USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
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.

 

Musical

Carnatic music

  1. The main piece: Carnatic music

“So, Carnatic music is like a type of Indian classical music. I guess we have a lot of classical like music and dance things. It’s probably super ancient too. There’s two types of classical Indian music, Carnatic and Hindustani, I think? So for Carnatic, it’s actually pretty similar to whatever Western music is called. Like you know how you guys have like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do? Or the middle C based chord thing. So in Carnatic music, the scale goes “sa-re-ga-ma-pa-da-ni-sa.” And you have this thing called a Shruthi box, which plays like “sa-pa-sa” over and over. And that helps you find your pitch and then you sing along with that. And like songs, you first learn them by singing the notes, and then you replace the notes like “sa-ga-re-ma” with lyrics or words like “rara venu” which means come come cowherd.

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“I used to sing along with a lot of Bollywood songs in our car, so my parents signed me up for classical Indian singing lessons. I learned it from this older Indian lady who actually lived in my neighborhood, so for a few years, I would walk over with my Shruthi box and my singing books and I would have to audiotape myself. I hated practicing. But in the end, I kinda miss singing.”

  1. The context of the performance

“I learned classical Indian dance around the same time. Like, I started dance when I was 5 and then singing probably when I was like 8. So I guess it taught me about, like… India? Yeah.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

While there are many folk disciplines of dance in the world, there are not many specifically designated folk singing disciplines. The informant was entered into lessons for this folk style of singing after she used to sing more mainstream, authored songs in the car. This shows that the more mainstream songs may have reminded the informant’s parents of their Indian and Pakistani cultural singing tradition, leading them to sign their daughter up for classes to learn the original singing style which the mainstream “folk music” was derived from. This piece also shows the idea that teaching young children the older folk music traditions of the culture allows them to learn and connect more to that culture.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18 year old Indian and Pakistani American female who grew up in the United States, but moved a lot as a child. While she didn’t feel close to her parents, she met her childhood best friends through local Pakistani and Indian cultural lessons such as dance classes and singing lessons, and prizes her memories of those classes.

Folk Dance
Gestures
Musical
Narrative

Kathak

  1. The main piece: Kathak

“Um… Kathak is a classical North Indian dance form. It’s like… thousands of years old or something like that. And it’s pretty much… it has to do w like storytelling and like… kinda like describing the tales of India and Pakistan and stuff. Um, so, there’s a lot about the sounds that your feet make. Like the sounds your toes, or the soles of your feet make. You kind of stomp a lot. Most of it is like one rhythm, but you change the speeds and you change your hands to portray a story. Like going super fast is like building up tension, like the snakes are about to eat you. Slow is like, you know, nicely walking through a field of flowers, so nice and pleasant. Yeah, that’s literally it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“When we finally stopped moving around and settled in Porter Ranch, we didn’t really know anyone. My parents didn’t have any Pakistani or Gujarati friends nearby, and, well, I literally knew nothing about my culture. So they signed me up for kathak classes, which really hurt your feet by the way, and that’s where I met a bunch of my really close family friends and my best friend.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This piece shows the importance that dance has as an artform in folklore. Dance combines the retelling of folk narratives, in this case legends and myths of Hindu gods and Pakistani heroes, with an aesthetically pleasing and dynamic medium of expression. It is different from normal storytelling because it is entirely nonverbal, yet it aims to recapture the emotions and visual aspects of folk narratives, making them more real to all of the community members watching.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18 year old Indian and Pakistani American female who grew up in the United States, but moved a lot as a child. While she didn’t feel close to her parents, she met her childhood best friends through local Pakistani and Indian cultural lessons such as dance classes and singing lessons, and prizes her memories of those classes.

Musical

Chinese Folksong- Unknown Title

  1. The main piece: Chinese Folksong

Chinese Folksong- Unknown Title (attached)

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“Oh! When I was little, my grandma always made me sing this song about chickens! Or, it’s not about chickens. It’s about waking up in the morning and going to work. Okay, so when I was a kid, my mom was in med school, and my dad was in residency, and so I spent a lot of time w my grandparents and that’s probably why I know more about these traditions than my sister, because my parents had more time w her. I don’t know, I spent a lot of time with my grandpa and he taught me lots of songs and stuff.”

