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WowoSpot Kids

Frère Jacques | Are You Sleeping? | the story, lyrics and music

Lisa Ruping Cheng

Frère Jacques is a very familiar folk song well loved by children. It originates from France. My earliest memory about this tune goes back to my kindergarten days. I learned this song in Mandarin Chinese, not in English, and the meanings in the Chinese lyrics were entirely different from the English version. Let’s take a look at the different versions of lyrics.

The French lyrics

The earliest print of the song can trace back to the late 19th century.

The original song Frère Jacques, is about a monk who sleeps in in the midnight when he is supposed to wake up to ring the bell for an early morning prayer. He is therefore urged to get up to ring the bell. The lyrics are as follows:

Frère Jacques
Frère Jacques
Dormez vous?
Dormez vous?
Sonnez les matines
Sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong
Ding ding dong

English lyrics

When this tune evolved into English version, the original meaning had been modified. The “urging to ring the bell” was changed to “the bells are ringing.” As a result the story has been completely altered: it has become a lovely, intimate nursery rhyme making us visualize a little boy sleeping in in the morning and may be late for school. The lyrics are as follows:

Are you sleeping
Are you sleeping?
Brother John?
Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing
Morning bells are ringing
Ding ding dong
Ding ding dong

It is intriguing to see how folk songs evolve over time across different cultures and how adaptable they can be: the nature of the simplicity in lyrics, harmony and meaning makes them easy to spread, variate and communicate.

Sing it as a Round

Since the opening melody repeats itself and the hormony follows the simple Tonic-Dominant-Tonic rule, this tune is easy to perform as a round. That is, to perform it in a canon form with multiple voices. What is a round? It refers to a musical form where three or more parts sing the same melody in unison, each part beginning at different times.

As an experiment, let’s take a listen to a recording of three voices singing one after another and examine if the result is viable in harmony.

By lining up the lyrics, we can see what it will look like in the first four bars.

The round works well harmonically becuase throughout the song it follows the same pattern of Tonic-Dominant-Tonic-Dominant-Tonic.

Versatile in making arrangement

I have written a four-hand piano duet for the tune in F major. Let’s take a listen to it too. ( Please visit WowoSpot Kids Podcast to listen to the same name episode!)

In the duet I add accompaniment elements to fill some spaces, thus making the texture thicker and richer. The duet is a fun piece for a prime level young pianist to play with another as a team. Not only it serves as an excellent material for establishing good ears (to differentiate and identify different voices), also it is entertaining to play in a recital.

The Chinese version: Two Tigers

The chinese version of the song I have learned as a kid is about two tigers:

兩隻老虎 兩隻老虎 (Two tigers, two tigers)

跑得快 跑得快 (Run fast, run fast)

一隻沒有耳朵 (One has no ears)

一隻沒有尾巴 (One has no tail)

真奇怪 真奇怪 (Very strange, very strange.)

It is unknown who wrote the lyrics of the Two Tigers. What I am certain is the lyrics have done a good job to stimulate young kids’ imagination. One can easily replace the word “ears” or “tail” into something similar, such as lips, or eyes, as long as the new words have the same numbers of syllables as the original.

To listen to the podcast of this blog post please look for the same title WowoSpot Kids Podcast episode. The episode will be released on Monday, August 30th!)

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WowoSpot Kids

Toys and Magic | How I came up with the idea for the song Little Puppy Lily’s Magic Bone

Lisa Ruping Cheng

Little Puppy Lily’s Magic Bone is the first children’s song that I made as an audio recording. It was great fun to see how my creative work came to life.

How I came up with the idea of the story of the song

Originally I thought about writing a song based on the popular children’s story Straga Nona. Straga Nona is an enchanting children’s story written by American author Tomie dePaola. It is about a grandma witch (Straga Nona) who owns a magic pot that can cook noodles if she casts a spell. One day Straga Nona went out of town so she hired a boy to look after her home. The young boy, with a wandering mind, did what she had told him not to do: he chanted the spell to start the cooking pot. When Straga Nona came back to town and saw a disastrous scene—the town was quickly swollowed by mountains of noodles, she knew who did it. Apparently, the boy knew how to start the pot but did not know how to stop it.

I remember reading this story with my daughters when they were younger and have always liked it. I was so excited about this idea. Before I fetched a piece of paper to write down the music notes, I had constructed the rhythm, the lyrics and the melody in my mind.

