Folk songs are important repetoire for a beginning vocal student. Most folk songs have poignant messages of love or loss or yearning or hope or just plain poking fun at the human condition. The tunes seem ageless, as if they always existed. Enhancements of beautiful settings by modern composers make these folk songs wonderful material for vocal students to learn and perform. The melodies almost sing themselves. Though not exactly predictable, the tunes seem to lead to the only possible next note and so on. In that way, they are easy to learn and leave the singer fulfilled.
What makes folk songs seem so timeless? The melodies and harmonies seem so simple as if anybody could have created them. Deceptively simple, as if the song always existed or was born from no particular skill at all. But if anybody could write a tune that could last through the ages, why doesn't every composer have a hit with each new song? Most composers never even see one of their songs have longevity. Why have the seemingly casually constructed folk songs endured through the ages? What is our connection to them and why are we drawn back to them over and over again? These are questions that may never be answered. Maybe, it is true that some music is timeless and has always existed and we are the ones who just uncover the wonderful gifts through song.
Just to illustrate this point, the first Children's Theater show I wrote was Stone Soup. The first cast had two 5 year-old boys and seven girls under the age of 8. I basically wrote the show on the fly, tailoring it to the abilities and talents of that very young cast. The songs had to be very short, catchy and fall within an octave range. The main song "Stone Soup" needed to sound as if it had just come into being casually, and as if anyone could join in effortlessly.
Several years later, in another production, my assistant director was explaining to her husband about the show. He wondered how hard it was to write a song for a little children’s show. Without hearing any music from the score, he bragged that he could write a song and started singing "stone soup, I'm gonna make stone soup..." in the very same rhythm and nearly the same melody that I had created years earlier for that theme song for the show.
That actually proved my point that folk songs really do spring from nowhere in particular ... or they have already existed and we just uncover them. I was actually delighted that what I called "my song" really felt like an authentic folk song. Hopefully, the other songs from the score have that flavor as well.
So, if you are hankering for some homespun yarns and yummy fixin's, check out Stone Soup - A Tale of Cooperation at baileykidsmusicals.com for your next School or Children's Theater production.