This English folk song tells a “tall tale,” the story of a huge ram and the difficulties in butchering it. As with many traditional songs, there are a variety of versions. Mike Seeger said he learned this version when he was 12 years old.
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 was supposedly a favorite song of George Washington’s. It was a popular song in Colonial times. Would be it be popular today? Why do you think is was popular then? What kinds of songs are your favorites?
2. This song is about “market day.” Would people buy a sheep at the grocery today? Have any students gone to a farmers’ market? How is a farmers’ market different from the grocery store?
3. What do you notice about this song? Does the volume of the singing stay the same or change? How about the tempo? How does this affect your enjoyment of the song?
1. Many tall tales, like this song, are based on bragging and exaggeration. Read students a tall tale such as the story of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. Have students find examples of exaggeration and then have them write their own tall tales or bragging songs.
2. Explore the dynamic and tempo contrasts in the song. Play the song and ask students to pay attention to how Seeger’s voice and guitar start at a medium dynamic and then the harmonica comes in at a louder dynamic. His guitar and singing get louder after the harmonica plays. He speeds up the tempo at the end of the song as well, which adds to the fun. Have students say as rhythmic rhyme together (such as “YOU can’t RIDE in my LITTLE red WAGon, the axle’s BROKE and the WHEELS are DRAGgin.”) to create contrasts, saying it at medium volume then gradually getting louder and softer. Then say it at medium volume but raise, then lower the pitch. Have students lead the class into other pitch and dynamic changes.