How Can I Keep From Singing! – The BKA Songbook
Middle School and Sunday School, early years and teenage boys, wheel-chair circle games and preparation for country dancing, adult community choirs and ethnically mixed classes, warm-ups in instrumental lessons and brilliant material for over a thousand young voices….. here are the thoughts of BKA members on the practical application of How Can I Keep From Singing!
Fiona Gaffney (Darlington):
Finding Kodály was the most important moment in my teaching career. After my initial Kodály training I discovered that there were few teaching resources available, until ten years ago, when the BKA Songbook was published. It has proved to be invaluable, providing inspiration and guidance to all practising Kodály teachers.
Anna Myatt (York):
I use the Songbook a lot with children’s Choirs. Last year I used Way down Yonder in the Corn Fields (p. 29) in my Big Sing in Rotherham – we had 1200 children singing it, 600 to a part! I like it because not only is it a good tune to remember and sing, but easy for part singing as one part has a held note. Also, the children love making up other verses with different animals to substitute in the last line: “Have you ever seen a pig putting on a wig?” and “Have you ever seen a sheep with Little Bo-Peep?”
This year I have found Mr Scarf’s Action Round (p. 37) to be very successful with both an adult community choir and children. We add in the actions one by one, sing in 2 parts, then leave out the actions one by one until you have only the R chest tapping on the off-beat very quietly.
Jacky Hintze (Edenbridge, Kent):
Ba-nu-wa (p.71): I have performed this charming African song with a small mixed choir, gradually building up from a single voice to a crescendo in the full 9 parts. The piece is easy to learn, as each part is repeated, yet the combination of voices produces beautiful harmonies, making it very suitable for performance. On some occasions we have dropped back in stages to a final solo; at other times, we have ended dramatically following the crescendo. As the book suggests, it also offers the chance for young lads whose voices were changing to play a full and active role by taking on the rhythmic Part 5. Always a firm favourite!
Senua de Dende (p.17): This is a good warm-up with a small local choir, to encourage accurate pitching in steps, with an octave jump thrown in for good measure. I have also used it with a mixed age group in Sunday School, adapting the words to “Jesus, the Saviour, praise Him!” We moved in a circle as we sang, with simple accompanying movements for each phrase. This meant the group picked it up effortlessly through repetition without the need for explicit teaching, although the structure of the song allowed the children to ‘feel’ the individual phrases, which could be made conscious at a later stage.
Love Somebody (p.2): This works very well with children in Early Years, especially to celebrate the Valentine season! The words and melody are simple enough to be readily assimilated during the game, which means that young children are soon joining in. The game can be adapted to suit individual abilities – eg, with a child walking or skipping round the circle – and at varying tempo. I have also used it at a special school for children with cerebral palsy, giving them the chance to move around the circle in their wheelchairs, singing at a gentle pace, allowing time to manoeuvre the chairs.
Christine Wrigley (Bedford):
I have enjoyed using so many of the songs. The book is targeted at age 8-13, precisely the range I was working with when I taught flute at my local state Middle School. I was grateful for material ideally suited to both age and stage of development of the children, therefore making my job so much easier.
Mosquito Song (p. 47): I taught this by rote to all my flute pupils. Eah pupil played it at the beginning of every lesson for two terms. They came to know and love the overarching A A B Bv structure, with its internal melodic and rhythmic repetitions, shapes and variations. By using the note A as la, the children practised the tricky flute finger pattern E,D,C in both falling and rising form – without me even mentioning the words “technical exercise”.
All 24 pupils attended a weekly flute group and we played it in various ways: in canon at 2-beats’ distance, at 1-beat’s distance, in the low register, in the high register, individually, in pairs or larger groups. The real beginners joined in slowly, in augmentation, while the ones who thought that the only way to play an instrument was fast, could test themselves by playing quickly, in diminution. This really motivated them all to hold the ensemble together, so they LISTENED and CONCENTRATED – again without me even having to mention the words! The highlight was performing it as a four-part canon at the school concert – from memory of course! The Head said afterwards that it had been his favourite item.
