Whether you went camping with your family as a child or spent many long, golden days at summer camp, you’re probably already familiar with the tradition of singing camp songs.
Certain tunes just lend themselves perfectly to singing around the campfire. Where did these songs come from? Just as importantly, why is it important that campfire songs continue to be learned and enjoyed?
Read on to discover more about this fascinating subject, and you just might rekindle your love of camp songs so that you can share your passion with your kids.
Why Study and Sing Camp Songs?
This could turn into a very long list, since there are many reasons why singing camp songs is important. Let’s take a closer look at a few:
- The whole family can participate
- It builds energy
- It’s fun to put together music and movement
- It fosters a sense of community
When it comes to camp songs, everyone can sing! These simple, familiar melodies are known to most of us, and they can be a lot of fun to learn. Even the family member who says they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket is totally capable of singing a campfire song. No special training or ability is required, and that means that the whole family can participate.
Camp songs also are worth learning because they are so high energy and fun. Singing these tunes is a wonderful way to build enthusiasm and get the whole class or family ready for whatever comes next. There’s nothing like a rousing song to get everyone ready to tackle an activity.
Some of the best camp songs feature integrated body and hand motions that are wonderful for introducing concepts like balance and coordination. Plus, it’s just fun to be able to make a silly movement while singing a fun song. What a great way to get through a case of the wiggles!
Camp songs also endure because participating in singing builds a strong and healthy sense of community. Of course, this is true of any sing along experience whether it’s your college fight song or singing the National Anthem at a sporting event. When you all sing the same song together, you’re sharing a sense of purpose, and that helps to build a stronger community.
Where Does the Campfire Song Tradition Come From?
Throughout the centuries, cultures all over the world have practiced the tradition of singing together. The songs have certainly changed, but the reasons for singing together remain largely the same.
Who doesn’t enjoy sitting around a campfire while someone strums a guitar? Of course, the fun is only increased when everyone can sing along to the music. The modern American tradition of campfire songs has its roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was during these decades that a national movement for appreciating the outdoors was underway. The first National Parks were being established, and state, county and city parks were proliferating across the U.S.
With all of those parks being created, more families were starting to look forward to vacations that included camping out and singing around the fire in the evening. Additionally, the concept of summer camps was becoming more popular. As more kids and teens began spending a few days or weeks away from home each summer, the tradition of singing songs at camp only grew.
Have you ever sung the song “Kumbaya” around a camp fire? Reading suggests Come by Yuh or Yah, a Gullah word meaning “here,” is the phrase that morphed into kumbaya over time. Despite common misconceptions, Kum ba yah are not African language words. This song is most likely an African American spiritual which originated somewhere in the American south, then traveled all over the world. It is truly a global folksong. You can download sheet music “Come By Here” (Kumbaya) below.
When Are Camp Songs Sung?
While it might be most natural to sing these tunes while sitting around the campfire in the evening, anytime is the right time for this music.
Consider adding camp songs to all of these occasions:
- Formal music instruction
- Riding in a car
- Bath time
- Before a meal
- While on a hike
- As you’re doing chores
Not so many decades ago, singing was woven into pretty much every part of daily life. People sang while they traveled, sang while the worked, sang in church and sang at the end of the day as a means of relaxation.
We’ve rather gotten away from this tradition today, and it’s kind of a shame. Singing and listening to or playing music are wonderful means for relieving stress and bringing together groups of people both large and small.
What better songs to sing than camp songs? Chances are good that everyone knows the words or can learn them in just a few minutes, and you certainly don’t have to know how to sing to participate.
Where Do Camp Songs Come From?
Almost anything could be considered a camp song. Many of the folk tunes written in the 1960s and 1970s seem like they were composed just to be sung by the light of a fire. Works like If I Had a Hammer, Blowin’ in the Wind and Puff the Magic Dragon are almost universally loved and recognized. Chances are good that you could teach these songs to your kids in just a few minutes.
Other camp songs have their roots in African-American spiritual music. Consider tunes such as When the Saints Go Marching In, Deep River, Wade in the Water, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand and One More River to the Promised Land all have historical significance. Learning and singing these songs provides another excellent avenue for teaching social and political history as well.
Still other camp songs come from various wars. Songs from World War I and World War II are still popular today. These may include White Cliffs of Dover, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Wing and a Prayer, Over There, Pack Up Your Troubles and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.
Many songs that are still enjoyed around the campfire seem to have been written specifically with kids and fun in mind. Consider choices like the Meatball Song, Kookaburra, Ging Gang Goolie, BINGO and Boom Chick-a-Boom. Other songs like Down By the Bay, Flee Fly and the Fried Ham Camping Song are totally just for fun and will probably have the whole family in stitches.
Whether you decide to sing some old sea shanties or stick with the classics like Kum Bah Yah, your family will never forget the hours that you spent singing camp songs together.
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