There are many versions of this old English folk song. Like most early English songs, it was originally sung without accompaniment. Mike Seeger added the trump (jaw harp) interlude when he learned the song in 1971. The trump is a mouth instrument dating back thousands of years. It consists of a flexible tongue-like piece (called a lamella) fixed at one end to a surrounding frame. In Southeast Asia, it is used as an artificial voice. In Indian, it is used to enrich the sound of a drum. Some players emphasize the rhythmic, gong-like music, while others emphasize melodic styles to provide dance music.
Mike Seeger (1933-2009) devoted his life to singing and playing what he called “Music from True Vine," the homegrown music made by American southerners in the days before radio and television. “‘Music from True Vine’ grows out of hundreds of years of British traditions that blended in our country with equally ancient African traditions to produce songs and sounds unique to the United States,” Seeger said. For the peoples of the rural South, their great variety of music, song, and story provided their Shakespeare, their dance music, their news, and the fabric of their daily lives. This music in time became the roots of today's country, bluegrass, and popular music and remains as ever, enduring and refreshing listening.”
1. This song has a nonsense chorus. Can you think of another song that has nonsense words as a chorus? (Examples are “Old McDonald,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Camptown Races.”) Are these kinds of songs fun to sing?
2. What do you think about the lyrics? Are they realistic? Could a flea heave a tree, a sow weave silk, and a mule teach school? Why do think the song was written this way?
3. Have you heard anyone play the trump (jaw harp) before? How would you describe the sound that it makes?
1. Have students make up new verses and add them to the songs.
2. Bring in a trump and show students how it is played.
3. Mike Seeger mentions whistling in this segment. Have students whistle, then try to change their pitch slowly from low to high and back. Discuss how the position of their lips, cheeks, and tongue changes as the pitch changes. Discuss how pitch is produced by vibrations and explore how different instrument families create these vibrations.