How Howard L. Kaplan sees himself: as a guitar-playing frog
Links to songsheets by Howard L. Kaplan:
Lyrics, music, and MIDI files


This page links to all of the songsheets and support files whihc I have posted on the web site. A songsheet contains the lyrics and melody; it may also contain chords useful in working out an accompaniment on a guitar. Associated with each songsheet is at least one MIDI file. If the MIDI includes an accompaniment, that won't necessarily be very close to what I played to accompany myself on the guitar: I've often taken the opportunity to radically rethink the arrangement and take advantage of MIDI to let my computer play instruments that I could not possibly play live. Feel free to make use of or to radically change the arrangements, as you prefer.

This page was started in January 2001, and not all songs that I've written have been (or even ever will be) posted here. In the meantime, if you want just the lyrics to songs from my two cassettes other than those on this page, you can look for those lyrics here:
ELEVEN SONGS... View the lyrics
Frog Pi View the lyrics

If you know of a song of mine that I haven't yet posted here, E-mail me and I'll try to move it higher on the agenda.

Ground Rules

All of the songs posted here are covered by copyright in my name. You are welcome to sing them; in fact, I want you to sing them; in fact, why else would I put them here? Also, feel free to print and photocopy the lead sheets I provide here; I'd rather have the songs circulate in correct than in corrupted copies, and I'm not trying to get rich from the sheet music business.

However, I do expect you to make a reasonable effort to sing the song I've written, not the one you wish I'd written. If you feel the need to make major changes to the song, chopping out verses or replacing essential words that you don't happen to like, then I'd be much happier if you started over than if you pretended that what you sing is really my song. To be more specific:

You do not need to ask my personal permission to sing these songs. If you are singing them informally, no permission is required. If you are singing them professionally in the kind of place that keeps set lists for royalty payments, or if you're recording them as audio or video (see the next two paragraphs) and need to give proper credit, then you need to know that my official name as a songwriter is Howard L. Kaplan and that my songs are registered through SOCAN. By registering them there, I automatically grant permission for live public performance; that's how performing rights agencies work. However, I would appreciate knowing if you've adopted any of these songs into your repertoire, especially because that will prompt me to catch up on my backlog of SOCAN registrations. There may be, in theory, some permissions required for the use of my songs in schools or camps, but in practice I'd be glad to have them used that way, no royalties payable. If you are using them for that purpose, though, I'd be interested to know, since I usually think of myself as a writer of songs for adults that would be of limited interest to younger audiences.

You do need pay standard mechanical royalties to record these songs for sale on a CD. If I haven't already released a recording of the one you want, then you also need to ask my permission; otherwise, permission is automatically granted. In either case, though, the standard mechanical royalties (for songs up to 5 minutes, still about $0.08 per copy pressed as of 2018) are payable. I didn't make up these rules; they're standard in the industry. There are also rules for songs sold as downloads or via streaming; I won't try to summarize them here.

If you want to record one of my songs for posting on the web to be viewed, streamed, or downloaded for free, then you don't need to pay any royalties. However, I would appreciate knowing about the recording -- maybe I'll even want to link to it from my site!

Working with the PDF files

It should be easy to print these PDF files on just about any computer system having a PDF file reader. The best-known one is Adobe Reader, but there are many alternatives. I personally use PDF-XChange Editor Plus to both create and read PDF files.

About the MIDI (.mid) and karaoke (.kar) files

Most web browsers are configured to start playing the MIDI (.mid) files if you simply click on the hyperlinks. However, that might not get you the best possible sound quality, and it might not handle the less-common karaoke files properly. I used to recommend some specific sound fonts and associated software for better playback quality, but I no longer try to keep up with what's available. All I can suggest is that you start with a web search such as play MIDI files.

For the record, the notation and MIDI files are created in Noteworthy Composer, the notation is copied to Word Perfect for construction of song sheets, and the results are converted to .pdf by PDF-XChange. When I create the MIDI files, I listen to them using decent sampled sounds from real instruments. If you're using less accurate or synthetic instrument sounds, your mileage may vary. When I make a karaoke (.kar) version of a MIDI file, I used to import the MIDI and lyrics into Melody Assistant and export in .kar format from there, but now I find it easier to use GNMIDI for the same task.

Notes about the .mp3 files

Some of the .mp3 files posted here are from my two cassettes, where the songs were performed with guitar, chorus, or both. The arrangements are usually different from (but closely related to) the MIDI arrangements that are also posted here.

Note that these .mp3 files are posted to give you a good sense of the songs, not to convince you to buy cassettes or CDs. In posting them, I was more interested in getting the material on-line efficiently than in refining the performances.

Songs by category

Although I sometimes like to think that my work defies categorization, I do recognize that it might be helpful to know what songs might interest what audiences. Therefore, for the purposes of this web site, I have established some categories, and clicking on the link below will take you to the list of that category's songs. Remember that a really interesting song is likely to fit into more than one category at once 😉, so at the bottom of each section I've listed some of the other songs that might have been put into it.