  1. The context of the performance

“No one else knows this song. My grandpa just pulled this out of nowhere. He’s the only one in my family from the countryside in China. My grandma and my other grandparents are from more urban places.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The fact that no one else knows this song, according to the informant at least, shows that this piece of folklore is inherent to a specific family or small group of people. It is a piece of roots music because learning the song from her grandfather allowed the informant to learn about where specifically he was from, and how he grew up—none of her other grandparents would be able to share this song because they were not rooted in the countryside like the informant’s grandfather.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old Chinese-American female. While she grew up in the southern California area, she spent more time with her grandparents than her parents growing up, and felt that learning their Chinese traditions and language was the main way she bonded with them, while her younger sister never had that experience because her parents were out of school by then.

Game
Musical

Antakshari

  1. The main piece: Antakshari

“Antakshari is like a song game, right? That we, it’s an Indian thing… uh… let me see. Uh, so what happens is, we sing a song. It’s a group thing, we used to play in the bus, on picnics, going somewhere, in the evenings. You start a song, let’s say it starts with the letter a.

[informant sings] “‘Aaja sanam, Madhur chandni me hum tum.’

“So tum means it ends in ‘m’. So you have to pick a song that starts with ‘m.’ These are all Bollywood songs, I guess. So it’s the Indian consonant that ends that syllable or whatever. So ‘m.’ Uh… [long pause] I can’t think of any songs. So, you can have any number of contestants or players, and typically we only sing the first verse of the song. And then whoever can sing whatever they know, and if you can’t think of it starting with their last syllable, you’re out of the game. Antakshari, it literally means last letter. Akshara means letter, anta means end.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does if mean to them? Etc.

“I mean, it’s—it’s—everyone plays it in India. So all my friends around me played it. It’s been there for generations. You play it with your family, you play it with friends, you play with classmates.”

  1. The context of the performance

“Anytime we went on picnics, we used to play this. Because it’s easy to play on the bus. Like kids on schoolbus, late at night during a bonfire or sitting outside, relaxing, people play this game.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This song game is an interesting combination of folk music and folk games. Since Bollywood songs are generally used, but are changed to fit the needs of the game, Antakshari can be seen as turning authored music into folk music—in fact, the game creates mashups, a form of folk music. Music is an easy way for people of all ages to bond when they have little else in common, and creating unique folk music mashups together during trips and parties clearly helped build a strong sense of community in the informant’s childhood.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.

 

This game was actually adopted into an Indian television show from 1993 to 2007—this show was called Antakshari and was a musical game show. The following news article describes the show’s popularity and some of the main actors: https://www.hindustantimes.com/tv/antakshari-annu-kapoor-pallavi-joshi-share-memories-of-iconic-musical-show/story-JoOrFIY2UYIwhb6VhOIkEJ.html.

Customs
Digital
general
Musical

Lithuanian Folk Song

Collection: Lithuanian Folk SongThe informant detailed various songs that most Lithuanians know from their childhood which are not believed to have an author.

Context: Folk music can be interpreted in various ways including rhythm and tone. This folk song’s lyrics are significant for interpreting the context. According to the informant, everyone in the United States’ Lithuanian community seems to know the folk music including this song. This particular song originates from Lithuanian immigrants who sang about their desire to return to their homeland. As a result, the song ties those in the United States to older traditions and to the people back in Lithuania.

 

Customs
Festival
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Lithuanian Festivals

Collection: Lithuanian festivals in Lithuania

A: “In Lithuania, are there any festivals?”

