Trying to Forget At Least Some Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, April, 2010)

This, one might say, is a Festival song for kids. No, not one to sing to them, or one to sing with them; one to demonstrate "It could have been worse." If your kids are anything like what I was like as a kid, they aren't very enthusiastic about things like camping trips. Well, you can then pull this out and tell them. "Hey, you could be in summer school in 1882 and singing songs like The Little Busy Bee."

Song Wave Cover

Quite by chance, a few weeks ago, I picked up (for a dollar) a book called The Song Wave. It's a musical instruction manual for children, copyright 1882. Not young children; indications are that it is for middle schoolers. But it's still incredibly contrived, full of things like Work and Play ("Now's the time to study hard/ Work will bring its own reward/ Then work, work, work!/ We must spell, and we must read,/ Nothing but our lessons heed ...") and Oh the Sports of Childhood ("Oh the sports of childhood,/ Roaming through the wildwood ...") and Be Careful of Your Money, Boys.

I find myself wondering how anyone survived being hit in the head with all those moralistic hammers. And why anyone kept the book long enough for me to find it.

This piece at least has the benefit of being singable; it is set to the tune of George F. Root's famous and very popular Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, which you can find online or in any Civil War songbook.

The words are by William McGavin. I suspect he was inspired by Isaac Watts's equally insipid How Doth the Little Busy Bee, which at least has the distinction of having inspired Lewis Carroll's How Doth the Little Crocodile.

Again, I'm not urging you to sing this. I offer it simply as a demonstration of the value of tradition in improving songs: No one would ever deliberately preserve such a mind-numbing piece of sermonizing.

By the way: Every word of this column is true, and The Little Busy Bee really is found in The Song Wave. It still seems suitable for an article you might read on April 1.

Busy Bee Sheet Music

Complete Lyrics:
Oh, the little busy bee.
In the garden you may see,
Gath 'ring honey through the golden summer hours;
He is cheery and he's gay,
And intent he works away,
Storing treasures from the sweetly blooming flow 'rs.

Working, working in the sunbeams,
Gath 'ring honey all the day;
Oh, the little busy bee
Is the type for you and me;
For the winter he provides in sunny May.

When the lark springs from the corn.
In the early summer morn,
And ascends on wings of gladness to the sky;
Oh, the little busy bee,
To his labor goeth he,
You may hear his merry song as he goes by.

In the sultry glare of noon
Still he sings his merry tune,
As he ranges through the depths of some bright dell;
If you try to shut him in,
You will hear a pretty din,
And may chance to get an angry blow as well.

When the slowly sinking sun
Tells the day is nearly done,
Then the little bee, no more inclined to roam, With his laden bag and thighs,
Like an earnest worker hies,
To the lowly straw-built cot where is his home.

Return to the Remembering the Old Songs page.