USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk song’
Childhood
Folk speech
general
Humor
Narrative

Alouette: French Nursery Rhyme

Context CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood CW was raised French and attended a French immersion school. The atmosphere is calm, the air is calm and the room is mostly quiet in between stories.
———————————————————————————————————————Background: CW learned Alouette in preschool, from their teachers. It’s meaning is rooted in a nostalgic warmth for their youth, also they think the song is “pretty cute I guess, but it’s kinda fucked up”. CW doesn’t necessarily like it so much as believes it is very deeply ingrained in their person.

Performance:

CW: Alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais la tête/ je te plumerais la tête/ et la tête et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le bec/ je te plumerais le bec/ et le bec et la tête/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le cou/ je te plumerais le cou/ et le cou et le bec/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais les ailes/ je te plumerais les ailes/ et les ailes et le cou/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais/ je te plumerais le dos/ je te plumerais le dos/ et le dos et les ailes/ alouette alouette/ alouette gentille alouette/ alouette je te plumerais
———————————————————————————————————————

Translation

Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your head/ let me pluck your head/ and your head and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your beak/ let me pluck your beak/ and your beak and your head/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your neck/ let me pluck your neck/ and your neck and your beak/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your wings/ let me pluck your wings/ and your wings and your neck/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/Lark, nice lark/ Let me pluck you lark/ let me pluck your back/ let me pluck your back/ and your back and your wing/ lark lark/ lark nice lark/ let me pluck you lark/

———————————————————————————————————————
Analysis: The song is something of a memory game, that used to teach children in France new words like neck, back, beak, and head. Much like the hokey pokey, this song serves the dual purpose of keeping children occupied and teaching them the language to express the parts of their own body. The song appears in lists across the internet like “5 Magical Songs For Teaching French To Preschoolers” indicating that as globalization has spread the ability to teach and learn language so too has this element of folklore spread into countries where French isn’t the dominant language to serve as a teaching tool. The way the song burrows its way into the mind of the performer too allows for its performance to gain meaning as a cultural object, the knowing of Alouette, a marker of exposure to French culture and a way to connect with other people

Folk speech
Musical

Moonlit Lakes and the Lies Men Tell: Indonesian Folk Song

Text:

SL: “So another like, poem, I guess you could call it, that my grandma taught me was this one – it’s um –

Terang bulan, terang di kali
Buaya timbul disangkalah mati
Jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki
Berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati”

SL: “So it starts off like really poetic – the moon is really bright in the ocean, or the lake, the crocodiles are sleeping and they’re like so still that you think that they’re dead essentially, um, and it goes into the actual like part of the poem – it says “jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki”so “don’t listen to things that guys tell you” (laughter) because “berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati” so they’re willing to tell you all these things but they’re not like – they’re really scared of just dying (laughter). So my grandma told me this because she’s like you need to not like focus on guys, you need to like focus on your studies and not get distracted. Um, but she’s also told a lot of my cousins this. And I guess it’s actually a pretty famous poem but um, she presented it to me as if she came up with it so I don’t know.”

MS: “What age were you when you first heard this?”

SL: “I think it was like – probably as a sophomore or junior in high school?”

 

Context:

The informant is an Indonesian-Chinese-American college student, who has lived in California her whole life. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world.

 

Interpretation:

This poem seems to be an instructional note from an older generation to a younger generation. Based on preliminary googling the informant was actually referring to an adapted folk song from the French “La Rosalie” which was popular in 1920s and 1930s Malaysia. This seems to indicate that the song is a means for the informant’s grandmother, and more generally the older generation, to recount the past and communicate culture as they knew it. The song the informant mentioned was also modified from the version I was able to find online, which means it was probably adapted specifically to become instructional to a teenager as opposed to the original meaning which seems to not be about the lies that men tell women but that people tell each other in general.

 

Annotations:

The article The Politics of Heritage by Marshall Clark (2013, Indonesia and the Malay World 41:121, 396-417), talks more about contestation about the roots of this melody, and its relevance for the Indonesian and Malay cultures.

Childhood
Musical

Duck Girl Song

[The subject is CB. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a song that she learned when she was nine or ten years old from an American Girl Scout camp in Germany called Camp Lachenwald, which translates to “laughing woods.”

