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Five Songs I’m No Longer Using in my Music Room

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Why I'm no longer teaching these five songs: Songs I'm not using anymore because of cultural and racial issues, and what I'm replacing them with!

There has been a lot of talk lately about songs that are no longer appropriate to use in the music classroom. The reasons for the each song being inappropriate to use can vary, from the song having racist roots, to the song not being culturally appropriate, and more.

Perhaps you’ve just recently heard about a song you’ve used for years no longer being appropriate, and you’re still trying to wrap your mind around why you should potentially take it out of your repertoire. If so, I highly recommend checking out my interview with Brandi Waller-Pace about Decolonizing the Music Room.  She highlights not only why song selection is important, but how we can move beyond literature to decolonize the pedagogical practices you use in your music room.

Although our knee-jerk reaction can sometimes be to react defensively to the idea of needing to take out a song you’ve used and enjoyed for years, I personally don’t want to use any song in my classroom that could be viewed as insensitive, racist, or inappropriate. I’m welcoming this challenge to mix my literature up a bit! Here are 5 songs I’m no longer using, and what I’m replacing them with. (Please note that I may be coming back to this blog post and revising, if I find any additional information about the songs mentioned or if I find other replacements that I feel are even better.)

Replacing “Dance Josey” with “Double Double This That”

A few months ago, I heard that “Dance Josey” potentially had racist roots. It seems from my initial research that the racist verses were created after the song had been in existence for a while, but regardless, I’ve decided to take it out of my repertoire. Instead, we are doing the chant “Double Double This That,” which I first wrote about in this blog post.

Hand jive:
For “double,” hit both fists on partners’ fists.
For “this,” hit both hands on partners’ hands.
For “that,” hit back of both hands on back of partners’ hands.
All motions are to the beat.

The way I notated it in the original blog post is augmented from the way I’m notating it here; it could be felt as ti-ti ti-ti ta ta, or tika-tika ti-ti, depending on the tempo at which you have students perform. I saw my friend Debbie O'Shea (who has a music education FB group called The Crescendo Community, which you can join here)  do this chant with her students when I observed her teaching in Australia (which she had learned from my blog post!) I decided to bring it back at the faster tempo to practice tika-tika. The students enjoy making up their own four-syllable words or phrases, as well. (Try “Pepperoni,” or “Happy New Year,” or “Colorado,” or whatever!)

Replacing “Dinah” with “Diddle Diddle Dumpling"

Several months ago, I discovered that the song “Dinah” was a minstrel song (for more information on this, see this article.) I’ve used the song “Dinah” for years, as a song to prepare and practice tika-tika, or sixteenth notes. I've decided to replace “Dinah” with “Diddle Diddle Dumpling.” Although there is a tika-ti, the tika-tika in the first measure and fourth measure are both extractable.

Although there is not a game that I know of to go with this chant, there are so many possibilities for ostinati, instruments, movement, and more! I'm always looking for ways to incorporate more nursery rhymes, so this one is perfect! (Also, fun fact: in London, hot dumpling sellers used to cry out “Diddle Diddle Dumpling” when selling their wares.)

Replacing “Land of the Silver Birch” with “Lost my Gold Ring"

“Land of the Silver Birch” is often taught with “Canoe Song” (which I write about next), as they pair beautifully as partner songs. When I first learned it, I was told it was a Canadian folk song, and taught it as such. Since then, I’ve learned that some feel the song was written to romanticize the cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Here is an article about the song (with verses that I had not heard until reading the article.)

I’ve used “Land of the Silver Birch” to teach low la and syncopa. I’ve decided to take it out of my curriculum, and instead am using “Lost my Gold Ring,” a Jamaican folk song, for syncopa.

For the game, students sit in a circle. One child is chosen to be the passer, and the other to be the guesser. The passer takes a ring (could be a toy plastic ring) and pretends to drop the ring in each child’s hand as he/she walks around the circle, but actually drops it in one person’s hand. After the song is finished, the guesser gets three guesses to figure out who has the ring.

Replacing “Canoe Song” with “To Stop the Train"

I’ve used the “Canoe Song” for years, for low la, low sol, and syncopa. When I first learned the song, I was told it was composed by Margaret McGee. However, it’s come to light that the song was likely composed to “sound Native American,” and many music educators were teaching it as a traditional song, not a composed one. For this reason, I am taking it out of my curriculum. Instead, to teach low sol and syncopa, I’m teaching “To Stop the Train.”

This works beautifully in an 8-beat round, and it has a partner song called “Freedom Train.” (In order for it to work as a partner song, you have to repeat “penalty for improper” three times.) I absolutely love this song; it is a Civil Rights song, and also works in round.

Because I'm taking out “Canoe Song” and “Land of the Silver Birch,” and I've always used them for partner songs, I'm excited to have replacements…and better yet, we can have great discussions about the Civil Rights movement!

Replacing “John Kanaka” with “Sarasponda”

I’ve taught “John Kanaka” for years, to teach high do, and to teach fermata. Recently, though, I learned that the name “Kanaka” is at times considered an offensive term for a Pacific Islander. For that reason, I’m taking the song out of my curriculum, and replacing it with “Sarasponda.”

Thank you to Katie Wynkoop for the game notation! I learned this stick game from her, as she was apprenticing with me last year for the Kodály Level III program at Capital University. She taught it to our Level III class, and we had so much fun! I just know my fourth graders will love it!

One more song...

Recently, my teaching partner Katie Minneci taught this song to our students for their program, and I absolutely loved it! I had known the song (as she and I worked on this set for Brazil and included it) but I hadn't taught it yet, and it is so much fun. It works for both low la and tika-tika, so I thought I'd include it in this blog post, in case you are still filling in those gaps. The song is called “Tambores” (also known as “O ba ba”) and has a really fun hand jive!

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 9.00.49 AM

For a visual representation of the hand jive for “Tambores,” check out this video. (For younger students, do the simplified hand jive, and with your older students, try the more complex hand jive!)

You can also look in my Instagram highlighted stories for a video of my students performing “O ba ba.”

I hope this has been helpful to you, as you consider replacing questionable songs in your curriculum. Please note that if you have purchased any lesson bundles or songs and activity sets from me which include the problematic songs I listed, I have revised all of those sets and lessons with more appropriate literature; you can re-download those sets in “my purchases” on TpT.

If you’re wondering about other songs are in question, or want to do further reading about decolonizing practices, check out these links:

Happy teaching!

5 Responses

  1. I was checking songs in the Minstrel list and noticed Jingle Bells on the list. Just curious if you are eliminating that song from the kids singing list.

    1. Hi there! Yes, I just learned about “Jingle Bells”…so I am taking it out of my repertoire. Thanks for the question!

  2. Thank you for not only delving deeper in to song origins and harmful meanings, but also giving us ideas for other songs to use. When I joined the fb group, Decolonizing the music room last fall (thanks to your blog post and interview) it changed my teaching. It’s my 33rd year and I continue to learn! This is important work and I am grateful.

  3. I’ve been taught by a local Indigenous educator that Land of the Silver Birch is fine…as long as it’s not taught as an Indigenous song, because it isn’t one. But I understand that context matters, and so, in some communities, it might not be appropriate.

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