• June 16, 2019

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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Has anyone else encountered such a problem? 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: Copland nee Kaplan would be horrified to think so. 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.

Ching-a-ring Chaw Lyrics

If so, what to say???? The black characters tended to be portrayed in negative ways, as lazy, unintelligent and happy-go-lucky but also musically talented. Segregationists, and especially slaveowners, saw them as subversive, especially in the sympathetic portrayals of runaway slaves. But if this was originally a song about the earthly joys of life in a free land, those references make sense. Racism and the transformative power of art are all packed into this one short selection.


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.

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

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

Then my revivalist theory hit the dust: This post fulfills both conditions. Both are great to perform, though. Copland has left intact as much as he can even as he broadens the theme to that of a universal rather a specific Promised Land. First, some general background.

Copland’s Creation

Copland invested a great deal of time and energy researching the material for the songs, which were a great success at the festival. Turning to some straightforward American folk songs must have been a relief.

How did we get the spirituals? Most people just enjoyed them without feeling any need to justify them; others did try to legitimize the portrayals by chwa that the shows provided a venue for black music and culture.

By around the shows had become a major American musical form, with packed audiences. So the use of the makeup did not in and of itself indicate prejudice. 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.


It is true that after the Civil War there were some minstrel shows that featured black performers in blackface. See the bottom of this riing for videos. In some circles the heavy hand of political correctness has descended on this selection. The fascinating thing about that first set is that it was commissioned by the dhing Benjamin Britten, and it had its premier in England at his Music and Art Festival, with Britten himself playing the piano.

Now that we know the source of our song some of the puzzling lines become clear.

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

The best answer is the following: 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 blackface but who was also known as a proponent of ding integration. You may recall that there was a brief period cuaw about a decade when Haiti was a republic governed by former slaves who had risen up against their white masters.