CB:
I’m an old duck rover from out in Montana
Round up them duckies and drive ‘em along
To a flooded corral where we bulldog and brand ‘em
Mosey on home just a-singin’ this song

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
Quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

On Saturday nights, I ride into town
On my short-legged pony with my hat pulled way down
But the boys don’t like duck girls and I can’t figure out why
No cowgirl could be more romantic than I

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
And quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

Thoughts: This song was sung entirely in an exaggerated Southern accent, which I thought was interesting especially because CB learned it while she was in Germany, albeit from other Americans. One thing I noticed was that the song was specific to a gender, but it led me to realize that most of the children’s folk songs I knew growing up were generally sung by girls more often than boys, even when the songs didn’t specify whether the singer was supposed to be a boy or a girl. I also feel that ducks are a common motif in children’s songs and games, like duck-duck-goose and the Five Little Ducks song. Ducks seem to be a symbol that adults associate with children because pictures of them commonly appear on baby clothes, but I suppose children also associate ducks with themselves because the songs they sing and the games they play often involve them.

Folk speech

AQUEL CARACOL SCHOOL SONG

Main Piece:

“Aquel caracol

Que va por el sol

Que en cada ramita lleva una flor

Que viva la vida

Que viva el amor

Que viva la gracia de aquel caracol”

 

That snail

Going by the sun

That in each twig bears a flower

Long live the life

Long live love

Long live the grace of that snail

 

Context:

The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. He learned this rhyme from his primary school. They learned many songs like this one. He believes that they were taught these songs in order to encourage the children to sing in front of their peers and to not be shy.

Musical

Birthday Dirge

Text:

“Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday
Worms and germs are in the air
People dying everywhere
Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday”

Genre: Folk Song

Background: The interviewee, KP, is an American man nearing his mid-fifties. KP resides in northern California, and his family has been in the states since the second ship after the Mayflower.He also states that he doesn’t know its exact origins, but assumes they are from the South (where he and his ancestors grew up). KP notes that the birthday song was originally passed down orally by his mother. The conversation was brought up after overhearing this song at a family birthday celebration, where he states the song is traditionally sung at since others cultures may not approve of such dark and depressing nature. This depressing nature, however, is not how KP sees the song, he states they “sing it just to be funny and change up the traditional happy birthday song, and never sang it to be mean just to have fun.”

Nationality: American
Location: the South (transitioned into west coast)
Language: English

Interpretation: My initial reaction of hearing this dark and dreary birthday song was the thought of “ Who would want to hear this on their Birthday?” Often when celebrating a birthday we are trying to ignore the fact that we are growing a step closer to our impending deaths and this song seems to capitalize on this fear. After going into a deeper analysis of this text I found that the song or refrain is a variation of the Birthday Dirge a/k/a “The Barbarian Birthday Song”, “The Viking Birthday Song”, “The SCA Birthday Dirge”. This Dirge is sung to the melody of a Russian folk tune known as, The Volga Boatmen” (a 1926 American silent drama film). The Dirge often varies in lyrics based upon who it is being sung to and often is comprised of only 2-3 verses. It is said that after each refrain of “Happy Birthday”, often in Russian tradition, the noise “HUHN”-like a grunt, or a thump on the table or floor is produced. This thumping aspect has not followed into KB’s Birthday Dirge which I find extremely interesting as it is a quite prominent attribute to the Russian rendition. In addition to the thump or lack thereof, I found that the lyrics are slightly different from those recorded in the article I found; the only commonality being the line “People dying everywhere.”

Larson, Grig -Punkie-. “History of the Birthday Dirge.” Punkie’s Web Page – Lyrics for Viking/Barbarian Birthday Dirge, 2019, punkwalrus.net/cybertusk/viking_birthday_dirge.html.

Game
general
Humor

Song/Celebration

When talking to one of my brother’s good friends, who is from Manchester England, I asked if he had any songs that he knew of that he has learned from any of his friends or relatives.

 

He told me of a song that him and his friends always sing when they go out, “We like to drink with (insert name) because (name) is our mate! And when we drink with (name) he takes it down in 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”

 

 

Background Info: This song is some that Edward grew up hearing amongst people in England. When you call someone out and sing the song, they have to finish whatever drink is in their hand by the time the singers get to the end of the 8 second countdown. “It is something that is fun and gets you to finish more beer” –Edward.