After I googled this story, I was disappointed to find the story is a copyrighted work and is not in the public domain. It was a pity. The lyrics could have been awesome if it goes like “Straga-no-na has a magic cooking pot, she….” I loved the sound of the word straganona and how it would work perfectly with the rhythm I had in my mind.

Well, knowing I could not use the story as my lyrics, I tried to sing new lyrics to the melody I’d created. While I was scratching my head, my eyes fixed on my dog Wowo, a new idea struck me. “Wowo loves her chewing bone, a toy she could play with all day long.” I thought, and “I am going to make a dog’s toy story!”

The lyrics I came up with are as follows:

“Little puppy Lily had a magic chewing bone

It shined and danced in the quiet night,

Little puppy Lily had a magic chewing bone

It shined and danced int he quiet night.

Wiggle wiggle, flash flash

The bone fell asleep when the morning came.”

The music that goes with the story of the song: harmony, solfege, and range of pitches

To take a look at the harmony of the song, it follows the most fundamental tonic-dominant-tonic structure. To sing in solfege it goes like this:

“mi re mi re do, mi re mi re do

re re re do re mi do re

mi re mi re do, mi re mi re do

re re re do re mi re do

so so mi mi, so so mi mi,

do re re re do re mi re do”

The meter will work the best in 2/4 where the strong beat falls on the first in each bar.

(To listen to the singing audio, please visit WowoSpot Kids Podcast. The same title episode will be released on Monday, August 23)

The main body of the song consists of only three notes: C, D and E. I was surprised that just by using three pitches I could create a good variety of melodies with different types of rhythms and words.

Toys and magic has always been a popular theme in children’s stories

The imaginary world this song created reminds me of a TV cartoon show I used to love as a kid. In the show, this toy came to life after midnight when the little boy was asleep. And when the toy came to life, the clock stopped clicking and the whole world froze. Interestingly, there are in fact many children’s stories describing toys coming alive. Take the beloved Tchaikovsky ballet Nutcracker for example, the little girl Clara’s favorite Christmas present nutcracker turns into a handsome prince after midnight. Together they visit a snowy pine forest and then arrive at the Land of Sweets. They are charmed by the beautiful Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The ground-breaking, computer-animated movie series, Toy Story is another obvious example.

I am still enamored of the sound of the word Stra-ga-no-na

I wonder if I could create a second verse for the song Little Puppy Lily’s Magic Bone, changing “the magic chewing bone” into “a magic cooking pot”. Then I will have to make up a character whose name is sounding as uniqe as stra-ga-no-na and has four syllables to go with the opening tune. It has to be a unique name, so unique that no one has ever used it before..a name that is completely new and catchy… I am still thinking…

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WowoSpot Kids

Do you know the Muffin Man? | the story of an English nursery rhyme

By Lisa Ruping Cheng

Will we call a man who delivers muffins house-to-house a “muffin man” today? Obviously in older times we did. The popular nursery rhyme The Muffin Man is an English folk song. The lyrics are dynamic, easy to remember and they rhyme well. The melody is cheerful. The widely known lyrics are as follows:

“Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man?

Do you know the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane?

Yes I know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man;

Yes I know the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane.”

We tend to visualize the muffins as the contemporary muffins we see freshly baked in the supermarkets. The muffins referred to in the lyrics must have looked like English muffins, not the sweeter, cake-like American muffins. An illustration by the English illustrator Paul Sandby shows us the image of a muffin man in the 18th century. I imagine in those times muffins were household staples that were consumed on a regular basis.

Nowadays if we crave for a muffin, we either get one from Tim Hortons, or get a dozen from a nearby grocery store. If we order delivery of pastry it usually is for special occasions or custom made specialties. I would imagine that the muffins in the lyrics would look like the English muffins we can find on the shelves of the bakery sections in the supermarkets. They are plain in color, tasting a bit sour with chewy texture, and are used to make the popular breakfast dish Egg Benedict.

Since the verses of the Muffin Man are in a question form, this song evolved into forms of games and ring dances. To answer the question another person will respond by saying yes or no. Question verses make a folk song so much more lively and versatile!

I like that the term “muffin man” is repeated many times in the lyrics and the new word that rhymes with “muffin man”, “Drury Lane” occurs in the very end, giving the song a strong finishing sound with a surprise.

“Man” and “Lane” rhymes beautifully!

Taking a look at the harmony structure, it progresses from tonic to subdominant and dominant in the first verse and in the seond verse the melody repeats then falls back to tonic as resolution.

