Category Archives: Musical

Chinese High School Military Training

Context: All across China students join a mandatory military training for two weeks to a month before officially entering a public high school. The training usually takes place in the school. Students live in their dormitories together, and parents are not allowed to visit. Trainings are conducted by soldiers and head teachers. 30 to 50 students in the same class are trained together to learn basic marching techniques and military formalities. Trainings also include disciplinary housekeeping, for instance, military standards for making the bed are enforced. However, actual combat techniques are not taught.

The interviewer and the informant went to two different high schools in Qingdao, China.

Interviewer: Did you guys sing or chant during the military training?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, that was probably the only fun thing during the two weeks. It was kinda intense though.

Interviewer: Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s the same for your school.

Informant: Did you do the 1234567 one? hahaha that’s the only one I remember. I feel like they’re all the same no matter which school you go to…because the officers are all from the same troop hahaha.

Interviewer: Yeah that’s the one! Can you do it for me? Was it between two groups of students?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, but I think you do it with the officer, it’s like a “imaginary enemy” situation. So the officer yells things at you, the goal is to get you excited, then you guys [the students] yell back at him.

Interviewer: So you yell back at the officer, but you’re actually talking shit to another groups of people that are not there?

Informant: Yep. It’s basically shit talking. It’s called “pull the song” (拉歌,la ge), but it’s actually not a song. ok, here we go.

original script: 

officer: 对面唱得好不好?students: 好!

officer: 再来一个要不要?students: 要!

officer: 让你唱! students: 你就唱!

officer: 扭扭捏捏! students: 不像样!

officer: 像什么? students: 像大姑娘!

officer: 一二! students: 快快!

officer: 一二三! students: 快快快!

officer: 一二三四五? students: 我们等的好辛苦!

officer: 一二三四五六七? students: 我们等的好着急!

officer: 一二三四五六七八九? students: 你们到底有没有!

Phonetic (pinyin) script:

officer: dui mian chang de hao bu hao?

students: hao!

officer: zai lai yi ge yao bu yao?

students: yao!

officer: rang ni chang!

students: ni jiu chang!

officer: niu niu nie nie!

students: bu xiang yang!

officer: xiang shen me?

students: xiang da gu niang!

officer: yi er!

students: kuai kuai!

officer: yi er san!

students: kuai kuai kuai!

officer:  yi er san si wu?

students: wo men deng de hao xin ku!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi?

students: wo men deng de hao zhao ji!

officer: yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu?

students: ni men dao di you mei you!

Transliteration:

officer: Opposite singing good or not?

students: Good!

officer: Another one yes or no?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Looking coy!

students: Not like anything!

officer: Look like what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Translation:

officer: Is our opponent’s singing good?

students: Good!

officer: Do you want another one?

students: Yes!

officer: Make you sing!

students: You should sing!

officer: Coy and sissy!

students: Not like other things!

officer: Like a what?

students: Like a girl!

officer: One Two!

students: Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three!

students: Quick Quick Quick!

officer: One Two Three Four Five!

students: We are waiting very hard!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven!

students: We are waiting anxiously!

officer: One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine!

students: Do you have it or not!

Analysis: The chant is taught by the training officer to students. It’s performed often during breaks, when officers and students from different classes can mingle with each other. It softens the training atmosphere and boosts morale in a lighter tone. The chant is fairly rhythmic and easy to follow. The fact that it’s chanted between a class and their officer implies that the chant is performed to show aggression, but rather to foster the unity and identity of the class itself. It does not specify who the opponent is, and in fact the identity of the opponent does not matter. The pure existence of an opponent framed in the chant leads to emphasize that the class is an entity and it might face obstacles from the outside environment. 

“Like a what—Like a girl!” This detail shows another element of identity formation in teenage students. The military training happens at the liminal point of when a child is separated from their parents and absorbed into a completely new, pre-adulthood collective. The format of the military training, with the hyper-emphasis on order, obedience, and aggression, reinforces the patriarchal social order. Thus the liminal period of adolescence is enforced with patriarchal social expectations. 

The one being emasculated becomes the weak and the oppressed, and emasculation then becomes an act of aggression.

A La Rorro Niño – Lullaby

Informant: this is a song my mom used to sing me when I was little:

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Esos tus ojitos ya los vas cerrando,

pero estás mirando todos mis delitos.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Por cuna te ofrezco mi fiel corazón,

pues no lo merezco, te pido perdón.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

Quisiste por nombre llamarte Jesús,

como padre amante tú me diste luz.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

En el crudo invierno Mi Dios y Señor,

que sufres alegre del frío y su rigor.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

La gloria te cantan angélicas voces,

para que te duermas y del sueño goces.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor;

a la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, que viniste al mundo sólo por mi amor.

A la rorro Niño, a la rorro ro, duérmete Mi Niño, duérmete mi amor.

Interviewer: What does it mean?

