Gypsy in the Moonlight

I learned this traditional Caribbean play-song at the Kodály workshop this summer. There was a lot of talk about what a gypsy is. I had already learned that gypsies are from Romania, and that they are nomadic and travel all around Eastern Europe. They go from town to town, playing music and dancing in exchange for food and money (in NYC we call this “busking”, and you don’t have to be a gypsy to do it). I found out last July  that there is much more than this to the gypsy culture.  You can tell a gypsy by sight because they have darker skin and different facial features than the native Romanians. Rumor has it that gypsies originally came from Egypt and travelled all over Europe; they even have gypsies in Greece.

This song comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where the history and culture of many European and African countries have collided to create a rich musical heritage. The songs are usually sung in English. They are almost always accompanied by hand claps. Many of the games and dances are played in a ring. And there are numerous “show me a motion” songs to learn and play. This song includes all of the above.

The students stand in a circle and begin the clapping pattern. One chosen student walks around the outside of the circle during the first verse. When the second verse begins (line 3), he/she walks into the center of the circle. On the words “all I want is (name)”, the chosen one picks another student and sings their name, inviting them into the circle. During the last verse, the two center students show off their best dance moves.


Gypsy in the moonlight, Gypsy in the dew.

Gypsy never come back until the clock strike two.

Walk in gypsy, walk in. Walk inside I say.

Walk into my parlor and hear the banjo play.

I don’t love nobody, and nobody loves me.

All I want is (name) to come and dance with me.

Tra la la la la la, Tra la la la la.

Tra la la la la la la, la la la la la.

geographical origin: Caribbean – Trinidad and Tobogo

tone set: s mrd l,s,

meter: 4/4

pedagogical use: extended pentatonic scale, movement improvisation, form, clapping complex rhythm while singing


Positive Reinforcement

Today I had my first “breakdown” at my new school.  Good news though, it was only a small one. Let’s just say that testing days are not ideal for students with Aspergers and severe ADHD. The poor kids have to sit still and concentrate for hours on end, so when they get to the big open music room and are given permission to move around and make noise, they go a little crazy. So, why did I get all agitated and start raising my voice to these children? Easy. I have so many exciting things to teach these little guys, that sometimes I forget that they are people, too. Sounds kinda silly, but sometimes we as teachers get so wrapped up in WHAT we are teaching that we forget WHO we are teaching.

After this particularly challenging class, I asked another teacher, who knows these kids well, for some advice. Positive reinforcement and empathy were her answers. In fact, she told me that one of her goals this year is to use only positive reinforcement. When one (or a few) students are distracting the class, just praise one who is doing the right thing. It keeps us sane, because we realize that even though it seems like the entire class has gone mad, there are students who are a calm in the storm. Also, many kids act out in class to get attention, and giving them what they want is just adding fuel to the fire. Instead, ignore the behavior you don’t approve of, and give attention to the students who are following directions. My colleague has taken this one step further and created cards to give out for positive reinforcement. For example, she has a few “good listener” cards that are handed to students she feels are listening well. Her approach sounds challenging, but it just might be worth a try. Won’t you join me in the “Positive Reinforcement Challenge”? Please share if this works for you, and what challenges you are facing, and let’s see if we can make this work.

We all know that our students are people too, and deserve to be treated with respect and empathy, even when they do things we don’t approve of.  With a classroom full of 20 (or 30!) children, we don’t always have the time to get to know our students as well as we’d like, but we should still always show them that we care.

Orff Workshop

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been teaching general music for 5 years, and never made it to an Orff workshop until last weekend. What took me so long? It was great.  4 hours of singing, dancing and playing all the fun instruments. I even got a few good ideas to use in class.

The first activity we did was to learn a song by rote, then break off and sing it in canon, as we held hands in a circle and stepped in and out of the circle. We were then broken into smaller groups, and, using the step in-step out move as an inspiration, created a dance to go with the song. Each group performed their dance for the “class”, then we did them together as we sung in canon. Granted, this went very smoothly with a brand new song because we were all music teachers – if you were to do this in a classroom, it has to be a song they know well. They should be able to sing it together, and in canon, before they add the movements. However, if you were to take out the canon part all together, it is an activity that could be done in one  or two classes.

The song that was used for this activity was one that was written by the presenter. In fact, most of the music in the workshop was written by her. I do find this to be a little odd, maybe it’s my Kodály training, but I would rather use quality music to teach with, and not necessarily a newly composed song. Not that her songs weren’t lovely, but I feel that one of my responsibilities as a music teacher is to expose children to quality music that they don’t know, so that the music will live on for more generations.  If we music teachers don’t teach these traditional songs to people, than they will be lost forever. What do you think? What types of music do you teach in your classroom?

Goin’ Down To Cairo

There are a few different stories about this song, but the one I tell my students goes something like this:

Through the Underground Railroad (which was neither a railroad, nor underground), slaves escaped to the “free states” in the north, or to Canada. Many of them travelled by water instead of on land, because it made them harder to track. The biggest body of water that led them North was the Mississippi River. When they got to the southern tip of Illinois, they were “free”. The first town they came to was Cairo.

I show them on a US map where all this is, and point out that even though it is spelled like the city in Egypt, it is actually pronounced “Kay-row” when we are talking about the Illinois town. We also discuss why they would want to “black their boots”, and who Liza Jane might be. We figure they would want to look nice so that other people in the North wouldn’t suspect they were slaves. Liza Jane, from what I’ve heard, is a mistress, or even a prostitute, but I don’t mention that part to the kids!!

