Tag Archives: Circle games

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


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

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