Fergus Black

music teacher and performer


Grade 1 Songs List B

Grade 1 - List A | Grade 1 - List C

1. W.H. Anderson April: no.1 from 'Omens of Spring'. E flat(D-E flat): (Roberton 75286/ Goodmusic)

2. W.H. Anderson Omens of Spring: no.2 from 'Omens of Spring'. F(D-E): (Roberton 75286/ Goodmusic)

3. W.H. Anderson Song for a Baby Sister. E flat(D-E flat): (Roberton 75252/Goodmusic)

A delightful song, better for girls than boys perhaps. Push the tempo on in the second section (If I were a buttercup). Watch the dynamics - loudish, loudish, soft.

Personally, I prefer to think of the metre as 2/2, and take four bars in one breath (I.e. going on after lark), but a lot of young singers find that difficult. Bring out the H in “whispering” (top of page 2) - think of the W and H being printed the wrong way round - HW, rather than WH. Be prepared for the long last note, dying away to nothing.

4. W.H. Anderson To a Baby Brother. D(D-E): (Roberton 75252/Goodmusic)

Another good song, but quite tricky, in terms of breath control and ptich, but definitely worth the effort, not least for the imaginative words.

Crotchet = 116, perhaps. There are some breath management issues - you will need to sing the first two lines in one breath (“The trees … in the sea.” Then the next phrase in one breath: “They come hurrying home … great winds meet.”, then a quick snatched breath (the happy gasp of surprise, I tell my students) for the final short line of the page.

You could take a cue from the reference to waves in the second line to think of the way the phrases rise and fall - like waves. A swell in volume might accompany a rising line, and a slight diminuendo be found as the line falls.

Verse 2 starts the same as verse 1, but soon goes it’s own way, with a sudden shift up a minor third from D major to F major. This is awkward, and needs work to make it secure. The final difficulty is the ending - again, you will only have time for a quick snatched breath after “pale moon beams” (only lengthen the crotchet a very little!), and then the two “calling”s before the final dying-away long note. All this through a gradual rall. Most young singers, in my experience, find gradual changes of tempo difficult, especially when there are technical difficulties as well.

Good word-setting. You can hurry with good ‘H’s at the start of the third line, “hurrying home”. Whenever there are repeated quavers, I would suggest that a choir peck at them like birds do, to make them light. For a solo singer that would be a useful simile for the repeated quavers at the word “little” in line 3.

5. Anon. Czech The Birds (omitting verse 2). G(D-E): no.103 from The Oxford Book of Carols (O.U.P.) or no.381 from Songs of Praise(O.U.P.)

This would be fine for a December exam, but might sound odd in the Summer with its references to Christ’s Nativity. The irregular phrase length (5 bars of 3/4, the c sharps in the key of G, and the unexpected note ‘A’ at the word “flew”, make this a good song for a confident singer with accurate pitch. It is set quite high for very young voices, and might be better in F major.

Singers might naturally try and insert an extra bar’s rest after “Cuckoo”. The song is very much easier as originally intended for solo and chorus.

I find it quite hard to characterise the different birds, and their calls - I am not sure how to make the pigeon’s “Vrercroo” in tempo, so that it sounds like a pigeon and not like a drunk cuckoo!

6. Anon. English Children's Song of the Nativity (verses 1-4 only). A flat(D flat-E flat): no.142 from The Oxford Book of Carols (O.U.P.)

Again, strictly Christmas time. It is a lovely tune: too much rubato would spoil the simplicity.

Don’t be tempted to take a breath after every two bars - the piece is definitely in two-bar, and not four-bar, phrases, but such regular breaths will make it choppy. Can the singer phrase “Can we see the little child, Is he within?” in two parts, without the breath after “child”? Some phrases require a four-bar breath (e.g. “May we peep like them and see Jesus asleep?”)

The “Not very far” in verse 1 could be sung as an echo to give variety - it is, after all, the answer to a question. At the end of what is called verse 2, watch the ends of words e.g. “lift” “latch”, and, of course, there is no ‘w’ between the words “go” and “in”!

I would take the even numbered verses at a stronger intensity, but of course, with a diminuendo a the end of the verses, and a rall in verse 4 (The song finishes at “Just for his sake” for exam purposes.)

7. Anon. French Noel Nouvelet (Love is come again) (verses 1 and 6 of French version or verses 1 and 4 of English version). G min. (D-E): no.149 from The Oxford Book of Carols (O.U.P.)

Pitching the opening fifth can be difficult, especially with the rising tone that follows. As breath control develops, try and sing four bars in one breath. It is worth the effort to make the arch of the phrases longer. The song is terribly bitty in two-bar phrases.

Watch that ‘wheat’ in verse 2 has two notes for the one syllable.

8. Anon. German Quem pastores (Shepherds left their flocks a-straying) (verses 1 and 2 only). F(C-D): no.79 from The Oxford Book of Carols (O.U.P.)