The cycle of the seasons
The life sciences: natural history, biology, medicine, agriculture, and ecology
The behavioural sciences
Songs of safe sex
The physical sciences: physics, chemistry, and astronomy
Reinterpretations of traditional ballads
Other story songs
The big issues -- political, social, environmental
The textures of adult life

The cycle of the seasons
Song Summary Resources
The Farmer's CarolO
completed 1983
posted December 2001
A cold, northern climate song about the short days of the winter solstice, which give us the annual opportunity to rest from our usual labours.
  I have often been asked why we've chosen to farm
  In this land where the trees grow thick blankets of white.
  Though the winter is numbing, a fire keeps us warm
  Through a cold solstice day half the length of its night.
    When the sun is about, to our work we must go,
    And we've no time for pleasure or sport.
    Let us therefore give thanks for the Yule and the snow
    And the months when the daylight is short.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as actually sung with a guitar accompaniment
MIDI in a sort of Salvation Army at Christmas brass quartet arrangement
Groundhog with guitar
Spring Will ComeO
completed February 1985
posted January 2001
A song in celebration of Groundhog Day, in which the groundhog considers what four other species are doing on 2 February.
  Tell the beaver the sun is returning.
  Tell her too that you heard it from
  One whose kind has been granted this learning.
  Spring will come. Spring will come.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as the song is actually sung (well, closer, anyway)
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Free mp3 download
The MIDI, .kar, and .mp3 files have a MIDI-synthesized harp accompaniment.
Where Have All the Cherries Gone? O
completed 1987
posted December 2002
An adaptation of The Cherry Tree Carol (Child 54), touching on issues of pomology and disarmament.
  While she rested quietly, Joseph inspected
  The trees of the orchard, and brought this report:
 "The low wood is tangled and badly neglected;
  The fruit all grows high, where to reach we're too short."
MIDI as notated, just the melody
MIDI as performed, with accompaniment
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
The Alpha Beta WaltzO
completed Autumn 1988
posted December 2001
The unfortunate consequences of one year's pre-Palm-Pilot ritual of the olden days, when people would hand-transcribe part but not all of the contents of each year's paper pocket diary into the next year's edition.
  I'm female, I'm single, and my life is filled
    with appointments and names of which I must keep track,
  And so, every autumn I buy a black book
    that has months in the front and address lines in back.
Capsicum AnnuumO
completed March 1989
posted March 2001
A true cycle of the months, with a verse for each one telling where that month fits into growing, preserving, or eating the sweet red pepper Capsicum annuum.
  Sheltered from the April rains
    Capsicum annuum
  Seedlings bent toward window panes
    Promise sweet red peppers
Long Is the Winter Till the Sun's ReturnO
completed December 1989
posted December 2001
A cumulative song using symbols from the natural world, ultimately counting backwards from twelve feathers in the tail of the owl to one warmth-giving, life-giving sun.
  Who can tell me six? I can tell you six.
  Six are the sides of the honeycomb cell.
  Five are the petals of the blossom of the pear.
  Four are the legs beneath the scurrying squirrel.
  Three are leaves upon the clover stem.
  Two are the tides that chase after the moon.
  One is the warmth-giving, life-giving sun.
  Long may it shine. Long may it burn.
  Long is the winter till the sun's return.
Songsheet supplement with a crunchy three-part harmony arrangement and a translation into Spanish
MIDI based on the crunchy arrangement
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
free mp3 download
The Language of the BeesO
completed 1993
posted September 2001
An almost-accurate depiction of our own garden as it was in 1993, including both its plants and its urban wildlife.
  If you plant the early crocus to emerge through melting snow,
  If you let the tiny seedlings of the wind-blown cosmos grow,
  If you mow around the scylla, if you let the violet spread,
  If you sow the red nasturtium as a border for a bed...
MIDI as notated
MIDI as the first verse is actually sung (well, closer, anyway), first just the melody, and then with an added descant harmony
Video of a live performance
Loud Sing the CarolO
original version completed 1975
revised version completed 1993
posted December 2001
A somewhat unusual perspective on the annunciation, the virgin birth, the wise men, John the Baptist, and other accoutrements of the standard seasonal story.
  An angel said to the Virgin Mary, Loud sing the carol!
  God's got something for you to carry, Loud sing the carol!
  It will be a great benefit. I can't tell you the all of it.
  Just keep healthy and learn to knit. Loud sing the carol!
The Potato Gardener in WinterO
completed 1995
posted June 2002
An anticipation of the forthcoming planting season.
  Irish Cobbler still is good, although considered old;
  Desiree's not new -- nineteen sixty-two;
  Yellow Finn's still grown -- origin unknown;
  Nineteen eighty saw the first release of Yukon Gold.
    My brother, the philosopher, is reading works by Plato when
    Another, the musician, is performing works by Beethoven
    And I am looking forward to the planting of potato.
Wren 2KO
completed December 2000
posted January 2001
An updated version of The Cutty Wren, to commemorate the centenary in the year 2000 of the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count.
 "Why have we all gathered?" said Miller to Mulder
  One fine Christmas morning, just as the sun rose.
 "We're off to the forest with checklists and pencils,
  For this is a bird count" said Fessel to Fose.
 "A bird count! A bird count!" said John the Red Nose.
The Origins of Chanukah in a Nasty Little Class War Among the Jews BluesO
original version completed 1996
first posted December 2001
latest revision completed 2017
A version of the Chanukah story different from the one I learned during my Hebrew school years, focusing on the attractions of Hellenism, the corruption of the High Priesthood, and the existence of sort of a "Bible Belt" around Jerusalem.
  Well, the "eight day miracle" version may be fine for the masses,
  But we can do better, and therefore, before the night passes,
  Let me give you the background to Chanukah as clash between classes.
In both the songsheet and the MIDI file, the general outline of the melody is followed by how it is adapted to the requirements of three of the verses
Cookie-Making Weather O
completed January 2006
posted January 2006
A celebration of the time of the year when we're most happy to turn on the oven and ask our neighbours in for hot cider and cookies.
  When the short, chilly days mean that leaves cannot grow
  And the low-hanging clouds mean a good chance of snow
  There is spicy hot cider for sipping together
  In cookie-making weather.
The Shepherd's Boon O
completed December 2008
posted December 2008
A depiction of an interesting, late Anglo-Saxon way for some tenant shepherds to celebrate Christmas.
  Though Christmas is a time of rest, the flocks require my care,
  That they may give us milk and meat and warm wool we can wear.
  And for the twelve midwinter days, when festive boughs are hung,
  In honour of our Saviourís birth, I get to keep the dung.
free mp3 download
The Holly Is The Ilex O
completed December 2009
posted December 2009
As an antidote to songs that intepret the features of the holly plant through a Christian-symbol lens, a song that instead interprets the plant's features through a botanist's lens.
  Oh, the holly's an example of an angiosperm:
  For a plant producing flowers, that's the botanist's term.
  Therefore holly is a hardwood, unlike cedar or pine,
  In the prime classification lumber merchants assign.
free mp3 download
The Year That 'Old Christmas' Was New O
completed December 2014
posted December 2014
Highlights of the history of the conversion from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
  The real year sped by with the earth's revolution, the Julian year not so fast,
  The error just ten point nine minutes per year, but in sum, as each century passed,
  Three fourths of a day would be lost as the calendar failed to keep up with the sky,
  Till Greg'ry the Pope made some minor adjustments, before things went further awry.
Songsheet in E flat
Songsheet in C
MIDI in E flat
free mp3 download
Other possibilities on this page:
The Front Side of a Hare, The Moon and the Solstices

