Monday, January 14, 2019

Where are all the birthday songs?

Today happens to be my birthday. Which got me thinking: how come most people in the world sing the same birthday song?

photo by Ed g2s

Where are all the other songs for birthdays?

the original happy birthday song

Happy birthday to you is (according to the 1998 Guinness World Records) the most recognised song in the English language.

The origins of the song date back to at least the 19th Century when two sisters Patty and Mildred J. Hill, introduced the song Good Morning to All to Patty’s kindergarten class in Kentucky.

It is very likely that the Hill sisters copied the tune and lyrical idea from other popular and similar nineteenth-century songs that predated theirs.

The melody soon gained the familiar Happy birthday to you lyrics. The first published version of the song with the new lyrics was in 1911.

birthday songs from other cultures

It can get a bit tiresome singing the same old song at birthdays. Especially if you’re in a choir since Happy birthday to you is a bit lame and people only ever seem to harmonise on the last few notes. Not very challenging!

Over the years I’ve sought out songs which different cultures sing to celebrate birthdays. About 90% of the time it’s simply the Happy birthday to you tune with foreign lyrics!

Here’s a sample:

Belgium and the Netherlands come up with something different. Then you hit Eastern Europe and lots of different songs pop up. My favourite is Poland’s: Stolat. But mostly it’s the same old tune.

In my choirs we’ve learnt Stolat (great, rousing song) and we’ve also used Mravalzamier from the Republic of Georgia (“may you live for many years”). Other than that I’ve drawn a blank.

alternative birthday songs in English

There are alternatives out there. You could always sing Stevie Wonder’s Happy birthday for example. And there are plenty of simple birthday rounds.

But if you want to have a ‘different’ birthday song you’ll need lots of people to know it or nobody will join in.

If you’re in a choir, one option is to learn a new birthday song (or two) and use it whenever it’s someone’s birthday. A bit like learning Christmas songs, it won’t get wheeled out that often, but at least it’ll be in your repertoire.

I’d love to hear what solution you’ve found, or do you sing the same old thing each time?

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Chris Rowbury



Monthly Music Roundup:

Monday, January 07, 2019

Can you ‘be in the moment’ yet plan for the future?

There’s a lot of talk about ‘mindfulness’ these days. Of being present and in the moment.

Student expressions on the walls of the APEX center at the College of Wooster - APEX= Advising Planning Experiential learning

But if you are truly in the moment, how can you think about the future and plan ahead? Let’s look at this apparent contradiction.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Taking stock – self-reflection for choir leaders and singers

In order to develop as a singer or choir leader it’s important to take stock from time to time.


People often use the New Year as a time for reflection, but you can take stock at any time.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas comes but once a year — so when to learn all the carols?

Christmas is coming. Time for concerts liberally sprinkled with seasonal songs.


But when do you start learning your Christmas repertoire? It takes a lot of work to add songs to the repertoire and then might only sing them once!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Have you become too dependent on your choir leader? You might be denying your own abilities

I’ve been noticing something interesting recently: when I move away from a part when I’m teaching them a song, they tend to fall apart.


Since I’m not actually doing anything for them at this point, I wonder what’s going on.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Choir anniversaries – and how you might celebrate them

I’ve just realised that this blog is 12 years’ old! Amazing how time flies. I was wondering how I might mark the occasion.


Then I realised that I’ve been hearing a lot recently about choirs who have been celebrating their own anniversaries. Which got me thinking: what’s the best way to celebrate a choir anniversary?

Monday, December 03, 2018

The hardest thing about going to choir is leaving the house!

Humans – dontcha just love ’em?! They say they really want to do something, then they don’t turn up.


What is that about? How come it’s so hard to leave the house when it’s choir time?