I don’t remember the name of my fourth-grade music teacher (or maybe it was fifth grade).
I don’t remember any of the songs we sang from the official music book. What I remember is Teacher handing out purple ditto machine pages of current pop songs. Boys and girls together, we’d all sing in unison. Looking back, none of the songs were really appropriate for schoolkids.
“Seasons in the Sun?” A dying man saying goodbye. “Rhinestone Cowboy?” A failed singer clinging to dreams. “Beth?” A rock star choosing the band over his girlfriend. Even “Sloop John B” is about a drunken fight, food poisoning, and LSD (“the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”) As a kid, I was just happy to be singing songs I knew from the radio. Complicated harmonies are magical, but there’s also something special about a big pack of children’s voices all singing the melody together in a big room with no acoustics.
Looking back, I suspect we were part of Teacher’s unspoken art project. About the same time my class was singing back at Eisenhower Elementary in Davenport, IA, teacher Hans Fenger was leading what would become the much-more-famous Langley Schools Music Project.
Langley Schools Music Project is sixty kids from Western Canada, singing everything Eagles to Herman’s Hermits. Recorded in the mid-70s, the songs were rediscovered in a thrift store and commercially re-released in 2001. David Bowie actually heard the Langley version of “Space Oddity” and said, “The backing arrangement is astounding. Coupled with the earnest if lugubrious vocal performance, you have a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of, even with half of Colombia’s finest export products in me.” That’s probably a compliment, right?
Here’s another Langley song that sparked a memory for me in the middle of writing this post. I’m pretty sure my class back at Eisenhower Elementary in Davenport, IA also sang this one from our ditto sheets – “Saturday Night” from the Bay City Rollers. I feel like I chanted “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!”
I suspect my music teacher back then didn’t know about The Langley Schools Music Project, but anything’s possible. More likely, a teacher got tired of breaking classes up into four chunks and having them sing “Row Your Boat” in a round. It must have been fun. Like I say, it’s the big thing I remember about the class.
I got to thinking about unison children singing when another example popped up in my playlist, one of those songs you forget until “shuffle” brings it to the top. Between 2003-2005, Irish TV and radio host Ray D’Arcy complied live acoustic covers from Irish artists for three albums called “Even Better Than the Real Thing.” Despite the title, only the third release was U2 songs. Here’s the one that closes Volume 3 – St. Fiachra’s Junior School Choir in Dublin with “Sweetest Thing.”