Song Families

Listening now to music for small children it occurs to me again that songs or melodies occur families.  For instance, Mary Had a Little Lamb is very nearly the same melody as London Bridge is Falling Down.  Yes, they are different, but very similar.  They are related.  They are song siblings.

In the same way Skip To M’Lou and Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me are song siblings.  My wife thought it was funny and laughed when I sang to Seventy-Six, “Shoo Fly, Skip to M’Lou, Shoo Fly, Skip to M’Lou…”  I thought those were the song’s words.

Probably you can think of other tunes, melodies, songs that are so similar they’re very likely derived from the same ur-melody, a barbaric rhythmic grunting in Proto-Indo-European, a song from the fabled homeland of our people now only spoken of in fairy tales.

7 thoughts on “Song Families

    • Just thought of the annoying curriculums in Children’s Sunday School– i.e Sing these Lyrics to the melody of London Bridge is Falling Down or some such– I had to try to remember the “original song” then transpose it to some other lame lyrics.

  1. Interesting observation. Probably these first tunes were even older than you say. After making fire and cooking diner, I think rhythm and chant were the next steps of human innovations, far before speech and language, so the urest of these ur-melodies, may have come, together with mankind, out of Africa.
    Ps.: I wasn’t aware of the use of the ur- prefix in English. In Dutch it’s quite common (Dutch – oer, German – Ur, same pronunciation) and I normaly translate it with original (oerzonde = original sin) or primal (oertijd = prehistoric/primal time)

  2. ABC & the Star Song. I should’ve got that one. Duh.

    The prefix, ur, is used in English, though it may by now be an archaic usage. Still technically correct it speaks to the origin of its suffix. Sort of like the ancient Greek idea of logos, only the ur-object has had real, on-earth-at-one-time-or-another existence. Certainly, its use is not common in written English, and less so in the spoken language.

    I think embedded in fairy tales we find stories from the ancient homeland of the Indo-European people. Maybe all people, when you consider that the Cinderella story in some form is found in Asian cultures older than contact with European traders of Renaissance time or late Middle Ages. The stories frequently mention catastrophic reversals of fortune. They mention contact with less civilized, perhaps Neanderthal cultures (ogres – cannibals), giants, dwarves, and so forth. Binary thinking common to Indo-European groups, for instance right (good), left (bad), maybe indicate to one’s right as one was forced to relocate after catastrophe maybe lay the direction of the former homeland, whereas to one’s left the unknown or known bad cultures of what a recent National Geographic article referred to as “the other humans?” What was that Russian lake that filled so rapidly its waters inundated a number of communities along its shores and in the last ten or so years well preserved boats and other artifacts have been found at bottom under its oxygen-free waters? Or is there not some similar theory the Mediterranean poured through the Bosporus similarly destroying communities along the former shoreline of the Sea of Marmara? And what of the so-called Bosnian pyramids? All this mostly disjointed commentary to say that much that we find embedded in our own cultures may derive from shared forms of same now largely forgotten.

    Watching my little boy walking and gaining better and more sure-footed mobility, I note the delight he has over the past two weeks been taking in the fact that his play things are portable, and that he can move them from location to location deliberately by carrying them about.

    To my mind, the greatest leap in development of human civilization has been the discovery of the portability of things, then the development of means of measurement to serve the need to fabricate both garments and structure, that followed by the world-changing discovery of the PORTABILITY OF MEASUREMENTS allowed measurements to be taken in one place, carried to another where something based upon them could be manufactured, then returned to the place of measurement and fitted according to the original measurements. Of course, one typically goes to the tailor, but the carpenter, the cabinet-maker typically comes to the place where the finished product will be installed and used.

    Okay, sure, fire. That was important, too. Still is. I think electricity may be form of fire.

    Rhythm is interesting – some is learned other innate. My little son when he eats, or is watching something sometimes kicks his feet: kick-kick, kick-kick, kick-kick – a rhythm of six beats. I had a rabbit who would snap her teeth thus: snap-snap, snap-snap, snap – for a statement of five beats. I have long thought that our attention occurs in pulses or bursts, not an imaginary linear span. It would match our internal rhythmic pulsing of heart, arteries, the blinking of our eyes, the drawing of our breaths, said latter two being derivations of the heart-beat and probably describable mathematically or perhaps musically noted.

    When the rhythmic beating of our lives begins, it is in harmony with or in counterpoint against those of the families into which we are born, in the larger social groups within which those families carry out the rhythmic chores of every day life on earth. And so forth. So it goes.

    By the rhythm of the man across the street can the ideal reasoner deduce the intersection of that man’s forbearers and one’s own? Or at least know something of the ticking down through time of his resonance with his surroundings?

    I rhythmically grunt silly songs of the activities of our lives to my son – what I do cannot reasonably called singing. My wife melodically with sweet voice sings to him the songs known to mothers and children. He learns our language and the rhythm of our lives. His own beats fall harmonically in the larger symphony of the Christov10 family in small brick house at Stepford.

    You may have deduced that I have been using oil-based primer to prime a couple of windows, and that I’ve been using something like turpentine to clean the brush and thin the paint. Although I’ve been working out of doors, the fumes may have induced a somewhat rambling, if pleasantly mystic, state of mind.

    I had better get cleaned up, now.

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