USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
Game
Humor
Musical

Overtly Sexual Theater Tradition at a Public School

Main Piece

“The guys would go into a room and praise a plunger, and during the show girls would try and steal the plunger. Also, there was a pre–show girl’s song about being a lady:

“We’ve got vaginas, (vaginas), the ovaries too, we’ve got the boobies (the boobies), a

higher IQ, we are women and we are better than men”

Next, after the show, a female cast member would sing about a boy in the cast:

“Oh, (name of the boy), please don’t touch me, please don’t touch me, as I slither…” This is all that the informant could remember of this particular song. “The song would end in orgasm noises,” according to the informant.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The informant found the first song about being a lady to be funny, while she thought the song after the show to be quite strange. Neither song had any particular meaning to the informant, other than serving as a fun and engaging way to prepare the group for their show. The songs were all learned from older members of the theater group, who learned them from students who have since graduated.

Context

The informant attended a public school in an affluent area near San Francisco. This tradition has been carried out since at least the early 2000’s and is still going on.

Notes

“Theater kids” as they are called are often stereotyped as being hypersexual, and songs and practices like this are part of the reason why. I find it interesting that the same songs, although they may have changed a bit over time, are still being sung. One might think that over the course of more than a decade the way teenagers engage in sexually explicit conduct would evolve, but in this case the practices remain the same.

 

Game
Humor
Musical

Pre–Show Chant

Main Piece

The following is chanted: Ooh I feel so good, like I knew I would, ooh I feel so good, ooh (pause) I (pause) feel (pause) so good!”

According to the informant, each person in the circle would do the chant once in their normal voice, and then everyone would do it as an impression of someone else, often a teacher or famous act. Finally, everyone would get into a tightly knit mob and say the following: “Little bit softer now, just whisper, mouth the words [with “mouth the words” being mouthed, not spoken], little bit louder now, shout it out!”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Washington D.C.

Language: English

The informant clearly enjoyed the tradition, as she laughed a lot while telling the story and performing the chant. They learned the chant from other members of their theater group, and it now reminds them of the fun they had while in the group.

Context

The chant was done before the informant’s theater performances in high school.

Notes

When I have previously heard this chant, it has always been performed by high school football teams. I find it very interesting that such vastly different groups can use the same chant to get excited before a performance or a game.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Musical

Prayers (Grace) at a Catholic Retreat Center

Main Piece

“We do a lot of singing because it’s like…centered a lot around kids, preteens, mostly that and younger. When we do graces before meals, we have them to the tune of things, like spongebob and we will rock you and stuff. The Edelweiss one is traditionally the for first meal of the retreat and the last meal of the retreat and they’ve been doing it for so long, little kids know it but also much much older people [know it].”

The following is the grace, which is sung to the tune of Edelweiss from the film The Sound of Music:

“Bless our homes, bless our friends, come o lord and sit with us, make our hearts, grow in peace, bring your love to surround us, friendship and peace may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever, bless our homes, bless our friends, bless our families together”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The following is a quote from the informant, which I believe demonstrates her feelings about the grace and the general experience at the camp.

“[When you hear the grace] You know you’re there, and you’re around people who are so loving and so warm…no responsibilities except to care about yourself and your family, but you know it’s sad because you’re about to leave.”

The informant, upon singing the grace to me, began reminiscing about her time at the retreat center. She certainly looked upon it fondly. On the importance of the grace to the retreat center:

“It’s on one of the walls in the dining hall, one copy written in sharpie and another really old cross stitch…hand stitched on a thing. The other graces are on signs but that one’s [the Edelweiss grace] obviously a permanent installment.”

Context

The grace is sung at a Catholic family retreat center in Kate May, New Jersey, which the informant attended once per year. However, someone else in the room during my interview with the informant actually knew the song, despite not having attended the same retreat center.

Notes

The influence of secular media on religious life is not really something I had previously considered, but such an influence is clearly possible and relevant. Some of the young children who learn the grace might not ever have seen The Sound of Music and yet they will learn a song from it, albeit with different lyrics. For comparison, I know there is a grace called “The Superman Grace,” which is also an example of of secular media influencing religious life.

