A ringtone project that reflects the soundscape of any U.S. city would not be complete without recordings of hand clapping games and jump rope songs. So I’m grateful to the young ladies at Gwen’s Girls for their essential contribution to Locally Toned. Here’s their Cinderella Jump Rope Tone and their Down By the Bank Ringtone (based on a traditional hand-clapping game). [Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a transcription of these two rhymes.]
These tones were contributed by a group of young ladies within Gwen’s Girls’ after school program. They brainstormed and performed the rhymes we recorded, and helped to create concepts for the above (ringtone icon) photos.
A young lady describes her experience in Gwen’s Girls this way, “It’s an afterschool program for young girls who need help. I’m here because my grandma wanted me and my sister to come. It really helped me through hard times in my life and is helping me find myself.” Young ladies are referred to the organization by family members, school counselors or the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (an agency mandated by law to protect children from abuse and neglect).
“The organization is a safe and nurturing place that helps girls to recognize their potential and strengths. Our dedicated staff helps the girls to set goals for the future,” says Gwen’s Girls’ Executive Director, Lynn Knezevich. “Our founder would be very pleased to know that the organization has been able to continue in her memory.”
Gwen’s Girls was founded in 2002 by Gwendolyn J. Elliott, a local champion for women and girls. During her 30 year tenure as a police officer, Sergeant and then Commander of the Pittsburgh Police force, she witnessed the particular struggles women and girls have when they are brought to the attention of law enforcement. Elliott wanted to create a program that would help improve quality of life for these young ladies. You can read more about her story (and the services provided by Gwen’s Girls) here.
JUMP ROPE SONGS AND HAND CLAP RHYMES AS GAMES
Developmentally, these largely cooperative but sometimes competitive games, allow children to practice communication skills, coordination and memorization. They’re also played for fun. Babies learn simple hand clapping games like, “Patty-cake, Patty-cake, baker’s man,” before pairs of girls in school yards teach each other more complicated rhymes like “Miss Mary Mack.”
A way-more-complicated bridges hand clapping rhyme like, “Tweedle deedle dee,” which four girls play together, is something for younger girls to aspire to. That rhyme, based on the Michael Jackson hit, “Rockin’ Robin,” is a game I learned as a kid growing up in Inglewood, CA. Working on this tone series, I found that my Gwen’s Girls’ collaborators knew a version, too. There’s a huge archive of jump rope rhymes here (including jumper participant instructions) collected by Stan Kulikowski II. And if you’re really interested this subject, read ethnomusicologist Kira D. Guant‘s book The Games Black Girls Play for both scholarly and experiential insight.
TRANSCRIPTION OF THE GWEN’S GIRLS’ TONES
Cinderella Jump Rope Tone: “Cinderella, dressed in yellow/went upstairs to kiss a fellow/made a mistake and kissed a snake/how many doctors will it take/one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, [etc.]”
Down By the Bank (hand-clapping game) Ringtone: “Down by the bank with the hanky pank/where the bullfrog jump from bank to bank/say E-Fi-E-Fi-Fo, skittle diddle kernel pop/I pledge allegiance to the flag, Michael Jackson makes me glad/Coca Cola has caffeine, now we’re talking jelly bean/Jelly beans are out of site, now we’re back to/Down by the bank with the hanky pank…”
FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION: JUMP ROPE SONGS AND HAND CLAP RHYMES AS “STREET” MEMES
In my research, I discovered that the origin of the “Down By the Bank” rhyme may go all the way back to sheet music published in 1896 by Charles E. Trevathan, entitled, “May Irwin’s Frog Song.”
The first verse of the song begins this way:
“Away down a-yonder in Yankety Yank,/A bullfrog jumped from bank to bank…”
And our ringtone begins this way: “Down by the bank with the hanky pank/where the bullfrog jump from bank to bank…”
Out of curiosity, I took some time to trace the evolution of this frog song to versions of “Down By the Bank” as a hand clapping rhyme. Today’s “Down By the Bank” begins with a remnant from an old song (with its associated history of stereotyping), but as it was processed by children, it became something else. Another valuable skill children develop when learning, playing and sharing hand clapping and jump rope games is psychologically important–a capacity for resiliency. The transformation of of the frog song into “Down By the Bank” amounts to 100+ years worth of a collective effort by children, to play out, filter and re-write something they didn’t like, ultimately producing something they did like and made their own.
Jump rope songs and hand clap rhymes, as experiences, remind me of internet memes–especially when the memes are transformed into digital artifacts that people make as responses to original content. The best example I can think of is this treatment of a now-famous song by the marching band at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Though we don’t pay very much attention to these children’s games, perhaps these (r)evolutionary “street” memes–small works that evolve as children tweak and play them together–are powerful and important acts that enable girls speak about and respond to their worlds.
Thanks very much to Samantha Stowe and other members of Gwen’s Girls’ hardworking staff for their help with the project. Additional thanks to Beth and Emmai at Hip Hop On L.O.C.K. for suggesting I contact Gwen’s Girls to collaborate on this tone series.