To sing it in solfege can reveal the harmonic structure quickly:

So do do re | mi do do ti | la re re do | ti so so

So do do re | mi do do do | re re so so | do

(I used vertical lines to mark measures; we can see the structure is symmetrical.)

If Mozart had picked the Muffin Man to write some variations for piano wouldn’t the Muffin Man have become as famous as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Now in 2021, will there be interest among contemporary composers to revisit the traditional harmony in folk songs and making them new? As a pianist myself, this is a question to contemplate!

The balanced structure, conventional harmony, and the dynamic, easy to remember lyrics make The Muffin Man popular. We can learn to sing or play this song with any instrument. There are numerous arrangements to choose from in the internet. I have written a beginner’s piano version too. For further interest, please follow the link below to explore a variety of sheet music for “The Muffin Man”

The Muffin Man, For beginner to level one piano

The Muffin Man Duet for easy piano

To add on new elements to this folk song, one can create a different version of the lyrics in English. If I were to write new lyrics I would change muffin man to a subject that we can all relate to in the current time. What about using “the cat next door” to subsitute “the muffin man” and using “naps by the rising dough” to substitute “lives on Drury Lane”? (I happen to have dough rising in the kitchen at this moment!)

My adventurous re-written lyrics are as follows:

“Do you know the cat next door, the cat next door, the cat next door

Do you know the cat next door who naps by the rising dough?

Yes I know the cat next door, the cat next door, the cat next door

Yes I know the cat next door who naps by the rising dough.”

To hear The Muffin Man sung in solfege, in the old and the new lyrics, please listen to the same-title episode in WowoSpot Kids Podcast.

(Attribution of the featured image: Paul Sandby, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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WowoSpot Kids

Hey Diddle Diddle and The Bagels on the Table | creativity during lockdown

In the spring this year, on a bright sunny Sunday morning, out of my desperation to have some comfort food, I lined up to buy a bag of Montreal style bagels from a new store that had just opened in downtown. I believed a bag of great bagels could definitely save me from feeling even more anxious about the on-and-off lockdown.

Before noon I had eaten three bagels: sesame, cinnamon and blueberry. Yummy.

I’d been reading articles about children’s folk songs while compiling a beginners’ piano book of popular folk tunes. While looking at the rest of the assorted bagels lying on my kitchen table, still wanting for more, I was struck by the idea that if I were a kid I would probably have imagined the bagles started to move and roll out of the table, running away to some where. I let myself daydream.

I thought of the song Hey Diddle Diddle, which was about a cat playing a fiddle and the cow jumping over the moon, and the dish running away with the spoon. I imagined when the bagels on my table started to roll and run away what would happen.

The next day in the early morning when I was slowly waking up, still in bed, a tune came to my head. I’d used the interval of perfect fourth in the opening. The lyrics came to my mind as well:

The bagels on the table ran away to Toronto

Riding on the cloud, hanging on the moon

The cat woke up and laughing so hard

The mice hid behind the wall

Thrilled to have found the word “Toronto” to rhyme with the word “bagels”, I jumped off the bed, srambled around my room to find a piece of paper and quickly wrote the whole song down. For the melody I wrote down in a short-handed form. I loved that I could substitute the word “Toronto” with any word that could rhyme with “bagels.” For instance, “Mexico”, or “Orlando” would work. I named the song The Bagels on the Table.

Hey, “bagels” and “table” rhyme with each other!

My storyline had obviously been inspired by the traditional folk song Hey Diddle Diddle, which tells a very vivid story:

Hey diddle diddle the cat with a fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon

The dog woke to see the fun

And the dish ran away with the spoon

I had loved how “diddle” rhymed with “fiddle” and “moon” rhymed with “spoon.”

Our of excitement, in two days, I wrote another bagel song: Two Littel Bagels, thinking that it would be a good idea to incorporate some educational elements in the new songs. In the song Two Little Bagels, I’d introduced the ideas of colors and shapes:

Two little bagels round and round

One is yellow one is brown

Yellow and brown

Yellow and brown

Two little bagels round and round

This time I made every sentence rhyme with the next!

These songs have used very simple harmonies we can all relate to: tonic, dominant and subdominant. With the lyrics telling imaginary stories, magic happens for the melodies. When I visualize the pictures in my mind that go with these songs I always grin with happiness.

As we are finally walking out of the darkness of the pandemic, I am glad that I have made good use of my time of isolation to create something new and meaningful for the young generation.

To listen to the songs please click here to visit WowoSpot Kids Podcast.