 

Context: Edward told me about this song while I was at lunch with him and my brother.

 

 

Analysis: Once Edward told me about the song, he sang it but for me—it was a fun experience to say the least. Edward said that this is a very popular song in England, and is normally sang at universities at their get-togethers, next time I visit England I will be sure to ask people about this chant!

                                                                

 

For similar write-ups, and some videos of other people singing this same song, see:

 

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=down%20it%20fresher

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c02U02efg6U

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tblxOzPiNOA

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.

Musical

“George Fox”

My friend Razi went to a Quaker summer camp in Virginia called Shiloh Quaker Camp for several years as a kid. She learned a number of folk songs with Quaker themes as a camper there. The following is a recording of Razi singing a song about George Fox, one of the founders of Quakerism, which she learned at camp and often sings, along with the lyrics:

There’s a light that was shining in the heart of man
It’s a light that was shining when the world began
There’s a light that is shining in the Turk and the Jew
There’s a light that is shining friend in me and in you (hey)

Walk in the light wherever you may be
Why don’t you walk in the light wherever you may be?
“In my old leather britches and my shaggy, shaggy locks,
I am walking in the glory of the light,” said Fox.

“There’s a bell and a steeple and a book and a key
That will bind him forever but you can’t,” said he,
“For the book it will perish and the steeple will fall
But the light will be shining at the end of it all” (hey)

Walk in the light wherever you may be
Why don’t you walk in the light wherever you may be?
“In my old leather britches and my shaggy shaggy locks,
I am walking in the glory of the light,” said Fox.

This song specifically celebrates the Quaker belief of the “inner light” or “light of God,” but its morals can be embraced by non-Quakers as well. Quakerism is a particularly open religion in terms of its acceptance of other religions, so songs that come out of the tradition can often be sung with the same conviction by people who have to particular affiliation with the religion. Razi is Jewish and agnostic, but she agrees with many of the values taught at Quaker camp, so songs like this one have stuck with her.

Musical

“Vine and Fig Tree”

My friend Razi went to a Quaker summer camp in Virginia called Shiloh Quaker Camp for several years as a kid. She learned a number of folk songs with Quaker themes as a camper there. The following is a recording of Razi singing a song called “Vine and Fig Tree,” which she learned at camp and often sings, along with the lyrics:

And everyone ‘neath their vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid
And everyone ‘neath their vine and fig tree
Shall live in peace and unafraid

And into ploughshares turn their swords
Nations shall learn war no more
And into ploughshares turn their swords
Nations shall learn war no more

With love to thy neighbor
And love to the spirit of all light
With love to thy neighbor
And love to the spirit of all light

This song embraces pacifism from a Quaker perspective, but its message can be appreciated by any pacifist. Quakerism is a particularly open religion in terms of its acceptance of other religions, so songs that come out of the tradition can often be sung with the same conviction by people who have to particular affiliation with the religion. Razi is Jewish and agnostic, but she agrees with many of the values taught at Quaker camp, so songs like this one have stuck with her.

Musical

The Jasmine Song

Background of informant: 

My informant SS is an international student from Beijing, China.

The conversation was in Chinese.

Main piece:

SS: “It seems that most of the songs that I learned in middle school choir are Red Songs (Chinese Patriot songs), this one is an exception! [laugh] [pause] Oh, you know what, a part of the play Turandot was actually adapted from The Jasmine Song. ”

SH: Really? How so?

SS: “I remember hearing a story like, the play writer got a Chinese music box as a gift from a friend, and the song played in the box is Jasmine Song.”

SH: How did you know about this song?

SS: “hmm… [pause] it should be when I was really young, probably between kindergarten and elementary school. Maybe I was taught by kindergarten teachers.”

 

Context of the performance:

SS was singing in bath as she always does. I coincidentally heard she singing this familiar Chinese melody one day.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

Though this song, The Jasmine Song, is a familiar folksong all over China, I didn’t realize that there’s a variation of this song which depends on different region of China. Not only is the lyrics changed, the tune is different also. The southern version of the song is with more modification of tune within the song, and the lyric is written in southern dialect, while the northern version is more straightforward and is sang in Mandarin.

[geolocation]