Playlists

Black History Month – Composers

October is Black History Month, and so it seems fitting that my playlist this month exclusively features Black Composers. The music of Black Composers has traditionally been given very little, if any, attention and their music has been largely ignored for many years. I did a music degree in the 1990s that was fairly academic, and had not heard of many of the composers mentioned here during my studies, other than twentieth century composers. Happily, things are starting to change, but this is exactly why we need Black History Month to shine a spotlight on the work of these great musicians, so more people can listen to and love their music.

Some of the composers on this playlist you will have heard of; some pieces have featured on previous playlists; and some composers you may not have heard from before. It is always good to discover music that is new to you and to see if a composer’s works are ones you or your children enjoy or are inspired by. So sit back, relax and have a listen to this whistle stop tour of music through the ages.

Prior to the Classical period in music history I have not found information about Black composers working on music of the western tradition.

I have put together a Spotify playlist featuring most of the works mentioned below. Sadly I could not find all of the works I mention here in this post on Spotify. However, if you would like to listen to most of these works all together, you will find my playlist at the end of this post, or you could simply access it with this link.

Classical Music

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799)

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a French composer, amazing violinist, conductor of the main Symphony Orchestra in Paris and a famous champion fencer! In fact when he first performed as a violinist, the audience were surprised that the famous fencer was such a good musician. A few pieces of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music:

Romantic Music

George Bridgetower (1788-1860)

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was a British composer of African heritage born in 1788. He was a virtuoso violinist whose performance impressed Beethoven so much that he dedicated his Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower. Sadly most of his compositions were lost, and he was mostly remembered as a violinist, largely due to the dedication by Beethoven.

Francis Johnson (1792-1844)

Francis Johnson was the first African-American composer whose compositions were printed as sheet music, he was also the first African-American composer to give public concerts in the United States and to take part in racially integrated concerts there.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912)

Born in 1875 in London, Coleridge-Taylor, named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a composer and prominent conductor in the early 1900s. Despite being a successful conductor, Coleridge-Taylor struggled financially and so he sold the rights to what became his most successful work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, for a small sum to make some immediate money. He learned from this experience not to give up the rights to his creative endeavours.

Early 20th Century

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist who was known as the “King of Ragtime”. One of his first pieces became ragtime’s most influential hit, the Maple Leaf Rag. Joplin’s compositional style, and his use of harmony and rhythm were hugely influential on composers who followed him, and you can hear echoes of these harmonic and rhythmic ideas in music composed today.

Florence Price (1887-1953)

The first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer, and the first to have one of her works performed by a major orchestra, Price was also a pianist, organist and music teacher. Price studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and became Head of Music at what is now Clark Atlanta University. In the late 1920s, following a number of racially motivated incidents in Atlanta, Price moved with her family to Chicago and a number of her works for orchestra were performed by the Chicago Women’s Symphony and the Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago amongst other ensembles.

Late 20th Century

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

Edward Kennedy Ellington, known as Duke Ellington, was an American composer, pianist and jazz artist, leading his own Jazz Orchestra which became famous through their appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Duke Ellington was one of the most significant jazz composers, creating the distinctive Big Band style of performing. Ellington called this “American music”. He was a prolific composer of both jazz songs, and instrumental, more “classical” works.

Margaret Bonds (1913 – 1972)

Margaret Bonds was an American composer, pianist, arranger and teacher, who was one of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition there. She studied under Florence Price, amongst others and she was one of a few Black students at Northwestern University, where her experience was marred by the hostile and racist environment she found herself in. She moved to New York after graduation to attend the very prestigious Julliard School of Music. Margaret Bonds is best known for her arrangements of African-American spirituals.

George Walker (1922 – 2018)

George Theophilus Walker was the first African-American composers to win the Pullitzer Prize for Music in 1996. George Walker’s music is influenced by many different musical styles including “classical” music, folk songs, jazz, church hymns. He did not want to confine himself to one particular style of composition and so he uses many different musical styles within his compositions.

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Miles Davis is probably known to you as a trumpeter, but he was also a composer. He was born in Illinois, America, into a musical family as his mother was a violinist and music teacher. Having spent much of his younger years performing at school and home, and going on to play in bands in clubs in St Louis and New York. Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue is the best selling jazz albums of all time, and he is one of the most influential and respected jazz musicians, influencing many, many musicians who came after him.

Nina Simone (1933-2003)

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was an American singer songwriter, musician and civil rights activist. A brilliant pianist with dreams of being a concert pianist as a child, she changed her name to Nina Simone when she started to play in nightclubs in Atlanta, so her family would not know that she was playing in cocktail bars, playing “the devil’s music”. Playing in the clubs, she was told that she would have to sing as well as play piano, starting her career as a singer. For many years Simone performed her most popular music only to help her fund her classical music studies, she was rather indifferent to her recording contract. She had a change of record distributors in 1964 and this gave her the opportunity to change the content of her songs to be much more focussed on the civil rights movement. Nina Simone became more and more involved in activism, and so she wrote and released less music.

Composing and performing today

Eleanor Alberga (1949 – present)

Born in Jamaica, Alberga started performing and composing at a very early age. She studied music at the Jamaican School of Music and moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music after winning the biennial West Indian Associated Board Scholarship. Alberga initially worked as a concert pianist after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, but stopped performing in 2001 to concentrate on composing. Her music draws on her Jamaican background with its colour and cross-rhythm. Alberga uses influences from jazz music, tonal harmony and repeated rhythm patterns.

Errollyn Wallen (1958 – present)

Errollyn Wallen was born in Belize but moved to London with her family when she was 2 years old. She was brought up largely by her uncle and aunt after her parents moved to New York. Wallen started out training as a dancer, but after going to study a the Dance Theatre of Harlem, she decided to become a composer, returning to the UK. She studied composition at Goldsmiths’ College, Kings College, London and later at King’s College, Cambridge. Wallen was the first Black female composer whose work was performed at the BBC Proms in 1996.

Concerto starts approx 16 mins into recording

YolanDa Brown (1982 – present)

Yolanda Brown was born in Essex, UK. Brown initially studied at business school, and she gained Masters degrees in business and in social research and studied management science at doctorate level before deciding to pursue a musical career. Yolanda Brown was the first person to win the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award for Best Jazz Act twice. Brown mixes jazz, reggae and soul music in her work.

Parents of young children will know her best from her CBeebies programme Band Jam, which we love in this house. In fact before the pandemic hit we had bought tickets for her Band Jam show near us. If you haven’t already discovered Band Jam, then go and find it on CBeebies, it’s a great, fun show full of music to make your children get up and dance, and Yolanda Brown teaches your children about different instruments and musical styles inviting guest musicians onto the show.

The first two clips I have linked to below are from the brilliant Band Jam, and the final piece is one of Brown’s compositions.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson (1986 – present)

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a cellist, composer and singer-songwriter. She began playing piano at a very early age, and took up cello at 13. She studied music at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama and later studied for her Masters degree in music at the Manhatten School of Music. Witter-Johnson fuses classical and pop in her music, singing and playing cello. She has described hr song writing style as “a bit of soul, hip-hop and reggae”.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Spotify Playlist

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Poppy and Mozart

POPPY AND MOZART is a lovely book illustrated by Magali le Huche.

The back cover of the book introduces it by saying :

Poppy loves to play the music of Mozart with his best friend Frannie. Today, the two friends will hear musicians all over the city, because today is the festival of music in Paris!

Poppy and Mozart is a sound book, and there are a number of icons on the book to press, which then play either excerpts from some of the composer Mozart’s works (a speaker icon in a red circle), or a sound effect, like the sound of a bicycle bell (a squiggle in a yellow circle).

The story follows the two friends as they travel around Paris, hearing Mozart’s music wherever they go. Their day culminates in a performance of the opera The Magic Flute, and the famous aria from this opera The Queen of the Night.

The story is a little limited, as many of these sorts of books are. However it is a nice way to introduce the music of one of the great composers within a beautifully illustrated story.