Young singers might find it hard not to emphasise the last note of each line before a snatched breath. Try and cultivate ‘The happy gasp of surprise’, which might help. The four phrases all have different melodic outlines (although the rhythm is the same).

There isn’t much opportunity for characterisation or variety of tone, although I suppose you could raise the energy of the third verse with lively consonants.

A church choir singer would probably already know this (albeit to different words), which might be a good reason to do it.

9. Brahms Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale). G(G-D) or F: The Art of Song, Grades 1-5, Vol.1 (high or medium/low) (Peters P-7441 or 7451)*

This is a silly song, but it only has a range of a fifth! so would be good for real beginners - were it not for the semiquavers at the end: they don't really work with the English translation, since there would be repeated semiquaver notes in the same word. Hmm!

10. Brahms Marienwürmchen (Ladybird). F(C-C) or E: The Art of Song, Grades 1-5, Vol.1 (high or medium/low) (Peters P-7441 or 7451)*

What an attractive song this is: children like it.

I find it easier to sing in E flat - and not too slow: crotchet = 100 or so is fine. There a good opportunities for shading throughout - all those slurred crotchets at the ends of phrases. These require attention so that the weak beats are not thumped. Some work with movement (push lift) might help.

In bars 8 and 9, there are variant rhythms for the different verses, that make a trap for the unwary. In English, all the verses are the same rhythm in the recommended edition, more’s the pity.

Verse 2 has more urgency, and this should be reflected in very clear words and a sense of forward movement. The evil spider (again only in German) deserves to be characterised.

The opening “and-four-and” quavers can be difficult for beginners to get in time

11. Dunhill The Frog. F(D-E): (Banks 1486)

A nice song, not really about anything in particular, but pleasant enough, and well-written. Girls seem to like it more than boys. Maybe they identify more with animals, and have the imagination to see the world through the frog’s (anthropomorphic) eyes. Perhaps if the boys were told it could be sung with a twinkle in the eye and a sense of humour and cheekiness, it might endear them to it.

The words need to be really crisp - and not just the consonants; the second word “you” tends not to get a fully rounded vowel at speed.

The two verses have the same melodies, but different rhythms and emotional content. That is harder, I think, than two verses which are totally different. There are ample opportunities for confusion, especially as there is no real narrative, which might allow one to remember the order of the words.

There are plenty of opportunities for attention to detail. For example, one should point the words - e.g. shorten the word “dance” to make it dance. Also, rubato - you could ease off, and become more hushed in the third bar of the second page (When the great world is still)

12. Dunhill Grandfather Clock. G(D-E): (Cramer UPS 213/Banks)

13. Roberton Good morrow to you, Springtime! A flat(D flat-E flat): (Roberton 75019/Goodmusic)

14. Roberton Softly fall the shades of evening. B flat(F-D): (Roberton 75019/Goodmusic)

15. Schumann Der Abendstern (The Evening Star), Op.79 no.1. A(F sharp-F sharp) or G: The Art of Song, Grades 1-5, Vol.2 (high or medium/low) (Peters P-7585 or 7586)*

There aren’t many songs suitable for adults in the ABRSM Grade 1 lists, so it is good to have these 2 songs (Nos. 15 and 16) by Schumann. However, although the song texts aren’t childish, neither do they have much in the way of narrative, and few opportunities for variety of dynamic, nor for characterisation. I sometimes think of Schumann’s simpler songs a bit like some of Wordsworth’s poetry: it is a bit dull and worthy. Simple, yes, but also sentimental.

Der Abenstern must be the shortest song in these lists: only 21 notes (8 bars) - although there are four verses. There are some awkward intervals (especially the sixth in bars 2-3), and some unexpected chromatic notes, so care will be needed to learn the notes thoroughly before the words. For the octave leap in bars 5-6, it can help the singer to consider a bit of tao-ism: thinking down for the high note - start with bending knees and bobbing down as you sing it (later you can just imagine bobbing down, you don’t actually have to do it (!); or imagine there is a large barrel sideways in front of you: look over the barrel for the high note.

Although this is a short song, with two short two-bar breaths, bars 5 - 8 will need to be sung in one breath, and at a slow speed.

Langsam means Slowly

16. Schumann Kinderwacht (The Children's Watch), Op.79 no.22. F(C-C): The Art of Song, Grades 1-5, Vol.2 (high or medium/low) (Peters P-7585 or 7586)*

See No, 15 (Der Abendstern) for general comments.

I think this is an easier song than Der Abendstern. The difficulties are: counting through the rests (keeping the pulse going when not singing and knowing when to start the next phrase), and fitting the words - the two verses have different scansion.

One tiny point of pronunciation that young singers seem to find tricky, is to separate the words liebendes and Auge - not with enough space to take a breath, and not joined together smootly (legato), but so that the words are distinct, and don’t become something like “deh Zowgen”

Worth learning.

Einfach means Simply