Ma, Ma, will you buy me a banana? (p. 24): I can see a happy picture – the class of thirty ethnically- and ability-mixed year 4 children from a socially deprived part of town. They stand in two rows facing each other, one line singing the child’s part and the other the part of the hounded Mama, who not only has to buy the banana, but also peel its skin before her offspring eventually offers her a bite. My brief was to teach the whole class to play the recorder, and the children sang this question and answer song with real understanding and gusto. This ‘Wider Opportunities’ project proved to be an impossible mission, but when I heard those children singing with such joy about bananas, I knew that I’d taught them something much more precious than how to finger a B.
Roderick Elmer – St. Monica’s Catholic Primary School, Southgate, N. London:
I find it an extremely useful song-book. There are a few songs I use all the time, but when I try a new song I invariably find that it is a “hit” with the pupils as well. We have many Irish children in my school and they enjoy singing Jug of Punch (p.93). Although it has lots of words we are gradually learning them all by memory.
When we sing As I was walking down the street (p.45) I divide the Year 3 class into pairs around the hall and they act the song. Each pair starts from far apart, and they walk towards one another, meeting and shaking hands on the word “meet”. In the second half of the song they skip around together. We have also performed the dance as a preparation for other country dances.
Celia Cviic (Wimbledon, London):
Missa Ram Goat (p. 23): This song never fails to please and engage singers, young and old. Its educational value – introducing, understanding, and consolidating the syncopa rhythm – is underpinned by many other useful attributes. These include the catchy rhythm, opportunities for two-part-singing, both simple and more complex, and the challenge of being able to sing and perform the syncopa at the same time – and the sheer enjoyment generated by the song itself.
The Diamond (p. 98): This has a very strong melody and real-life subject matter, which engage children and adults alike. It can stand alone without any accompaniment or second part, and is very useful in workshop situations where encouragement to sing with vigour and good articulation is a prime concern
Len Tyler (Camberley):
I have chosen Duck Dance (p. 43) – a fantastic opportunity for movement improvisation and circle dance. I use it with age 6/7 and up. A very simple way to point up the syncopa rhythm is for children to sing the song as they walk in a big circle, and enjoy clapping the rhythm of 2nd, 4th and 6th bar. It is great fun done in two circles and works really well in canon at one bar interval, added to which it’s a terrific song for experiencing ‘triola’ in the last line!
Margaret Oliver (Coventry):
Although I am now retired from teaching, I still find the book a useful resource. As current BKA bookstore manager, I often have to advise students and customers about the books we sell. I recently discovered Searching for Lambs (p. 95) a gorgeous flowing folk-song in the natural minor, in answer to a need for a piece in 5/4 time. The song closely follows speech rhythms, which gives the 5/4 a really natural feel. One customer asked why the song has a 3/4 bar in the middle. Again I feel this answers the narrative at that point in the verse, where the story needs to move on quicker.
Natasha Thompson (Towcester):
I come back to the BKA Songbook time and time again with my children’s and adult choirs – I have two copies as I never want to be with out one! It is packed full of tried and tested songs with lots of suggestions on how to use, teach, and perform them, and even how to add movement. Each song is a gem – it’s always worth having another look in the book, as you never know what you might discover. The indexing at the back is invaluable, instantly giving the information you require about each song.
One of my favourites is Christmas Round (p.13). Sung very rhythmically, you can use it as a vehicle for gospel-style improvisation – add harmonies, even move it up a semitone for repeats. I also love Si, Si, Si (p. 69), such a joy to sing with a real ‘feel-good’ factor. Li’l Liza Jane (p. 60) is a gem with my new adult choir. I give a verse to the men, a verse to the ladies, and as they get more experienced, gradually get the ostinatos going, adding them one by one.
Cyrilla Rowsell (Croydon):
Viva la musica (p.19) is always a favourite. I used it with my school choir for our performance at the Festival Hall for the Music for Youth Finals. The adjudicator didn’t hear me very quietly giving the starting pitch, and was amazed that everyone came in together on the right note! Everybody loves singing Hashivenu (p.70), a beautiful Hebrew song and a good example of the natural minor. Ha Ha Ha (p. 67) is great for teaching the major triad – I usually do it just in solfa, not the words.
One of my own favourites is Bird of Heaven (p. 54), which I sing regularly with a small Quaker singing group I lead once a month in Cambridge. It was such a pity we couldn’t include a recording of it on the CD as it is copyright.
My sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to this article. It gives us all much inspiration and great practical ideas. Miraculously not one person has chosen the same song as anyone else! It’s wonderful to hear that the BKA Songbook still has solutions for all occasions.