There are some really nice touches to this book. After the story, a few facts about Mozart’s life and music are given to the reader, as is a list of the works that feature in the book together with the artist or ensemble who performed each one. All of the sound effects and musical excerpts are also provided together for your child to explore at the end with the name of each piece of music. Finally, there is the all important on/off switch which is essential in my mind both so that you don’t waste the batteries before you get to actually read it, and so that your children cannot drive you absolutely up the wall playing the one excerpt over and over again. Not that mine would ever do that sort of thing……

The back of the book suggests that this is a book for age 4+ and I would broadly agree with that assessment. My daughter is 3, nearly 4 and she is only just starting to show interest in the book as there is less fantasy or fairytale to it than many of her other books of this nature. She is also only just developing enough strength in her hands to be able to press the icons and get them to actually make any sound herself.

Playlists

Classical Music for Halloween

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

I made some suggestions of songs that could feature on a Halloween playlist in a previous blog post, but it is not just pop songs/soundtracks that are appropriate for the spooky season. While we may or may not play these works at our Halloween party I will certainly be playing this music over the half term break while we are doing Halloween crafts and playing Halloween games. The link to the spotify playlist to listen to all of these suggestions together is at the end of this playlist.

Night on a Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorsky arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov

Written originally by the composer Mussorsky when he was a young man, it is the version of this piece that was arranged by his contemporary Rimsky-Korsakov that has become famous and that is included in this playlist.

Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death is a tone poem (an orchestral work that paints a picture inspired by a work of fiction, poetry, or art) written in 1874. According to legend Death appears each year at midnight on Halloween. Death then calls the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle (violin). This piece begins with a harp playing a single note 12 times (midnight) before the orchestra starts playing its dances. This is a piece that always sounds rather mischievous to me.

O Fortuna from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff

The Carmina Burana are a set of over 200 poems and dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. In the 20th century based on 24 of the poems. They discuss issues such as the fickleness of fortune and wealth, and the perils of greed and gluttony to name a few of the themes of this work. O Fortuna begins and ends the work. I love Carmina Burana, and one of my favourite memories of this piece is playing percussion for a performance in Sheffield Cathedral in my final year at University. It was such a fun piece to play!

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J S Bach

One of the most famous pieces of organ music, composed by Bach. The piece starts with the Toccata section, which is composed as a virtuosic piece of music – or as a piece of music designed to show off the skill of the performer. The fugue follows. A fugue is a piece of music that has two themes that follow one another, almost like they are chasing each other. This is a very dramatic piece of music, the loud opening on the organ lending it a rather spooky atmosphere.

In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Composed originally to accompany Henrick Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, In the Hall of the Mountain King later formed part of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. It is a dreamlike, some would say nightmarish, fantasy piece of music from a story about trolls, goblins and gnomes. What could fit Halloween better than that?

Totentanz by Franz Liszt

Translated as Dance of Death, this is an obvious inclusion in a playlist of music to listen to at Halloween.

Third Movement of Piano Sonata no 2 in B flat Minor by Frederick Chopin

The composer Chopin wrote many, many pieces of music for the piano. He is probably mainly known as a composer of beautiful, romantic pieces of music. The second movement (a sonata is written in a number of movements, here 4 movements) is a funeral march and has been performed at many funerals, including Chopin’s own funeral.

War Requiem by Britten

I could have chosen almost any Requiem to include in this playlist. A Requiem Mass is part of a catholic service, a mass for the dead. There are many beautiful, dramatic, wonderful Requiem Masses to listen to, but I am including this one because it has as its subject matter the horrors of war as well. This is the Libera Me. The text is Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna which means Liberate me, master, from eternal death.

Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass by Verdi

The Dies Irae appears in every Requiem Mass, and translates as the Day of Wrath. This is such a dramatic piece of music. Another that always comes to mind for me from a performance in a cathedral. This time from my school days as a flautist, but I can’t remember where I was. I remember how exhilarating this was to perform, however, especially this part of the Requiem.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a piece of music all about magic. It was written based on a poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Disney Fantasia version has Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who is tired of having to fetch water himself and who has a go at using magic to get the chores done with unexpected results. I have mentioned Fantasia several times in my playlists, and in fact a couple of the other pieces of music in this playlist featured in the first Fantasia film because it had such a good selection of music, and the cartoons that was made to accompany these pieces of music made the music so much more relevant, affecting and memorable for me as a child watching.

You can listen to the whole of this playlist here:

Reaponses to Music

Learning to Listen to Music: What Does This Music Make You Think Of?

We have music on a lot of the time at home. I love pretty much any music, and my husband particularly loves classical music and jazz. So we have music on when we are cooking, when we are eating, when we are working, when driving the car, when the children are playing….. It is almost always there in the background, like a soundtrack to our lives.

While it is great that my children hear lots of different musical works from different genres, I also want them to be able to properly listen to that music, to properly hear it rather than just use it as a soundtrack, to think about that music, and express their opinion about it: Do they like it? How does the music make them feel? Do they want to dance to it?

To do this, I have tried a number of techniques to get the children to tell me what they think of it, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, the questions I have asked or the things I have asked them to do have just been way too advanced for them, but my questions sometimes produce some very funny and lovely responses, especially from my son who can go off at a stream of consciousness tangent at the best of times!

When driving the car with the children when they were very small, I would ask the very simple question “do you like this music?” The answer was always yes. I don’t think they were always telling me their actual opinion on whether they liked the music, they were just giving me the answer they thought I wanted. I would answer my own question, and talk a little bit about why I liked a piece of music, or why I was not so keen on that piece of music.

I started putting some music on at the same time as getting paints and paper out at home. I would ask the children to paint something as a response to the music. They would paint exactly what they wanted, and in no way was their painting anything to do with the music. However, they were engaged in relating their pictures to the music being played.

At dinner time I sometimes talk to the children about a piece of music and what it makes me think about: what pictures come to my mind when I hear a piece of music. My husband does the same, he has different pictures in his head when hearing the same piece of music. The music means different things to us both. My children are both asked for their opinions on the music as well – what does the music make them think of? Does it make them imagine a particular scene, or imagine a story? Generally my three year old just shouts out “Peppa Pig” and my son says something about superheroes, or bad guys, whatever he is interested in at that point.

Although their responses are not necessarily about the music they are listening to, what I am doing with this exercise is encouraging the children to develop their own opinions and express those opinions about music. Their opinions and what they want to tell me about it are valid. To show them that music can be a prompt for your imagination, that it can tell you a story, and that it is what the music means for you that is important.

As I said, it can be quite amusing to listen to what my children says the music means to them, and I thought it might be a fun series of blog posts to write, noting down their responses to various pieces of music. To see how their responses develop over time, and whether they start to match the music a little more, rather than just be a stream of consciousness response on the subject of superheroes or Peppa Pig for example. Watch out for it here, and I would love to see the results of you doing this with your children too.

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Welcome to the Symphony

My Music Book Review for today is the sound book Welcome to the Symphony by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by James Williamson.

It is an exploration of both the instruments that play in a Symphony Orchestra, and also the 5th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. You almost certainly have heard this symphony before as it is very, very well known. If you would like to listen to it in full, you could listen to it on Spotify here:

The book is a sound book, so as you go through the pages there are prompts to press corresponding buttons on the book that demonstrate the sound of the violins, the cellos, the oboes or the trombones that go into making up a symphony orchestra. I don’t know about your children, but being able to press buttons and make noises when reading a book is just the best thing in the world ever. So a noise book is always a winner in this house. It’s also a great way to get the children enthused about a book about music. Music is all about what you can hear, so it makes perfect sense to have a book you can listen to as well as read.

There is an on/off switch on the back to save the batteries, you just have to remember to turn it off, something I don’t always do.

This book, goes further than talking about the instruments of the orchestra (which this book I have previously reviewed covers, as does this one), and also introduces your children to an amazing work. It explains what terms like melody and harmony mean, again giving examples for your children to listen to, and explains the main structure of the symphony. All of this is presented in very simple form so that its young readers can understand the concepts explained.

Music Book Review: First Book About the Orchestra

There are lovely illustrations with an adorable audience of mice.

