Town Common Songs

and media
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Song Resources

... lyrics and recordings to inspire you!

What songs should we sing? Just what is a "folk song"?

There's no better answer than Pete Seeger's:

"The important thing is: are they good songs? Do they sing well? Is the poetry so good you can't get it out of your head? Are the words true, and do they need saying? Does the music move you?"

If you like it, sing it. Songs from childhood and silly rounds; church hymns and gospel spirituals; Scouting and Woodcraft Folk songs; songs of peace and songs of patriotism; civil rights and labor movement anthems; work songs and sea chanteys; Oscar & Hammerstein and Gilbert & Sullivan; and of course, The Beatles: anything goes! You'll find people know a lot more songs than they realize. You'll find you know a lot more songs than you realize!

That said, certain types of songs do work better than others in this context:

Sometimes you might start a song and discover you don't remember all of it, but probably collectively you'll remind each other of the words. Just remember this is fun, not performance, laugh it off, and keep singing!

Adapt songs to fit your community:

Some of us have re-written old songs, or maybe just a line or a verse, to make them specific to our village (like Hey Rain (Montague) or our unofficial town song Bells Of Montague). You might find this is a fun way to increase your community's connection and engagement with a song.

You may also like an old song and want to introduce it to your community, but you're uncomfortable with a few words or phrases that just don't feel right in our century. Just leave those lines in the past and replace them with some new ones expressing what you want the song to say, and teach your improved version. Make the song yours, and make it better.

Here are some fantastic online (and free!) resources offering a wide variety of traditional songs for inspiration and learning:

First and foremost, you can't do better than:

  • Rise Up and Sing's The Music Box
    an online resource complementing the classic community singing books Rise Up Singing and Rise Again (which you or a neighbor might happen to have...). The website has videos of every song (thousands of songs for community singing, in every category!) in both books, but not lyrics

Here are many other fantastic online collections:

  • Pete Seeger
    videos of 20 Pete Seeger classics (no lyrics here, but you likely already know most of these! you can find many of these lyrics on other sites linked here)

  • Jon Boden's A Folk Song A Day
    audio and lyrics for 365 (mostly English) traditional songs

  • Lisa G. Littlebird's The Bird Sings
    audio and lyrics hundreds of songs (including some MaMuse favorites) sorted by categories (with separate audio recordings for learning melody and harmony parts)

  • Stephen Griffith's Folk Song Index
    videos and lyrics for hundreds of (mostly American) traditional songs

    lyrics (and MIDI files, but no recordings) of hundreds of (mostly American?) traditional hymns

  • The Sacred Harp (Denson 1991 edition)
    videos of all 554 songs from the 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp (traditional American folk hymns, typically sung in SATB harmony)
    lyrics of all 554 songs from the same

  • John Thompson's An Australian Folk Song A Day
    audio and lyrics for 365 (Australian) traditional songs (sadly not indexed)

  • John Roberts and Tony Barrand's Golden Hind Music
    lyrics (and short audio clips) to many (mostly English) traditional songs (not indexed, go to each album's track listing)

  • Peter and Mary Alice Amidon's Amidon Choral Music
    audio and lyrics for over 100 traditional songs (with arranged harmonies)

And last but not least:

  • Richard Zierke's Mainly Norfolk
    videos and lyrics for an almost overwhelmingly comprehensive index of thousands of folk songs (with a robust discography of recordings, too)

"I guess all songs is folk songs. I never heard no horse sing 'em." —Big Bill Boonzey