Tag Archives: rounds

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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Cows Take a Vacation

"Cows Take a Vacation" score

"Cows Take a Vacation" score

Every day’s a good day for round singing, but rounds shine when sung outdoors. If you’re planning a group event, a family reunion, neighborhood block party, or weekend campout, I’ve got a tip that will bring new life to the round tradition. There’s nothing wrong with “Row, row, row your boat,” but discovering new material is fun and good for the brain.    

Larry Polansky, composer, performer, music professor at Dartmouth, and master of many more musical activities, tends a growing garden of rounds on a simple web page, accessible to everyone. Rounds by other people,” as of May 9, 2009, holds the musical scores of 120 rounds. A click of the title, and you’ll be face to screen with printable music for favorites such as “Cows Take a Vacation,” “Round Pittsburgh,” “Breakfast  Round” (third of three on the page), and “Ze Wudka,” which features the lyrics

Should ve drink ze wudka after dinner?

No! No! No, ve’ll drink it before!

I am full of duck,

My potato’s stuck,

But life is good!

I am so full!

and is just right for singing before eating (and drinking). Don’t miss the tiny note at the bottom of Larry’s round page: (if you want a free little book of all these rounds, email me or frog peak–lp)



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