Colores  May There Always Be Sunshine 
Amazing Grace  Scarborough Fair 
Waltzing Matilda  Simple Gifts 
The Ash Grove  Oats, Peas, Beans 
Star Spangled Banner  Leavin' Ol' Texas 
This Land is Your Land  Tell Me Why 
America  There Was a Man and He Was Mad 
America, the Beautiful  Jenny Jenkins 
This Old Man  Hineh Ma Tov 
I Gave My Love a Cherry  Go Down, Moses 
The Water is Wide  Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes 
Get on Board, Little Children  Hokey Pokey 
One More River  Muffin Man 
Go Tell Aunt Rhody  Pick a Bale of Cotton 
Golden Slippers  Jimmy Crack Corn 
Alouette  Eencie Weensie Spider
I Ride an Old Paint  Yankee Doodle 
Bicycle Built for Two  Do Your Ears Hang Low? 
Take Me Out to the Ballgame  Ten in a Bed 
You are My Sunshine  Baby Dandling Songs (i.e.,Trot to Boston)
Noble Duke of York  All Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes 
He's Got the Whole World in His Hands  Miss Mary Mack 
Kumbayah  Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night 
Magic Penny  Green Grass Grows All Around 
A Ram Sam Sam  There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea 
This Little Light of Mine  Down by the Bay 
All Through the Night  There's a Hole in the Bucket Billy Boy
Going on a Bear Hunt Clementine 
Home on the Range  Battle Hymn of the Republic 
Wade in the Water  Farmer in the Dell 
Get on Board, Children  London Bridge 
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot  Mary Had a Little Lamb 
Rocka My Soul  Vine and Fig Tree 
When the Saints Go Marching In  Shalom Chaverim 
Cape Cod Girls  Who Did Swallow Jonah? 
Drunken Sailor  Drill Ye Tarriers 
Follow the Drinking Gourd  Boll Weevil 
Paddy Works on the Railway  Sarasponda 
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean  Zum Gali Gali 
Michael Row the Boat Ashore  Erie Canal 
Paw Paw Patch  

 

After a lengthy career as a touring musician, songwriter, and recording artist, Sally Rogers is now a music teacher in Pomfret, Connecticut. She is a longtime CMN member. This interview was transcribed by Sammie Haynes.