I would say that this book is mainly aimed at younger children, so pre-schoolers or those just starting school, especially if you are reading the book with them. For developing readers the book is written in simple language so that young readers would be able to read the book independently. My 6 year old thoroughly enjoys the book and I have sometimes found him sat on his own reading the book, pressing the buttons and listening carefully to the examples given. It has prompted him to ask to listen to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. I would love to say that he sat transfixed listening to the music, and he did concentrate on it for about 5-10 minutes before getting something out to do while the music was on.

Music Book Review: Usborne Listen and Learn Musical Instruments

We bought this book from Amazon, and on the day of writing this blog post (because Amazon’s prices do change) it is for sale at a cost of £15.19.

Playlists

Animals in classical music

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have previously put together a playlist of children’s songs that have animals as their subject matter. Animals are not only a good subject for children’s songs, but also provide great subject matter for composers of classical music. Here are some classical music pieces that feature animals as their subject. This blog post contains links to YouTube videos of these pieces, extracts of them for the longer works, or alternatively, you can have a listen to the whole playlist on Spotify, my Spotify playlist is at the bottom of this post.

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens

Written by the French composer Saint-Saens in the late 19th century, the Carnival of the Animals is a set of 14 pieces of music that were written for children. Each piece of music is intended to describe a different animal. So you have an elegant, graceful swan in one piece played on cello with long, smooth graceful notes accompanied by a tinkling piano suggestive of the water the swan is swimming along on); a lumbering elephant played by low stringed instruments that are painting a picture of how big and heavy an elephant is; a piece about birds in an aviary that is played by wind instruments – flutes playing high, fast notes suggesting the way that birds flit and dart about in the air. I have put this music on at home sometimes when I want the children to dart about and burn off some energy getting them to pretend to be the birds, or to be horses running along really fast. I have also put this on and asked my eldest to listen carefully to the music and tell me what animal he thinks is the subject of each particular piece.

Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev

This piece of music was my son’s favourite thing to listen to and watch for a good 4 or 5 months when he was 2 years old. We put the Disney version on one day to try to get him to watch something that wasn’t Peppa Pig I think, and he was absolutely hooked. We had to play Peter and the Wolf every day for a while – that wolf was caught and taken to the zoo so very many times. He even got us to make the characters out of play dough and then air drying clay so he could play Peter and the Wolf. I’ll be honest, all of the shapes I made for the characters were incredibly similar, just the wolf was perhaps a bit longer, but it didn’t seem to matter to my son.

Peter and the Wolf was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. It is a musical symphony written for children telling the cautionary tale of Peter who is warned by his grandfather to stay at home after reports of a wolf in the area are received. Of course Peter thinks he can tackle the wolf himself and save the town, so he ignores his grandfather’s warnings and sets off to catch the wolf accompanied by a duck a bird and a cat.

Each of the characters in the story – Peter, the duck, the bird, the cat, the grandfather, the wolf and even the hunters – has their own theme tune which introduces the character and appears regularly when that character is part of the action, helping young listeners understand the story.

Flight of the Bumblebee by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Another composition from the Romantic period in music history, this was written originally to be featured in an opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan. The piece sounds like a bumblebee flying, darting around and changing direction. There are many versions of this work available to listen to. The most common are for violin, flute or piano. The piece works very well as an energy buster for young children – ask your little one to dance around like a bumblebee to the music and it will quickly wear them out! It is a very descriptive piece of music, so an older child could be asked to guess what animal is being portrayed when they listen to it. I have linked to the piano version below, but the spotify playlist with these pieces of music on has a version of this piece played on violin. Which do you prefer?

The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Originally composed for violin and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1914, and inspired by the poem The Lark Ascending by George Meredith, Vaughan Williams re-wrote it for violin and orchestra during the First World War. It is the version for violin and orchestra that is most often performed today. Listening to this piece you can hear the bird, the violin, flying up high into the sky, with the orchestra painting a picture of the landscape below that the lark is flying over. The piece ends as it began, with just the violin, at the end the lark flies high up into the sky as the violin plays up in its highest register. It is beautiful.

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius

This is a tone poem (a piece of music in one movement that paints a picture of a poem, short story, painting etc) composed in 1912. Here as the orchestra plays it is depicting a countryside scene. The clarinet is the cuckoo, and at first you can only hear it occasionally, but the clarinet plays more and more as the piece continues. With an older child, ask them to listen to the piece and count how many times they hear the clarinet and its cuckoo sound. Perhaps you could have a competition between yourselves to see how many cuckoo calls you can hear in the piece?

Le Merle Noir by Olivier Messiaen

This is a piece of music that I know quite well as I am a flautist. I battled with trying to play this whilst at University, not always successfully! The subject of this twentieth century composition is a Blackbird. The flute (an instrument that is quite high in its register, and so is often used to evoke birdsong) is the ideal instrument for this piece of music.

The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky

This orchestral piece of music, a ballet, was based on a fairy tale about a magical glowing bird that is imprisoned in a castle with a beautiful princess. Prince Ivan searches for this bird and tries to rescue the bird and the princess. The ballet tells the tale of Prince Ivan’s search and rescue and what happens afterwards. The Firebird Suite featured in Disney’s updated animation Fantasia in 2000 and it is the audio of this version that I link to below.

Playlist

Playlists

Animals in Children’s Songs

There are so many children’s songs about animals and with animal sounds in. For small children, these songs are absolutely fabulous. They are full of animal sounds or fun actions that will amuse your baby and that your toddler can learn and join in with. I think I could put together about 17 playlists of songs about animals (and I will put together a separate playlist of animals in classical music later on), but for now here is a playlist of 11 songs featuring animals to get you started.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Animal Fayre

This was one of the first songs I started singing to my son, usually during nappy changes. I added actions into the song, and made a big thing of the elephant sneezing and falling to his knees to entertain him while I was changing his nappy – to get him to stay still, or a little still while I was doing it. Fast forward a little, and after school we sang it together as he was eating Animal biscuits – if he called out that he had pulled a monkey out of the bag of biscuits, then I sang Animal Fayre.

It’s a great song for starting to learn about harmony as well, and choral singing. Once you get to the end of the song “and what became of the monkey?” you can repeat the word monkey to the same note as someone else sings the rest of the song. Two people singing at the same time and each person singing something different, it is a lovely introduction to people singing together.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

This song can go on for as long or as short a time as you want it to, depending on how many animals you want to have on Old MacDonald’s Farm. It’s a great song for teaching small children about animals and the sounds they make. You can sing the song all the way through, or for each animal you an stop, show your little one an animal picture or puppet; ask them what the animal is and what sound they make and then sing the song. With my children we have gone through many animals – the usual farm yard animals and some more unusual ones as well – at times we have had frogs, hippos, aardvarks and even dinosaurs on Old MacDonald’s Farm. We have had to dig deep into our imagination to come up with the noises some animals make that we have been asked to add into the farm.

Who’s at the Door from Tee and Mo

I have mentioned the TV programme Tee and Mo before as there are so many brilliant songs in it, including one of my favourite lullabies. This one is a really fun song, with very no words, just a doorbell and then an animal sound. We didn’t actually see this on the cartoon, but I bought the album which had this song on, and it was a great song for the post-school/nursery journey home to lift spirits with the children calling out the animals as they recognised the animal’s sounds in the song.

How Much is That Doggy in the Window

This was a favourite bath song for our boy for several months. Like Old MacDonald it’s a great song for learning animal names and sounds. This time generally more domestic animals, though again during his dinosaur obsession phase my son liked to challenge us with creatures we could include in the song. My son would shout out the animal/creature he wanted to be in the window, and we would sing the song, making up the sounds it makes and adding in an attribute. For example:

How much is that T-Rex in the window?

