Tag Archives: singing

Superstition- Singing Before Breakfast

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired
Residence: Dallas, TX
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: My Grandfather -represented as G in the text- grew up in New Jersey in the 1940s. While I was in high school he lived with me and my family and introduced me to some traditions he grew up with. Some mornings on my way to make breakfast I would pass by him sitting in his chair singing a song. If I were to join in on the singing, he would immediately warn me that I shouldn’t sing before I eat breakfast. This was something he learned from his mother, the “lord, and master of the house,” as he described her. He adopted this superstition and says that neither he nor his brothers will sing before they eat. Below is a conversation I had over the phone.

Text:

Me: “Can you tell me about your superstition about singing before breakfast?”

G: “Oh! Gosh! You never want to do that! You never, never, never want to sing before you eat breakfast! You will have bad luck for the rest of the year!”

Me: “The entire year?”

G: “Oh yes the whole g***amn year”

Me: “Sounds like a big deal.”

G: “It is a huge deal”

Interpretation: The first time he told me about this superstition I thought perhaps it came from starting the day (breakfast) before doing anything. Perhaps one shouldn’t celebrate the joy of the day before it has begun. The more I thought about this, however, I came to a more cynical yet realistic conclusion. As a mother of three boys, my great grandmother probably valued peace and quiet in the morning. So if the boys were singing and screaming before they even had breakfast, it would be a reasonable solution to warn them of a year’s worth of bad luck if they continued. 

Pre-Choir Performance Ritual

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Native American
Age: 14
Occupation: student
Residence: Franklin, Tennessee
Date of Performance/Collection: 4-26-2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Blackfoot, Spanish

Main Piece:

Interviewer: You’re in choir, right?

Informant: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Is there any kind of rituals you guys do. Like anything before you guys start?

Informant: Well, one of our teachers, right before we are about to go into a concert, she’ll have us sit in a room and turn off the lights. Then she’ll close the blinds so we are sitting in a dark room. She has us sit criss cross applesauce and close our eyes and doing breathing things. And then she has us think of different places or different things, like, think you’re at the beach and you hear the waves and how at first they are very soft. Then the waves crash, then they go back to soft. Then she compares that to our voices. Then she goes, like, wind on the tall grass or in the trees or something and how you can hear it. But it wasn’t like one thing was way louder than anything else. It was like it all blended together. That’s how she had us get ready for a concert, so we had a calm mindset. We also had, like, a synchronous mindset, where we are all in beat with one another. But it wasn’t like a stressful, like we have to be in beat. It’s like a ‘can we be like nature,’ where we all move together’. And eventually when we move together it will all sound pretty.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s beautiful? Is there anything after the recital that you guys do?

Informant: Not really. I can’t think of anything we do afterwards.

Interviewer: What kind of breathing exercise?

Informant: Well, at first, she has us hold our breath for like 10 seconds, or something. And then breath in and out and in and out. But then our breath has to be in sync with the others, so it’s not like we’re going “huh, huh.” (Breathing hard and erratic.) And how you’d hear like different layers of it from everybody. It’s like “in sync” breathing. So we’ll go “in 1, 2, 3, out 1, 2, 3, in . . .” It’s like different kinda like counting.

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. We were in the kitchen and I asked her about different groups she was a part of at school.

Thoughts:

Not only was the choir a place to find community, it was a place of ritual, harmony and synchronization. Pre-recital was spent in meditation, softly centering the mind in balance with nature. I enjoyed hearing her explain their choir’s pre-performance routine. It was also a picture of the beauty that can come out of community and teamwork. It is not solely about the individual. Rather, individuals in a group working together as a cohesive unit. Ritual is a creative process, key in attaining a certain frame of mind and promoting active engagement.

The Wedding Singers

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 55
Occupation: Financial Manager
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/26/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

Main Body:

Informant: So singing at weddings was big. And I’ll describe this from my memory because I haven’t seen it anywhere else. But I remember, you’d be on the groom’s side. So everyone is sitting on the floor. Typically this would be in the courtyard of … some kind of thing like if there are a few houses it would be in the courtyard in the middle. But then, houses were usually one story high. And on the roof of the house, there would be all these girls sitting all around, on the edge of the roof. They’d be sitting in a row and they’d be singing. So whenever a particular part of the wedding ritual took place, they’d be singing a song that was relevant or appropriate. What they’d also do is, typically, they’d be picking on the groom’s family. 

