When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Miss Pinson, taught us songs. I remember her white blouse and black hair, and how she held her arms up in the air when she directed a song. She made us feel like music was important. No teacher had done that before (or since). The one song that she dearly loved was “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. We all did, and we sang it out with heart.
I love music. I love music because it makes you ‘feel’, and Miss Pinson had a way of doing just that. When I started teaching preschool I sang to the children and taught songs in much the same way. Children were excited and drawn in. I began to play the Autoharp, which was simple yet fascinating and captivating for children. Perhaps The Autoharp was much the same as Miss Pinson’s arms. Music became something I did well with children. I was a Pied Piper.
Then something happened; “This Land is Your Land” became a book, with the song’s lyrics illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen. My favorite song from fifth grade was a book in print! But it was different, the book included all of the verses to the song. There are six verses. I only knew three verses, as that was all Miss Pinson had ever taught us. I read the book and understood. Those last three versus talk about people helping people and poverty. The words are simple and ring true. The sixth verse still chokes me up when I sing it with the children:
“Nobody living can ever stop me
as I go walking that freedom highway.
Nobody living can ever make me turn back.
This land was made for you and me.”
I began to sing this song along with the book. Children held the pages open, I played the Autoharp, and everyone belted out the words…all six versus. One verse we sang low and slow because it is a sad verse. Another verse said, “…didn’t say nothing”, yet in spite of the grammar I was true to the words of the author when singing the song.
We always sing this song standing up. It’s a proud song. The children want to sing the song standing up, just as they do when singing “God Bless America”. When I ask children what songs they want to sing, these are the top two choices, even though I always introduce a host of music and songs to children. They just love these two songs, and every year we sing our hearts out, standing tall and proud.
Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner”, and when it became our National Anthem in the early 1930’s Irving Berlin did not like the song as our National Anthem. He thought it was too difficult. That inspired him to write “God Bless America”. Well, Woody Guthrie did not like “God Bless America”, and that inspired him to write “This Land is Your Land”.
I think this is fascinating! One song inspires the next song, and that song inspires the next song. Yet, all three songs are historical, important, and popular. These are the songs we sing in the classroom. It’s the children’s choice.
We sing these songs with books; Peter Spier’s “The Star Spangled Banner”, Lynn Munsinger’s “God Bless America”, and Kathy Jakobsen’s “This Land is Your Land”.
Miss Pinson would be proud.