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Friday, March 25, 2011

“Ole Dan Tucker and Other Songs I Sang”

Sometimes a song will come into your head and you can’t get rid of that tune. You know how that is. Happened the other day to me and it was a song I sang in grade school—“Ole Dan Tucker.” As a child of the fifties, I can remember singing so many songs in the classroom that dealt with the west such as that one as well as “Clementine,” “Good Bye Old Paint,” “The Erie Canal” and on and on. Never questioned why. Just like the other students,

we sat there and sang for what seemed like forever. Remember my teacher getting out a pitch pipe, blowing on the tone and then we would imitate that tone and sing a song that she selected.

Fast forward way ahead in time and I became a teacher. And what was the first thing I had to buy at Moore’s Book Store? A pitch pipe, of course.

My first teaching job was in the fourth grade. And low and behold, in the music book were the very same songs that I sang. Incredulous! Here I was again singing those same songs only this time I was the teacher and not the student. And this time, I was also the one using a pitch pipe. The songs seemed so normal to me for I grew up with them.

And yet, these songs I mentioned above were products of the late 1800’s.

Maybe it was some unwritten code that they had to be passed on for posterity’s sake. I don’t know. But for some reason, every year thereafter, those same songs were in the children’s music books. Forever or what seemed like it.

In the years in which I taught, I noticed that these old songs of the west started disappearing from music books. And so did a teacher’s use of the pitch pipe—that was one thing I was grateful to discard, even if I did take piano lessons, it was getting harder and harder on my part to read the notes for the pitch.

My three grandchildren have never heard of the songs I mentioned. They had never seen a pitch pipe until I brought mine home with me when I retired from teaching. “What is that?” they asked. And I would go into a long explanation, which bored the wits out of them.

“Ole Dan Tucker” was one of my most favorite childhood songs as well as the other ones I mentioned. Sad, for in retrospect those songs are now lost forever. They belonged to a different time long ago and I am still not sure why they carried over way into the 1900’s at all. Now, I wish they were back. But would they fit into today’s world of hip hop, rap and songs that children sing? Of course not.

In the song, “Good Bye Old Paint,” the first lines are: “Good bye Old Paint, I’m leaving Cheyenne…” Old Paint was a horse and the song was a western song no doubt sung by cowboys all over.

Those songs are long gone but at least I still have memories of them and every once in a while, I catch myself singing one of them to myself. No way would I walk down the street singing one. But if you are like me and know these songs, weren’t they something special? “Ole Dan Tucker” sure was!

Sherry Hill

1 comment:

  1. You are of course right. Some like to say there is not an American culture, but it just isn't so. Much of the culture is transmitted through music and song. That is the reason the old songs were taught Sherry! It was to break-up the hard soil in childrens minds and ready them by planting the seeds of culture. Without legions of teachers bearing pitch pipes, such as yourself, A great deal of education would have failed. Most history and American studies classes would have been crippled, were the connections of music never taught kids. The life-long joy of music was also, set into motion. You might not have a picture of your Great-Great-Great Grandparents, but you still could connect with them through the generations, and across time, singing a song they likely sung as well. Such is the power of music. Building family ties in a meaningful way. I wish they would bring back the excellent music series they used at Robins grade school in the 60's and 70's It was well crafted and every tune had a direct connection with history or faith. Perhaps, someone should revive that material. It's been said: "The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world", But "The hand that holds the pitch-pipe shapes the mind!"