B: “Oh, let me tell you. We have a singing festival and a dancing festival, and these happen um every two years and and then I guess every two years, one of them is in Lithuania and one is somewhere around the world. So this year there is going to be one in Lithuania, whereas last year there was one in Baltimore. They have had them in Japan, China, Australia, Boston, places like that. So basically, it’s a joint festival where folk dancers or folk dancing groups from around the world, that practice — I’m in one in L.A. called Spindulys. Um *giggles* — practice every week and learn all these dances. And they come together and perform these dances; there are like 3,000 dancers all in sync in the national clothing, I guess the folkloric outfit. *laughs* And it’s a three-day event, so there is two day like two hour performances of the dances, and they have a showcase of singing all of the songs, but I’m not in a singing group. And they sing the traditional Lithuanian songs.”

A: “So essentially, it’s two of the same festival in two different places each year? Or one is dancing and one is singing?”

B: “Um… one is dancing and one is singing, but it’s the same festival kind of. I guess it’s just put together, so I guess it’s one festival.”

The informant went on to describe another version of the traditional Lithuanian festival which takes place in California called L.T. Days. The community within the United States created a local Lithuanian gathering which happens once a year. This festival has around 500 people, but the larger festival in Lithuania gets around 15,000 attendees. At L.T. Days, the informant participates in the traditional folk dancing with her group.

Context: According to the informant, the original Lithuanian festivals stemmed from Soviet control over Lithuania; Lithuanians held “small festivals underground… to keep the song and dance of Lithuania alive and to keep the language alive. And they did it behind the backs of the policeman.” Nowadays, the festivals are held to celebrate traditional Lithuanian customs and practices.

Interpretation: The community often plays a major role in festivals as demonstrated by the informant’s discussion. Also, festivals are known to  have symbolic references to protect or preserve community ideals and identity, just as the Lithuanian festivals hold onto song, dance, apparel, and more.

Annotated Bibliography:

“ FROM THE HISTORY OF SONG CELEBRATIONS.” Song Festival 2018.

According to the Lithuanian Song Celebration website, festivals praises “creative self-expression, vitality of the national culture, love for the homeland and solidarity of its people.” Further, festivals are one of the most significant ways to connect distant people both geographically and culturally. The article also references the Soviet period in which Lithuanians celebrated discretely to maintain their culture.

 

Folk Dance
Musical

SAE Fraternity Memorial Celebration

At the University of the South (informally known as Sewanee) in rural Tennessee, I witnessed and participated in a large informal celebration held in memory of my late brother, with the university his alma mater. The celebration was preceded by a more formal memorial charity golf tournament held earlier in the day. The party detailed below followed not long after at the university’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE for short, also my late brother’s fraternity). The fraternity also arranged the golf tournament itself and arranged for a recreational social gathering to follow. The entirety of my late brother’s former fraternity members (known as a pledge class) were present, along with former classmates.

 

Earlier in the evening, a small concert led by popular local musicians was held on the porch, along with barbequed food consisting of brisket, sausage, and potato salad (among others).

 

Following the departure of the band and caterers, the approach of the crowd in the building shifted as higher levels of activity (and intoxication) became acceptable now that the night had progressed, and daylight had passed completely into night.

 

A crowd of around 50 to 75 remaining partygoers congregated completely into a large corner room of the building, an area adjacent to the kitchen where food is typically served for similar events. For such functions, there is a large rectangular table centered in the room bearing the yellow and purple colors of the house along with their coat of arms and titular house letters.

 

With large speakers taking the place of the band and copious amounts of beer taking place of the caterers, the entire crowd then gathered around the center table to the tune of a pre-arranged musical playlist of Harry’s favorite songs, occasionally breaking up any potential melancholy brought about by the playlist with popular dancing songs in order to keep energy levels consistent.

 

In tandem with the music starting, people in pairs or trios came to take turns dancing on the tabletop for a few minutes at a time, usually remaining for the duration of two to three songs before excusing themselves from the center of attention and being helped down, to be quickly followed by another pair or trio hopping up.

 

The entire party lasted until the hours between 12am and 1am, when large activities are legally required to shut down. Given that the gathering in the table-centered area began around 9:30 to 10:00 pm, this particular activity therefore extended for roughly 2 to 2.5 hours in total.