JH: that’s the thing…I don’t know how to even translate it. But it’s sorta like when you swing a baby to sleep, you know what I mean? It’s one of those things that’s just really hard to translate, so it probably doesn’t have a translation. But generally, it’s talking about religion 

Context:

JH was born in America, and her parents are from Mexico. JH is very fond of this song because her mother used to sing it to her when she was a child. This story was collected over a phone call.

Thoughts:

This song goes to show how religion can be a great source of comfort. Listening to the song, it has such a sweet quality that is, of course, reminiscent of a lullaby; it’s interesting that across cultures, lullabies always have a similar quality, no matter the content. They are always happy and light. I think that this is important because it speaks to the fact that the moods that music elicit are similar no matter who you are or where you are––as people often say, music the universal language.

(To hear the song, please see this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12aiZ42gV2Y&t=49s)

The British War Song: Pack Up Your Troubles

Song Piece:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
As long as you have Lucifer to light your bag
Smile boys that’s the style
What’s the use in worrying
It never was worth while, So!
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile

Background: My informant learned this song from her husband who was in the British Navy. Typically this song was sung by sailors on the ship as a way of bonding. Later my informant recounted that her husband would sing it to their children while they were brushing their teeth to make sure that they spent long enough on the activity.

Context: My informant and I were discussing childhood experiences and she remembered when she had children she used to sing them songs along with her husband. She then sang those same songs to her grandchildren.

Thoughts: To my informant, this song appears to be very similar to ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ in that it carries similar memories. Some research has found that the husband changed some of the lyrics so they were more kid-friendly. ‘As long as you have Lucifer to light your bag’ originally read as ‘As long as you have Lucifer to light your fag’, the British term for a cigarette.

The British War Song: It’s a Long Way to Tipperary Song

Piece:

It’s a long way to Tipperary
It’s a long way to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know
Goodbye Piccadilly
Farewell Lester Square
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary
By my heart’s right there

Background: My informant learned this song from her husband who was in the British Navy. Typically this song was sung by sailors on the ship as a way of bonding. Later my informant recounted that her husband would sing it to their children while they were brushing their teeth to make sure that they spent long enough on the activity.

Context: My informant and I were discussing childhood experiences and she remembered when she had children she used to sing them songs along with her husband. She then sang those same songs to her grandchildren.

Thoughts: I have heard this song before but I never knew it came from soldiers singing to pass the time. The song appears to be about returning to a loved one that the soldier has missed very much, and since that loved one lives in Tipperary the song, likely, has Irish origins. Tipperary is a county in Ireland and across the British channel from Piccadilly, certainly a ‘long, long way’ to go.

Order of Operations Mnemonic Device

Piece
PEMDAS- Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally
Context
The informant was introduced to this mnemonic device in late elementary school and middle school as a method to learn the order of operation: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. When solving a mathematical equation, the order that one performs the operations is important to reach the final answer. The students were taught “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally”; however, the informant and many other students in the class would change to simply say “Pemdas”, a made-up word, but one they could still remember. The phrase was less appealing to the informant and their peers as it was long and required them to break down the phrase into the first letters of each word to get the actual desired content.
My Thoughts
The students were taught the phrase “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally” by their teachers, but instead made their own mnemonic device to better match their preferences. The shorter device may point to a desire for efficiency in those who use it as they prefer a more straight-forward learning method than one that might be seen as ‘creative’.

Naughty Nursery Rhyme- Driving Down the Highway

Context: My informant went to elementary school in the ‘70s and sang me this song he said was used to pick on other kids you didn’t like. He told me it was a song that everyone knew, and everyone was afraid to have it sung to them. He remembers it today because of how funny he thought it was as a child.

Song Lyrics: 

    Driving down the highway, highway 64

    [Name] ripped a big one, it blew out the door

    Engine couldn’t stand it

    Engine blew apart

    All because of [name]’s supersonic fart

My thoughts: This definitely sounds like a song you would sing to make fun of friends and enemies. I hadn’t heard this song, and no one my age that I’ve talked to knows this song, so it must have gotten less popular as the years went on. I looked it up and found different versions for different regions. Here’s a link to an archive by hosted by Straight Dope where you can find different versions of this song, and other “naughty kid nursery rhymes” https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-271331.html

Playground Taunts

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Brick Wall

Waterfall

Boy you think you got it all

You don’t

I do

So poof with the attitude

Loser, whatever

Flyaway forever

Where’d you go?

Loserville

Population? You!”

Context: The performer explained that traditionally this taunt was chanted in elementary school, usually from the age ranges of eight to eleven. She explained that most of the time, they chanted it on the back of the bus on the way home from school, usually with friends. She mentioned a social heirachy on the bus, which stemmed from the fact that children were all different ages but lived in the same area, so the third graders, who didn’t like the fourth graders and so on, would chant it back and forth in a playfully “mean” manner. Sometimes it was targeted at a specific person and other people would join in.

