November 18, 2004

More Gratuitous Musickal Posting (TM)

Posting last week on my six year old's learning of the sea shanty "South Australia" got me thinking about some of the tunes and songs I started learning when I was about her age.

My grandmother, as grandmothers are wont to do, kept me in National Geographic magazines for years and years. Some Christmases, in addition to the subscription renewal, she would also give me and my siblings some kind of extra N.G. goodies.

One year - I must have been seven or eight at the time - Grandma gave me a National Geographic record of songs of the America Revolution. I listened to this over and over again and still sing many of the songs even today. Among them are:

"Paul Jones" - a ballad of the fight between the Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis.
"The Banks of the Dee" - a Rebel parody of a more well-known Brit version.
"The Yankee Privateer" - which is actually about the exploits of a USN frigate, the Providence, under the command of Capt. Abraham Whipple
"The Deserter" - the version I learned seems to date to the Seven Years' War. It referred to the King's duty, not the Queen's. Also, it was General Wolfe who appeared at the last second, not Prince Albert.
"Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn" - in my version, the first verse begins "In the good old colony days"
The Ballad of Trenton
The Green Mountaineer - about the Vermont militia
"The Old Soldiers of the King" - a lampoon, supposedly written by Benjamin Franklin
"The Swamp Fox" - about the guerilla exploits of Francis Marion, not to be confused with Mel Gibson's "Patriot"
"The Girl I Left Behind Me" - the tune of which many people today would easily recognize. There are a zillion different variations on the lyrics. This is the closest I can find to what I remember.

Another year, she gave me a compilation of Mississippi River songs. The only one I can remember, and that only partially, is "The Glendy Burke", a catchy little song about a riverboat.

One year, she also gave my brother a compilation of Civil War songs. The only one I remember from that is "Marching Through Georgia" which was penned, incidentally, by Henry Clay Work, a resident of Middletown CT, where I went to college. I used to run past a bust of him on the town green every day on the way to crew practice. It wasn't until some years later that I picked up "The Bonnie Blue Flag."

I know I'm wallowing somewhat in nostalgia here, but this is also culturally significant stuff. In addition to carrying some pleasant tunes and lyrics, most of these songs represent particular takes on important events in our collective history. It seems to me an inherently good thing to teach such things to the younger generation. I strongly suspect that this happens less and less these days.

(Big Llama Yips! to the Mudcat Cafe, which has many, many traditional song lyrics available online.)

Posted by Robert at November 18, 2004 02:16 PM | TrackBack

We love singing with the kids. One of our favorite songbooks, though a little too heavy on lefty songs, is Gonna Sing My Head Off.

And we've managed to learn some of the songs from this and other books that we didn't know by listening to them on Mudcat Cafe. It's a great resource.

Posted by: Jordana at November 18, 2004 02:35 PM

You're somewhere in the Dee Cee area, aren't you? We've come across a local guy named Peter McCory who's got a couple CDs of good sing-along stuff out. (Here's his website - ) We've actually booked him for one of the girls' birthday parties (I forget which) later this winter.

One of his songs is called "Onomatopoeia" and really is about words that sound like the thing they describe. Catchy tunes AND training in classical rhetoric. Can't be beat!

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 18, 2004 03:22 PM

Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid. Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856)

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