Free download of Malvina Reynolds songbooks

Nancy Schimmel is the daughter of Malvina Reynolds. On her website, she is offering free downloads of her mother’s songbooks The Malvina Reynolds Songbook, There’s Music in the Air, and Tweedles and Foodles for Young Noodles.

With these songbooks, you can get lead sheets for Malvina Reynolds’s most famous songs — for free. I’m especially pleased to see this, since I lost my copy of There’s Music in the Air during our move from California to Massachusetts.

The Malvina Reynolds Songbook has “God Bless the Grass” (p. 29), “It Isn’t Nice” (p. 40), “Little Boxes” (p. 44), “Magic Penny” (p.50), “Turn Around” (p. 81), and “What Have They Done to the Rain” (p. 90).

There’s Music in the Air has all of these except “It Isn’t Nice,” but it also includes “You Can’t Make a Turtle Come Out” (p. 94). This songbook also has the lesser-known but hilarious song “Let Us Come In” a.k.a. “The Party-Crashers’ Carol” (p. 48). (Somewhere I have a 3-part madrigal-type arrangement of this latter song, which I’d be happy to share to anyone who wants it.)

Tweedles and Foodles has songs I’ve never heard before. It’s also unusual in that it has both guitar chords and simple piano accompaniment. Looks like there’s some fun songs in there — “Rabbit Dance” looks like fun, and maybe I’ll learn it.

Thank you, Nancy Schimmel, for your generosity in giving away your mother’s music for free!

Ecojustice and music education

I’ve started reading an article about combining ecojustice education with music education. It’s kind of theoretical, but there’s good content buried beneath the academic prose style. I’m fascinated with the topic, because our ecojustice camp curriculum includes singing and natural soundscapes as crucial curriculum components.

Below is the abstract of the article (followed by a full citation and a link to the full article):

“Children who are supported throughout childhood and adolescence to both
maintain their sense of wonder in nature, and honor and explore their
wild human nature, are well positioned to mature into soulcentric adults
capable of living into their purpose in service to both their culture
and the whole of life. However, our society’s ecocidal culture and
unjust institutions often replicate oppressions and promote egocentric
behaviors that preclude thriving. Additionally, many children are
alienated from nature and are thought to have nature-deficit disorder,
which can include both mental and physical maladies. In this article I
explore conceptions of ecojustice education to further illustrate
pathways for curriculum development in music education that might
encourage children and adolescents to maintain their sense of wonder in
nature, fully develop their sensory capacities, support their mental and
emotional wellbeing, attune more carefully to their wild nature and
soul’s purpose, and contribute to the environmental and social
commons — all which might support human flourishing and the continued
survival of our species.”

Citation: “Music Education for Surviving and Thriving: Cultivating Children’s Wonder, Senses, Emotional Wellbeing, and Wild Nature as a Means to Discover and Fulfill Their Life’s Purpose,” by Tawnya D. Smith, Music Education, School of Music, College of Fine Arts, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States. Frontiers in Education, 16 April 2021, Sec. Educational Psychology, vol. 6, 2021 — — Link to the article.

Choral music resource

A musician friend just told me about Amidon Community Music, which offers a wide selection of SATB music. Many look suitable for use in UU congregations, and the website has testimonials from UU congregations. Prices are reasonable: US$5.00 for five copies. Of interest to congregations with a limited music budget, they also offers free sheet music downloads.

You have to enter your name, address, and email to access the free downloads; I haven’t yet taken the time to do that. But I’ve seen one of their arrangements, “Love Call Me Home” by Peggy Seeger, and it looks pretty good. My musician friend recommends everything they produce.


I was talking with one of the elders in our congregation this afternoon. Somehow, we got to talking about classical music. She happened to know a great deal about opera, and asked me if I knew Ileana Cotrubas. I didn’t. She played me a short recording.

Now, I tend to prefer mezzo-sopranos to sopranos, and non-operatic sopranos to operatic sopranos; give me Jan De Gaetani or Catherine King over Beverly Sills or Maria Callas any day. So I did not expect to like Ileana Cotrubas.

But, to my surprise, I really liked the recordings she played for me: a lovely warm voice that didn’t get brittle on the high notes; extraordinary articulation; not too much vibrato. So I’ve just spent way too much time on Youtube listening to Cotrubas — like this recording of her singing an aria from La Boheme.