(roar, roar)

The one with the big, shiny teeth

BINGO

Although this is largely known as a spelling song (and yes, it is all about spelling the word Bingo), I think of it more as a memory song. The song is about a farmer whose dog is called Bingo, and the dog’s name is spelled out in the song:

There was a Farmer and his dog

And Bingo was his name, oh

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name, oh

The same words are then repeated, but the second time instead of singing the B of B-I-N-G-O, you clap your hands (great clapping practice for very small children). Next verse you can either clap for both the B and the I, or just the I of B-I-N-G-O etc until you have gone through the whole word. This is why I think it is a good memory song as you have to remember where you have got to in the dog’s name, and you have to remember to come back in singing after you have clapped enough times.

The Ants Go Marching Two by Two

You will find this song on my playlist of counting songs, because, well the ants start off marching one by one, then two by two and all the way up to ten by ten. But this is not just a counting song, or just a song about ants. It is also full of lovely rhymes – the ants march two by two and the little one stops to tie his shoe; the ants march three by three and the little one stops to climb a tree etc.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

A lovely nursery rhyme, one of the first you will probably sing to your baby. It is sung to a variation of the melody to the French song “Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman”, and you may notice that this is almost identical to the melody for nursery rhymes “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the Alphabet Song. As the melody is very similar to a number of other songs for small children it is easy to remember and sing with your little one. As a variation of the song and to keep my daughter awake on car journeys to avoid a danger nap (a nap too close to bed time that will stop her going to sleep at night), I have sung baa baa red sheep, or green sheep or whatever colour my daughter could shout out from the back of the car. It was a favourite song of hers for a while.

Hickory Dickory Dock

You are highly likely to know this song already. A mouse runs up a clock and the clock strikes one. This is a nice song to sing with very small children. When singing the song you can tickle your little one, running your hands up their arm as the mouse goes up the clock and down again as the mouse runs down the clock.

Cat Came Fiddling out of the Barn

This is an odd but fun song that is fun to dance around to. At one point in the song a mouse marries a bumblebee – happens every day around here!

Incy Wincy Spider

Another lovely nursery rhyme to sing with small children. The song lends itself to using actions that go together with the words to the nursery rhyme – moving your hands in the air in front of your child from low to high as Incy Wincy (may also be referred to as Itsy Bitsy Spider) climbs up the water spout; holding your hands up palms out and fingers spread out and wiggling and moving from high to low in the air in front of your child as the rain comes down, etc. As these are quite simple actions, like with Hickory Dickory above, your child can actually join in with the song with you from a very young age, copying your actions.

Hey Diddle Diddle the Cat and the Fiddle

I loved this song when I was a little girl. We had the lyrics in a book of a collection of nursery rhymes and I distinctly remember the pictures that accompanied it – a cow jumping over a moon, an anthropomorphic dish and spoon running off together. This is a fun, nonsense verse set to music.

Playlists · Themed Music

Classical Music for Autumn/Fall Playlist

It is now officially Autumn (or Fall for those in the USA). Music has always been written about and for the seasons, and Autumn is no different. I am writing this on September 21, the equinox, or the day on which there is equal amounts of daylight and darkness. From now on, the nights will start drawing in, the leaves will change to beautiful oranges and reds and eventually fall off the trees. We will start wrapping up in scarves and coats and gloves. I love this time of the year, and I love the music that is written about this season. If you are planning to sit down for a relaxing day with your children, or are looking for a playlist to accompany your child’s learning about the season, then you could do worse than playing my classical music for Autumn playlist that I link to at the end of this blog post.

The Four Seasons – Autumn by Antonio Vivaldi

A playlist about the seasons has to, of course, start with The Four Seasons by Vivaldi for obvious reasons. The Four Seasons was written as four separate, but thematically linked, concerti for violin and orchestra. The third concerto in this series was written in the key of F major and was entitled “Autumn”. At the same time as publishing The Four Seasons Vivaldi published a set of accompanying sonnets telling his audiences what he had tried to convey in the music. Listen out for hunters with horns and dogs in the second movement (the Allegro, or faster movement) and see if you and your children can hear them in Vivaldi’s music.

Das Jahr by Fanny Mendelssohn

Das Jahr translates as The Year. Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano song cycle was written in 1841 as a set of 12 pieces, each roughly attributed to a month of the year. It was written as a sort of musical diary of a year she spent in Italy with her family.

The Fall of the Leaf by Imogen Holst

Imogen Holst composed this piece for her friend, the cellist Pamela Hind o’Malley. It is a set of three studies on a piece of music by Martin Peerson, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book which was composed around the 16th or 17th century. It’s title places the piece in this season. This piece does not feature on my spotify playlist below as I could not find it on spotify.

Music for Rainy Weather

Folk Songs of the Four Seasons by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams wrote this for a women’s choral festival based on English folk songs. Autumn, here, is made up of three songs, two harvest songs: John Barleycorn and An Acre of Land sung by the whole chorus; and a song called The Unquiet Grave for 3 unaccompanied (or acapella) voices, a somewhat bleak song about a girl meeting her dead lover at the grave.

Shaker Loops by John Adams

This is not actually a piece of music that is written about Autumn, but listening to the string instruments it sounds a little like wind rustling through leaves, first gently, and then in a much more stormy fashion.

9 Songs for Summer

Autumn Gardens by Einojuhani Rautavaara

A beautiful piece of music from this Finnish composer, written at the turn of the century, this is a beautiful musical portrayal of the colours and sounds of an autumn garden.

String Quartet no 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven

This piece of music was composed in 1825 after Beethoven had recovered from a near fatal illness. String Quartets are pieces of music for four instruments – two violins, viola and cello. This string quartet is in 5 movements, the third being a song of thanksgiving entitled Holy Song of Thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode. For this reason this piece is often played in November, near Thanksgiving in the USA. This is the movement you will find immediately below. I have included the whole string quartet in my spotify playlist.

Playlist

Playlists

Songs for Halloween

Halloween is a celebration that has been growing in popularity over the years. In our little community we have had a lovely tradition each year where most of the houses in the streets near us decorate the front of their houses, and on one Sunday afternoon near to Halloween all of the families who want to take part in trick or treating meet at the bottom of one of our streets and we all go Trick or Treating together. The majority of the families here have young children, so it is a really nice, safe way to take part. For obvious reasons we will not be going Trick or Treating like this with the children this year, but we will still celebrate Halloween this year, especially as it falls at the end of half term, and I will be looking for ways to keep the children entertained at home. On Halloween itself we will probably do some sort of scavenger hunt at home, and have a Halloween party. The following songs will be on our playlist:

Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

This song tells the story of a mad scientist in his lab who comes up with a new dance that becomes a new dance craze.

Thriller by Michael Jackson

It goes without saying that Thriller will feature on a Halloween party playlist. Writing this now, I am wondering if my children are old enough to attempt the dance routine – you know the one. Well you will do if you watched the video to this song as often as I did when I was a child!

Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr

Who are you going to call?

Of course Ghostbusters has to feature on a Halloween playlist. It’s a fun song to dance to and sing along to for children of all ages.

Harry Potter Theme Tune by John Williams

Not a song, I admit, but something from the Harry Potter soundtrack will definitely feature on our Halloween party playlist. Harry Potter, if you don’t know already, is a boy brought up by his awful human uncle and aunt until he finds out that his parents were quite famous in the wizarding world and that he is to go off to wizarding school himself. The books by J K Rowling have been made into films, and the instantly recognisable main theme is a worthy inclusion in any Halloween party play list.

Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell

What could be more Halloween and spooky than having the feeling that you are being watched. The music in this is insistent, creepy and spooky right from the start, but also good to dance to.

The Adams Family

They’re creepy and they’re kooky

Mysterious and spooky

They’re altogether ooky

The Adams Family

A brilliant family friendly Halloween film, and the theme tune is now synonymous with this time of year.

Vampirina Theme Tune

My daughter loves Vampirina on Disney +, and will almost certainly be dressing up as Vampirina for Halloween this year. I have already had to promise her that I will paint her face purple like Vampirina. So there will definitely be some songs from the show on our Halloween playlist.

Halloween Sharks by Pink Fong

Oh god!! My daughter loves this song. She loves Baby Shark generally, and this is just a Halloween version. They do Christmas version as well in case you haven’t had enough of the song! This goes round and round my head for hours after it is played. To be fair, it does get played about 17 times every time it is put on.

