Music and English

She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain is a classic folk song. Its simple, repeating words and melody make it ideal for sing-alongs. It has been recorded countless times by folk singers ranging from Pete Seeger to Buffy Saint- Marie and is a perennial favorite children's song. But where did it come from? The provenance of any particular folk song is often hard to know—and She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain is no exception—but lyrics often give us a clue.

THE LYRICS:
She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain is a particularly good example of a folksong since its simple lyrics (only a single short sentence) permit easy, spontaneous invention. The lyrics given are only a small sampling of the most popular ones.
She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. (Toot, toot!)
She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. (Toot, toot!)
She'll be comin' 'round the mountain,
she'll be comin' 'round the mountain,
She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes.
She'll be drivin' six white horses when she comes. (Whoa back!)(repeat)
Oh, we'll all go out to meet her when she comes. (Hi, Babe)(repeat)
She'll be wearing red pajamas when she comes. (Scratch, scratch!)(repeat)
And she'll have to sleep with Grandma when she comes. (Snore)(repeat)
Oh, we'll all have chicken and dumplings when she comes. (Yum,yum!)(repeat)

Classroom Exercise 1: Distribute the lyrics to She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain and discuss possible stories which might have prompted them. Who is coming around the mountain anyway? Why does she have six white horses? And why on earth is she wearing red pajamas?

Discussion: The lyrics in this case probably refer to the arrival of a train ("toot, toot") or covered wagon ("she'll be driving six white horses"), an exciting and important event in small town, rural America. Such an occasion would mean the arrival of visitors and special deliveries. The lyrics also suggest a family setting, perhaps a relative (Auntie Babe?) visiting a large family (thus "she'll have to sleep with grandma"). The rural or country setting is also hinted at by the reference to "chicken and dumplings," a traditional home-style dish.

Because of their fl exible structure, the lyrics for She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain have been reworked many times to suit all manner of protest cries, patriotic songs and commercial jingles. New lyrics can be easily fi tted to the familiar meody. Several examples are given to the right.

Halloween:
She'll be riding on a broomstick when shecomes. (repeat)
Baseball:
He'll be hittin' lots of homers in the game.(repeat)
Food:
We'll be eatin' chips and sodas till we burst.(repeat)
School:
But the dogie ate my homework, it's the truth.(repeat)

Classroom Exercise 2: Discuss the rhythmic structure of the lyrics for She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain. Where do the accents fall? Have students invent new lyrics and sing them as a class.

She'll be    (short–short)
com-in'    (long–short)
'round the    (long–short)

moun-tain    (long–short)
when she    (long–short)
comes.    (long)

 

 

Discussion: The lyrics for this song are very adaptable words. To substitute a phrase, choose lyrics which fi t the total syllable count (11 syllables) and which follow a mostly long–short pattern of accents (see the break-down of the syllables above). Use the frame lyrics "she'll be………when she comes" or create a new sentence from scratch.

The lyrics of She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain also reinforce its folk roots. They are written in a way which suggests the pronunciation of spoken colloquial English using 'contraction' and 'reduction.'

Classroom Exercise 3: Find the contractions in the lyrics to She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain and write out their complete equivalents. List some other common contractions and their written-out equivalents.

Discussion: A contraction shortens a phrase and replaces the missing letters with an apostrophe. They are also a way of writing a word or phrase which refl ects natural speaking. Contracts can be used in advertisements, in songs and perhaps in email, but are used sparingly in formal written English. So the lyrics to She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain are defnitely meant to sound spoken (or sung) and not read.

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