Silly songs

I’ve spent time at church camp every summer of my life. Growing up at church camp, we sang a lot of songs. We sang hymns and popular songs. We sang table graces before our meals and songs after our meals. There were plenty of serious songs about faith and there were lots and lots of silly songs.

I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills
I love the flowers, I love the daffodils
I love the fireside, when all the lights are low
boom dee at a boom dee at a boom dee at a boom

Then we added

I hate the mountains, I hate the rolling hills,
I get allergic from smelling daffodils
I’m sick of firelight, where you can’t read a thing
boom dee at a boom dee at a boom dee at a boom

and that became

I love the cookie, I love the food she serves
I love her biscuits, I love her fruit preserves
I love the dining hall, when all the tables are full
munch munch gobble gobble slurp slurp swallow swallow

We sang songs in which we could make up or modify verses, sometimes tuning into dozens of verses, sometimes becoming a kind of competition between the different tables in the dining hall. There was a nursery rhyme song that we sang:

Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone
When she got there the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
When she got there the cupboard was bare
So she threw it out the window.

The next table would use a different nursery rhyme:

Little Bo Peep, she lost her sheep
And didn’t know where to find them
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
And throw them out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
Leave them alone and they’ll come home
And throw them out the window

Another table would sing:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do
She gave them some broth, without any bread
And threw them out the window
The window, the window, the second-story window
She gave them some broth, without any bread
And threw them out the window

And on and on we’d go until we ran out of nursery rhymes or simply got tired of the song.

There were lots of other songs and we had some song leaders who were pretty good entertainers as well. We laughed and sang and sang and laughed.

When I got older I discovered that different camps had different favorite songs and that there were variations about how the songs were sung. At first, I thought that our camp was the place of the “one true way” of singing camp songs and that everyone else was wrong, but I soon realized that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to sing a camp song as long as everyone is included and having fun.

I’m not sure what got me to thinking about camp songs recently, but perhaps it is this strange summer without camps because of the pandemic. A year ago our grandchildren visited and we took them to grand camp and sang lots of silly songs. It’s pretty hard to sing “I’m singing in the rain!” with your thumbs up, knees together. tongue out, butt out, while hopping up and down, in a circle without giggling. And singing silly songs and giggling with your grandchildren is a pretty wonderful thing to do.

Music is a wonderful teaching tool. Ask any child to recite the alphabet and chances are that child will sing the letters to you instead of making a simple recitation. We are pretty sure that in addition to their liturgical function, many of the Psalms were set to tunes as an aid to memorization. The longest of the psalms, 119, goes through the entire Hebrew alphabet with a paragraph for each letter. We can assume that it was used to teach important religious principles as well as basic literacy. And we can marvel that our forebears memorized such a lengthy psalm. But group memorization was a powerful tool and the addition of a tune would make a big difference. It might have even been sung in larger groups with small groups each taking one letter and passing the song around the room, not unlike the silly songs we sang in the dining hall at church camp.

It has been decades since I sang some of those songs, but they stick with me.

I will never forget the time when we had a family reunion. I was a young adult and we were camping at my cousin’s ranch. We had brought some very large tents and one night we decided to have a “tent revival” with some parodies of evangelists and an old time revival meeting. We weren’t sure how some of our elders would take our sense of humor. In fact we were worried that some of them might take offense. One rather grumpy great aunt, well into her eighties was pretty serious about her strict methodist faith. Her father had been a minister in the old circuit riding days and her family was prominent in Montana Methodist history. She seemed to not be enjoying our “revival,” but near the end of our time she stood up. We were preparing for a lecture about being serious and not making fun of religion. Instead, she sang:

When the sexton rang the dishrag
Lard was rendered by the choir
As the organ pealed potatoes
Someone set the church on fire
“Holy smoke” the parson shouted
In the crowd he lost his hair
Now his head resembles heaven
‘cause there is no parting there.

We rolled with laughter. It was the best part of our revival. We learned that singing songs for the fun of it was also a part of our tradition. She had been singing silly songs since she was a child at Institute and camp.

I hope I can keep singing the silly songs for many years to come.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!