“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold,
it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit
In third grade, my teacher was Miss Carson, and she had a ukulele and a large repertoire of folk songs. She wrote the lyrics on the blackboard. I can still see those words, white chalk against black board. We sang along every morning, no doubt increasing our literacy skills. I loved the silly ones (Yes! We have no bananas!) as much as the songs of courage (Follow the Drinking Gourd) and love of country (America the Beautiful). It was the only year of my life that I learned folksongs in school, but because of it my soul was forever enlarged.
Nothing in our Charlotte Mason lifestyle of education has given me more personal joy than the study of folksongs. As a child I had devoured Laura Ingalls’ Little House on the Prairie books. I eagerly read each one to my own children. Imagine my delight in learning of the Pa’s Fiddle project, which endeavored to resurrect the songs Laura had embedded in her stories, songs of the European heritage of the pioneers who settled the west.
As we delved deeper into folksongs, we reached back even further in time, some as far back as the middle ages. We sang songs of battle (The Battle of Otterburn), tragedy (An Emigrant’s Daughter), riddles ( Scarborough Fair), and love ( Star of the County Down). We were touched by homesickeness (Carrickfergus ) and delighted by boisterous sea shanties which we belted out in our best pirate voices ( Blow the Man Down). We shared them with friends, we played them at nursing homes on fiddles and tin whistles, and they began to become our songs; songs probably sung by our ancestors had become ours.
We learned songs of other countries, as well (Land of the Silver Birch, Farewell to Nova Scotia, Waltzing Matilda) and we became part of a conversation with the world, it’s pageant of history and the universal themes common to all people.
Folksongs are immortal, and they are still being made. Recently my kids and I were delighted to hear of Ed Sheeran’s latest song, Nancy Mulligan, about his Irish grandparents. We find ourselves singing it throughout the day. As we listened to the song a couple of times, the wheels were turning and we quickly figured out that that one of the grandparents was from the north and was Protestant, and the other from the Catholic south. We rushed to the map on the wall to try to find where the western border county of Wexford, mentioned in the song, was located. One of my teenage children, raised on folk songs but no stranger to the music of today, commented, “Wouldn’t it be great if the old style of songs came back?”
“We are educated by our intimacies.” – Charlotte Mason
Pa’s Fiddle Project
Ambleside Online Folksongs
Homestead Pickers – Homeschooler’s Folksong Collection
Ed Sheerhan’s Nancy Mulligan
The song that changed our dog Jack’s name to Jackie Boy (don’t miss this one!)