The life sciences: natural history, biology, medicine, agriculture, and ecology
Song Summary Resources
Nogies CreekO
completed 1979
posted February 2002
A true story of bullfrog research in southern Ontario, where Dr. Edwin Crossman studied the decline of the population at Nogies Creek (no apostrophe). This song is included on the CD "Together Again" by Michael Cooney (June 2002).
  Some things we learn by measurement. Some things we learn by chance.
  We've learned that water lily pads are not their favourite plants...
    Tell me, why does the bullfrog begin to go courting?
    Is it something in the water? Is it something in the sky?
    Is it daylight getting longer? River current growing stronger?
    Do not ask me. I'm the expert, but I cannot tell you why.
MIDI as notated
MIDI in a wind quintet arrangement
Free mp3 download
The Toads and the TruckO
completed August 1984
posted July 2001
A highly-selective history of the alterations which humans have caused to the landscape of Great Britain, as seen from the viewpoint of the toads sharing the land with them.
  Come sit for a while as a tale I unravel,
  Concerning the toads that sit out on the gravel
  Or concrete or asphalt where vehicles travel
  And sometimes get struck by a lorry.
MIDI as notated
MIDI in a string quartet arrangement
Free mp3 download
The Song of the Túngara Frog O
completed March 1990
posted December 2002
The sad-but-true story of a tropical frog species whose mating call also attracts amphibiverous bats, that call also represented musically within the tune.
  Therefore, the male has a call that's unique,
  Seeking mates in a water-filled hollow:
  It starts with a whine of a descending pitch,
  During which none to six short clicks follow.
    Ay [click click] Ay Ay Ay Ay [click click click click click]
    Ay [click click] Ay Ay Ay Ay [click click click click click]
    Ay [click click] Ay Ay Ay Ay [click click click click click]
    Ay [click click] Ay Ay Ay Ay [click click click click click click]
Songsheet Large print version
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Free mp3 download
Hermes and AphroditeO
completed 1991
posted March 2001
An explanation of the sex life of the earthworm and a discussion of the worms' importance to soil ecology. Once I had discovered the truth of my jesting claim that "hermaphrodite" was a combination of the names "Hermes" and "Aphrodite", I felt compelled to research and write this song.
  Each worm has all the organs to participate in sex. It
  Produces sperm in segment ten,while through fifteen they exit.
  Receptacles in nine and ten receive the sperm of mating,
  While in thirteen, the eggs, still immature, remain in waiting.
    Though earthworms, one by one, are small, together they are mighty,
    And every one heeds Hermes' call, for each is Aphrodite.
The Sloth and The MothO
completed August 1993
posted December 2001
An explanation of the intertwined destinies of Bradypus tridactylus, the three-toed sloth, and Bradipodicola hahneli, the moth that lives in its fur but does not bite it.
  Deep in the fur of the Bradypus, a third of an inch in size,
  Bradipodicola hahneli will crawl, though it rarely flies...
  Bloodsucking flies and mosquitoes may take nourishment from the sloth:
  These form a hematophageous guild that doesn't include the moth.
A Field Guide to Common STDs O
completed spring 1994
posted December 2008
An auditory only (sorry, no graphic images included) survey of some of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases.
  Your private parts have crevices. They're moist or fluid-filled,
  And, underneath your clothing, they are safe from getting chilled.
  So, when the private parts are joined, as many folks enjoy,
  They make a cozy corridor for germs to redeploy.
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format)
The Asteria March O
completed 1994
posted March 2003
A depiction of the biology of Asteria, a widely distributed genus of starfish.
  We have no favoured direction, lacking both tail and head.
  There is no blood in our bodies; we pump salt water instead.
    We are the stars of the sea.
    Five-pointed creatures are we.
    Oysters, beware of the arch
    When the Asteria march!
MIDI as notated
MIDI arranged for brass quintet with percussion
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
A Note of Thanks to Dr. ReesO
completed August 1994
posted December 2001
An explanation and celebration of the flexible sigmoidoscope, a valuable diagnostic device used in the early detection of colorectal cancer.
  Doctor Rees (colon): I'm writing this letter
  To thank you for what I have recently learned.
  After our talk, I now understand better.
  That would not be so, had you not been concerned.
  Needing more facts, I perused the collection
  The library keeps; I found quite a good book.
  So now, I know much about rectal inspection,
  Though rectums are places I rarely need look.
Free mp3 download
The Ex-Arboureal Porcupine Blues O
completed August 1995
posted February 2005
A 12-bar blues on a subject rarely addressed in that form: the role of the porcupine in forest ecology.
  Here's the situation I want you to consider if you please: (2x)
  Now, it seems that porcupines are accidentally falling out of trees.
  It's been happening for a while, as a search through museums has revealed: (2x)
  One finds lots of skeletons with evidence of fractures that have healed.
  One might hypothesize falling would make them ill (2x)
  Through infection secondary to the self-impalement on a quill.
  Well, that's not the case, for the lubricant that helps a quill glide (2x)
  Through the flesh of an attacker is also a bactericide.
MIDI of the shape of the melody plus how that shape becomes the first verse
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the whole song
Free mp3 download
The Buffalo, the Beetle, the Bouncing Kangaroo, and the Bufo marinus Cane ToadO
completed August 1995
posted September 2002
The true story of the successful importation of African dung beetles to Australia to cope with the dung left by the cattle industry.
  If you're a biophysicist, then you can calculate
  That beasts can't move efficiently above a certain weight
  By hopping on their hind legs, and the mass this rule allows
  Means kangaroos cannot evolve to be the size of cows.
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Free mp3 download
Professor BarleycornO
completed August 1996
posted January 2001
A contribution to the John Barleycorn repertoire that alternates highly anthropomorphic and highly scientific approaches to the culture and brewing of barley.
  When by the light of morning she could finally be seen,
  Embarrassed by her nakedness, she donned a coat of green.
  Of all the coloured wavelengths that are through the spectrum spread,
  The chloroplasts reflect the green, absorbing blue and red.
Free mp3 download
Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang)

