Wolf games, cross-culturally: Grrrr.....

 Hi, everyone! This is Christopher Roberts. All over the world, children make music when adults are not around – in their neighborhoods, on the playground, waiting for the bus, whenever they have time to spare.  These take a variety of forms, from hand-clapping games and chase games to counting-out rhymes and song parodies.  Kodály emphasized the importance of these “children’s musical cultures,” since they stand close to the core of children’s musical selves.  Today, Kodály-inspired educators use much of this musical material in the classroom, both to create lessons that connect to children’s real-life experiences and also to help ensure that these traditions continue.

As a music educator fascinated by the diversity of our country and our world, I am interested in children’s singing games from around the world.  In the past couple of years, I have come across a number of chase games in which wolves are the bad guys.  Interesting!  Who would have thought that a wolf is seen as not only scary for kids in the United States, but in other countries as well?  There must be something about wolves that gets into the minds of kids and settles there -- I think that the idea that you could be devoured at any time leads to suspense and excitement.  Consider the wolf:

Really, if you look at the wolf's eyes, I guess they are pretty scary!

For my students, I now teach four wolf games, starting in first grade.  I think that teaching children songs from different cultures that have similar games and subject matter allows them to understand that children are both similar and different around the world.  Plus, the games are just fun, and we should never underestimate the importance of fun in a music classroom.  

Here is the sequence of wolf games I teach:

1.  We are Dancing in the Forest

Source: An American Methodology (Robertson/Eisen); Music in Preschool (Forrai/Sinor)

Game: A clump of children gathers on one side of the room, while another child (the wolf) stands on the other.  As the song is sung, the children dance, while the wolf acts menacing.  At the end of the song, the children say, “Wolf, are you there?”  The wolf can answer in one of two ways.  He can say, “No,” and then detail something else he is doing (going shopping, washing his hair, practicing his toboggan skills, whatever).  If the wolf answers this way, the song is sung again, while the children sing and the wolf acts out his activity.  Or, he can answer “Yes!  And I’m coming to get you!”  Then, the children try to race past him (“home”), while the wolf tries to tag as many children as possible for his dinner.

I’m not sure whether this is a traditional folk song (it sounds kind of teacher-created to me), but it certainly has been a major hit with my students in lower elementary over the years.  In addition to being a fun way for kids to move around in the middle of a lesson, I can also use it to work on music literacy skills, including combinations of quarter notes and eighth notes, and the solfege note la.

2.  Lyke, Lyke: Greece

Source: Oral, learned from Erasmia Voukelatos, March, 2013.  Used with permission.

Perpato, perpato ees to dasos,  (I walk and I walk through the forest)
Otan o lykos den eene do.    (When the wolf is not here)
Perpato, perpato ees to dasos,
Otan o lykos den eene do.

Lyke, lyke, eese do?  (Wolf, wolf, are you here?)
Vazo ta papoutsia mou (to kapelo mou, ti zaketa mou)  (I'm putting on my shoes (my hat, my jacket))

Lyke, lyke, eese do?  (Wolf, wolf, are you here?)
Perno to bastounee mou kye sas keeneegao!   (I'm grabbing my cane and I'm chasing you!)

Game: The same as We are Dancing in the Forest. 

Pronunciation tips from Erasmia: "Lykos" is pronounced "leekos".  Like Spanish and Italian, there are basically no dipthongs in vowels.  Pure "ah" "ee" "eh" "oh" "oo".  Also, t's are dental (NO soft t's), and d's are more like a very hard and forward "th", but I usually just write d, to avoid the possibility that people may say the "th" of thing.

I just learned this one last year.  At the 2013 OAKE Conference in Hartford, I was talking about wolf games, and an attendee came up to me to share this game that she had learned as a child.  She could not remember whether she had learned it in Greece or from other Greek-American children in the northeastern United States, where she grew up. 

This game is almost exactly like We are Dancing in the Forest.  The only difference is that the end, the wolf says, “I’m grabbing my cane and chasing you!”  You would think the cane would slow down the wolf, but evidently he’s still got enough dexterity to be able to nab some tasty-looking children.

Singing songs in foreign languages can sometimes be challenging, due to the text that is difficult for children to learn.  In this case, the words are repetitive, making it easier to sing.  I taught this for the first time this year, to my first graders.  They’ve become taken with it, particularly with the part in which they say, “Lyke, lyke, eese do?”  The kids love the sounds of those words -- if they pass me in the hall, sometimes they will say them to me, and then giggle.  When my first graders play the game in class, the children sing the song in Greek, but the spoken parts all occur in English.

Note: There’s a YouTube video of this game, as well, with slick synthesized sounds, a faster tempo than my students are able to perform, and some seriously fake sets.  Sometimes, everybody loves a little bit of cheesiness!

