Cumulative song

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'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is a cumulative song

A cumulative song is a song with a simple verse structure modified by progressive addition so that each verse is longer than the verse before.

Cumulative songs are popular for group singing, in part because they require relatively little memorization of lyrics, and because remembering the previous verse to concatenate it to form the current verse can become a kind of game.

Structure of cumulative songs[edit]

Typically, the lyrics take the form of a stanza of at least two lines. In each verse, the text of the first line introduces a new item, and the other line uses the words to begin a list which includes items from all the preceding verses. The item is typically a new phrase (simultaneously a group of words and a musical phrase) to a line in a previous stanza.

The two lines are often separated by refrains. Many cumulative songs also have a chorus.

Example with two-line stanza[edit]

A example of a simple text with an addition to each second line is The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

and so on until

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

The first five gifts are sung to varied melodic phrases, and with a change of tempo for five gold rings. Otherwise the wording of each new gift is sung to a repeated melodic phrase.

Example with refrains[edit]

In many songs, an item is introduced in the first line of each stanza and extends the list in another line. An example is The Barley Mow:

1. Here's good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the pint pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Oh the pint pot, half a pint, gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin, and a round bowl
Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

The second verse substitutes a larger drink measure in the first line. In the second line the new measure heads the list and is sung to the same musical phrase as pint pot.

2. Here's good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Jolly good luck to the quart pot,
Good luck to the barley mow
Oh the quart pot, pint pot, half a pint, gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin, and a round bowl
Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

One version of the final line and refrain is:

Oh the company, the brewer, the drayer, the slavey ,the daughter, the landlady, the landlord, the barrel, the half-barrel, the gallon, the half-gallon, the quart pot, pint pot, half a pint gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin, and a round bowl
Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow

Example with chorus[edit]

A chorus (often with its own refrain) may be added to the stanzas as in The Rattlin' Bog:

Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o,
Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o.
1. Now in the bog there was a tree,
A rare tree, a rattlin' tree,
The tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.
Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o,
Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o.
2. And on that tree there was a branch,
A rare branch, a rattlin' branch,
The branch on the tree, and the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley-o.
Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o,
Hi ho, the rattlin' bog,
The bog down in the valley-o.

One version of the final line+refrain is:

The feather on the wing, and the wing on the bird, and the bird on the nest, and the nest on the twig, and the twig on the branch, and the branch on the tree, and the tree in the bog,
And the bog down in the valley.

Each phrase is sung to the same two-note melody.

Jewish cumulative songs[edit]

Yiddish folk music contains many prominent examples of cumulative songs, including "?װאָס װעט זײַן אַז משיח װעט קומען" and "מה אספּרה," or "What Will Happen When the Messiah Comes?" and "Who Can Recall" (a Yiddish version of the Passover song "Echad Mi Yodea").[1][2]

The Passover seder contains two Hebrew cumulative songs: Echad Mi Yodea and Chad Gadya.

Song examples[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Translating Fictional Dialogue for Children and Young People editor1=Maria Wirf Naro. Frank & Timme GmbH. 2012. p. 25. ISBN 9783865964670. 
  2. ^ a b "Had Gadya - Illustrated by Seymour Chwast; Afterword by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld". Macmillan Publishing. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  3. ^ Robert B. Waltz; David Engle (eds.). "Barley Mow, The". The Ballad Index. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  4. ^ Cusic, Don (2003). It's the Cowboy Way!: The Amazing True Adventures of Riders in the Sky. University Press of Kentucky. p. 166-167. ISBN 9780813128825. 
  5. ^ "A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea". Publishers Weekly (published June 2013). 2013-04-29. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  6. ^ "Today is Monday by Eric Carle". Teachers - Scholastic. Scholastic. Retrieved 2014-07-17.