When I was in Elementary School, I had some wonderful teachers. One that everyone seemed to love was our music teacher, Mrs. Schlundt. Not only did we sing all sorts of fun songs, some from other parts of the world, but we also learned about legends that influenced music, like Till Eulenspiegel and the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We would draw pictures of the stories she told us, and sing the songs or listen to the music that they inspired. She also formed a few choirs in which I sang. Toward the end of my fifth grade year, we were invited to sing at the Governor's Mansion in Denver. A few days before we were due to make this appearance, Mrs. Schlundt was killed by a driver who ran through a red light. We decided not to perform. I lost my confidence in singing, and perhaps, temporarily, a little of my joy.
The following year brought us a new music teacher whose name I can't remember. Looking at the situation over the distance of years, I feel a bit sorry for her. She was following a legend, someone who was deeply loved by her students and died tragically in her prime. But we learned to enjoy our time with this new teacher, and even put on a short version of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical at the end of the school year.
I started on a train of thought yesterday, while we were out running some errands, that made me think of this teacher. We turned on the car radio to listen to some Christmas music, and there was a song that took me back to my childhood. I remembered singing the song "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" and being taught, shall we say, alternative lyrics for this and many other classic holiday songs by my friends and cousins. We thought we were very clever and brave when we sang, "Later on, we'll perspire, as we dream by the fire." We were wild men and women, at least in our own minds.
On the occasions that we'd sing these songs in school or while out caroling, a few of the brave and foolhardy souls among us would use the naughty lyrics or teach them to one another. The opening line of We Three Kings of Orient Are was followed by the words, "tried to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded, and explo-o-ded..." And there was always the classic Randolph the Shiny-Gunned Cowboy, or even the witty lyrics "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..." I'm sitting here shaking my head just thinking about it. What seems so silly now was so hysterical to us then. We thought we were getting away with something really bold and bad, but I am sure all of the parents involved simply chose to ignore what they thought of as our idiocy.
So, how does this relate to my (unfortunately nameless) sixth-grade music teacher? It's very simple, really. When it came time for our annual Christmas program, one of the carols she chose for us to sing was The Twelve Days of Christmas. This was a song that most of us knew and liked a great deal. For the few years that we had actually been old enough to learn and sing carols, we had worked hard to learn all of the lines, especially with a long one like this. But I think most of us felt up to the challenge of singing this song. But our teacher made a change in the lyrics. For some reason, she really hated, and I mean she told us that she absolutely hated, they phrase "five golden rings." I don't know why this would be a big deal for her. Maybe someone gave her a golden ring and it ended up turning her finger green, along with the romance, and the lyric was an annual reminder of the not-so-golden ring? I will never know. As we rehearsed for our program, we sang the song with the new lyric of "five go-old rings." We practiced it enough times for the lyric to come out of our mouths naturally. And that's when my problem began. For years, I had a stumbling block with the fifth day of Christmas. Were the rings gold or golden? It took me a good long while to get that confusion straightened out.
When I hear old Christmas songs, from time to time I will think about the silliness we indulged in as children. And I also think of how my music teacher's intense dislike of one word in a song had me mixed up about the lyric for years. I sometimes wonder if any of my fellow students had the same problem, or if I was the only one left with fifth-day confusion. My true love gave me five what? I've gotten over my stumbling block with the song, and will gladly join in when it is being sung. "On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Five Golden Rings..." Or were they gold? Darn it! Just kidding, I knew the right answer all along!