3.  Promenons-Nous: French Canada

Source: From Children’s Game Songs of French Canada (sound recording, FW 7214). 
Transcribed C. Roberts, 2/2011.

Translation: Let us walk in the wood
                  While the wolf is not here
                  If the wolf comes
                  He will eat us…
                  Wolf, is that you, with a large pointy nose? 

Game: “All the singers, except the boy who personifies the wolf, are dancing in three or diagonal lines towards the Wolf, and stop when asking: “Le loup y es-tu?”  Grand nez pointu?”  After every answer of the other verses, they go on, dancing again.  When the Wolf speaks his last line, “Yes, here is my big knife…” they all run away….frightened and crying loudly….”  [from the liner notes]

So,  in the Greek song, the wolf chases the children with a cane, but in this one, he brings his big knife – the ante is definitely upped!  I have taught this one in second grade.  The text is more difficult than the Greek song, but if I ask them to sing a little bit of the song each day, they learn the whole song over the course of four or five classes.  Once they know all the words, they feel a sense of satisfaction and pride. 

This is from a 1950s recording from Montreal.  In the recording, the kids have super-sweet voices, and they squeal with obvious delight when the wolf states that he’s coming to get him with his knife.  You can hear the recording here.  I have played the recording for my students, and they have absolutely loved it!

4.  El Lobo: Mexico

Source: Edet, E. (Collector).  Children’s Songs and Games from Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (SFW 7854) [CD].  Washington DC: Smithsonian Folkways.  Transcribed C. Roberts, 2/2011.

Per the liner notes: “The wolf hides while the children sing.  When he finally appears, the players scatter in all directions.  The one he catches becomes the wolf“ (liner notes p. 5).

All: Jugaremos en el bosque                                We will play in the forest
Mientras el lobo no está                                       While the wolf is away
Porque si el lobo aparece                                     Because if the wolf appears
A todos nos comerá.                                               He will eat us all.
(Spoken) ¿Donde estas allí?                                Are you there?

Lobo: Apenas me estoy levantando                   I’m getting up (waking up)
All: Jugaremos en el bosque….                          
Lobo: Me estoy poniendo los calcetines          I am putting on my socks
All: Jugaremos en el bosque…         
Lobo: Me estoy poniendo los zapatos              I am putting on my shoes
All: Jugaremos….
Lobo: Me estoy poniendo la camisa                 I am putting on my shirt
All: Jugaremos….                                   
Lobo: Estoy buscando los lentes                        I am putting on my glasses
All: Jugaremos…
Lobo: Me estoy poniendo el sombrero              I am putting on my hat
All: Jugaremos….
Lobo: Estoy buscando la llave,                           I am looking for the key
estoy abriendo                                        I’m opening (implied: the door)
All: Jugarmeos…                                                      
Lobo: Estoy cerrando la puerta                         I’m closing the door
All: Jugaremos…                  
Lobo: Voy por el camino                                     I’m on my way/I’m on the path
All: Jugaremos….                                   
Lobo: Ya llegué!                                                    I have arrived!

In this game, the actions of the wolf are pre-set and sequential.  In all the other games, the wolf makes up different activities, but in this one, the wolf gradually gets everything ready for his hunting expedition.  On the recording (which can be heard here), you can hear the children growing more and more excited as the impending doom grows closer and closer.

I have now taught this song to two different groups, and the language is much more difficult than the others.  Practically, I found that putting the words on the SmartBoard helped the students with the text.  But I also decided ultimately to ask them to sing the first four measures, while I sung the last four measures (which has more challenging, faster-paced lyrics).  Some third grade students took on the second half of the song as a challenge, and tried to learn the text, but they still needed my vocal support.

Other wolf-based songs and games:

A couple of other wolf-based activities that you can choose to incorporate into a wolf unit:

(1)  "Come Back Home, My Little Chicks" can be found on Jill Trinka's resource, Bought Me a Cat.  It is a similar chase game that comes from Hungary, one that incorporates lots of the s-m interval.  Trinka provides a great English transliteration.

(2) "What Time is it, Mr. Wolf?" comes from Susan Brumfield's resource Over the Garden Wall: Children's Songs and Games from England. On this resource, you can hear two recordings, one historical and one contemporary, and see the text of the chant along with games directions.

(3)  On a 1968 Folkways album Music of the Plains Apache, you can hear "Wolf Song."  This song does not have a game, but is intended for adults to sing to children.  It's a haunting melody, sung by Irene Chalepah Poolaw.  Listen to it here.

If you know any other wolf chase games, share them here!  I would love to learn more of these.

Stay safe, everyone, and watch out for those pesky wolves that might be prowling your neighborhood!

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