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Sunday, November 18, 2012

St. Martin's Blues

Last week it was St. Martin's Day. In my region (the tradition is not common in all parts of the Netherlands), kids visit the neighbourhood houses in the evenings with lanterns and special St Martin songs; in return they get sweets. My son toured the neighbourhood with a friend. They sang a special version (their own?) of a well-known song:

St Maarten, St Maarten
Er liepen twee tomaten
De ene had een teddybeer
De ander had een schietgeweer

St Martin, St Martin
Two tomatoes were walking
One had a teddybear
The other had a shooting gun

This rather than the original: St Martin, St Martin / the cows have tails / the girls wear skirts / St Martin's coming.

Although I was not particularly fond of their invention (I don't like violence, being the wimp I am), the people who had to part with their sweets in return for the song did like it - they thought it highly original.

Now there is another St Martin's song I can't get used to. It is a modern invention, probably by someone who thinks that kids these days only like singing if what they sing is 'modern', and therefore he or she invented 'St Martin's Blues'. As much of the modern repertoire composed for kids, the song is problematic in many ways. To start with, a blues is not 'modern'. On top of that, the song only sounds reasonably well if it is sung with an acccompanying band, but as those bands usually don't like to walk around to play for sweets on St. Martin's day (what with the rain and the amplifiers and all...) children have to sing the blues without the band. And then the most horrible thing of the song: because the composer is completely nuts the melody is a blues bass line. Which means the melody of the second line is a sequence of the first line a fourth up, which (given that the ambitus of the line is nearly an octave) brings 90% of the 5 to 9-year old kids in big trouble, song-wise.

So when I had to sit waiting at the beginning of the evening of St Martin's Day in the library annex music school and groups of kids came round to sing their songs there for the caretaker to rob him of his sweets, I could make a detailed study of the devastating effects of kids trying to wrestle their way through St Martin's Blues. And I could compare it with kids singing the good old 'cows-have-tails'-songs.

And after twenty minutes I was sure: I am getting old.

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