Thoughts: Growing up in a different state from the performer, I had not heard this chant before, nor did I ever take a bus to elementary school. Still, I think the chant is amusing, especially looking at how it eases tensions for young children in a way that isn’t violent or truly hurtful. Instead they trade somewhat playful stock insults, which other children are encouraged to join in on. I wonder if there was a standard rebuttal phrase the performer and her friends would use if others sang this at them. The comment about the age-related hierarchy is also interesting, presumably because this sort of chant would only be learned by listening to old kids singing it. In addition to the lyrics, the performer had simple hand motions to accompany the lyrics (“where’d you go”/shrug, “population, you”/pointing at other person).

Llama Song

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Happy llama

Sad llama

Totally rad llama

Super llama

Drama llama

Don’t forget Barack-a-llama”

Context: The llama song was traditionally performed around age eight and stopped around age eleven. The performer cannot recall any particular reasons for starting it up, it was just the sort of thing chanted on the playground when bored. The llama hand motion (ring and middle finger touching thumb and pinky and index pointing up to form a llama head) was essential to performance.

Thoughts: I am familiar with the llama song, despite growing up in a different state than the performer. Her version has slightly different, more appropriate lyrics, despite the rhythm and the hand motions being the same. The part that surprised me the most was the final line “don’t forget Barack-a-llama,” because it specifically dates the song around the year 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected as President of the United States. Contextually, I think that this reference is an interesting measure of what children pay attention to—most elementary school-aged children would not be aware of politics before the 2008 election, but the event was memorable enough that proper nouns stripped of all political or historical meaning would work their way into children’s playground folk culture. The preoccupation with llamas is something else I’ve always wondered about, because I recall other childhood songs and jokes about them. I think it’s a combination of the unique spelling (the double “ll” is not common for English speakers), the inner rhyme of the word “llama,” and the fact that llamas were a rarer animal than, say, dogs or horses. For young children just getting familiar with the English language, the word “llama” is both easy to rhyme and funny to describe, as demonstrated with this song.

Violent Barney Song Parody

Main Piece:

(to the tune of the Barney Theme Song)

“I hate you

You hate me

Let’s get together and kill Barney

With a baseball bat and two-by-four

No more purple dinosaur!”

Background: The performer is a friend of mine in his early twenties. He spent his entire childhood in Long Beach, California and now lives in Tacoma, Washington. He went to public school in the Long Beach Unified School District from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and his elementary school (grades kindergarten through fifth) had around five hundred kids in it.

Context: The informant hadn’t sung the song since elementary school, but he was willing to perform it for me anyways. In a traditional context, the Barney spoof would be sung on the blacktop by children ranging from seven or eight years old all the way through elementary school (10 to 11). A remembers learning it from kids a few years older, hence the dark material.  After singing it, A seemed a bit embarrassed and shocked at his parody and asked me why we all had such animosity for Barney in particular.

Thoughts: Though I did not attend the same elementary school as the informant, I can remember similar violent Barney songs. I wonder if the informant’s school had ever tried to ban them the way mine did for their violent and sometimes gory rhetoric. It’s strange how it seems so disturbing now; A and I both thought the songs were very funny as children. I suspect that Barney was a popular target because of his infantilizing dynamic and dopey voice, as opposed to other childhood PBS characters like. Elmo or Dora the Explorer. Anti-Barney humor is actually a well-recognized phenomenon, in both adult and children folk groups alike. For young children, the violent humor can be a way of navigating changing worldviews and increasing maturity—the graphic gore or death taunts are a schoolyard form of taboo humor, a way of rebelling against previously held-notions of childhood and asserting that they are more mature than parents, teachers, and popular children’s shows might regard them.

Birthday Traditions in Elementary School

Main Piece:

At the informant’s elementary school, there were very intricate birthday traditions. When there was a birthday in the class they would go outside and stand in a large circle. The birthday child would stand in the middle holding a globe. Then all the kids would sing “The earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la. The earth goes around the sun. Around and around and around and the earth goes around the sun” 

Then the teacher would say “and then [birthday child’s name] turned 2!” and a friend of the birthday child would hold a picture of the birthday child when they were two and walk around the entire circle showing all the classmates. The song would then start over and the pattern would continue with 3, 4, 5 and so on until the class reached the age of the birthday child.

Background:

This tradition happened at a private, Montessori school where the informant attended. The school was located in the southern United States so the weather was almost always nice enough to do this tradition outside.

Context:

This tradition was explained to me when the informant was discussing the importance of traditions at their schools throughout their childhood.

Thoughts:

This tradition captures a lot of elements that are important to birth, growing up, and continuing on with one’s life. There is the emphasis on the globe and the sun, to explain to the children that the years pass with each orbit of the sun. Then the photos of the child at each age allow for the children to get to realize what their classmates looked like before they knew each other. This shows the physical changes each child has gone through as they grow up. All these elements mesh into a creative demonstration to show the importance of being one year older that will make an impact on these children.