USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘songs’
Folk speech
Game
general
Life cycle
Musical

Jewish Day Camp Traditions and Songs

The informant is from New York City and told me of his summer camp experience.

“Okay so I went to a Jewish Day Camp, so like you’d go, everyday you’d go to a bunch of different bus stops and then you go to the campground and do whatever camp shit you’d do and then come back like, so it was a Jewish camp and we celebrated Shabbat, and we even like one of the activities would be like, so every friday you’d celebrate Shabbat and then alongside the other activities like archery, ceramics, we would sing Jewish songs, so there’s like um, oh man, oh there’s “who knows one” and it’s like, i think it goes up to twelve and there’s like different hebrew or like old testament things like, or like, definitely like “nine” is the months of a -, I don’t remember but it’s like “Who knows one?” “I know one!” “one is the da-da-da-da-da-duh” “who knows two? I know two! Two is the da-da-da-da-da-duh.” And I know like one of them is like, twelve is the tribes of Israel, um, I think nine for whatever reason is the months a woman is pregnant? Um, uh, and just like seven is like the days of the week that god made, and all these other Jewish songs of like um, wait ok, so there’s who knows one, and there’s like, uh, I don’t remember anymore. But like the main part about the songs that’s pretty funny is that like seventy-five, no maybe like two-thirds of the camp were like black and hispanic, and were like not Jewish, because it was like, a somewhat cheap day camp in, like Manhattan, and they had a lot of bus stops in like Harlem, so like we made these black and hispanic kids eat Challah and drink grape juice and like sing these Jewish songs, and they were like kinda into it, none of them were like, “why are we doing this?” all of them were like “okay””

Analysis:

What is most interesting is that the songs were of religious connotation, but that many of those who attended the camp were not of that religion (Jewish). So they were learning all these songs and stories that did not directly affect them at all, opening up Jewish ceremonies to the wider world. It is also interesting to see how these “children’s songs” deal with adult themes such as pregnancy, which as a child did not really comprehend until much later.

general
Humor
Musical

Oh Alice

“One of the things I remember about growing up was that my mom would sing me funny songs and after she would sing them she would crack up. Even though my family experienced a lot of loss and pain, it was always great to hear my mom’s laugh. One of the songs she used to sing was about Alice. When she sang it she thought it was so funny, but it would scare me. I was a little girl and I thought I might go down the drain!”

The lyrics are as follow:

Alice, where are you going?

Upstairs to take a bath

Her shape is like a toothpick

Her head is like a tack

Oh my goodness, oh my soul there goes Alice down the hole!

Oh Alice, where are you going?

An audio recording of Gloriadele Guzman (the mother of the informant, referenced above) singing the song has been provided: Oh Alice

I collected this song from my mother. It was fun for me because I also remember my grandmother singing me this song when I was a little girl. I had always thought it was a song my grandmother had made up but I found some other versions of the song online. My grandmothers version is slightly different. Some of the other version include more details that has caused some people to infer that the song is actually about Alice in Wonderland.

For one of the other versions of this song please see: http://www.rahelmusic.net/lyrics-kidsongs.html

Humor
Musical

Mexican Boy Scouts song

My informant is my father, a 48 year old pediatric oncologist at Stanford University. He is bilingual, binational and bicultural, born to a white American father and a Mexican mother. He grew up in both countries but spent his formative adolescent years in Mexico City, where he joined the Mexican Boy Scouts or “los escouts” as he calls them. It was there that he learned this joke from a fellow Escout, who he is still good friends with today.

He performs this piece of folklore frequently, usually in the presence of children—before, when my sister and I were little, he would teach it to us when we were camping, and now, since we’re older, he usually does it around our younger cousins, especially around mealtimes.

Here is the song:

“Queremos comer!
Sangre coagulada
revuelta en ensalada
higado encebollado
de sapo reventado
y de postre!
Helado con caquita de venado!!”

Translation:

We want to eat!

Coagulated blood

Mixed up in a salad

Onion-fried liver

of a scrambled frog

and for dessert!

