Thursday, March 06, 2008

The first English song that I learned

To my more senior friends; can you remember the first English song that you learned? I am not referring to those nursery rhymes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep that they taught us in school. Well I can; and it’s a song from 46 years ago.

It was blogging about that feathered visitor earlier that reminded me of this English song that I learned in 1962. I was in primary 4 in Braddell Rise School. Kampong kids of that era do not listen to English songs. Other than a few nursery rhymes, we never sang English songs.

But my teacher at that time, Mr Chew liked to sing English songs. One day, he brought his guitar to class and taught us this song. Surprisingly, after 46 years, I can still remember the lyrics ….. well at least some parts of it.

Yellow bird, up high in banana tree.
Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.
Did your lady friend, leave your nest again?
That is very sad, makes me feel so bad.
You can fly away, in the sky away.
You’re more lucky than me.


Wish that I were a yellow bird.
I’ll fly away with you.
But I am not a yellow bird,
So here I sit, nothing else to do.

The song was Yellow Bird. Have you heard it before? If not, you can listen to it here.


pinto said...

You have a very good memory, Chun See. I can't remember the first song I learnt.

My mum always had 90.5 on the radio. It was the only free-to-air English radio station back then.

I would probably have been inundated with Abba, Boney M, Bee Gees and the like.

Can't say I've heard Yellow Bird before though.

Anonymous said...

There's also the "Kookabara" song - about some Aussie bird - we sang in primary school during the ealry 1960s.

Unk Dicko said...

Hi C See,
Your story brings back a flood of fond memories of my early teaching years...much like your esteemed Mr Chew.The school where I first taught in PBS..I had similar experiences with my pupils then, in the late 60's. They were short of music teachers and asked me to handle a few classes of music. Me, with no formal music training or qualifications? I tried to decline but the admin were really in a fix. They had no one else. Why me then? They had seen me with my own class merrily singing away during English lessons a couple of times!
I used the ukelele or guitar for accompaniment and taught them the same song" Yellow Bird" which was poularised by Harry Belafonte and especially the 3 " Blue Brothers". Have you heard of them?
In the end, I taught them so many songs...that I'd forgotten which. Not until when SARS hit S'pore...that one of my former pupils who is a senior Defence officer today, managed to trace me and called me. He organised a most successful reunion with many of my original kids[ quite a few holding big-time posts in industry and govt]. Only 1 request from all of them...must bring my ukelele,guitar and that order!Ha ha.
At the reunion poolside party, they all could remember the lyrics of the songs I taught them.
I was astounded and amazed.
That is the power of music....

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Dick for sharing that bit of history. The similar experience of your students goes to show that it is quite natural for kids to remember the lyrics of songs their learned for life practically.

I remember that Kookabura (sits on the old gum tree-ee; merry merry king of the bush is he-ee ...) song Peter mention. When I got joined ACS in Pr 6, we had regular singing classes. That was one of the songs our teacher Mrs Lau taught us. Others included Waltzing Matilda and this one:

Planting rice is never fun
Bend from morn till set of sun,
Cannot stand, cannot sit,
Cannot rest for a little bit.

In secondary school, ACS being a missionary school we had weekly chapel service. Although I wasn't a Christian then, I enjoyed singing the traditional hymns like Be Thou My Vision, Onward Christian Soldiers.

Anonymous said...

In Secondary school dars, we had school assembly in the school hall on Monday after recess. There was one music teacher, a Mr. Sobrilo (not sure connected to Amy Sobrilo). He looked Chinese but going by that name he must a Filipino. THis guy can conduct and sing. Then MOE posted in one teacher one Mr. Chin. Wah pian! so fierce. He told all of us if u want to remember how to sing, remember my name. His name was Chin Toe Nee or Chin Nee Toe. he made us sing "Edelwsie". I am sure it was a Chin. Then there was a music teacher Mr. David Lim who also sang in some national choir.

U know we boys or guys hated to sing. Look like "Char Boh". Then one day, the school brought in some girls to sing at our school assembly. Suddenly so many boys wanted to join the school choir.

Anonymous said...

I still remembet during the late 60s we had to sing 4 partiotic songs set by the MOE. One was chinese )SZhan Kow Shan", a malay song, an English song. The last one we sure can remember because it was a funny Tamil song (Dick Lee rearranged this some years ago when it was televised during national Day).

U see re had to memorise the Tamil words, so cham! During Founder's Day, the school principal cautioned us and told us we must sing very loud when the guest of honour comes. So when we sang this tamil song, the firts few lyrics very soft. Suddenly one part of the lyric, the whole school "shouted" and sang very loud. It sounded like an obscene superlative referring to someone's mother. You know that Tamil song?

Anonymous said...

Those songs were sung on Founder's Day. I believe that the Tamil song went like "munayru valiba ...." I remember "shan kau shan .... wang shan pa" nickname colonel

yg said...

i wonder if peter is referring to the same mr sobrielo who took my class music in sec 1. he auditioned us and we were placed into grps 1, 2 or 3. grp 1 were those who had some quality in their voice and grp 3 comprised the tone deaf.
mr david lim, in his seventies, is still giving voice training lessons to individuals. i met him one day last year at waterloo st food centre.
listening to or singing songs i learnt in schools always fill me with nostalgia; the context of the songs does not matter. songs like home on the range, tripperary, waltzing matilda, red river valley, etc.

Anonymous said...

There was also a teacher Henry Kwok who taught us how to sing "By the Silvery Moon", a Doris Day hit in the 1950s I believe. He was a fantastic teacher who taught Maths but during Maths lesson we all got to learn how to date girls...what to do next.....In Pre-U 1 when we had girls in our class (and they were the awful lot of our batch comapred to the batch before and after us), Henry paid for the tickets so that we would bring our class girls to the Senior Prom. He also taught us how to "Pom Cha Cha". Imagine dancing to "By the Silvery Moon" in the dusty school hall.

