ORIGINS OF FOLKSONGS
National Children's Folksong Repository
ORIGINS OF NURSERY RHYMES / PLAY PARTIES
Communities dominated by a Calvinist ethic found in "English set dancing" to the fiddle the influence of the devil, and forbade their young people the ancient pleasures of rhythmic movement and playful partner- choosing. As an alternative entertainment young people developed “play-parties,” formation games that substituted the players' singing for the fiddler's music and “playing” for dancing, activities that preserved the spirit of set dancing while remaining within the bounds of propriety set by the ministers and the community elders.
A few people realize that this seemingly happy little nursery rhyme actually refers to the Black Plague, which is nonsense. "Ring Around the Rosie" is simply a nursery rhyme of indefinite origin and no specific meaning, and someone, long after the fact, concocted an inventive "explanation" for its creation.
So, what does "Ring Around the Rosie" mean, then? Folklorist Philip Hiscock suggests:
The more likely explanation is to be found in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the "play-party." Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too. Some modern nursery games, particularly those which involve rings of children, derive from these play-party games. "Little Sally Saucer" (or "Sally Waters") is one of them, and "Ring Around the Rosie" seems to be another. The rings referred to in the rhymes are literally the rings formed by the playing children. "Ashes, ashes" probably comes from something like "Husha, husha" (another common variant) which refers to stopping the ring and falling silent. And the falling down refers to the jumble of bodies in that ring when they let go of each other and throw themselves into the circle.
Like "A Tisket, A Tasket" or "Hey Diddle Diddle" or even "I Am the Walrus," the rhyme we call "Ring Around the Rosie" has no particular meaning, regardless of our latter day efforts to create one for it. They're all simply collections of words and sounds that someone thought sounded good together. As John Lennon once explained:
We've learned over the years that if we wanted we could write anything that just felt good or sounded good and it didn't necessarily have to have any particular meaning to us. As odd as it seemed to us, reviewers would take it upon themselves to interject their own meanings on our lyrics. Sometimes we sit and read other people's interpretations of our lyrics and think, 'Hey, that's pretty good.' If we liked it, we would keep our mouths shut and just accept the credit as if it was what we meant all along.
|Ride a Cockhorse||Humpty Dumpty||Little Tom Tucker|
|Dance to Your Daddy||Dr Foster||
|Dame Get Up||
Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be
|Jack and Jill|
|Little Miss Muffet||Little Nut Tree||Tom|
|London Bridge||Pussy Cat||Polly Put The Kettle On|
|Baa baa, Black Sheep||Jack Sprat||Little Jack Horner|
|Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary||There was an old woman||Three blind mice|
- Hear Emmylou Harris sings Barbara Allan one of the oldest folksongs
- Play and Intelligence
- Allan Lomax
- Using Traditional Culture and Folk Songs in the classroom
- DOCTOR KNICKRBOCKER NUMER 9
- Children's oral history - playground rhymes found in newspapers - 39 page PDF
- The National Children's Folksong Repository
- Little Ones Build Big Skills some of the very best resources for both traditional Language Arts and modern communications sites and applications on the web.
Bessie Jones: put your hand on your hip and let your backbone slip. The following is from the liner notes.
Way down yonder in the brickyard
remember me (2x)
OH, STEP IT, STEP IT STEP IT DOWN,
remember me (2x)
remember me (2x)
Oh, turn your love and swing around,
remember me (2x)
[the last time Mrs. Jones only sings this once.]
Mrs. Jones comments"
"My grandfather made up this song down in the brickyard out from Willamsburg, Virginia, many years ago in slavery time. They had to make bricks with their hands and roll them up and fix them up with their hands, work some kind of a hot kilm.
They tell us 'bout how they used to do it. They wasn't getting no pay for it and they just made up their mind that, they always did make up their mind that they sing song, they get the work off their mind. They got to pacify their self they would sing something and so that's said, 'let's go ahead and make the brick, do the work, and step it down.' Step it down man make yourself happy and be rejoicing anyhow. You don't get no money for it no how, so go ahead, and be happy with it. But we do want them, when these a bricks you know they're putting the bricks up, they're going to build things with it, someday know that they will remember them.
So that's what it is... why it say "remember me,' after they go 'long, right now some of them bricks and some of that stuff is still there. They can remember them, but they wasn't gettin' no pay for it, so they just named it 'Step it down.'
That's why we named the book Step it down. We sang this song so much form out of our mouth until Bess Hawes and Tony Saletan and different ones said to name it Step it Down, 'cause they were washed down in sweat and they were singing. So now we going to back up Step It Down with its own songs and own words and plays and games."
From The Book Step it Down by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes
Step it Down.
This term refers both to the side - to - side movement that Mrs. Jones always makes when she sings and claps, as described in the introduction to Chapter 2, and to a formal dance step.
The dancer "steps it down" in a forward and back motion: on-put the foot out in front as though stepping on something but do not change weight; two - put the same foot back in place and step on it, changing weight; repeat with the other foot to a count of two on each side.
Thus the dancer, in contrast to the clapper, syncopates by weight changes on the second and fourth beats. (pg 45)
And it go on until you get to each one. It's really pretty
when you step it together...
In this brief play, dramatic action gives way to a stylized dance step, and the sense of position and pattern begins to dominate over the individual performance of the center player. Because the verse is short, the lead role changes swiftly from person to person. Though clearly a ring play and called so by Mrs. Jones, in action it feels like dance. Its simplicity, fast pace, and hot rhythm make it one of the "easiest" plays to learn.
Form: Ring of players standing and clapping; one player in the center.
Lead Voice -Way down Yonder in the brickyard,
Group Voice - remember me
Action- Center player walks around inside ring.
Lead Voice Way down yonder in the brickyard
Group voice - Remember me -
Action - Center player stops in front of a ring player and
both "step it down" (the dance step) 4 times
Lead voice -Oh step it, step it, step it down,
Remember me - Remember me
Lead Vocie -Oh, swing your love and turn around
Group voice -Remember me
Action - Center player and partner swing halfway around with an elbow swing. This leaves the first player standing as part of the circle; his old partner becomes the new center player for a repeat of the game.