Ice cream with little deer poops!

This little song has gone from being a piece of his adolescence to being passed on to our generation, so it means a lot to him as both a part of his past, and a reminder of old friendships, as well as a part of his family life now. He uses it to bond now with his younger relatives over the humorous idea of such a disgusting meal, and to reconnect, I think, with his inner child.

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Musical

Cure to Song Stuck in Head

Information about the Informant

My informant is a college student at a community college in San Jose. He’s an avid amateur photographer, and we know each other through going to the same online high school. His family’s very closely-knit, with his parents very involved in the lives of their children. I collected this piece of folklore that him while he was visiting me on campus at USC. I mentioned having a song stuck in my head, and that reminded him of this piece of folklore that he had heard from his father.

Transcript

“My dad has said that, uh, the cure to having a song stuck in your head is the Beatles. It might have been because…that’s an easy one to get stuck in your head and replace whatever else was there before. And it…it’s good, but I’m not actually sure.”

Collector: “Did he just make that up?”

“I don’t know. I think so, but he might have gotten it from one of his more-musical friends.”

Analysis

My informant and his father share a common interest in music, largely fostered through his father sharing his collection of CDs and records with him since my informant was a child. His father constantly shares interesting music and trivia about music with my informant, and this piece of folklore is one of them. The Beatles, in addition to being an English band that’s well-known in America, is also a band that both my informant and his father enjoy, which is probably why my informant’s father decided to share this with him. There are various supposed “cures” for a song that’s stuck in one’s head, usually involving engaging oneself in a mentally strenuous activity, such as a sudoku puzzle or a crossword. This “cure” however isn’t really a cure at all, as it merely replaces one song with another, making it more of a joke with regards to how easily Beatles songs will stick in one’s mind rather than an actual cure.

Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Game

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe

Dione Surdez Oliver was born in Santa Ana, California in 1969.  She moved to Crooks, South Dakota when she was four years old.  She grew up on her family’s small dairy farm.  At the age of eighteen she moved back to Southern California.  She worked in the music industry for some time as well as a legal assistant for a number of years.  In 2003 Dione decided to pursue her educational endeavors and began studying at Santa Monica Community College.  She transferred to the University of Southern California in the fall of 2006 and was granted the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Scholarship.  In 2009 Dione graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative writing and a minor in Cultural Anthropology.  She graduated with honors and received the Order of Troy.  She currently resides in Manhattan Beach, California and where she is the director of CrossFit Zen and is working on entering the Masters of Professional Writing program at USC.

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe

Catch a nigger by his toe

If he hollers, let him go

Inny, Minny, Miny, Moe

___

This is an oicotype of a very common childhood game.  Usually, it says “Catch a tiger by his toe.”  Dione informed me that this is the original version of the song.  Apparently, it was changed because of how derogatory it is towards African Americans.  As a native Californian, it would make sense that I have never heard this, as California is a little more tolerant state and a lot more diversified than most.  However, I bet that if I travelled to the South or the Midwest I would hear it more commonly.

Life cycle
Riddle

Humpty Dumpty

Me: Can you tell me some familiar story or rhyme you remember?

Informant:       “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

                               Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

                               All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

                               Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Me: When did you hear this?

Informant: “This nursery rhyme was something I heard in grade school.”

The informant thought of this rhyme first when prompted for a piece of folklore, and demonstrated that despite an inter-cultural upbringing, this rhyme still featured prominently in her childhood. It would seem the Mother Goose style nursery rhymes, of which this is one, have become globalized and are no longer a purely western phenomenon, since despite an international heritage, the informant still seemed to associate their childhood most strongly with this rhyme, and recited it in its traditional form.

general

Sorority Bid Night/Song

At the University of Colorado there is a strong Greek life culture and there are many traditions, which accompany this group of the university.  Many sororities and fraternities have songs that are song at various times of the year, which help signify different bonding moments for the group of guys or girls.  The informant describes that she learned the tradition on her bid night.

