Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Czechs Sing, Americans Forget Song Lyrics

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that on Friday night Dawn held a very fun and successful birthday party, which occasioned a quick trip back to Prague for Jesse and me. Alex was back from Christmas in the US, and brought her new roommate Julia (who got acquainted with us via Deborah, and who teaches English), Megan came in from Kutná Hora, Hubert also managed to find his way, and several Czech friends of Dawn (mainly German specialists) came as well.
We all had tacos (not exactly a common occurrence in the Czech Republic, although there are Mexican restaurants these days) and caught up with those we hadn’t seen too recently (or even those we had). Megan brought a remarkable collection of extremely silly Czech postcards she had just bought, which impressed Alex and me to no end. Of late I have been remiss in seeking out awful postcards, and Megan has shown me that they can indeed be found. I hope I can find my own copy of the one of the small boy with the cake train engine that looks as if it is constructed of bodily parts. Or even the psychotically cutesy kittens, as I feel certain that various people I know will want to receive these, suitably doctored.
For awhile it looked as if the party was going to have a Czech-speaking half and an English-speaking half, with only Dawn and Jesse alternating between the two, which did not reflect well on me, but late in the evening things went in a mainly Czech direction, apart from attempts by the American contingent to sing famous American songs for the delectation of the Czechs. The Americans involved, all of whom have had significant musical training, were pretty much unable to get past the first verse of any song except “99 Bottles of Beer.” We did manage to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as a round, and struggled through “The Eency Weency Spider,” but refused to sing any patriotic or martial song, felt the time had passed for Christmas songs, could not remember enough of any single Stephen Foster song, and could not agree whether “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” featured six white horses or six black horses. Since it always seems that Czechs can sing a vast number of songs learned at school, we did not look too impressive here.
Fortunately, our Czech companions were indulgent and did not laugh too hard at us. And, as I told Dawn when we met for tea the other day, she really has found a nice group of Czech kamaradky.

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Blogger Julia said...

Czechs, and central europeans generally (Germans, Swiss, Slovaks, etc) seem to have a ready repertoire in their heads for singing at any event. I think this is because they do sing at any event, and thus get a lot more practice at it than most Americans, musicologists or not. And sometimes I've caught my CE friends singing the same first verse over and over again, so don't feel too bad about your verse memory ;-).

(White horses by the way - the next question is, does she drive or ride them?)

January 25, 2006 9:54 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I think you're absolutely right. Most Americans haven't sung any song frequently since grade school. Of course, there are exceptions--I have some friends who sing at the drop of a hat and ask for nothing better than a singalong in the living room. But they are not the norm.

As for the horses, I'm pretty sure we all figured she couldn't ride six at once.

January 25, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I'll be darned--I was taught that she is driving six white horses and it is the "itsy bitsy" spider. How much fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh...

Russians also have a huge repertoire of songs.

January 25, 2006 11:03 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

She drives them in older lyrics and rides them in newer, or at least my random sampling of Google suggests that. But I also wonder if it some regions have variations on this. In South Carolina you hear for example that she is "rahding" those horses...

January 26, 2006 6:19 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I'm pretty sure I learned it was "driving six white horses," but I don't know what you were learning in Peoria if you got "itsy bitsy spider" when in Bloomington-Normal we got "eency weency." Surely Illinois didn't change its approved method of teaching the spider song between my kindergarten years and yours. (Peoria rebels, creates new spider.)

January 26, 2006 6:46 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

We had itsy bitsy spiders too, but in the UK our friends sing about incy wincy spiders when entertaining their kids. All three show up in song books, which doesn't seem to phase kids, but at children's play groups can get mothers in a round of arguments over the best wording!

January 27, 2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I think that if I saw a tiny spider, I would be more likely to call it itsy bitsy than eency weency (although even more likely just to call it small or minuscule), but that wasn't how we sang it in our kindergarten.

January 27, 2006 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

Okay, so better late than never. I finally got Karla's blog address this week and lo and behold there's a great posting on my birthday party there! And, I must say that my vote is for "itsy bitsy" and "riding 6 white horses"!!! :-) Thanks for reminding me of the lovely evening we had promoting American (in the broader pan-continental sense of the term) culture here in Prague with my Czech friends who responded in an sms when I said we would be having tacos, "What is tacos?" Unfortunately she still doesn't know, because she got sick and couldn't come. Ah well. Another time!

February 12, 2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Well, there are still something like two boxes of taco shells at my place awaiting the next Fulbrighter who cares to use them. I am not going to be making any tacos myself. I will also contribute that jar of so-called guacamole, if it's still good by then, and the bags of tortilla chips. The leftover salsas are getting used up, at least.

February 12, 2006 10:46 AM  

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