This reminded me of a visit Carol and I paid to my father in his last year. He was wheelchair bound, couldn’t talk; it was hard to know how much cognitive ability he had left. He had always been a real opera buff, so Carol and I decided to play some Youtube recordings of opera for him. I found a recording of Beverly Sills, and started to play it. Dad’s face turned into a big scowl. “Oops, sorry Dad,” I said. “I forgot that you don’t like Beverly Sills.” Actually, it was worse than that, he actively disliked her, saying her voice was too hard or brittle or something, I’ve forgotten exactly what now. So I quickly found a recording of Maria Callas; he always liked Maria Callas. His scowl went away, and we spent several happy minutes listening to Maria Callas. (Mind you, I don’t care for Maria Calls, but I was happy that we found something that gave Dad pleasure.)

It’s funny how I, like my father, have these visceral, unreasoning, and very strong preferences regarding vocal quality. There are some singers that I want to listen to, and other singers — as much as I might appreciate their artistry or expertise — that I’d rather avoid. This applies to speakers, too. So, for example, there are some ministers whose artistry I admire, but I don’t want to listen to them; and there are other ministers to whom I’m always ready to listen.

My mother would have said, “They can’t help their voice,” excusing those people whose voices I don’t like. Sorry, Mom. It’s completely irrational, but there it is. And — sorry, Dad, that I ever thought you’d want to listen to Beverly Sills….

500 years of love songs

If you’re in the San Francisco area, the quartet I sing with will be singing twice in the next few days. On Friday, we’ll be at The Heritage on Laguna St.; contact them directly for exact time and location on their campus. Then on Monday, we’ll be singing in the Ferry Terminal Building beginning at 5 p.m.; we’re never sure exactly where we’ll be able to set up in the Ferry Terminal (we don’t want to disturb the friendly merchants there), so look around for us. Our program is “Five Hundred Years of Love Songs,” with music from the early Renaissance to Meghan Trainor, in genres ranging from classical to jazz, pop to country.

Music for democracy

How do we get rid of the rancor and hatred that was stirred up by the recent presidential election, and rebuild democracy?

How about with music? Here are four examples, in chronological order:

1. Sing with Ocupella Nov. 30: Their announcement reads: “In response to the election results and ongoing turmoil, Ocupella and other singers are creating a public musical gathering for those who want to act in a positive and powerful way in response to the new era in our country. The long and noble tradition of song fueling social movements lives on, and will live on. We hope you will want to be part of it. Our next ‘Singing For Us All’ will be Wednesday evening, November 30, 4:45-6 PM at Ashby BART. ALL VOICES ARE WELCOME! Lyrics provided.”

2. Sing with Michèle Dec. 2: Michèle writes: “I’m hosting a special post-election #MeetupAmerica gathering this Friday, December 2, at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church on Washington at Curtis, in Albany. The idea behind #MeetupAmerica is, ‘No matter how you feel about the election outcome, we can all agree that democracy works best when we don’t just post online but come together face-to-face… Don’t underestimate the power of community.’ Come with a list of your fears, hopes and present joys. We’ll share our lists and sing, at the very least, This Little Light of Mine. Children are absolutely welcome. We’ll start at 7 p.m. and end the structured part of the evening before 8 p.m. The sanctuary is ours until 8:30 p.m…..” Let Michele know if you’re going to attend; there’s contact info on her Web site.

3. Sing for Democracy Dec. 4: This is the group I’m helping to organize, and here’s our announcement:

Join us for a song circle Sunday, December 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. on the 1st Sunday of the month at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto. We welcome all singers, as well as guitars, ukuleles, banjos, and any other instrument that goes well with singing.

Why we sing together:
— After the rancorous and divisive 2016 election, some of us felt a need for more music, and more community, in our lives
— We wanted to bring together several musical communities
— You can never have enough singing

What we sing:
We’re kinda making this up as we go along, but here’s what we have so far:
— We’ll have copies of the “Rise Up Singing” songbook
— You can bring your own songs to share — bring a dozen lyrics sheets or lead sheets, or teach simple songs by ear
— We’ll go around the circle, each in turn choosing a song to lead

4. Inauguration Eve concert Jan. 19: Bruce is arranging a concert the night before the presidential inauguration. He’s working on an interfaith gospel choir, a gay men’s chorus, and music from several different faith communities. I brought Bruce’s idea to Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice tonight (thanks to Kristi), and they’re going to see if they can add their support.

So this raises a question:

How are YOU using the arts to resist hatred and build democracy?