completed August 1997
posted January 2001
A brief review of the biology and ecology of the slow loris, a primate living in Southeast Asia, one of the few mammals to defend itself by the use of poisonous secretions.
  When he has sex, it's the female
  Who must bear both of their weight.
  She hangs beneath a strong branch
  And he hangs from her as they mate.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as sung (well, closer, anyway)
Free .mp3 download
The Flypaper Frog O
completed November 2006
posted January 2007
An account of the natural history of, recent news about, and possible future biomedical utility of Notaden bennetti, an Australian frog also known as the "crucifix toad" and related to the various pobblebonks.
  Closely related is Notaden bennetti,
   otherwise known as the crucifix toad,
  Which is more properly classified as a frog,
   as the taxonomist Schlegel once showed.
  Although its back bears a cross of fine warts,
   it is not for its looks that we study its skin,
  For it exudes a remarkable substance for
   snaring of insects that bite their way in.
Free mp3 download
Ontario Garnet and Yukon Gold O
completed June 2009
posted June 2009
The story of a late 20th century contribution to Canada's long history of deriving value from resources that must be dug up from the ground.
  Have you heard of Garnet Johnston? Do you recognize his name?
  Let us raise him from obscurity to well-deserved fame,
  For one dime of every toonie, when Canadian spuds are sold,
  Goes to purchase his most popular creation, Yukon Gold.
(no MIDI yet)
Saunders and Son O
completed January 2015
posted June 2017
The story of how William Saunders and Charles Edward Saunders together developed the spectacularly successful wheat variety Marquis as the 19th century turned over to the 20th.
  Among all his projects, the one of most value, should ever success be complete
  Was finding a faster-maturing replacement for Canadaís most-planted wheat.
  We grew Halychanka, Ukranian bred, but in Canada known as Red Fife;
  The frost on the prairies too often disrupted maturing plantsí cycle of life.
Stream from SoundCloud
How the Terrier Got His Bark O
completed July 2020
posted May 2021
The explanation for why terriers bark so much, along with much other material related to the word "terrier".
  So, a dog was bred for fierceness, unafraid of fox or rat
  Or, when large enough, of badgers. Badgers in their habitat
  Typically eat slugs and earthworms, voles and hegehogs, also fruit,
  Fleeing underground for safety. Brave dogs follow in pursuit.
Other possibilities on this page:
Spring Will Come, Capsicum Annuum, Long Is the Winter Till The Sun's Return, The Holly is the Ilex, The Language of the Bees, Wren 2K, The Front Side of a Hare, 21 Orphans