Playlists

Lullabies I Have Sung To My Children

I have been singing to my children from their very earliest days. I love to sing, and am a singer, so there are very few days that go by when I don’t sing at all at some point, whether my children want me to or not!

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Babies absolutely love the sound of their parents’ voices. The hearing function in a foetus starts at around 4 months gestation, although the ear is not fully formed for another 2 months. Babies can hear sounds closest to them from very early on in their development. The sounds that are closest to them are their mother’s bodily functions, like the sounds her lungs make as she breathes, the sound her heart makes as it is beating, and the sounds of her voice as she is talking. They become very familiar with her voice and the voices of people closest to her. Once a baby is born, the sounds of their parents voices and those of people who have stayed close to their mother during pregnancy are very important and comforting to them, and the most beautiful to them. So, no matter what you think of your own voice, your baby will love it and will love to hear you sing to them.

I have sung to and with my children in celebration, to get them to dance around, as entertainment for them and for me, to comfort them, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, because it made them smile, because it calmed and reassured them and helped them sleep.

Here are some of the songs I have sung to my children in an effort to get them to sleep.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is a hymn that has been around since the 18th century. It became popular in America, particularly in Baptist and Methodist churches, after the composer William Walker set the words to a new melody; the tune that is most frequently sung today. Amazing Grace is a song that holds memories not only of my mother singing to me, but also of it being my Grandma’s favourite hymn. My son was not a good sleeper for the first 2 years of his life. So in common with many sleep-deprived parents I turned to baby sleep books. One recommended putting sleep cues in place for baby when trying to lessen reliance on feeding to sleep, such as having the same routine, using the same smell for bedtime, and singing the same song every night so that baby would associate that song with sleep and (the theory went) fall asleep just by smelling that smell and/or hearing that song. So I chose Amazing Grace and sang the song to him every night for months and months, possibly even a year. He never fell asleep by the end of the song, but he does like it! When my daughter was born, after singing the same song to her brother every single night, Amazing Grace popped out of my mouth when singing to her to go to sleep without even thinking about it. This video is me singing Amazing Grace to my daughter when she was 3 months old. It was VERY familiar to her by then and I am sure she is joining in!

Goodnight Sweetheart by The Spaniels

This song was used in the film 3 Men and a Baby, and the song magically got the baby to sleep within seconds just like it always happens with TV/movie babies. In the same way, that in TV/movies parents can say goodnight to their children, give them a kiss and ruffle their hair, turn the light out and their child instantly goes to sleep. That never happened with my children, but it was a nice song to sing to them.

Wiegenlied (or Lullaby) by Johannes Brahms

If you were asked to think of a lullaby out of the blue, there is a very good chance that the melody to this piece of music would be one of the first you would think of. One of the composer Brahms’ most popular pieces of music, it was composed in the 19th century for voice and piano and first performed in December 1868 by Luise Dustman and Clara Schumann, a pianist and composer in her own right. The original Lyrics were taken from a collection of German folk poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, or The Boy’s Magic Horn. I have included an instrumental version here, for obvious reasons – the baby just couldn’t resist going to sleep here!

Stay Awake from the film Mary Poppins

As my son got older, and I wanted a change from singing Amazing Grace to him (as an adult you can get sick of any piece of music!), I started singing this song to my son. On the surface the lyrics seem to be encouraging the children to stay awake because they are not sleepy at all, hence the title, but really enticing the children with their soft, deep pillows and the world all being fast asleep. My son really liked this song and still occasionally asks me to sing it to him before he goes off to sleep.

Go to Sleep from Tee and Mo

I loved the CBeebies programme Tee and Mo. Tee and Mo is a lovely cartoon about the adventures a monkey called Tee and his mum Mo have – all very ordinary things like going shopping, but it’s lovely. And the songs from the show are brilliant too. I don’t think it was around when my son was very small, but my daughter loved it, and I bought the album to play in the car for her (and me to be honest). There are so many great songs on there to sing with your children, but this one has to be my favourite.

Lullaby by Josh Groban featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo with lyrics by Dave Matthews

This is just a beautiful song, a fusion of Western and South African music. I heard this song long before I had children, and it was one I knew I would want to sing to my children when I had them.

Coventry Carol

OK, this is a rather odd song to include in a list of lullabies as it is a Christmas song. I include it because for all of my thinking about what I would sing to my children/ how I would be with my children etc before they actually arrived, in the fog of new motherhood this was the song that actually popped into my head as I was pacing up and down the bedroom in the dark trying to get him to sleep largely because of the lyrics to the song “Lully Lullay, Thou Little Tiny Child” Despite some of the sad (That woe is me, poor Child for Thee) or even violent lyrics (Herod the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day. His men of men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay), the melody is gentle, and beautiful. Needless to say I only ever sang the first verse!

Music Book Review

Music Book Review: Debi Gilori’s Nursery Rhymes

When I first had my son, my eldest, was home from the hospital,everyone had been to visit and we found ourselves alone for the first time, I thought I would sing to him. I was a musician and had spent a lot of time at school and Uni singing so I must know what to sing to him, right? In the fog of new motherhood, with the lack of sleep, I could not remember a single nursery rhyme to sing to him. Not one!

So I was very pleased when I was given this book by one of my friends. It was an anthology of nursery rhymes, pretty much all of the songs I then remembered my mum singing with me as a little girl. Just reading through the book reminded me of the songs I was reaching for to sing to him!

It is illustrated by Debi Gilori, the illustrations capturing the spirit of each nursery rhyme.

A little extra information about some of the songs is given- background to the songs, why they were written or how children used to dance or play along to them for example.

And a CD is included of all the songs in the book. You do not need to use the CD to enjoy the book, I have not spotted any extra information or songs on the CD at all, but it is a lovely extra to have. Some of the songs are sung on the Cd, and some spoken, there is a nice mix of the two, and Debi Gliori gives a nice introduction to the CD and how to use it to accompany the book.

Playlists

Music to burn off some energy

My children finished their school year this week, and while lockdown is easing and we will try to have a few days out over the holidays we will largely be spending the next 8 weeks, yes 8 glorious, wonderful, oh my good grief how many, weeks at home. With a 6 and 3 year old.

Now I don’t know about your children, but mine, especially my youngest, do not sit still. In fact I think the only time my 3 year old is still is when she is asleep- and even that is not guaranteed. So I need to find ways to help them burn off a lot of energy at home.

As always, I turn to music (who could have seen that one coming, eh?!) Dancing around to music is so good

  • It’s fun!
  • It is great physical exercise, getting the heart rate up
  • It’s great for helping children develop a sense of pulse
  • It helps develop their gross motor skills
  • It helps develop their sense of balance
  • It helps develop your children’s understanding of their place in space
  • It helps children with developing self-expression

Here are 11 pieces of music I use to help me.

Hokey Cokey

Absolutely our favourite piece of music to dance around like lunatics. We have danced to this since my son was a few months old and I flew him towards his Daddy and his Grandma. In more recent years my children like to listen to this song after dinner while my husband and I clear up. My daughter wants to hold hands with her brother to do the dance properly, but he likes to just run across the room for pretty much the whole song. Even without the unusual dance technique my son prefers, this is a good workout!

Jump Around by House of Pain

The clue to this song is in the title. No, it is not a children’s song, but young children don’t really listen to the lyrics and you can’t argue with getting your children to jump around for 4 minutes to burn off any excess energy.

Superman by Black Lace

This is an action song. The singer calls out actions for the children to follow as the song goes on. I think it was a staple of the parties I attended as a child. Just the opening bars and I am transported back to church halls and party dresses and eating too many sweets before being taken home by my parents.

Happy by Pharrell Williams

We use this song for musical chairs, musical bumps etc. My children love these games. Whenever we have a difficult day (and there have been many over lockdown!), I break out a bit of Pharrell Williams and we play either musical statues or musical bumps and after a couple of rounds everything is so much better!

