THE LATEST from the what-we-know-is-what-you-should-know
department: A list of 42 songs compiled by the Music Educators
National Conference. These songs, according the 65,000 music
teachers who belong to MENC, are essential cultural literacy for
The list, which includes everything from patriotic songs such
as the national anthem to Beatles hits such as "Yesterday," is
offered as a core curriculum for schools across the nation. MENC
hopes to encourage music education and give Americans a common
musical vocabulary. The selections have been printed in songbook
form, titled, "Get America Singing . . . Again" - and are available
at music stores around the country for $3.95.
The educators have made an effort to be culturally inclusive.
Jewish songs, such as "Havah Nagilah," are included along with
music central to Christian faith, such as "Dona Nobis Pacem" and
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Spanish is represented by "De Colores,"
French by "Frere Jacques," Japanese by "Sakura." A song central to
African-American identity, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," is
included, along with popular and Broadway hits such as "Give My
Regards to Broadway."
But like all such lists, it's a rather safe litany. Patriotic
songs, including "My Country 'tis of Thee" and "God Bless America"
far outnumber songs of protest and social change. As one critic
pointed out, the Beatles are represented by "Yesterday," not
If you're planning to join a chain gang, there's plenty here to
keep you humming; "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "Amazing
Grace" should make the work go easier. But if you want to cast off
your chains, don't look for those inspirational words, "Arise ye
prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the earth"; the
"Internationale," a b eloved Communist anthem once sung by millions
of workers, is nowhere to be found.
Fans of rap music, or almost anything else heard on radio
stations that cater to younger audiences, will find the list a
It's also a studiously uncontroversial list when it comes to
racial and sexual politics. Songs important to the uglier side of
American history - say, "Dixie" - are not included; though it's
hard to deny that they're also a part of this country's history.
While some minorities are represented by their own unofficial
anthems, one won't find "I am what I am," the unofficial gay and
lesbian anthem, on the list. "Puff the Magic Dragon," thought by
some to be about marijuana consumption, is one of the few
potentially contentious songs; it's included, no doubt, more as an
innocent children's song than a trippy countercultural icon.
And, like many efforts to find common intellectual and cultural
ground, the list leaves one wondering why, if these songs are so
important to American cultural identity, are so many of them
Try a simple test. First, sing a few verses of "Over My Head,"
and "Music Alone Shall Live." Now sing "My Baloney Has a First
Name," or the theme song to "Gilligan's Island." Clearly, having a
song in common, is not a sufficient criterion for inclusion on the
The list also does little to prepare students for an
appreciation of classical music. Melodies that recur in classical
music - such as the "Marsellaise" or the "Dies Irae" - are not
represented. The Shaker melody, "Simple Gifts," which Aaron Copland
used in his ballet "Appalachian Spring," is a minor exception.
So, in the interest of jazzing things up and filling out the
list, the Post-Dispatch approached several local people with an
interest in what America's singing and asked them to suggest five
songs they think are essential, or ought to be added to the list.
St. Louis Symphony Music Director Leonard Slatkin was not
enthusiastic about the assignment. Slatkin points out that the list
depends on the age group and too many other cultural factors to be