The behavioural sciences
Song Summary Resources
The Taylor and Creelman Procedure PEST: Parameter Estimation by Sequential Testing O
completed 1999
posted November 2004
A translation into song, posted for the benefit of the very small number of people who will actually understand it, of a historically important computerized method of determining psychophysical thresholds. Doug Creelman, one of the two developers of this method, was my PhD thesis supervisor from 1969 through 1975.
  Taylor and Creelman said, "Start testing somewhere
  And track the performance rate trial to trial:
  And, if it is not at the target, change signals;
  If it's at the target, just stay there a while."

Songs of Safe Sex
Song Summary Resources
The Chief Counselor Waltz O
completed 1989
posted May 2003
An only slightly fictionalized story of a camp counselor's successful strategy for subtly informing his adolescent campers about the location of emergency supplies.
  John, the chief counselor, said "Give them their freedom.
  Kids bounce back well from a fall or a hit.
  We've got repair supplies if we should need 'em",
  And opened the lid of the camp first aid kit.
MIDI, melody only
MIDI, arrangement
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Three Important Safety Lessons Found in Fortune Cookies O
completed summer 1990
posted May 2003
An encouragement of proper personal hygiene and behaviour, in the form of less than a fortnight's adventures visiting the narrator's favourite Chinese restaurant.
  But I need your help, and your role in this song
  Is noting each lesson as it comes along
  And singing it back to me, word after word,
  Exactly as you have just heard.
  Let's do one for practice. Now, one verse might end
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Other possibilities on this page:
A Field Guide to Common STDs

The physical sciences: physics, chemistry, and astronomy
Song Summary Resources
The SolutionO
completed May 2001
posted May 2001
Highlights of the work of five men who received Nobel prizes in physics for their contributions to quantum theory during the first half century of the prize's existence (plus one who received his prize in chemistry), culminating with the daring prevention of two of their prize medals' confiscation during the German occupation of Denmark during World War II.
  Discretely quantized are the orbits they can occupy.
  When energy's emitted or absorbed, it's only by
  Transition jumps between these orbits, of which there are few.
  Between one pair, the energy might correspond to blue,
  Between another, yellow, and the spectrum thus could spread
  Up to the ultraviolet, or down to infrared.
Free mp3 download
The Moon and the Solstices O
completed December 2005
posted December 2005
A summary of Giant Impact Theory, the proposal that Earth's natural moon resulted from the impact of a smaller planet with Earth, based on the state of research in 2005.
  The Earth had formed its lighter mantle on its heavy core
  When elsewhere, such as at its point L4,
  A smaller planet that had formed, perhaps one tenth its size,
  Left synchrony and drifted to demise
  By crashing into Earth.
Free mp3 download
Low Density O
originally completed January 1977
revised September 2016
posted September 2016
A series of calculations which explain the average density of the universe by comparison with a potato chip, a hydrogen-filled ballon in the shape of panty hose, and an airplane trip long enough to reach the moon.
  Well, astronomers say that the sunís a star and the earth is round, not flat,
  And outer space ainít a perfect vacuum ó itís more dense than that.
  But the numbers stating just how dense leave average folk confused,
  So Iím gonnaí try a different tack than the one who told me used.
  Now, if youíre someone who hears statistics, glazes over, and fidgets,
  Relax! For Iím gonnaí limit these to two significant digits,
  And even those will be explained through images concrete,
  Like deep fried slices of potato or coverings for your feet.
Free mp3 download of the earlier, 1997 version
Other possibilities on this page:
The Year That 'Old Christmas' Was New