 

Although this congregation of friends and family came about in remembrance of tragic circumstances (ie someone’s untimely death), the resulting proximity of so many at once where they may have otherwise not been brought together in such a way prompts not only a celebration of the life of he who passed, but also a celebration of the many lives that have continued on.

 

Such a situation goes to show how happiness in large groups is capable of wholly overwhelming any notions of sadness, and that such celebrations in the wake of tragedies can be considered appropriate when such an effect is properly achieved and initially intended.

Folk speech
Musical

Los Deditos

Main Piece: Los Deditos

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk song, which is a bedtime song. She is marked as LT, and I am marked as DM.

LT: So the type of folklore I have is um yeah I’m just gonna say it “Este dedito fue al mercado/ Este dedito compró un huevito/ Este dedito lo cocinó/ Este dedito lo pelo/ Y este dedote se lo comió” so it kind of like uh it rhythms kind of if you sing it um multiple times I heard it first from my dad um he used to sing it to me when I was younger um and usually they sing it while they like they’re playing with your feet so uh the first “este dedito fue al mercado is with your pinky of your feet and then it moves on to the big thumb finishing with “este dedito se lo comio” because its big toe and it eats the egg and stuff um so and then my dad he tells me that he heard it from his mom so my grandma and um when he was back in Mexico when he was younger and my grandma used to do the same thing um to him and his sister as well so uh he would have that always that kinda like something that he heard in his childhood and he brought it up with me and my sister and yeah it was just me and my sister

Translation of the Song:

This little toe went to the market/ This little toe bought an egg/ This little toe cooked it/ This little toe peeled it/ And this big toe ate it

Background/Context:

The participant is eighteen years old. She is a Mexican student at the University of Southern California. She told me about how her family has been passing down the same bedtime song. This song is played

DM: Why do like having this piece of folklore tied to your family?

LT:Um I think it’s like really funny um something that you can like play with your own kids my dad did with me and it was something like bonding time I guess and it really makes up of who I am like it reminds me of my background, which is being Mexican um and it reminds me of the family that I have when my grandma was back in Mexico too

DM: Why is this piece of folklore so important to you?

LT: Um I mean it’s something that my parent cause I used to sing it after my dad would sing it to me I would sing it all the time after like it was something that they knew me for um and in fact last week my dad reminded me of it and he would just tell me like oh remember when you used to sing this one and he used to make fun of he would make fun of me like not make fun of me but he just reminded me of what I used to sing a lot um and its I remember it because of that because my dad sang it so many times that I used to sing it and I still sing it sometimes or just hum it sometimes and my dad would remember or remind me of it like oh yeah you used to sing that song

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

I have also heard this song, but I know a different version. I don’t remember the exact lyrics, but I know it was not the lyrics above. Hearing a different version of a childhood song I knew is a weird feeling because I thought it was something just within my family. It is just interesting to see someone else having the same traditions but different traditions than you. One gets so used to doing something a certain way that when they see it a different way it is an uncomfortable feeling.  

 

Game
Musical

We Like to Drink With…

Main Piece:

Participant “Okay so when you want somebody to finish their drink quickly or like you just want them to get drunk…legally… we have this chant where it goes, um… ‘weeee like to drink with Amy cause Amy is our mate, and when we drink with Amy she gets it down in 8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1’ and then they have to finish it within that song”

Context:

The participant always sings this drinking song when her and her friends go out, everyone was unfamiliar with the song but quickly caught on. I asked her to explain it to the group.

Background:

The participant is originally from England and just recently moved to the United States as an international student. She is a second semester freshman at the University of Southern California in the Cinema and Media Studies Program. The drinking age in England is 18 and this is an extremely common song among the participant and her friends from home. She learned this song from her peers and it has become a fun song they always sing on their nights out.           

Analysis:

Drinking songs are popular all over the world and vary from place to place. They act as a sort of bonding mechanism and help to bring a party and group of people closer together. It also can act as a rite of passage. As a kid, you are not allowed to be included in all the songs until you reach a certain threshold at which point you are then allowed to participate.

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