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Fifth-Graders Share Oral History Through Folk Music at the Farm

Friday, April 8, 2016

Last week at the Manhattan Country School Farm, the fifth-graders received music instruction from Catskills folk musicians Ira and Laurie McIntosh and Peter Blue. Each day the students diligently practiced on accordions, dulcimers and guitars; learned how to square dance; and helped to write an original song—in preparation for a performance at the nearby Mountainside residential eldercare facility at the end of the week.

Peter Blue teaches the accordion.

Laurie works with the kids to write a new song. The lyrics were drawn from interviews the students had previously conducted with Mountainside seniors, as part of an intergenerational oral history project concerning life in the New York City watershed and changes in the Catskills over time.

Ira teaches guitar.

Practicing the square dance.

The big day. MCS students sing their original composition, “Life on the Farm in the Old Days,” to the residents of Mountainside.

Performing “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.”

Dulcimer jam session.

Demonstrating newfound skill on the accordion.

A square dance performance that had the audience smiling and tapping their feet.

The music instruction the fifth-graders received t week is a continuation of the folk music program that has been taught at the MCS Farm since 1988, when the teaching was done by famed Catskills folk musicians Hilt and Stella Kelly. Hilt and Stella were longtime mentors to Ira, Laurie and Peter—enabling Catskills traditional music to be passed down to the next generation of musicians. And in a poignant twist, though Hilt has passed away, Stella is now resident at Mountainside, and was in the audience for the performance by the MCS students on Thursday. She said, “They played really well!”

“Life on the Farm in the Old Days”

(Anecdotes from Mountainside seniors)

Written by Manhattan Country School fifth-graders in April 2016.



Gonna sing a song

’bout life on the farm (how we got along)

In the old days

Oh yeah   … Oh yeah . . .


Verse 1 (written by whole class)

Clattery-bang bounced the milk cans

Rattling along in the early morn

Ever since the ol’ creamery closed down

With that sound gone, I am forlorn . . .


CHORUS (Yeah, we’re singing a song / ’bout life on the farm / in the old days / oh yeah)


Verse 2 (written by Brickelle, Flora, Madeleine and Maceo)

Henny Penny was a nice old hen

When you pet her on the head, she’d sing a song, (sing a song)

She was a good and trusty brooder hen

Setting on her eggs all day long . . .


CHORUS (Yeah, we’re singing a song / ’bout life on the farm / in the old days / oh yeah)


Verse 3 (written by Sabrina, Eli, Adrian, Elise and Annika)

So many chores, even the dogs had jobs to do

Like herding cows or churning butter, too

But if you didn’t have a dog, y’might have to sit and churn all day

Which would leave little time to play…


CHORUS (Yeah, we’re singing a song / ’bout life on the farm / in the old days / oh yeah)