We are singing two selections from the set of “Old American Songs” by Aaron Copland, “Ching-A-Ring Chaw” and “The Boatmen’s Dance. Sheet Music – £ – Old American Songs II No. 5 Ching-a-Ring-Chaw Minstrel song for mixed choir (SATB) with piano accompaniment. English. CHING-A-RING CHAW. 3. (Minstrel Song) Des. Res en HEAVE A. S.A.T.B.. Adapted by Aaron Copland. Arranged for Chorus by Irving Fine. RY AN: TNI A4.

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By around the shows had become a major American musical form, with packed audiences. And here was where the story got really interesting, because it was indeed the case that the original song was drawn from pre-Civil War minstrel shows.

Most people just enjoyed them without feeling any need to justify them; others did try to legitimize the portrayals by saying that the shows provided a venue for black music and culture. Copland has left intact as much as he can even as he cging the theme to that of a universal rather a specific Promised Land. This post fulfills both conditions.

Racism and the transformative power of art are all packed into this one short selection. In some circles the heavy hand of political correctness has descended on this selection. You may recall that there was a brief period cha about a decade when Haiti was a republic governed by former slaves who had risen up against their white masters.


Ching-a-Ring Chaw – Song of America Song of America

Has anyone else encountered such a problem? Copland invested a great deal of time rimg energy researching the material for the songs, which were a great success at the festival.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the immense popularity of the minstrel shows, there was a lot of controversy about them.

Both are great to perform, though. Copland nee Kaplan would be horrified to think so. But if this was originally a song about the earthly joys of life in a free land, those references make sense. If so, what to say???? So the use of the makeup did not in and of itself indicate prejudice. Now that we know the source of our song some of the puzzling lines become clear.

Aaron Copland – Ching-A-Ring Chaw SATB & piano

Segregationists, and especially slaveowners, saw them as subversive, especially in the sympathetic portrayals of runaway slaves. By the time Copland started ransacking the Boston University Library for lyrics the minstrel shows were pretty much dead, but he was certainly aware of their legacy. The fascinating thing about that first set is that it was commissioned chzw the composer Benjamin Britten, and it had its premier in England at his Music and Art Festival, with Britten himself playing the piano.

Then my revivalist theory hit the dust: When I read through the lyrics of this piece at our first rehearsal I assumed that it was some type of backwoods revivalist hymn, with its references to the Promised Land and the glory of God.


It is true that after the Civil War there were some minstrel shows that featured black performers in blackface. The black characters tended to be portrayed in negative ways, as lazy, unintelligent and happy-go-lucky but ging musically talented. Turning to some straightforward American folk songs must have been a relief. The words are actually supposed to represent the strumming of a banjo, so I was wrong in that assumption.

I cannot leave this particular subject without mentioning Al Jolson, most famous for his performance in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, who performed often in chwa but who was also known as a proponent of racial integration.

Ching-A-Ring Chaw SATB & piano

See the bottom of this post for videos. First, some general background. Tell them, in that case, they would have to stop singing other forms of music performed by African-Americans throughout the past hundreds of years: The best answer is the following: How did we get the spirituals? Tell them, also, that the expression of African-American music, even if organized and arranged by arguably the best American composer-arranger of the 20th Century who happened to be Jewish, has nothing at all to do with supporting slavery.