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Musical
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Customs
general
Legends
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May you find Peace, The Eagle in the sky

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Other language(s):  Italian, a bit of Hebrew
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 3-15-18

 

What it is: May you find Peace, Traditional Native American Burial Ceremony

The performance I witnessed was a traditional Native American Funeral Ceremony.

A few weeks after the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara, California and the subsequent mud slide and after every missing person (except Jack Canton) was found, Jack’s best friend Cozmali and his family conducted a beautiful traditional Native American ceremony. The ceremony consisted of music and prayers. This ceremony is highly sacred and private and was not able to be video taped. Altogether (with testimonials included) the ceremony was approximately an hour and a half.

We were explained that the ceremony is about helping Jack find peace on his new journey as well as letting him know he is all on our thoughts. The ceremony however was a bit unusual as we did not have Jack’s body present; thus, certain aspects were left out or adapted to our situation. These objects were also involved: drums, feathers, ash, talking stick, and blankets. The Drums were used during the vocal portion of the ceremony (i.e. chants and songs). The feathers, of an Eagle, were used as a visual representation of Jack’s new journey. The ash was passed around, individuals would pinch some ash and then travelled to the water to “set Jack free”. This aspect was normal done with a mixture of a fires ash and a small bit of Jack’s possessions (or ashes), but since we have not found his body we used ashes from a fire. The talking stick was used so that we could all share stories and memories. Lastly, the blankets were wrapped around Jack’s mother and grandparents to represent the community they had supporting them. At the conclusion an Eagle flew over head, circling us, and we all broke out crying because we knew Jack was going to be ok.

Why they know it:  I personally witnessed the ceremony

When is it said: This specific ceremony is conducted after a death

Where did it come from: The Chumash

Why it’s said: To give the ones we lost peace and to help aid them on their journey

How they know it and what it means: Cozmali has been raised in this culture that dates back centuries and has been taught this process by witnessing it first hand and by his elders. He is not ready to lead the ceremony on his own; however, is very close to being able to do so. This is a cultural tradition that changes with the passing of time; all-the-while remaining very much the same.

Thoughts: Personally, witnessing this ceremony greatly lessoned the pain I was feeling about Jack’s loss. He was a friend of my brother and a positive member of my community. He created philanthropy groups and was an Eagle Scout. Because he was missing, I kept thinking he’d show up alive but after the ceremony, I believe it provided me with the closer I needed to move on and help spread his greatness. The ceremony was beautiful, all-the-while, deeply educationally. This tribe is a part of my home, native to Santa Barbara area; thus, provided me with cultural knowledge of my hometown. This was also a sign that Jack is still with us, as he was a huge advocate for knowledge.

Musical

Tum Balalaika

Yiddish Transcription:

Shteyt a bocher uner tracht,
Tracht und tracht di gantze nacht,
Vemen tsu nemen, un nit farshemen,
Vemen tsu nemen, un nit farshemen.

Chorus
Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
Tum balalaika, Shpil balalaika,
Tum balalaika, freylich zol zayn.

Meydl, meydl, ich vil bay dir fregn,
Vos ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
Vos ken brenen un nit oyfheren?
Vos ken beynkn, veynen on treren?

Chorus

Narisher bocher, vos darfst du fregn,
A shteyn ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
A Jibe ken brenen un nit oyfh eren,
A hartz ken beynken, veynen on treren.

Chorus

English Translation:

A young man is deep in thought,
And he wonders whom he ought,
To take as wife for all of his life,
To take as wife for all of his life.

Chorus
Play ‘bala,’ play ‘bala,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘bala,’ play ‘bala,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘balalaika,’ play ‘balalaika,’
Play ‘balalaika.’ Let there be joy.

Tell me, maiden, I’d like to know,
What it is needs no rain to grow?
What’s not consumed although it’s burning?
What weeps no tears although it’s yearning?

Chorus

You foolish boy, didn’t you know,
A stone does not need rain to grow?
A love’s not consumed although it’s burning,
A heart weeps no tears although it’s yearning.