On “bid night” for the girls in a sorority all the freshman girls come back to the house in different rooms and take shots.  You also have to dress up in crazy clothes and you get your letters and your official sorority t-shirt with it’s letters.  You aren’t supposed to drink in your letters, but you do anyway.  During the night there is a chant that goes along with the drinking.  The chant goes as such: “Take a shot, take a shot, take a shot like a [insert sorority], if you can’t take a shot like a [insert sorority] can then why is the drink in your hand?”  All of the girls are taught this song and all yell it together at different points of the night.

I find the story of “bid night” for the sorority interesting as it indicates a classic example of a liminal period for the freshman girls who are not yet fully initiated into the sorority, but are not completely outside of the group.  The different traditions of dressing up crazily, taking shots with active sisters of the sorority, and learning and singing songs that have been part of the sorority for a long time indicate the freshman girls’ passage from being just a normal freshman non-affiliated with Greek life, to a full member.  The freshman girl’s earning their letters also indicates their progression in the liminal stage.  This story also shows how big of a role drinking plays in the culture and lifestyle of college kids during the twenty-first century.

Game
Musical

Ride that Pony

You stand in a circle with 3 to probably 6 people in the middle.  Everyone sings:

“Ride, ride, ride that pony. Get up and ride that big fat pony. Ride, ride, ride that pony. This is what she told me.”

As they sing this verse, the people in the center dance around like cowboys riding horses.  Then the people going around in the middle go up to a person standing in the circle and sing:

“Front to front to front, my baby.  Back to back to back, my baby. Side to side to side, my baby.  This is what she told me.”

As they sing this, they face their partner in the direction that they sing (front, back, side), and when they finish, the people who were standing the circle switch with their partner who had been in the middle and they repeat the song.  At the end, after a few rounds, you say “everyone in,” and everyone goes around and does it.

The informant learned the song and dance from the seniors in the theatre department at her school when she was in 7th grade.  Before every performance, the director leads a warm up, but then the students do a more fun warm up of their own called the “actor warm-up,” which includes the song above.  The informant explained that they did it as a cast as preparation for the show to raise energy and get excited.  On the closing night of the show, the seniors start in the middle because it is the last time that they will ever get to do the pre-show ritual.  The song and dance is a way for them to bring the cast together regardless of age or experience.

I knew the song also from my own high school where we used it in the same way as a warm-up in what we called cast-bonding.  Instead of having a number of people in the center though, we go one at a time while the rest of the circle claps and cheers.  The ritual helped us to get the younger cast members to break out of their comfort zone and become part of the high school theatre community as a whole.

Humor
Musical
Narrative

Polar Bear Underwear Song

“One day someone pooped in his underwear,

couldn’t find another pair, had to wear the dirty pair.

Five days later, eaten by a polar bear,

the next day the polar bear died.”

Polar Bear Underwear Song

The informant learned this from his friend, “a church friend actually.  I think I was maybe in the 5th grade.”  He had forgotten the song, and only recently remembered it when his older sister sang it to him on their road trip together.

He likes the song because it is so nonsensical.  There is no moral to the story.  It’s just funny.  “It rhymes and its got poop in it.  I just realized.  It has a rhyme and to add to the nonsensicalness of it, the last line doesn’t rhyme.  (Laughing) Where did the polar bear come from and why did he die?  Oh my gosh.”  He really enjoys the song even though he is older now.  Sometimes the song pops into his head, but he doesn’t ever really sing it for a particular purpose or to make people laugh.

The song is just fun and silly, but it also covers the taboo of bodily functions.  The song allows them to have a tabooistic discourse even in place as sanctimonious as church.  Children perhaps use the song to talk about “gross things” in a fun way.  With songs, politeness is not necessary all the time.  I like the little song, and I know the kids in my family would really enjoy it as well.

Annotation: In a collection of children’s songs, there is a variation of this:

Five days later she couldn’t find her underwear
Couldn’t find her underwear, couldn’t find her underwear
Ten days later she was eaten by a polar bear
That was the end of her!

G., Marissa. “Children’s Songs Part Three.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. <http://www.kayshapero.net/child3.htm>.

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