“All you, to whom adversity has dealt a final blow”

As we think about the the necessity of rebuilding a foundering democracy, a democracy currently dominated by rancor and hate, I can’t help thinking about one of my favorite songs for activists.

Back on December 24, 2008, I wrote about how this song literally saved someone’s life; and how it is a song that could serve as a non-theistic anthem. But I recently found a Youtube video of Liam Clancy singing this song — Clancy was best known for his rendition of the anti-war song “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” — and perhaps what he says is the best possible introduction to the song:

“I think it was Bertolt Brecht [says Clancy] who said one time, ‘With a man’s dying breath, he should be prepared to make a fresh start.’ That’s what this next song is about, although it’s supposedly about a ship that went down in the sixties, a ship called the ‘Mary Ellen Carter.’ There’s a lovely last verse to it which is the moral of the whole thing. And it’s a verse that I will tell you because, like myself, you may get solace from it on occasions of tragedy… It says:

“‘All you, to whom adversity has dealt a final blow,
With smiling bastards lying to you, everywhere you go,
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain,
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

“‘Rise again, rise again,
Though your heart may be broken and your life about to end,
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.'”

And in a later post, I’ll write about some of the ways we can make democracy rise again.


Video still of Liam Clancy speaking

Above: Liam Clancy saying, “Rise again”; video still from “The Mary Ellen Carter” as sung by Clancy (click on the photo for Clancy’s rendition of the song).

Or to hear a video that first tells how the song saved Robert Cusik’s life, and then to hear Stan Rogers himself singing the song (Rogers starts singing at 1:35), click here.

Why you hate to sing in services

Do you hate to sing in worship services? I do.

And it’s not for the reason you might think: it’s not because the hymns or songs suck. Because even a suck-y song can sound great if it’s done well.

No, there other reasons I hate to sing in worship services. Some of those reasons are neatly summarized in a post by Kenny Lamm of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Here are Lamm’s nine reasons, which I have re-interpreted based on my experiences in Unitarian Universalist congregations:

1. I’m far less likely to sing if I don’t know the song. Yes, I can read music, but unless it’s a pretty straightforward song I’m not going to be able to sight-sing it. And just because a soloist with a microphone sings it doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to sing it the first time through, or even the tenth time through.

2. I’m not going to sing it if the song isn’t really suitable for congregational singing. Those syncopated rhythms that sound so nice when the professional musicians sing or play them? those melodies that go way up into the stratosphere? — most of us out in the congregation don’t have the chops to sing them.

3. I’m not going to be able to sing if the song is pitched to high. The average congregational singer is an untrained baritone or mezzo, which means the comfortable range for them is going to be A up about an octave and a half to E flat. However, if you pitch songs in the lower end of that range, the sopranos and tenors are going to complain; and if you pitch songs in the upper end of that range, the basses (me!) and the altos are going to complain. The best range for most congregations is going to be an octave from C to C. (By the way, Kenny Lamm gets this wrong in the original post; he pitches songs for baritones and mezzos, and forgets about the rest of us.)

4. When I can’t hear the people around me singing, it takes a lot of courage to actually sing, so I’ll only sing songs that I know well (and even then, I’ll be more tentative). That means if the accompanist is too loud, and drowns us out, I’m not going to be able to hear the people around me. And if the ceiling is too high, so all our voices get lost up there, I’m not going to be able to hear the people around me. This is one of the reasons I don’t like singing in the Main Hall of the UU Church of Palo Alto: the ceiling of the Main Hall is so high, it’s hard to hear anyone singing.

5. Musicians and worship leaders who don’t understand the delicate art of accompaniment intimidate me, and I won’t sing. That fabulous soloist or worship leader with the incredible voice? — I’m not going to humiliate myself by trying to compete with them. The “accompanist” who obviously isn’t listening to us and doesn’t know that we’re struggling? — I’ll just listen to them and not bother to sing along. I like a g good accompanist who listens to the congregation and supports us when we sing, but there are very few good accompanists out there. (We’re lucky at the UU Church of Palo Alto that we have two professional musicians, Veronika Agranov-Dafoe and Bruce Olstad, who actually understand how to be an accompanist, and when one of them is playing I’m more likely to sing.)

6. If there’s doubt in my mind whether the worship leaders want me to sing, then I’m less likely to sing. That really awesome worship service with the high production values? I know they don’t really want me to sing, because my voice will just lower the quality. That worship leader who mumbles the name of the hymn and shows no joy that we’re going to be singing it? I suspect they don’t really care about the hymn, they just had to stick something in there. In either case, I’m less likely to sing.