Chorus

Going through my family attic, I came across a box of tapes hand-labelled “Yiddish Yodel 1992-95.” From asking around, I learned that a group of relatives and family friends kept up a tradition of singing together every year, to practice their traditional language and reconnect over their immigrant ancestry; most were second-generation. This song is a well-known Yiddish folk lullaby, but to figure that out, I had to take the tape to one of only two surviving participants in the ‘Yiddish Yodels’, who provided me with my transcription and translation. These days you can just search “Tum Balalaika” online, and see hundreds of results helping carry the tradition, but hearing it on the tape and it resung live by my informant made the traditional nature of the song feel much more real to me.

Musical

Hava Nagila

Phonetic Hebrew Transcription:

Hava nagila, hava nagila,
Hava nagila, venismecha.

Hava nagila, hava nagila,
Hava nagila, venismecha.

Hava neranenah, hava venismecḥa,
Uru achim belev sameach.

Hava neranenah, hava venismecḥa,
Uru achim belev sameach.

English Translation:

Let us rejoice, let us rejoice,
Let us rejoice, and be happy.

Let us rejoice, let us rejoice,
Let us rejoice, and be happy.

Let us sing, let us be happy,
Awake my brothers with a happy heart.

Let us sing, let us be happy,
Awake my brothers with a happy heart.

Going through my family attic, I came across a box of tapes hand-labelled “Yiddish Yodel 1992-95.” From asking around, I learned that a group of relatives and family friends kept up a tradition of singing together every year, to practice their traditional language and reconnect over their immigrant ancestry; most were second-generation. This song is a well-known Hebrew folk song. Although, I knew that I had heard it before, to figure that out, I had to take the tape to one of only two surviving participants in the ‘Yiddish Yodels’, who provided me with my transcription and translation. Wikipedia calls Hava Nagila “perhaps the first modern Israeli folk song in the Hebrew language that has become a staple of band performers at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvah celebrations,” which would explain why I knew the tune. However, the lyrics you find there, and many other places online, are far more complicated than the ones my informant knew. It seems that when the song was passed down orally, as opposed to in writing on recorded, it became greatly simplified so that passive bearers of the tradition could participate more easily.

One online version found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hava_Nagila

Musical

When I First Came to This Land in Yiddish

English Translation:

When I first came to this land, not much money in my hand,
So I got myself a shack, and I did what I could.
And I called my shack Break My Back,
But the land was sweet and good, and I did what I could.

2nd verse: cow/called my cow, No Wilk Now
3rd verse: duck/called my duck, Out of Luck
4th verse: wife/called my wife, Run for Your Life
5th verse: son/called my son, My Work’s Done

Going through my family attic, I came across a box of tapes hand-labelled “Yiddish Yodel 1992-95.” From asking around, I learned that a group of relatives and family friends kept up a tradition of singing together every year, to practice their traditional language and reconnect over their immigrant ancestry; most were second-generation. Among many songs only slightly familiar to me in tune, one stood out as completely recognizable. It was a song I myself had sung countless times in English during my childhood. Although I could not manage to get a Yiddish transcription of the original, a confirmation of song’s premise and my remembered version from my informant was enough to satisfy me. The formulaic nature of this song makes it incredibly easy to remember, and allows participants to sing if for almost as long as they wish, as long as they can keep coming up with rhymes. The verses above are merely one set of options among great multiplicity and variation.

Another version of the song in English can be found in the Smithsonian’s Folkways project, recorded by Pete Seeger: https://folkways.si.edu/pete-seeger/american-favorite-ballads-vol-3/folk-popular/music/album/smithsonian

Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Tradition of the Yiddish Yodel

“The ‘Yiddish Yodel’ was held in Deer Isle, Maine in the summer, usually in august at my parents house or their friends’ house. And there would be twenty to thirty guests, all Jews from New York who spend their summers up in Maine, most of them artists of one kind or another. I think it started because one evening a smaller group just started singing Yiddish songs, and then they had the idea that they should make it a yearly event, and then it just grew and grew and grew with more and more guests, unit finally they started printing out lyric sheets and, um, what else? At one point, they really did buy an organ to keep up there—one of those little electric organs—and they bought it specifically for Renee to play at the Yiddish Yodel. And they often looked to Renee for knowledge and inspiration. I’m not exactly sure why she remembered more Yiddish songs than anyone else, but she did. And she was also a preschool teacher so she was very keen on teaching everyone how to sing the songs.