Once we have learned the song and play party, I like to let the students write their own verse to the song, thinking about what it might be like to have been a slave escaping.

The full game is a little tricky, so I break it down into steps.  First, they sing the song and walk around in a circle.  Someone (a teacher or chosen student) calls out “Cairo!” at any time during the song, and everyone changes directions. Then we add the “grande right and left”. Students face a partner and hold right hands. They gently pull their partner’s hand and pass right shoulders, basically changing places with their partner, but standing back to back. Make sure they know to let go of their partner’s hand once they are standing side by side. Now they are face to face with a new partner, who they hold left hands with and do the same thing on the other side. If you are feeling adventurous, they can sing the song while doing the grande right and left, and add the changing directions when someone yells “Cairo!”


Goin’ down to Cairo, good bye and a-good bye.

Goin’ down to Cairo, good bye Liza Jane.

Black them boots and make them shine, good bye and a-good bye.

Black them boots and make them shine, good bye Liza Jane.

geographical origin: U.S. – Illinois

tone set: sfmrd l,s,

meter: 2/4

pedagogical uses: syn-co-pa, fa, composing, grande right and left

Turn the Glasses Over

If you’ve had even a tiny bit of exposure to a Kodaly-based classroom, you’ll probably be familiar with this song. It’s cute.  It’s got a fun circle dance thing. It’s great for teaching 4/4 meter. But what you may not know, is there is an ever cooler game associated with it.  The “Cup Game”. Where you get to literally “turn the glasses over”.  Your kids will adore it. They (and you) will be challenged by it, and they will adore YOU! (I’m sure they do already, though).

Here is a video showing you how to perform the “cup game”. She only shows half the song, but I do it for the entire song. The motions (and words I use) are:

Clap, clap, tap on the cup

clap, pick-it-up, put-it-down (rest)

Pick-it-up, palm, put-it-down, hold

Slap, pass, clap.

Start with the cups bottoms up. You MUST point out at the beginning of the 3rd line that your right hand turns in so the thumb points down when you pick up the cup, and that when you “palm”, the open end of the cup touches the left hand. Then when you put the glass down, it is flipped over, right side up, and finally, “hold” is with the bottom of the cup held by your left hand. Also, my 3rd graders had to be told to pass the cup to the person on their right.  4th graders figured it out on their own (for the most part…)

A few suggestions. This is not a good first passing game. Use Obwasana first, which is a very straight forward stick passing game before introducing this more complex game. Also, I went out and bought those Preserve cups. They bridge the gap between disposables and more expensive plastic. They are technically disposable, but are sturdy enough to be reused over and over again (even through 6 classes of 4th grade boys banging them on the hardwood floor).

One last note. In the 4th line, I say “brandywine”. The video says apple juice. Others have said chocolate milk, drink all you wanna drink, etc. Use whatever you are most comfortable with.


I’ve been to Haarlem, I’ve been to Dover,

I’ve traveled this wide world all over.

Over, over, three times over.

Drink all the brandywine and turn the glasses over.

Sailing east, sailing west,

Sailing over the ocean.

Oh, you’d better watch out when the boat begins to rock,

Or you’ll lose your girl in the ocean.

geographical origin – U.S.

tone set: ls mrd l,s,

meter: 4/4

pedagogical uses: 4/4 meter, concentration and learning complex choreography

I Bought a Binder


It’s official. The binder, i mean. It is my Official 150 Folk Songs Binder. It is two inches thick and has three rings on the inside. Right now it is holding lots of loose scraps of paper with songs on them. Some of these songs I teach regularly, my students and I know and love them. Others are songs I picked up this summer, some of these I plan to introduce this year. Some came written out on the required form. A few are even already analyzed (like, 3). None have 3 holes punched in them, and none have been entered into my non-existant Excel spreadsheet I was told I should start, to keep things organized. Guess that’s my next step…

Who’s That Knocking On the Door?

This is a great song and game to use at the beginning of the school year to learn students’ names. It’s also one of my kids’ favorites. Even in it’s one lined simplicity, 3rd and 4th graders will play it all day. Maybe it’s the unique tone set (s mr) that intrigues them, or the competitive elimination aspect – all’s I know is that they’re hooked. I don’t recommend playing this game all the way to completion every time you play. You can save that for special occasions, (and when you find you’ve under planned…).

The game starts standing in a circle, with a body percussion pattern: back – front – clap – clap (back/front are the hands sweeping against the sides of the thighs). Once the pattern is established, we all sing the tune together. Starting with the teacher (or a designated student), you sing your name  (during back – front) then jump in and out of the circle (during clap-clap). The student to the right of the teacher then sings his or her name and jumps in and out in the same way, and so on around the circle. The rules are: 1) You must sing, and not say your name. 2) You must sing your name at the correct time. 3) You must jump in and out of the circle at the right time. If a child fails to do one of these things, they go into the “cookie jar” (middle of the circle), where they still sing and perform the body percussion with the class. Then the whole process starts again, starting with the next student (not the teacher).


Who’s that, knocking on the door, on a cold winter’s day?

Su-san (clap clap) Phil-lip (clap clap) etc.

geographical origin: U.S. – New York City

tone set: s mr

meter: 4/4

pedagogical use: solo singing, keeping a steady beat