The recent return to my memory (after a half-century hiatus) of the song, “The Ballad of Rodger Young” reminded me where I learned it, which was Camp Ogama, more specifically during “sing-song,”
Sing-song was a traditional camp-wide “sing-along”, occurring after breakfast “announcements” and before we dispersed to our respective cabins for “cleanup”, where, on a rotating basis, campers went about a collective “housekeeping”, and, if the day’s assignee to “Dustpan” happened to have congestion issues and the assigned “Sweeper” harbored an intractable malicious streak, you would see billowing dust particles driven in their kneeling, breath-sensitive direction.
And some kids never wanted to go to camp. Incredible!
Before sing-song began, the occupants of half the Mess Hall would get up and relocate, joining the occupants of the other side of the Mess Hall, allowing the waiters a half-Mess Hall “leg up” removing the accumulated breakfast detritus.
Every morning, a different cabin took their turn spearheading the sing-song, a task that primarily involved choosing the eight to ten songs to be sung, which they would individually introduce and then lead.
Some songs, however, were led by specific campers or staff members. A man who would later become Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations led a lively number that began, “Tina singu lalo votaya…” I guess he got the U.N. job because he was familiar with songs from other countries. I can imagine him singing that at the interview, wowing the heck out of the Selection Committee.
For years, I led a song called, “We’re In The Same Boat, Brother” (words by Wizard of Oz lyricist E.Y. Harburg) whose chorus went,
“We’re in the same boat, Brother
We’re in the same boat, Brother,
And if you shake one end you’re gonna rock the other
It’s the same boat, Brother.”
One of the numerous camp songs recognizing our worldwide interconnectedness, along with,
“”I’m proud to be me, but I also see
You’re just as proud to be you.”
My older brother also led a song. But not by singing it, his performance instead a admired tribute to his remarkable upper body strength.
When the song “Swing Me In The Moonlight” was announced, my brother was invited to come to the front of the assemblage. Before we began, my brother would leap up to the overhanging rafter, wrapping his hands around the top of it. And then we’d sing.
As we did, and throughout the entire duration of the song, my brother would slowly swing back and forth, suspended on that rafter, impressing all and sundry with his powerful strength and physical endurance, most specifically, possibly, the girl who would later become his wife, although I am uncertain how easeful swinging from rafters directly benefitted their more than fifty-year-long marriage.
My brother’s and my song exemplified the eclectic hodge-podge of musical selections included in the regular song-song repertoire, indoctrinating “message” songs – and everything I knew and came to believe derived directly from Camp Ogama – commingled incongruously with innocuous “fun” songs.
“United Nations on the march
With flags unfurled
Together fight for liberty
A free new world…”
“A hundred and one
Pounds of fun,
That’s my little Honey Bun…”
We’d go from,
“The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the workers sweated for…”
“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
That’s my name too (God forbid)…”
We’d ping-pong between
“Lincoln set the Negro free
Why is he still in slavery?…”
And the “States Song”, a “question-and-answer” challenge using the names of various United States; e.g.,
“Why did Cali-forn-ya?”
“She phoned to say Hawai…ya.”
When it did not end with a near obligatory rendition of “We’re Having a Wonderful time at Camp Ogama…”, sing-song frequently culminated with a stirring anthem from the, I don’t know, losing side of the Spanish Civil War, whose thundering chorus went,
“Far off is our land…”
(And here, six year-olds joined their fellow campers stamping their feet sonorously on the floor)
“Yet ready we stand…”
“We’re fighting and winning for you…”
Then, having stood up to totalitarian Fascism, we went back to our cabins and made our beds.
That was sing-song – an enjoyable interlude, an appreciated stall before cleanup and also high educational. Without sing-song, how would I know that “Bobo otto faro Satoday” meant “Everybody loves Saturday night” in Swahili?
A cue for my dozens of Swahili readers to go,