Reinterpretations of traditional ballads (in the sense of "songs that narrate a single episode")
For a discussion of how the term "ballad" is defined, see the middle of The Wayback Machine's archive of the Green Man Review's page about the Child ballads, starting at the long paragraph beginning "So why is ...", or else see the page about Ballads by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania English Department.
Song Summary Resources
The Red and Gold SailO
completed Autumn 1988
posted January 2001
A reinterpretation of Gypsy Davy (Child 200), with references to current social and ecological concerns. Marie-Lynn Hammond has claimed that her song "All The Horses Running" is the only one to combine horses, sex, and religion, but this song provides a counterexample to that claim.
  One servant denied but the other replied
    Now that she is gone
  My wife left to sail at the bold Gypsy's side.
    She's gone with Gypsy Davy.
MIDI as notated
MIDI arranged for string quartet
Captain Wedderburn Answers Nine New QuestionsO
completed February 1996
posted January 2001
A reinterpretation of the riddle song Captain Wedderburn's Courtship (Child 46), perhaps best known to North Americans of sufficient age through Ian and Sylvia's 1964 recording of the Canadian variant Captain Woodstock's Courtship. In this new version, the questions are consistent with the knowledge and sensibilities of the late 20th century.
  One winter's eve, George Wedderburn, a keeper of the peace,
  In plainclothes, though he held the rank of captain of police,
  Was waiting for the head atop his ale to subside,
  When, in the mirror behind the bar, he Roslyn Sinclair spied.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as the first verse is sung (well, closer, anyway)
Barbara EllingO
completed Summer 1997
posted January 2001
The further adventures of the under-appreciated woman first met in Child 84, now spending her days working in the financial services sector.
  Her mood was bad, just like the soybean crop.
  She thought she'd force the issue.
  William kept on keying as she came through his door
  And said "I miss you".
The AccidentO
completed August 2000
posted January 2001
A reinterpretation of a well-known traditional ballad (but not one in Child's collection). To say more would be to spoil it.
  We both had our reasons for wishing her dead.
  Our reasons were different. Their cause was the same.
The BlackmailerO
completed September 2000
posted January 2001
A story that begins in the world of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight (Child 4) and ends in the world of endangered species recovery, by way of blackmail and architectural design.
  But he was so persuasive, and it was a lovely day.
    I made a big mistake. I won't deny it.
The Two Webmasters (Child 44)O
completed October 2000
posted January 2001
A reinterpretation of The Two Magicians (Child 44), set in cyberspace and illustrating Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  She clicked the icon for a chat in Birmingham, UK,
  While he logged on in Canberra, a half a world away.
The Shipwright's DaughterO
completed June 2002
posted August 2002
A retelling, set in our own time in and around Vancouver BC, of the story of "James Harris" or "The Demon Lover" (Child 243), more commonly known as "The House Carpenter".
  My sons were three and one that day. I heard the doorbell chiming.
  The memory is etched so deep, the kind one can't forget.
  My hands engaged with diapers, I yelled out, "Hold on! I'm coming!".
  How strange his words in greeting me, the words "Well met, well met."
Young WilliamO
completed March 2017
posted August 2021
A retelling of "Broomfield Hill" (Child 43) in which a young woman wins a bet about her virginity through logic rather than magic.
  Now, everyone knew that at solving mathematical problems Young William was skilled.
  A reader of Euclid, of Gauss, and of Newton Ė with what thoughts his mind must be filled!
  He had for his tutor at Oxford Charles Dodgson, among the achievements of whom
  Were works on both logic and chance, plus two novels for which heíd used his nom de plume.
Other possibilities on this page:
Where Have All the Cherries Gone?

Other story songs
The Front Side of a Hare O
completed 1981
posted July 2004
A reflection of one of Aesop's fables, set in a cold land such as northern Ontario.
  With measured step we tread our way among these mossy rocks
  Where glacial ice foretold this fearful clime.
  Through half the year we still our hearts to live by frozen clocks;
  We thus have learned to stretch the cords of time.
  Proceeding towards eternity through years beyond my share,
  Although I've stored in memory some sights the world calls rare,
  I think that I shall never see the front side of a hare.
MIDI as notated, just the melody
MIDI as notated, in a two-voice, crunchy arrangement
MIDI arranged with a harp accompaniment
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
Norfolk IslandO
completed January 1988
posted September 2002
A composite of the histories of several men, sent from Australia to Norfolk Island as recidivists, in the years leading to an unsuccessful prisoners' revolt in 1834.
  Chained and rotting between decks,
  How we longed to join the wrecks
  That were littered on the coral we crossed over,
  For to break upon the reef
  And to drown would bring relief
  That new terrors would we never more discover.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as the first verse is sung (well, closer, anyway)
The True History of Mary Anne TalbotO
lyrics completed Autumn 1990
tune rewritten 1991
posted March 2001
In response to the various joyous, rousing "cross-dressing sailor" ballads, in which a young woman disguises herself as a man in order to join the army or navy, sometimes to follow a lover whom she eventually shoots for his unfaithfulness (the reward for which is a promotion in rank), and lives happily ever after, the true story of a woman, born in 1778, who served in both the army and navy of Britain disguised as a man.
  That was no idle tale, fabricated to amuse,
  For I was made of flesh and blood, to hurt, to bleed, to bruise.
MIDI as notated
MIDI of verses 1 and 10 as sung
Weaver of WoolO
completed 1993
posted January 2003
A song based on a fable about (but not by) Aesop, concerning a family's inability to solve the riddle of the late father's will.
  What kind of lawyer would draft such a will?
  Father was not himself; father was ill.
 "Give to each child, however well blessed,
  One equal share that cannot be possessed."
Nightingale and Crow O
completed summer 2003
posted December 2003
A story of a singing contest between apparently unmatched contestants, obtained through a properly-credited chain of storytellers.
  Now, I got it from Marilyn, and she got it from Vince.
    Luscinia megarhynchos
  He got it from Aarene, who does not know what's happened since.
    Corvus corone corone
  Aarene got it from Eric, who perhaps did not foresee
  That it might spread through E-mail, so it's not an STD,
  But it's equally contagious. Now you're getting it from me.
    Luscinia megarhynchos Corvus corone corone
Federigo Alberighi and Monna Giovanna O
completed April 2006
posted July 2006
A straightforward adaptation, retaining the original 14th century Florentine setting, of a story from Boccaccio's Decameron.
  When Federigo was a young and foolish knight, his fortune was not great.
  In Florence heíd a handsome, modest house; outside of town, a small estate.
  And with a hopeless love for Monna Giovanna, how fiercely did his young heart burn!
  Such love this chaste and virtuous wife would neither acknowledge nor return.
21 Orphans O
completed February 2008
posted October 2008
An account of the famous Balmis Expedition of 1803, in which King Carlos IV used previously uninfected orphan boys to maintain the potency of an infection deliberately being exported from Spain to Spanish America.
  Now their King needed them. All was made ready,
  Provisions stowed safely, equipment inspected.
  Then, when the hour of departure was imminent,
  By the staff doctors two boys were infected.
Free mp3 download
The Wrestler O
completed March 2013
posted February 2016
An adaptation of a Brothers Grimm tale (KHM 177) about a young man who saves Death from a vicious attack and later succumbs to dangerous temptations in his personal life.
  He tried to lead a double life, continuing to train,
  To enter in the tournaments again,
  While money from endorsements let him buy two fancy cars
  And drugs sold in the parking lots of bars.
Day Ten O
completed March 2013
posted February 2016
An adaptation of a Brothers Grimm tale (KHM 176) about God's decision to assign normal lifespans to all animals, including man.
  That seemed like the right size project for completing on Day Nine.
  God directed all the creatures to assemble in a line.
  As each beast or bird passed by the desk where God sat with his slate,
  He thought hard about its lifetyle, and he granted it a fate.
A Dish of Pickled Tea O
completed March 2019
posted January 2021
Two stories, one a teaching tale and the other an actual court case, from the Burmese legal system.
  As the Princess had directed, so the Headman ruled, then he
  Brought the case to its conclusion with a dish of pickled tea.
  Now, if you are not from Burma, then you may not understand
  Just how pickled tea, a type of salad, functioned in that land.
Other possibilities on this page:
all of the reinterpretations of traditional ballads, Walking West on Barton Street, The Origins of Chanukah ..., Where Have All the Cherries Gone?, The Alpha Beta Waltz, The Solution, Sweet Mary Rose, Ontario Garnet and Yukon Gold