Ring a Ring a Roses

This nursery rhyme has been around for a long time, possibly as early as the 1790s. There were versions of this song in Britain and America, and even from India and New Zealand. I always thought it was a song about the plague from 1665, but there are historians who contradict this. Whatever the song’s history it is good for getting children moving. Children form a circle, holding hands and move to the left or the right as they sing the song. On the line They all fall down the children jump down to the floor, jumping up again on the line We all jump up with a 1, 2, 3.

Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov

Flight of the Bumblebee was written by the composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov as an orchestral interlude to his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. Listening to the piece evokes the way a bumble bee darts around from flower to flower in search of pollen. When I play the song at home I often get the children to pretend to be a bumblebee and fly around the room.

Agadoo by Black Lace

Another song from my childhood and another song in this list by Black Lace, Agadoo was released in 1984. I am not sure if it was intended this way, but we use it as an action song, and I remember doing the same when I was a child. The lyrics tell you to jump up and down and to your knees etc. The song is, as it was described in Q Magazine, “magnificently dreadful”

Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes

This is a song that helps children to learn body parts. They touch their head, shoulders, knees or toes along with the song, and as they do this several times over the course of the song it is a surprisingly good workout.

Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles

The clue as to why I have included this song in this list is in the title! It is a Peppa Pig song, so if you have children under 3 you are pretty much guaranteed to have heard it once, twice or 17 bazillion times already. This morning. It’s always a quick win with my children to get them engaged in something, to put something they are familiar with on.

William Tell Overture

The William Tell Overture is an overture to the opera William Tell by the composer Rossini. It is a piece of music that lasts for 12 minutes and paints a picture of life in the Swiss Alps. However, for me it is much more closely associated with horse racing than mountains in Switzerland. The finale to this overture is a fun piece of music to dance around to and with the horse racing connection, it is fun to put this on and pretend to be jockeys racing around the house!

Gallop Infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach

Otherwise known as the Can-Can after the music from this opera was adopted by the Moulin Rouge and Folies-Bergere to accompany their can-can dance. It is fun, lively and clearly a great piece of music to dance around to. It is perfect for getting the children to bounce around the house for a while to burn off some of their excess energy.

Concerts and Events

Concert Review: B’Opera Relaxed Concert, Teddy Bear’s Picnic

Concert: B’Opera Relaxed Concert Teddy Bear’s Picnic

When: Saturday 27 June 2020 10:30

Where: via Crowdcast

Our experience: a lovely, interactive concert for pre-school children introducing classical music and opera to our little people.

For 2020 I had booked us up to see quite a few concerts. We went to see Peppa Pig: My First Concert, read my review of this show here, and a fabulous concert from the Notelets series at the CBSO centre in March, and you can read about it here. It feels like that was about 6 million years ago now! We had several other concerts booked as well, and were looking forward to a year of regular live entertainment. Of course we now do not anticipate being able to go to see any of those concerts this year, very sadly. So I was delighted to see that the Birmingham based organisation B’Opera were doing one of their relaxed concerts online last week. It was on the theme of a Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

I have taken my daughter to one of B’Opera’s live relaxed concerts before at St George’s Church in Edgbaston, just over a year ago and was very impressed with the concert. We had been to a concert run by a different organisation and that had been billed as a concert where small children were absolutely welcome, in fact the concert was for the children and their grown ups, but I had not been impressed with this other organisation’s concert. It felt like it was a concert for the parents where their small children were tolerated rather than being aimed at the children. B’Opera’s relaxed concert was entirely different. It was a concert that was genuinely for the children who attended. It was for adults to bring their small children along to introduce them to music, not just nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes were included in the performance, as something familiar for the children, but there were many other songs in the concert as well. I left the concert feeling that this was an organisation that really understood how to put on a concert for small children and babies, and no wonder because they held music classes for babies and small children at Birmingham Hippodrome every week (owing to the coronavirus pandemic these classes are online at the moment).

Booking tickets and accessing the concert

I was really looking forward to watching this concert with my children. The relaxed concert on Saturday morning took place at 10.30 and lasted for about an hour. It cost £7.50 for a ticket and was broadcast on the service Crowdcast. There is an iOA app for Apple users, a website if watching on a laptop, and probably also an Android app. It was very easy to access crowdcast once tickets had been purchased, although I had not downloaded the app until just before the start of the concert, so we ended up watching the concert on my iPad via the website. I think that the experience would have been better if I had managed to get the app downloaded in advance of the concert so that we could have used that for the concert.

The live concerts are very interactive and online Zoe Challenor and Jacqueline White, who are professional musicians and who run B’Opera, added in as many interactive elements as they could. There was a chat function on the crowdcast app, and Zoe and Jacqueline answered as many comments as they could onscreen. One of the B’Opera team, Aliyah was also answering comments on the onscreen chat as they happened, but we could not see them – technical limitations of, well, me I’m afraid as I could not work out how to get the chat box up on the website without messing around and I didn’t want to do that while the concert was ongoing!

Interactive concert

There were several games played during the concert, like Peekaboo with scarves that my children quite enjoyed, and a game of fruit snap. At the end of the concert I asked the children what they had enjoyed most about it and my 3 year old said “me like fruit game”! There were also some lovely touches, like cakes being passed and water glasses filled up between Zoe and Jacqueline.

Programme

The programme was picnic and summer themed. There were a mix of live performances and pre-recorded songs, the pre-records being performances by the pianist Phil Ypres-Smith who would usually be performing at the relaxed concerts, and a duet between Jacqueline and Zoe. The concert started with Debussy’s song about mandolin players, Mandoline, and included songs like Fleurs by Poulenc (Flowers), the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme by Delibes, and Where the Bee Sucks, There Lurk I by Thomas Arne. All songs about things you would see or experience if you were on a picnic. There were two fun songs by composer Jenny Gould performed towards the end of the concert as well including My Face is Made of Funnions. The concert ended with a rendition of, of course, Teddy Bear’s picnic and requests for favourite nursery rhymes were taken and performed.

Experience of watching concert online

What I really like about B’Opera’s concerts is that they strike a really good balance between children’s songs and traditional, familiar nursery rhymes and other classical music, proper arias from opera that are not at all dumbed down. Zoe and Jacqueline give the children attending their concerts the chance to listen to, to experience all sorts of music, more complex, “difficult”, less familiar music for them is included, and so children have the opportunity to become familiar with lots of different music.

It is far easier to keep children’s attention in person, and my two did not concentrate very well at all for this online concert – they were at home, my son could feel the pull of his lego upstairs, my daughter just wanted to play babies, and so they did not take in as much of the concert as I think they would have done if we had attended in person. I think that the concert, at one hour, was maybe a little too long. That may be because my two are at school and nursery so we don’t attend the weekly First Songs classes that B’Opera are offering at the moment, or it may just be my children, especially my 3 year old who absolutely cannot stay still for even 2 minutes at a time! For us I think the concert could have been shorter. However, this is not in any way a reflection of B’Opera, it is the circumstances we are in, that we cannot attend concerts in person at the moment. On the other hand, with the cost of the concert, as just one ticket is purchased for an online concert rather than paying for 4 people to attend, then it is easier and more affordable to take a chance on an online concert. If the children don’t enjoy it, or are not in the right mood to watch it on that particular day, then you have not spent as much money as you would buying separate tickets for the whole family. B’Opera also leave the concert available on crowdcast for a week at no additional cost, so you can watch it at any time or as many times as you like during that week. This is brilliant for people with small children as they love to watch things over and over again, and as mentioned above sometimes they are just not in the mood right then and there to watch a concert just because Mummy says it is time!

All in all, this was a really good concert, a lovely thing to do on a Saturday morning, and felt like a step towards normality, that we could go to a concert even though we were still at home. The arts in general, and organisations that are reliant on singing in particular, are really struggling at the moment with social distancing requirements, so I would urge you if you are at all tempted to try something like this out to do it and support these organisations like B’Opera so they are available still for live concerts when all of this is over and we can gather to enjoy music together.

Playlists

Counting songs

Music is fantastic for learning. As a student I would often struggle to remember texts I was supposed to learn, and would absolutely not be able to tell you about any of the stuff I learned today; but song lyrics I heard in my teenage years, even younger, can flood back in an instant as soon as I hear the music. For young children, too, music can help them learn things far quicker than many other methods. So for today, here are 9 songs to help your little ones learn to count.