“I don’t think it started out as a reenactment of a tradition in a conscious way, although Renee recently told me that when she was a child, in the summers, she and many other Jewish families who lived in New York would go up to the Catskills  to these bungalow colonies, and the moms and the kids would be up there all week, and the dad would come up on the weekends. And she said that on Saturday nights, they would all gather in the—there was some gathering hall, entertainment room or something—and they would recite Yiddish poetry and sing Yiddish songs. So I think now that she’s making that connection in a conscious way, but i don’t ever remember anyone saying anything about that when this started, But clearly, as soon as it started, people were very keen on turning it into its own tradition, even if they weren’t consciously linking it to an older experience in a direct way. They didn’t start recording these until later, when I wasn’t there for them anymore, so I don’t know how they decided—how or why they decided to start recording.

“It was just, like, bring as many chairs as you possibly could from everywhere into the house, into the living room, in, like, a rough circle. But really there was no order to it, and the living room wasn’t really big enough—either living room it ever happened in—wasn’t really big enough for them to really forma circle, so some people were sitting behind each other. When it started out it was much less formal, like, people would just—someone would start singing a song—and they’d finish that one and just be like, ‘oh, who remembers another song?’ And they would just sing the songs that they remembered. As it went on and it got bigger and bigger, it got more organized with Renee really leading songs and Bernie becoming like a master of ceremonies. You can hear that on the tapes. But when it started it was much less formal, it was just people getting together and trying to remember the songs. So it guess in that way it was trying to revive, not a specific tradition, but I guess a more general aspect of their culture.

“I bet they hadn’t really sung these songs in any sort of consistent way for… forty years. You know, some of them might have sung some of them… but it was probably forty years… they learned them in their childhood… and then, they didn’t all know exactly the same songs, so then they would start teaching them to each other and maybe someone would remember that ‘oh yeah, I did know that song.’”

Going through my family attic, I came across a box of tapes hand-labelled “Yiddish Yodel 1992-95.” They were recordings of a large gathering of people singing in Yiddish and Hebrew. I asked around to find out more, and although it seems only a couple of the original participants are still alive, one of their daughters gave me this detailed account.

Although the specific tradition of the “Yiddish Yodel” was a new one—created by this small community of Jewish artists in the 1980s. It was clearly a way to preserve much older traditions of folk music and language they feared were dying out, and was not the first attempt at this. In 1948, Ben Stonehill collected over one thousand songs from holocaust survivors in New York.

In the instance of the “Yiddish Yodel,” we see folk, communal, spontaneous origins. However as it progressed, we can see formalization and the development of a separation between active bearers (Renee and Bernie) and passive bearers (their friends).

Childhood
Musical
Tales /märchen

Rockin, Rollin, Ridin!

Main Piece: KK: My mom used to sing this song to us, when we were falling asleep and stuff, and for the life of me I can’t ever figure out where it came from. She went: “Tommy’s at the engine, someone rings the bell, Sarah holds the lantern, to show that all is well, rockin rollin ridin, all along the rails, heading for morning town, many miles away.” It’s about a train, if you couldn’t tell, but I have no idea where she got that song, but she used to sing it!

 

Context: This song was sung as a lullaby when KK and her sister were young.

 

Background: KK’s mother learned this from her grandmother, who probably heard the version sung by The Seekers and turned it into a lullaby, much akin to “A Bushel and a Peck”, which is often used as lullabies as well.

 

Analysis: Turns out, upon research, this song is by The Seekers, and is called Morningtown Ride! So many people I saw said that their mother used to sing this song to them as a lullaby, so somewhere along the way this song turned into a typical lullaby. It is interesting to think about this alongside the issue of Simon and Garfunkel and their “folk” music, because even though this song was authored and created by a band and publicized, the fact that culture has taken it and turned it into a lullaby has changed it into a piece of folklore.

 

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