YG - yes George Sobrielo, he was also afternoon school principal or something like that.

Colonel - loosely translated the Chinese song was to climb mountains right? I can still hear in my ears the "rocket sound" when the specific Tamil words (I mentioned) were sung. You can hear the echo of those words from North Bridge Road (in front of the present MRTC building) and Stamford Road on a Saturday afternoon. Too bad the school prefects took down names of students who sang those specific lyrics louder than usual. As usual Saturday DC to roll the cricket pitch for Mr. Sundrasam or to clean up the tennis court for Mr. Tan Kim Cheng.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
I remember Mr. Chin, a rather short fella. By the way, Mr. Tan Kima Cheng (a.k.a Capatin Tan), with an earring in one year, and crew cut, taught me how to play tennis. I loved to play on clay courts, and relished the clay court at Raffles Hall, Nassim Road. Captain Tan is still around, continues to reside at Ming Teck Park. I rang him several years ago when I was in SG, and several months ago when I went to Sg for a school re-union.
At Raffles Hall, we used to sing rugby songs, and/or sailor songs, although the more pious individuals would refer to them as "dirty songs" Dirty or not, it is only in the mind.
Almost a decade ago, an electrical engineer who was several years my senior (as he took 6 years to complete the 4 year Bachelor's degree) compiled most of those songs, sent me a copy, and recently recorded several of those songs.
Cheers. Nickname Colonel.

Anonymous said...

ah so! colonel can u email me the "dirty songs" u know my email.

I remember the procedures Mr. Chin took to get us ready for singing lessons. First we all had to stand up. Second we had to sing a school (of course when we started, we sang at different speeds and pitch).

My god when the school boys open their mouth after recess. You could smell the Indian mee goreng and the kachang puteh coming out from the mouth. Some burp but many got bad breath. I no joking but that was the situation then. What to expect: the old school hall had very little or ceiling fans that could still work. But for me best of all I was in the PA Society under Mr. Adam Hing. These were the boys who operated the public address sytem for the school function, e.g. flag raising/lowering. We took cover behind the stage and the windows.

Anonymous said...

Kapitan Tan plays golf. Some years ago he was on the same flight with me. "Chin Kang Kaur". His ball never travel straight or the intended path; must help him to find. He awlays ask for "Maligan" (not sure correct spelling) until we give up. Still we respect him as a teacher and "pang chance". At the end of the competiton, Kapitan Tan always drink "Lai Chee syrup" (with the golf balls in the drink)

Victor said...

I remember being taught 500 miles and singing Auld Lang Syne" but can't remember which one was taught first. Yellow bird was an euphemism for something else which I think I'd better not mention here.

Anonymous said...

I am born in the 60's and yes, I remember we were taught this YB song in school. ;)

Zen said...

My father who was not a good singer but from to time to time would belt out his favourite school (ACS) song 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and sang it with gusto, although he was not a Christian. At times when he was in nostagic mood, he would sing the Japanese national anthem in solumn tone (forced to sing by the Japanese) though in his heart he didn't like the Japanese. He was enlisted to be a food-controller then (in Segamat-Malaya) and because of this, I was one of the few lucky babies to have milk during the occupation.

Ivan Chew said...

Hey Chun See, this was one of the first songs they taught at Primary school during my time (circa 1979/ 1980). I also remember they taught us "My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean" and "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag". Also some songs from The Carpenters. I've no idea who decided they should be taught to us Primary school kids (maybe your peers!) but I enjoyed singing them. We sat on the concrete floor during assembly time and just sang. :)

Lam Chun See said...

Somehow, after my generation, many of the traditional children's songs have been replaced by pop songs like Morningtown Ride and Carpenters' "Sing". I remember buying cassettes of children's songs for my kids and finding such songs there.

Reminds me of my eldest. When she was a baby, she cries every nite and the old man has to sing "Morningtown Ride" and "绿岛小夜曲" and swing her 'sarong'.

Anonymous said...

The yellow bird song was one of those campfire songs that I've learned during my St John Ambulance days in ACS.

Yellow bird,
With a yellow tail.
Is perching on,
My window sail.
I tricked it in,
With a crumb of bread.
And then I stomp its.....

..... bloody head.

Not exactly an animal-friendly song though.

Unknown said...

Hello! I'm a little after your time, but hope you can help anyway. There is a peom about "Crossing Sweepers" - two little boy sharing an apple in the streets of London I'm trying to find. I heard it was part of the school text books in Singapore - would you remember the title and author of the piece? Thanks - M

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry I don't know of this poem. Sounds like a touching story.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi. Re-reading this post and the comments make me surprised that many of us older guys had strong memories of the songs we learned in school decades ago. I cannot remember what motivated me to write this article. But I never expected it to trigger off so many memories for the regular readers.

Anonymous said...

Some songs we were taught in primary 1

1. Whispering Hope
2. "Hi Lily High Low" (not sure of title...

Unk Dicko said...

Hi Peter...the title of song #2 is
Hi-lili Hilo.
The Lyrics( 1st part )

A song of love is a sad song,Hi-lili, hi-lili hilo.
A song of love is a song of woe, don't ask me how I know.
A song of love is a sad song, for I have loved and I know.
I sit at the window and watch the rain,
Hi-lili hi-lili hilo.
Tomorrow I'll probably love again,
Hi-lili hi-lili hilo.

The 2nd part starts with.." On every tree there sits a bird, singing a song of love....etc".
This is one song that many old-timers know how to sing well including the Kg Kembangan Group I'm currently entertaining.