Fergus Black

music teacher and performer


Grade 1 Songs List C

Grade 1 - List A | Grade 1 - List B

1. Lionel Bart Where is love?: from 'Oliver!'. C(C-D): vocal selections or vocal score (Lakeview Music/Music Sales)

Oh dear! I suppose the music choosers at the Associated Board looked at this song and saw that it was mostly scalic, had a fairly narrow range, and was popular, and so was suitable for Grade 1. I would disagree - in all the productions of Oliver I have seen, I have never heard it well sung. The opening melisma simply slides like a glissando, and the offbeat rhythms in bars 6 and 7 of the vocal line (“willow tree that I’ve been dreaming of?”) are seldom tight. Singers who already know the song struggle to breathe in the right place - like My Heart Goes On from Titanic - they are familiar with a performance of the song, not the song itself, and especially at a young age, lack the flexibility to sing it better.

I think there are better songs in this group, and I would hesitate to recommend this to any young singer. It is a boy’s song in the show, but could easily be sung by either sex.

2. Arthur Baynon Any boy to any ship. D(D-E): (Boosey & Hawkes)

Not known

3 Arthur Benjamin Callers. G(D-D): (Boosey & Hawkes)

Don’t let your students sing all of this song at the same volume – this is a song about different characters, and they shouldn’t be all the same. Each of the characters that come to the doors can be given an ‘affekt’ – proud, nice, yukky (the aunts!), etc. The dynamics change in the final verse, and help to characterise the words.

For some reason, children seem to find it difficult to hold the word ‘do’ in verse 1 and then count two beats off before the ‘But”, and in similar places in verse 2 and 3.

In verse 1, ‘pi-a-no’ has to be three syllables

There is no tempo marking – try a gentle Allegretto.

4. Howard Blake Walking in the Air (from 'The Snowman'). D min.(C sharp-D): (Faber)

I’m sure this is the longest song in the list, but is worthwhile at any time of year.
The word air (b.4 and similar) can be flat - watch it.
Hold long notes at the ends of phrases for their full length, and warm the sound through them - a slight crescendo (SLIGHT!) for about 2/3rds of the length of long notes, followed by a dim for 1/3rd helps keep the music alive.

In the published version, there are unexpected 2/4 bars at the end of the interludes (e.g. after the section which begins“children gaze”, there is a 2/4 bar at “eyes” (bar 36) - that needs to be firmly learnt, as it . At the end of the second interlude (which begins “Suddenly”, there is a 4/4 bar and a 2/4 bar at bars 61-62 (“sleep”) - again this is awkward.

There are ample opportunities for characterisation - in verse 1, the singer could be light and airy, snowflaky, and perhaps a little frightened. A sense of wonder in verse 2 (at “I’m finding I can fly”). On the third page of music (called p.4 in my edition) there could be more of a sense of enjoyment and thrill at flying.

I like the phrases at bars 29-32 and similar (“Children gaze open mouthed taken by surprise”) in one breath.

5. Britten There was a man of Newington: no.7 from 'Friday Afternoons', Op.7. (C sharp-E): vocal score (Boosey & Hawkes)

I think this is not easy, but boys especially like the cruel nonsense of the text. There is a lot more detail in this song than at first glance. The second half is simply the first half turned upside down, as the second half of the text reverses the first! (an object lesson in making the most of your material as a composer). It would appear from the fact that the melody is a simple scale that the song would be easy to sing. It isn’t.

For one thing, it requires the articulation of accented notes and staccato singing.

Secondly, it isn’t easy to tune the scales - and there is nothing but scales. Those descending semitones are problematic to all singers I’ve heard do this.

Thirdly, it has a relatively wide range of a tenth in two single phrases - if you are comfortable with scales of a tenth, then this might be a possibility for you, but I can’t help feeling it is misplaced in the Grade 1 lists.

Mercifully the rhythm is the same for each half of the song. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the second half is an inversion of the first.

6. Clifford Crawley Abdul, the Magician: no.1 from 'Magic in the Air'. C min.(B flat-E flat): (Roberton 75335/Goodmusic)

7. David, Hoffman and Livingstone A dream is a wish your heart makes: from Walt Disney's 'Cinderella'. G(B-D): vocal selections (Hal Leonard/Music Sales)

Surely this piece has the wrong time signature. I feel it in 2/2, not 4/4 as marked. 2/2 gives it enough momentum.
The range of this song looks much the same as the others in Grade 1, but in fact it requires a strong tone on both the lowest and the highest notes of the range.
The song itself is fairly straightforward, in a crooner/ballad sort of way, without the range of characterisation or word-painting or emotional content that you find in other songs in this list. However, the relatively wide leaps and the chromatic alterations mean that it might be better for a more experienced singer.

8. Peter Jenkyns The Crocodile. G min.(D-D): (Novello/Music Sales)

One doesn’t wish to stereotype by gender, but boys do love this with its bloodthirsty text, opportunities for characterisation and hint of the exotic. It does need a bit of work to make it precise, however. Here are the difficulties: each verse has different characterisation, there is a chromatic descent across a major third that would be difficult for experienced singer to keep in tune, each verse has a slightly different ending (rhymically speaking), and the fourth verse is at a slower speed, with an “a temp” for the last phrase”. Taking these things together, means that a young singer will have their work cut out.

Verse 1 may not be the best place to start: I would start with the text. Enjoy the consonants in verse 2 “lashing and thrashing of terrible tail” (rolled r’s of course!); make the third line of each verse sinuous and slimy. Practise the last line of each verse in the the rhythm of the music; practise the rall (unwritten, but surely required!) in bars 43 and 44, and then the “a temp” pick up at the end of bar 44. Finally, you’ll need to do some preparatory work on descendning chromatic scales.

9. Carolyn Jennings Bandicoot: no.1 from 'A Menagerie of Songs'. G(D-D): (Schirmer/Music Sales)

10. John Mercer and Henry Mancini Moon River (from 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'). C(C-D): Decades of Film '60s (I.M.P.)

There aren’t many songs in this list that can be comfortably sung by adults and teenagers, so I often recommend Moon River. It requires a sense of line, and legato singing with decent breath control. The opening fifth will probably require some attention so that it isn’t short.

11. Betty Roe Song of the Birds: no.6 from '10 Ponder and William Songs'. F(C-D/F): (Thames/ William Elkin)

12. Betty Roe Song of the Boats: no.2 from '10 Ponder and William Songs'. F(C-D): (Thames/ William Elkin)

13. Martin Shaw Cuckoo. G(D-D): separately (Curwen/Music Sales) or Martin Shaw 7 Songs (Stainer & Bell)

Tricky, and rather dull (imho). Very few of us have heard a cuckoo, and even fewer have an interest in its migration pattern. Not as strong as Britten’s cleverer version. There are two verses: the underlay, and the rhythm varies. I would start with the second verse, which is simpler (saying the words in the rhythm of the music to begin with, then singing them with the pitches), and then add the anacrusis notes to a couple of phrases in verse one after the main notes have been learnt.

The words need to be very precise, and the pitching accurate - the C natural in bar 14 can be awkward. The verses could be louder than mp - I think that Martin Shaw probably meant the cuckoo calls to be quieter than the main verses.

14. William R. Smith A Pirate Song. D(D-E): (Banks 1471)

A boys’ song.