Interviewer: So these are all women from the bride’s family?

Informant: Yup. And I don’t think there was any restriction on whether or not they could be married or unmarried or anything. While the ceremony is going on, they don’t wait for pauses or anything, they are just continually singing over the ceremony. And they weren’t faint or anything. I mean, they weren’t overpowering but you could very clearly hear them. 

And this is the funny part, I remember one time I was looking up. And their songs, you know, sometimes they would have pathos in them because it was a sad thing because, typically, the bride would not return home after being married off. So they would, the singers would pick on the groom’s family. Like “Oh look at his mustache” or “Oh he’s bald,” or something like that. So I looked up, I was a little kid, to see what all the singing was about. And I remember my older brother telling me, very sternly, “You’re not supposed to look up.” So you can’t acknowledge them. But at the same time, it was very clear that people would feel deprived if there wasn’t that singing.

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from and this tradition is one he noticed being practiced in those rural, village weddings. This did not happen in his own wedding.

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I think I understand where this tradition comes from. India is, by and large, an incredibly patriarchal society. Brides are married off, largely expected to stay home. Even now I see it during dinner settings there is an unspoken expectation that the women clean and bring the food to the table while the men sit and wait. So with the wedding being a somewhat sad affair for the bride’s family, losing their sister/daughter/niece to another family, this tradition is sort of a way of rebelling against that. Disrupting the ceremony, making fun of the groom’s family, ultimately all in vain as the bride will be married and leave. But it’s the bride’s family’s way of expressing their love for the bride and acting out to show, in a roundabout way, that they will miss her.

Abiyoyo

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/23/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

IN: Okay, so far away in a village in Africa, uhm there was a giant by the name of Abiyoyo. For some reason, he got angry and started rampaging, like towards the village of people. Until this little boy decided to take this guitar and start singing, “abiyoyo, abiyoyo, abiyoyo..” and all of the villagers joined in and it started to make him get happy. The giant started dancing, and he and the boy walked into the sunset singing the song.

JJ: Does abiyoyo mean anything? Or did it start to mean anything after?

IN: No, as far as I know it was just kind of arbitrary, like a cool sounding word. It could mean something I guess.

Context: During a slow work shift I asked the informant if he remembered any folktales from his childhood.

Background: The informant is s South-African American. This was a story his father used to always tell him before bed. It is one of the few ways that his family actively passed down their African heritage to him in the States, so this was a significant story to him growing up.

Analysis: In this tale, we see music as a healing tool and important instrument in society. Music is a huge piece in African culture, and this story undoubtedly expresses that. Music has the ability to calm and tranquilize even a beastly giant, and gives reason for little kids to learn instruments and develop and explain interest in music.

 

High School Song Contest

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This tradition was told in a setting where a group of friends were recounting old and weird high school traditions. This is one from a small private all-girl’s school in Ohio.

“So in my high school, my high school is like a school that’s all grades, like you can go there from the time you’re two years old to when you graduate, I just went when I went o high school, and in the highs school there’s this thing that each grade, so just the four, they do a thing called song contest and each grade will pick a theme and it’s super secretive and then you have to pick songs like four or five songs that fit that theme and change the lyrics to be about my high school Laurel, and you have to play your own music, so like you can’t play a stereo, you have to get your own music and your own dances, and then the alumni will vote on the best and which celebrates Laurel the most, and it’s this whole thing because my school’s been around since 1896 so there’s some very old alumni, and like, they’re like, conspiracies that like you have to pick older songs cause the old people aren’t going to know, and last year the juniors did beyonce and it was good like super good, but they didn’t win because basically because they chose too new of the artists or something like that, and there’s another conspiracy that like if the seniors don’t win it’s like a riot, and I guess that like once the seniors didn’t win and all their rich parents were like we’re defunding, we’re taking back our loans and all that, but like the seniors haven’t won a few times, like we didn’t win when we were seniors and we were fine, there was some people though who made it a big thing because they have ties to alumni and all that”

Analysis:

It’s clear to see that the reasoning behind the rumours around the song contest – it would mean more chances to win. However, it is interesting about the seniors needing to win, because it would seem that perhaps it would ENSURE that the senior class would win. However, as the informant noted, her class did not win and there were no repercussions.