Chairs to Mend: Sing it with Friends

While reading British novelist Graham Greene’s harrowing 1939 novel The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment, I ran across these sentences:

A few street cries came up through the cold air: old clothes and a man who wanted chairs to mend.  He had said that war killed emotion; it was untrue.  Those cries were an agony. [p. 51 of the 1967 edition]

Any bit of beauty or humanity is agonizing to the beleaguered protagonist, but I was tickled to see a mention of the street peddler song “Chairs to Mend.”  By its very nature as a peddler’s song, it’s a simple, repetitive, catchy way to offer chair-mending, fresh mackerel, and new rags.  Think of street cries as an old-time precursor to the advertising jingles of radio and TV.

“Chairs to Mend” also is well suited for singing as a round.  In fact, I first stumbled upon it in The Great Rounds Songbook, but like most traditional, collected songs, you’re likely to find varying versions in other books such as The Book of Rounds or Best of Canons and Rounds: From the 13th Century to the Present Day.

Almost everyone has sung a round before; it’s hard to imagine getting out of preschool, kindergarten or summer camp in the U. S. without having sung “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as a round.  But why let the kids have all the fun?  Get together with a group of adults and sing some rounds!  They’re perfect for amateur singers and once you learn the melodies, you don’t need any instrumental accompaniment.  All you need are some friends who are good sports or some good sports who will become new friends.

— Tim

P.S. If you don’t think getting together with friends for group singing sounds “cool,” then don’t take my word for it, take Brian Eno’s.  Eno is perhaps the coolest record producer in the atmospheric rock and pop world and one of the inventors of instrumental ambient music, but when he did a segment for the “This I Believe” radio series, he extolled the virtues of group singing.


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4 responses to “Chairs to Mend: Sing it with Friends

  1. kantju

    The kids in my neighborhood loved to sing rounds. We’d all pile into my hammock and sing at the top of our lungs, much to the dismay of my next-door-neighbor. Many years later she commented that I was “the noisiest child of all.” That said, I went on to sing madrigals and street cry rounds (including “Chairs to Mend”) in a small group in Hyde Park, an activity I really miss. Do you know of any (very) amateur groups in the Pittsburgh area that are looking for additional members?

  2. Amanda

    The latest song that I learned that can be sung in rounds was “God Danced the Day you were Born.” It’s a great birthday song and led me to youtube videos of this band called Hot Soup and other groups of amatuer round singers.

  3. “Cows Take a Vacation” remains one of my favorite rounds to sing. It’s also the title of a post I wrote a couple of years ago:
    And for your Thanksgiving round singing pleasure, here’s the link to a round by Larry Polansky, ” Explication.”

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