There are a number of similar features with them all. They are all nursery rhymes, or songs for children. They are all very repetitive – that is how children learn, they become more and more familiar with the musical, rhythmic and lyric patterns they hear and that is how the information is learned. It is all about the repetition. So even if it drives you absolutely mad, keep playing and singing these songs with your children and they will be counting away before you know it. Maybe backwards, but it still counts!

Each of these songs I have sung with my children, often while they are in the bath – many of the songs have an aquatic theme anyway. The children now sing them back to us regularly. They are both very good with numbers, and while I know in my heart of hearts that it is largely Numberblocks on CBeebies that has developed their mathematical abilities, I do think that these songs helped build the foundations of that interest they have in numbers.

1 2 3 4 5 Once I caught a fish alive

A song about a fish who grabs hold of a finger, and sneaks in practice at counting from 1-5 and 6-10.

5 Little Speckled Frogs

This song is about frogs sat on a log who eat delicious grubs before they jump into a pool. Full of lovely rhyming words that develop their language skills as well as a countdown from 5-1, the first verse starts with 5 frogs, the second with 4 etc through to there being just one frog left on the log.

10 Green Bottles

10 Green Bottles is actually a great song to sing in the bath. We would line toys up along the side of the bath and when each bottle accidentally fell, a toy would be pushed into the bath accompanied by squeals of delight. It quickly became a favourite bath time song.

5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

This song works in a similar way to the 5 Little Speckled Frogs, but with the added joy of involving jumping on the bed. So of course my own little cheeky monkeys love to sing this song while jumping on, and off, the bed!

10 Fat Sausages

Sausages sizzling in a pan, one goes pop and the other goes down. In this song you learn counting down in twos, and there are some fun sound effects that little children love – each time a sausage goes pop I make a popping sound with my cheek, and then clap my hands for the bang sound. very small children can join in at least with the clapping sounds, and they hear you counting down the sausages from 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 then no fat sausages.

1-2 Knock on my Shoe

There are lots of lovely rhyming words in this children’s song that I remember singing with my mum. There is plenty of scope to join in with actions to the song.

The Ants Go Marching

Counting and marching around the room in this song, so you can get some counting practice in and get your little ones to burn off some energy! What is not to like!

5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day

Another song that is perfect for bath time, this time playing with rubber ducks. It is a song that, in addition to offering some counting and number practice, can help your little ones develop the concept of object permanence as you can hide the rubber ducks behind yours or their backs when they go off swimming and one doesn’t return at the end of each verse, and then bring them all out from their hiding place at the end of the song.

There Were 10 in the Bed and the Little One Said

Another song in the tradition of 10 Green Bottles, you count down from 10-1 as you go through the song. Again the song lends itself to fun action as you roll your child over singing this song getting them to play the role of the Little One.

Playlists

8 Happy Songs

For this week’s playlist, we have a selection of very happy songs, or pieces of music. These are all fun, bubbly, joyful works that will have you up and dancing and maybe even singing or humming along to them. If you ever need a pick me up, these would all be ideal to listen to.

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Probably one of the first songs you will sing with your babies, and probably one of the first they will actually be able to join in with you with the actions, this is a lovely song. The tune is very simple, and has just one verse that repeats throughout the song. Starting with clapping your hands, then stamping your feet you can add any action you like at the end- nod your head, jump up and down, twirl around, kiss your mum/dad/gran. This happy song can get your little one moving around and can help them burn off some energy. You could add some instruments to it as well, for some extra musical fun – If you’re happy and you know it, tap your sticks, bang your drum etc.

H-A-P-P-Y

A song from my childhood, I distinctly remember my mum singing this to me when I was little. It is the theme tune from a sitcom Only When I Laugh that was on when I was young, and while I don’t remember the sitcom much I do remember singing the theme song! Having listened again to it for this blog post I realised how sad and bitter sweet it is in the show’s intro – the main character is trying to convince himself he is happy, rea;;y. However, at the end it is much happier, and so that is what I have included here.

Happy by Pharrell Williams

This song was written for the film Despicable Me 2 by Pharrell Williams. It is, as the name would suggest, a very happy song! With its steady beat it is great for dancing along to, and this is usually the first song I would put on when playing musical statues or musical bumps with my children (games they absolutely adore!)

Get Happy by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler

Get Happy was written in 1930 for the Nine-Fifteen Review. It is, however, known today for Judy Garland’s version of the song. Get Happy is influenced by the African-American Gospel Music Tradition of the same name that referring to the experience in Church or receiving the Holy Spirit. The song asks people to forget their troubles, come on get happy. I love this song!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin

Written by Bobby McFerrin in the late 1980s, this song was featured in the film Cocktail starting Tom Cruise. Bobby McFerrin was inspired to write the song by seeing an inspirational poster bearing the words “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. The song is a cappella, which means voice only, there are no additional instruments used. The song’s lyrics speak for themselves!

Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys

This song is quite complex and experimental using unusual instruments such as an Electro-Theramin. The music was composed by Brian Wilson who was inspired to write it by his mother talking to him about dogs barking at some people who had “bad vibrations”; his band mate Mike Love wrote lyrics to the song using good vibrations as inspired by the hippie flower power movement. Even in the title the song suggests happiness!

Gloria by Vivaldi

The Gloria is a sacred work, so written to be sung as part of worship. The words to it are Gloria in excelsis deo, or Glory to God in the Highest. The music for this piece shouts out its praise, almost can’t contain its joy and enthusiasm. This Gloria was featured in the film Shine in the late 1990s which told the story of pianist David Helfgott. Listening to Vivaldi’s Gloria on headphones in the film Helfgott is jumping on a trampoline. That is exactly what this music makes you want to do.

Overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart

I challenge anyone not to find this piece of music absolutely joyful right from the word go. This overture begins a comic opera written in 1786. It is bright, and exuberant. Written in a major key- in Western music major keys are associated with happy music, with a fast tempo, again it is very difficult not to want to dance along.

Themed Music

9 Songs for Summer

It was the longest day last weekend, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you some of my favourite songs about Summer as it is now, officially, the summer.

Summer Is Icummen In

A traditional, mid-13th century song that is written in the Wessex dialect of middle English. The title of the song means “Summer has arrived”. It is a round, which means that it can be sung by two or more voices. One voice will start the melody line and a second voice will come in singing the same melody line, often at the end of the first bar or phrase. This song reminds me of being at school as it is something I sang with my school choir many years ago. Like many summer songs it is joyful and has a lot of energy in it.

Summertime by George Gershwin

Summertime was originally composed by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess but has since become a jazz standard in its own right. This song has been recorded thousands of times, the first time it was featured in the American pop charts it was sung by Billie Holliday and here is her version of the song for you to have a listen to:

In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry

Something of a change of pace from the previous two songs, this song from 1970 celebrates the carefree nature of summer days. Ray Dorset, of Mungo Jerry, has said that the song only took him 10 minutes to write!

Surfin USA by Beach boys

No Summertime playlist would be complete without a song by the Beach Boys I think. Maybe because I am a child of the 70s/80s, and these songs all remind me so much of listening to them in the summer. They make me think of driving along in my parents car with the windows down and the wind in my face – sometimes having to close my eyes because the wind was too strong! The lyrics are, of course, about surfing which helps with the summer association for me, but the sound of the music is very upbeat, joyful, lively, everything you associate with carefree summer days.

The Sun Has Got His Hat On by Noel Gay and Ralph Butter

This is a very well known children’s song, known mainly for its first verse:

The sun has got his hat on

Hip, hip, hip hooray.

The sun has got his hat on

And he’s coming out to play.

However, this song has had a difficult history with the second verse using the ‘n’ word, so when looking to play this song for your children, avoid original versions of the song that contain this offensive word.