The big issues -- political, social, environmental
Song Summary Resources
The Houston Toad O
completed 1980
posted April 2006
An old, sad story: Boy meets girl. Girl tells boy about toads. Boy writes love song about toads instead of about girl.
  The companies think that I'm going to believe
  That an oil well looks like a tree,
  Disguised with green paint in an Astroturf lawn
  That's been thrown down to hide the debris.
Just the melody
A harmonized arrangement
Low FlushO
Original version:
  completed August 1991
  posted March 2001
Classroom-friendly version:
  completed April 2011
  posted January 2013
An exploration of the little-known interconnections among water conservation, vegetarianism, hydroelectric power generation, and post-graduate education.
  An ordinary toilet flushes seven gallons,
  A not inconsiderable amount.
  I've got a low-flush toilet and a high-fiber diet,
  And I make every gallon count.
Original version:
  Free .mp3 download
Canadian classroom-friendly revision (metric measurements):
The Last RepairO
completed 1991
posted April 2001
A tribute to a well-loved possession that must finally be replaced because it can no longer be maintained properly.
  I have confidence in those three skilled men
    Leave it in the shop, boys;
  Who could make it work just like new again.
    Yes, boys, leave it there.
  But what use to me are their skills and arts
  When it's obsolete and they can't get parts?
    Now too much is torn, bent, or simply worn;
    It has had its last repair.
Do Socks Count as Underwear?O
completed 1995
posted July 2001
A song about the difficulty of reusing and recycling socks, including those that no longer form pairs, that have seen better days.
  And sometimes an Argyle, where it won't show,
  Develops a hole that, if left, will just grow.
  I have not the skill to reknit it with yarn,
  And leave a thick lump of crossed wool where I darn
Ferryland, Newfoundland
ca. 1500-1993O
completed August 1997
posted February 2001
A song about the origin, history, and ultimate decline of the Newfoundland cod fishery, organized around the underwater archeology at one of the primary historic sites.
  Here, in the pool that forms Ferryland Harbour,
  We've no fine mosaics, no emeralds, no thrones.
  Still, we find traces of races of men
  Who once followed the cod and discarded its bones.
MIDI of just the bare melody
MIDI of an arrangement for oboe, harp, and bassoon
Free mp3 download
Daniel's Diet in Babylonian CaptivityO
completed May 2000
posted April 2001
A secular Jewish vegetarian gospel number based on a biblical text.
  Though Daniel was his Hebrew name, they called him Belteshazzar,
  His kin Meschach, Abednego, and Shadrach -- not in that order.
  When offered royal dainties, they told the king's steward, "No, sir;
  Whatever Nebuchadnezzar eats, we're sure it isn't kosher."
Other possibilities on this page:
Nogies Creek, Walking West on Barton Street, The Toads and the Truck, The Buffalo, the Beetle, the Bouncing Kangaroo, and the Bufo marinus Cane Toad, Norfolk Island, The Language of the Bees, Wren 2K, The Origins of Chanukah, Where Have All the Cherries Gone?,