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WowoSpot Kids

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star | the story, lyrics and solfege

By Lisa Ruping Cheng

Who wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? This beloved song has become a must-have lullaby nowadays in children’s song playlists. The tune comes from a French folk song ah vous dirai – je ma, maman ( oh shall I tell you mama), written in the mid- 18th century. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart adapted the melody and composed twelve variations on it as a piano solo work when he was twenty-five, making this tune world famous.

How about the lyrics? English poet Jane Taylor’s poem written in 1806, The Star has formed the basis of the lyrics we are familiar with today:

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high

Like the diamond in the sky

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are

What I love about this song, other than the bright, simple and imaginary tune, is how “star” rhymes with “are” and “high” rhymes with “sky.” Brilliant.

The tune is based on six pitches: do, re, mi, fa, so, and la. One can see that the tune is made out of a C major chord with an added note of la.

A young child can be taught to sing this song in solfege to learn about basic pitches in music:

Do do so so la la so

Fa fa mi mi re re do

So so fa fa mi mi re

So so fa fa mi mi re

Do do so so la la so

Fa fa mi mi re re do

This helps young children establish the ability to identify the fundamental notes and pitches from C to A.

The Chinese lyrics I learned as a child is beautiful too:

一閃一閃亮晶晶 (twinkling and flashing)

滿天都是小星星 (the sky is full of little stars)

掛在天上放光明 (hung on the sky to illuminate bright light)

好像許多小眼睛 (like many little eyes)

一閃一閃亮晶晶 (twinkling and flashing)

滿天都是小星星 (the sky is full of little stars)

Music is indeed an universal language. In a way music connects different cultures and brings people together. Through music we realize how much human beings share the same beauty and treasure in life experiences.

Wowospot are keen to produce iconic children’s folk songs in the near future. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will definitely be one of our top selections. Expect to hear it sung in English, solfege and Chinese!

Rapunzel | Classic Fairy Tales WowoSpot Kids

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://wowospot.ca/2022/07/04/rapunzel-the-red-fairy-book-by-andrew-lang/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/lisa-ruping-cheng/message
  1. Rapunzel | Classic Fairy Tales
  2. Aesop's Fables | The Goose and the Golden Eggs
  3. Aesop's Fables | The Wolf and the Donkey
  4. Aesop's Fables | The Wolf and the Lean Dog
  5. Aesop’s Fables | The Owl and the Grasshopper

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WowoSpot Kids

Kids Songs in 2021 | The Ideas about WowoSpot Kids

by Lisa Ruping Cheng

In May 2021, after I compiled and published The Bagels on the Table, a piano book with nursery rhymes and folk songs for kids, I wrote more than twenty new children songs in three weeks. Most of the songs were created on a piece of paper while I was having breakfast. The ideas kept coming to head. What inspired me initially was that the beginners’ piano sheet music “Itsy Bitsy Spider” I published in sheet music plus had received a popular response. It struck me that young minds are looking for songs to learn to play, sing and have fun with.

In my very remote memories, my earliest musical experiences were about songs. We react to music and language most naturally through songs. Before I was made to sit on the piano bench at the age of five to learn to play the gigantic instrument, I had known music by singing and dancing along my favorite songs from the radio.

Songs are not as serious as instruments. They are directly connected to our emotions and they are done by our most natural instrument – our voice. Did you know that voice is the earliest form of music?

In the process of my research while arranging children’s folk songs, I realized that traditional folk songs, as great and culturally rich as they are, and although they are still very much loved by today’s children, the stories and lyrics associated with them are lacking freshness and new elements to reflect the current times. There is a reason why Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Muffin Man are so popular. They are just wonderful. But other than these songs, what new songs will kids in the 21st century sing in the future? A good song not only nurtures, educates, and relates to life experiences, it also provides comforting melodies and inspires creativity.

WowoSpot Kids was created to produce and deliver new children songs and music for fun, entertainment and education. I intend to make these new songs I have written known to the children of the world. I am excited to produce each of the songs with care and dedication. Little Puppy Lily’s Magic Bone was published in my new Youtube channel WowoSpot Kids today. When little puppy Lily falls asleep in the night what will her chewing bone turn into? Kids and families can expect to experience puppy Lily’s world by watching the 2D animation video while listening to the song with lyrics shown at the bottom of the screen.

WowoSpot Kids

The channel art, the visual design ideas, and the production steps were done with the help of talent that I work with. I appreciate all who have helped me to make the launch of the channel a reality. As we explore the possibilities to deliver quality kids content, we have learned a lot and will continue to learn to make it better.