7. Professional musicians like to keep throwing exciting new songs at congregations. Ministers like to choose hymns because the lyrics fit in with the sermon topic. Both these ways of choosing hymns fail to take into account a fundamental aspect of human nature: we like to sing the same songs over and over again. In one congregation, a wise elder told me how to chose hymns: she gave me a list of fifty hymns that she knew the congregation loved to sing, and I chose from that list whether the hymns fit the service or not. Once a year, we would drop two or three under-utilized hymns and add two or three new hymns — and each of those new hymns we’d sing once a week until the congregation knew it. That congregation sang pretty well.

8. If the soloist or accompanist adds all kinds of runs and trills and arpeggios and whadda-ya-call’ems — and if no one is actually singing the melody along with me — I’m likely to give up. And it’s while it’s great to have those high sopranos singing the melody, those of us with voices an octave down would appreciate it if someone could sing the melody in our range, too.

9. Finally, to state the obvious, if the worship leader isn’t paying attention to make sure I’m following along, don’t expect me to sing. For example, when the worship leader tells me how much they love this song, and they sing at the top of their lungs but they don’t help me sing it well and, worse yet, they’re not even aware that I’m struggling out here in the pews — not only am I not going to sing, but I might just ignore the sermon as well.

That’s my take on Kenny Lamm’s original post (and thanks to Carol for pointing the post out to me!).

Now: what do you think? Why don’t you sing in worship services?

No one sings in church any more

On the Sacred Harp Friends page on Facebook, Katie posted a link to a blog post by Thom Schulz, titled “Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore.” Schulz’s reasons why people don’t sing in church: too often services are spectator events; church music is dominated by professionals, to the point of squeezing us amateurs out; sometimes the volume gets cranked up so high people just stop singing; the hymns are unfamiliar or hard to sing.

Katie then noted that Sacred Harp singers do sing, and we sing fervently — because there are no spectators, there are no professionals, it’s loud but not deafening, and Sacred harp singers have been singing pretty much the same tunes for a century and a half.

Actually, in my church people do sing. Amy, the senior minister, and I made a pact some years ago that the first hymn would mostly get chosen from a pool of ten or so hymns; that way, the kids can memorize ten or so hymns and know them by heart. And indeed the kids (and the adults) do memorize those hymns, and they do sing with fervor and gusto. In one recent service, I watched as one of our more cynical upper elementary kids stood on a chair, hung on to dad, and sang with utter abandon; cynicism gone, this child was completely lost in the hymn.

Given my experience, I’m with Thom Schulz: congregational singing does not need spectators, over-professionalism, blare, or crappy songs. Congregational singing can aim towards joy, towards ecstatic union with the universe through song. Congregational singing can be — should be — cynical kids belting out a favorite hymn at the tops of their voices, completely lost in the moment.



Jenni suggested the Ferry Building in San Francisco, so that’s where Ray, Tara, and I met her a little after three this afternoon. Both our tenors were ill, but we figured no one would notice that both Ray and I were singing bass. We started out just inside the main entrance, but between the traffic along Embarcadero and the crowds in the building, it was too noisy. So we went down to the south entrance, and set up there. “What should we start with?” “Deck the Hall, page 11.” Jenni counted us in, and we began to sing.

Once we got in the groove of singing, I could relax a little and look at the people who were listening to us. Everyone was smiling. Except two small children, who stood listenly raptly, their mouths slightly open. We decided to take a break, and the woman who was with the two children thanked us. “My kids are just enthralled,” she said. “Oh, then we’ll sing something else for you,” said Jenni. The kids wanted to hear “Frosty the Snowman,” but we didn’t have the music for it, so we settled on “Jingle Bells.”

Later we sang at the north end of the Ferry Building, and people had the same reactions: the adults all smiled, and the children just stood and listened. We all hear a lot of Christmas music in December — the endless Christmas carols played as background music in stores, the songs you hear on the radio — but it’s much better when you hear live music, even when it’s performed by people who are not professional musicians. Live music is not neatly packaged by corporate bean counters; it is not controlled by the touch of your finger on a touch screen; it is not performed in some acoustically perfect recording studio somewhere. Unlike recorded music, it is imperfect and alive and a little bit wild.

We sang until we got tired. We sang several of the carols several times over, but they never got boring, because people were smiling, and one little girl started dancing. Finally we had to stop singing. We were all smiling, too.