“Summer” from the Four Seasons by Vivaldi

The Four Seasons was written by Antonio Vivaldi as a set of 4 Violin concerti, each having its own seasonally inspired theme. The music is very descriptive, Vivaldi using the music to paint a picture. This is a great piece of music to listen to with your little ones and ask them to paint or draw a picture inspired by the music, or describe to you what the music makes them think of. When Vivaldi published these concerti, he wrote a set of sonnets, or programme notes really, which described what he was trying to do with each concerto, what he intended the listener to hear in his music.

Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Mendelssohn

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a comedy written by William Shakespeare in the late 1500s. It tells the story of events that occurred on a midsummer’s night. There are different subplots in the play – one about the love lives of 4 young people, one about a group of amateur actors putting on a play, and one about the love life of the King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania. In 1826, at the age of just 17 years, Mendelssohn wrote the stand alone piece, the Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, intended as a concert overture and not associated with any play. It is a piece of programme music, much like the Four Seasons, in that it tells the story through the music. At one point, you can hear the braying of a donkey (one of the amateur actors in the play is turned into a donkey, for those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play.) Here you can hear the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performing this work.

Concerto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo

The Concerto de Aranjuez was written in 1939 by the Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo for guitar and orchestra. It was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez. Rodrigo did not actually play the guitar himself, but this is probably one of the best known pieces of music written for guitar and orchestra. Here is the second movement, the most instantly recognisable, and one that for me instantly evokes the idea of summer and hot, balmy days.

Prelude de l’apres-midi d’un faune by Debussy

Firstly I should say here, that I have not yet worked out how on earth to add the correct accents to my text, so I am missing the correct accents in the title here. I will work that out one day! This piece of music is a symphonic poem for orchestra. Symphonic poems were pieces of orchestral music written in one continuous movement, rather than broken up into several movements. They were written, again like The Four Seasons, and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream above, to paint a picture of the subject matter of the music. This work was based on a poem of the same title by Stephane Mallarme. It is a slow, dreamy piece of music.

Concerts and Events

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Notelets series concert review: Crash Bang Wallop!

Crash, Bang, Wallop!

On Saturday 7 March we attended a concert at the CBSO centre, the hone of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was one of their Notelets series of concerts that are mini-concerts aimed at toddlers and small children. I went with my 2 children aged 5, and this concert featured percussionists from the orchestra, hence it being titled Crash, Bag, Wallop!

In short, it was superb and we will be booking to go to another one of these concerts.

On arriving at the CBSO Centre, there were craft activities in what I think is usually the cafe/bar area. On this occasion, the activity was making tambourines out of paper plates, bells and bottle tops. There were stickers and pens to decorate the tambourines as well. My 5 year old was much more interested in actually making the tambourine, but my 2 year old liked shaking her tambourine- the 5 year old mostly told us his was a parachute and he kept trying to use it as a parachute!

A musician from the CBSO, a tuba player, was also out in the foyer before the concert and he was sat on the floor with some percussion instruments on hand for children to explore. There were several children there already playing with the instruments, and the tuba player was playing songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and encouraging the children to explore the percussion instruments available. Playing boomwhackers with some of the children as well.

The concert lasted for about an hour. It had an Inspector Cluedo theme to it and was a very interactive concert. The musicians dressed up and told a story through the concert of a missing shaker, we had to find and solve clues to work out which of the Cluedo characters had hidden the shaker. To help find the clues, the children were asked to use their tambourines they had made to help find the clues.

The percussionists played some lovely music, proper pieces of music that were not at all dumbed down, though maybe shortened a little. The piece I liked best was Philip Glass’ Mad Rush. We even played it at home while having dinner that night. The children’s favourite part of the concert, however, was where different children’s TV theme tunes were played and they had to guess what programmes they came from. They talked about that part of the concert the following day.

My 2 year old did start to ask to go home after about 40 minutes. We had some snacks with her, so that helped to keep her in the concert hall, but also there were more opportunities for the children to get up and dance or march around the room in the second half of the concert, and this really helped to keep her attention and stop her getting bored. My boy loved the dancing too!

At the end of the concert some percussion instruments were brought out in the concert hall and the children could go up and try them out. They were similar, largely, to the instruments in the foyer, but my daughter who had been hesitant to try anything out in the foyer was much more keen to play with the instruments at the end of the concert.

What I liked most about this concert was:-

  • It was a proper concert with pieces of music that would feature in any adult concert, perhaps with the exception of the TV theme tunes!
  • Most of the opportunities to get up and move were in the second half of the concert- when the children were starting to get restless.
  • There was nothing else to pay for once we got there. The craft activities were free to do; there was a handout flyer that gave information about the music performed so no programmes to buy; there was no merchandise available.

We did not take a buggy with us, I did see some parked in the foyer, but do not know if there was a buggy park. I suspect there was somewhere as I did not see any in the concert hall. We did not use any baby change facilities as we weren’t there long enough so can’t tell you anything about that. I also didn’t see anywhere to buy a drink while we were there as the cafe/bar area (I think as I have not been to the CBSO Centre before) was being used for the craft activities.

All in all, this was a lovely concert to take the children to, and there was more than enough there to keep both children interested in the concert. A really nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and as I said we will almost certainly be booking another one of these concerts again.

Themed Music

Music for rainy weather

Will it ever stop raining? I am not sure it will. It certainly feels like it’s been raining for about 17 years right now. So I thought I would share with you, in no particular order, some of my favourite songs about rain.

1. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by BJ Thomas

A nice little song, one I remember singing along to with my parents when I was a girl:

2. Drip, Drip, Drop Little April Showers by Frank Churchill with lyrics by Larry Morey.

This song is from the Bambi and it appears early on in the film as Bambi and his mum are settling down together for a nap, and the rain starts falling. The music, starting just with a clarinet really paints the picture of a rain shower, before the choir comes in to sing about the April showers. The music becomes very stormy, the whole orchestra playing. As Bambi snuggles into his mother, string instruments whirl like the wind, and there are lightning crashes on the cymbals. The storm subsides, and we are left with just clarinet drip drops.

3. Raining in my Heart by Buddy Holly.

Technically not about the weather, more about lost love. But I still often found myself singing this song to my children, well just the first part of the song, whenever it rained.

4. Rain, Rain, Go Away, Traditional Nursery Rhyme

There are loads of versions of this popular nursery rhyme available to listen to. I sing the following words to my children

Rain, rain, go away

Come again another day

R_____ wants to play (or C_____ wants to play)

Rain, rain go away

However, my mother sang to me “Come again on mother’s washing day. This version from ABC Kids TV has a rather long introduction but is quite a nice version of the song

5. Singing In The Rain by Nacio Herb Brown with lyrics by Arthur Freed

I love, love, love this song. I loved the film of the same title, which I watched with my parents (showing my age here maybe). It’s such a joyful song, and although it is again all about love, this time about love just found rather than love lost, I think any toddler would love it-especially with the dancing and jumping in puddles during Gene Kelly’s dance routine!

6. Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, 4th Movement

Readers of previous blog posts will know that we went to see Peppa Pig: My First Concert at Birmingham Town Hall. The concert featured part of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, known as the Pastoral Symphony, with the venue’s lighting rig being employed to great effect as the lightning, and of course the orchestra performing the thunder sounds. Here it is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with conductor Bernard Haitink:

7. Four Seasons by Vivaldi

This has to be the go-to piece of music when considering any music inspired by any weather at all. I think there are passages in here that could be interpreted as being inspired by or depictions of rain, my favourite has to be the summer storm the appears in, strangely, “Summer”. Here it is performed by the company Voices of Music with solo violinist Cynthia Freivogel.

8. Raindrops on Roses by Richards Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

From the film The Sound of Music, this is the song that Maria, played by Julie Andrews, sings to the children to cheer them up during a thunderstorm! Simply a brilliant song.

There are so many more songs and pieces of music that were either written about or inspired by rain, including Prince’s Purple Rain, Why Does it Always Rain on Me by Travis, and of course the inimitable “Jumping Up and Down in Muddy Puddles” from Peppa Pig. I know I will have missed out many great songs and pieces in my list above. Maybe a topic worth revisiting another day-I am sure it will rain again! What are your favourite rainy songs?