Resources for Family Singing and Listening
After dinner, my husband gets out his violin and I go to our piano and we sing with our 3-year-old. When some dear friends from our church came over recently, we opened our songbooks while our three little girls held hands and danced as we all sang “Scarborough Fair,” “The Skye Boat Song,” “All Through the Night,” and “Skinamarinkidink.”
Having children makes you think differently about your everyday music. It begins when they are babies; it’s impossible not to sing, even if you aren’t in practice. As you sing the same songs over and over again, you ponder: what are the best songs for rocking to sleep, for play? And, mostly, what songs should become part of the bedrock of their consciousness?
Zoltan Kodaly would encourage parents to teach their children folk songs. Kodaly was a Hungarian composer and music educator who based music education on a foundation of learning folk music. He insisted that “music is for everyone,” and he believed that “Our age of mechanization leads along a road ending with man himself as a machine: only the spirit of singing can save us from this fate.”
We embrace the “spirit of singing” and build musical culture first within our homes. Here are a few resources that have helped my family:
Songbooks & Recordings
- Go In and Out the Window: An Illustrated Songbook for Children by Dan Fox
I love this book – I tell everyone about it. Published in association the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it contains a great selection of folksongs illustrated with beautiful art. Though it’s out of print, you can buy it used for a very good price. This book is what makes it possible for us to have family sing-alongs. Looking at the pictures became the initial incentive to get my toddler to have enough patience with each song. I also love that she is going to have the connection between these beautiful pieces of art and music.
- American Folk Songs for Children by Ruth Crawford Seeger
Ruth Seeger was the stepmother of the great folksinger, Pete Singer (included below). This book includes instructions and singing games. I love her introductory thoughts, which include teaching the songs in this book at her children’s school: “ I would hear: ‘These songs are fresh. We like them. At first we thought some of them a little queer, but now we feel at home with them. And we like them.’” You can also buy the recording of the songs by her children Peggy and Mike Seeger.
- The King’s Singers Book of Rounds, Canons and Partsongs
Singing rounds and canons (the sacred version of rounds) is extremely rewarding! This book contains a great selection of songs in a wide range of difficulty.
- The 1940 Hymnal
The 1940 Hymnal contains centuries of the best hymnody, from the very beginnings of the church (“Father, We Thank Thee” is from the Didache, c. 110). By learning to sing from this hymnal, your family gets a sacred music education, including Ambrose, Bach, and Mendelssohn.
- Elizabeth Mitchell
Mitchell’s album “You are My Little Bird,” produced by Smithsonian Folkways, is so lovely. Another great album is Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woodie Guthrie.
- Pete Seeger
American folk singer Pete Seeger (1919-2014 was dedicated to a revival of American folk music. We love his music for children, Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes Little & Big: Animal Folk Songs.
- Jill Trinka
Jill Trinka is a Kodaly music educator who has put together many great recordings of folk music for children. She has a lovely voice and a truly extensive collection.
Amanda McGill is a freelance writer, the music director at Christ the King Anglican Church in Dayton, Ohio, and an editor for The Homely Hours (a liturgical living resource). She seeks a simple, well-read life with her young family and likes to make bread so her husband doesn’t have to win it.