Does this book trigger any school-day memories for you? It sure did for me when I came across it recently in a thrift shop in Campbellford, Ont., and so of course I snapped it up. It is one in a series – the third, clearly, given its title – produced for classroom use back in the days when I myself was in the classroom, at Madoc Township Public School not far from the Manse here in Queensborough. Songtime 3 was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston – a Canadian publishing company that as far as I can see is no longer with us – in 1963, just in time for my school days.
Days, I might add, when singing was something that was actually taught and practised in the classroom. Every school had a music teacher (who might be shared among a few schools, but nevertheless who was there in your classroom for music class at least once a week), and we not only learned and sang songs, but actually learned something about how music works – doh, re, mi, fa, sol and so on, but also a little bit about how to write music: half-notes and whole notes and quarter notes and bass clefs and treble clefs and all that stuff. Is there a hint of this in today’s elementary-school classrooms, I wonder? I suspect not, and more’s the pity.
Anyway, it’s a trip back in time to leaf through Songtime 3, and I’m going to take you on that little trip.
The first time I examined it, standing in that thrift shop in Campbellford, I failed to recognize any of the songs I came across, and wondered if perhaps my experience with the Songtime series began in Grade 4 as opposed to Grade 3 (when, again from its title, I’m assuming this book would have been used in the classroom). But later, when I went through it more carefully, some of the little ditties started to come back to me. Ah, the soundtrack of school days!
The first thing the struck me about the book was the funky midcentury-style drawings that accompany the songs. Sometimes they are quite cool, like in these two:
And other times, especially when illustrating songs supposedly representative of other countries and cultures, they are more than a little bit facile and stereotypical:
One thing that really struck me was the prevalence of Christian hymns and songs:
I mean, I suppose the argument could be made, with some of these songs at least, that they were directed at the God of one’s choice and not necessarily the Christian version of God; but Away in a Manger is pretty definitively Christian. Now, as someone who considers herself a Christian I don’t have a problem with this on a personal level, obviously; but in multicultural Canada of 2015 it’s pretty hard to imagine – even if you lived through it, which I did – a time when it was considered perfectly okay to includes songs like this in the standard classroom songbook. Had any Jewish or Muslim kids happened to show up in class at Madoc Township Public School, they would have felt pretty uncomfortable, I imagine.
A few other things that struck me during my perusal of Songtime 3:
The inclusion of songs paying tribute, in a possibly ham-handed way but doubtless well-meaning, to our country’s First Nations:
A once-popular song I would never have thought of again in my entire life if I hadn’t spotted it here:
(Though I think it is quite sweet that the young woman who wants a husband – apparently more than anything else in life – rejects “a Frenchman,” “a German” and “an Englishman” for … a farmer. That particular element of the song was very appropriate for the rural Ontario environment in which I grew up.)
And finally – well, of course any Canadian school songbook would have to end with these two numbers:
It was a sweeter time and a simpler time, wasn’t it? There were some wackadoodle and inappropriate songs in that book; but there were some really good ones too. And of course the funky illustrations.
And they taught kids about music and singing in those days. Even if it was to the tune of Mother, I Want a Husband.