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    Jingle Bells!

    For our annual Christmas party and with the help of a few friends passionate about music, I am planning a fun musical program this year. Now that the children are older, they can handle playing a small musical part or acting a small piece if instructed properly.
    At the SFMOMA, I found this wonderful set of musical hand bells. They cover an octave from low C to high C and each bell is a different note and color. I set up the children in a straight line and gave them each a bell. Then with a fairy wand, I had them ring their bell each in turn.
    First we tried the C major scale, just to make sure they understood that when they shook the bell, they got a sound out of it. Then we started. Alex’s favorite color is yellow and yellow happens to be the E in this set, a most important note if you are going to play “Jingle Bells”. So we started. E E E, E E E, E G C D E. See how many Es there are? The children were amazed when they realized after a few notes that they were playing “Jingle Bells”. It could work with just about any song that has no sharps and no flats. It’s great. As Ruby (age 3.5) said at the end of the skit: “Let’s do it again!”
    We’ll definitely do a few easy songs at the party so that every kid gets a turn. I got the idea at the show Siam Niramit in Bangkok. It’s a live performing arts show about the traditions and culture of the ancient Siam. At the intermission, a funny guy steps on stage with seven people. He asks a volunteer from the audience. They each get a bamboo instrument that when shaken, produces a different note. Then, under direction of the funny guy, they proceed to play the song “Happy Birthday” and sure enough, it’s the volunteer’s birthday.
    After the bells, we will enact a child-friendly version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, replacing verses like the “partridge in a pear tree” with something slightly more familiar to children’s ears (teddy bears in a tree or spoons on the moon). With props, each child will have to step forward when the item is called for. Lisa is working on the lyrics. I’ll post them as soon as they are finalized.
    Next will be my favorite discovery of this year, a real pirate song dating back to the 16th century. It’s “The Coasts of High Barbary” and Lisa and I found it in a music book of Victorian songs at the main library, my favorite hangout. For some reason (the Christmas pudding and the brandy butter might be to blame), Lisa and I just burst out laughing at the last verses when all the pirates drown and the sea becomes their coffin. I know, it’s not funny. Actually, Sue did not think it was funny. But as Cath says, we think of pirates as cool people today but they were just blood-thirsty murderers. So no wonder pirate songs are on the darker side.
    The last piece de resistance will be a Czech dance folk song that describes peasant dancers turning and whirling ’round when the snow is on the ground. There’s even a quirky bit about “the gipsy weak and worn to whom we gave a coat all torn” (that’s how you tell a genuine Czech folk song). Notwithstanding the gipsy bit, this song is lovely and, as instructed in the book “should be sung with dash and abandon” which we did. The children can then dance in a circle like “Ring around the rosie”. With my friend Cath’s extraordinary pianistic skills, it was quite a blast.

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