The textures of adult life

Song Summary Resources
If I Didn't Have You O
completed some time around 1970
posted January 2003
My shortest song.
  If I didn't have you, then I'd be blue.
  If you didn't have me, then you'd be blee.
Walking West On Barton Street O
completed August 1981
posted October 2005
A song that blurs the distinction between involuntary service and non-profit sector executive recruitment.
  I was going for a stroll,
    Walking West on Barton Street,
  On a tragic, hot, and fateful August day,
  When I chanced upon two women,
    And their voices were so sweet,
  But they stole the best part of my life away.
    I was pressed into service, though no time I could afford,
    And I spent my next three years on the Karma Co-op Board.
MIDI of the first verse solo, followed by the second verse with a somewhat dolorous chorus joining in
Free mp3 download
The Baking LessonO
completed April 1982
posted June 2002
An encounter between an implicitly male narrator of little experience and an explicitly female, experienced baker, leading to the mutually successful creation of a loaf of bread.
  I asked her why a frown should cross the face of one so sweet.
  She said that many days had passed since she had had a treat.
  I said I'd gladly treat her, so she smiled at me and xaid,
 "Why don't you come to my place then and help me bake some bread?"
What Shall We Do With the Time?O
completed spring 1986
posted February 2002
Written in gentle response to a then-recent surge of feminist songs, a song about the unique contribution that men can make to positive movements for social change.
  What shall we do with the time that we save
   as we let our beards grow long?
  We who wake up and do not stop to shave,
   shall these minutes we save make us strong?
  When the sun brings us light and the day must be faced,
  If these minutes are lost, they cannot be replaced.
  What shall we do with ours that they not go to waste
   as we let our beards grow long?
Parting as FriendsO
completed fall 1986
posted March 2001
A benediction for a couple who have decided to separate with regret rather than rancour.
  May you share one last harvest of basil and thyme
  From the summer's warm, generous sun.
  May the fruit of the apple tree planted by two
  Be not bitter when eaten by one.
MIDI as notated
MIDI as sung, arranged for oboe and strings
MIDI with lyrics (.kar format) of the same arrangement
The Lessons of Age O
completed spring 1987
posted December 2002
A round in three parts, commenting on the conflicting moral status of "a round".
  Waist grows more thick. Hair grows more thin.
  Age has taught me many lessons of this world I'm living in.
  Singing a round is considered a virtue, but sleeping around is considered a sin.
From Dover to CalaisO
completed 1988
very slightly revised 1996
posted March 2001
A sea shantey for modern times, set on a Hovercraft when its era may be ending.
  I thought I heard the old man cry
    Blow hard and hover!
  "Rev up the fans; it's time to fly"
    From Dover to Calais.
Why Should I Blow Out the Candle?O
completed 1989
posted December 2001
Written in response to the traditional song "Blow the Candle Out", a celebration of the lifelong pleasure of viewing one's truelove by candlelight across the landscape of the bedpillows.
  Early in August, it's not until nine
  That the lingering sun disappears
  We climb into bed, having finished the wine,
  And I drink in your twenty-three years.
    So why should I blow out the candle
    When it might shed its light for a while
    And I've no other treasure as great as the pleasure
    Of lying here every night, seeing you smile.
A Mildly Luddite Love SongO
completed 1992
posted March 2001
A lament for the good old days, when checking your mail involved opening a brass box to see if it contained any paper, and much of what it did contain was either personal letters or at least not unsolicited.
  The mailbox beside my door is made of solid brass.
  Two thirds of what I find in there is sent to me third class.
    I get E-mail, voice mail, cellular calls and fax.
    I'd rather get an old-fashioned rag paper note with a spot of sealing wax.
Ev'rywoman's Most Secret Fantasy, Reveal'dO
completed 1995
posted September 2001
A sharing of the knowledge, gained through painstaking research and effort, of what every (modern) woman really wants more than anything else.
  I like the lack of balance at my office:
  Three other single women, thirteen men,
  Of whom but one is gay and two are married,
  Which, by my calculations, leaves us ten.
My Song Deserves a Good Chair O
completed spring 1996
posted December 2002
A song for those occasions when the number of people crowding into a room to sing exceeds the number of above-ground seats available.
  The best seats have gone to those first through the door;
  I cannot deny that that's fair.
  I'm perfectly happy to sit on the floor,
  But my song deserves a good chair.
Sweet Mary Rose O
completed spring 1999
posted December 2002
A love song with lots of vegetables, set in England.
  The colourful gems are not rubies in gold
  Where peppers, plums, pumpkins, and parsnips are sold.
  Each evening she saves me the best of what grows:
  The greengrocer's daughter, my sweet Mary Rose.
Other possibilities on this page:
The Alpha Beta Waltz, Cookie-Making Weather, A Note of Thanks to Dr. Rees, A Field Guide to Common STDs, Captain Wedderburn Answers Nine New Questions, Barbara Elling, The Two Webmasters, The Last Repair, Do Socks Count as Underwear?, A Dish of Pickled Tea

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