American in Spain

Marching Melodies

May 1, 2009

thumbYesterday morning, as I was changing and dressing Nora, I was whistling to her to calm her down, as I sometimes do. I was startled when Marga called from the next room, "Be careful with that song! We're going to the Basque Country this weekend!" "What was I whistling?", I asked. "That's the Spanish national anthem," she replied. Oops. I hadn't realized at all what I was whistling. What's odd is that, if you asked me right now to hum or whistle (there are no lyrics) the Marcha Real (listen), I wouldn't know where to begin, but having whistled a few random notes this morning, my brain picked up on the melody and continued the song. Brains are weird like that. Most people can sing along to over a thousand songs, but if asked for a line in the middle of a verse, they'd be hard pressed to recall that information.

Part of caring for an infant is singing; melodies really do calm babies. Inevitably, at some point you find yourself improvising lyrics. Personally, I find it very interesting the melodies my brain chooses for my improvised songs. The two most common melodies I find myself using are from the American Civil War songs When Johnny Comes Marching Home and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, with the latter being by far the most common. Due to my daughter's name, my Battle Hymn lyrics almost always take the form:

Nora, Nora [some verbal phrase], Nora, Nora [some verbal phrase], Nora, Nora [some verbal phrase], [some other verbal phrase].

The repetitive nature makes for less mental work to improvise each line. For example:

Nora, Nora is getting very sleepy, Nora, Nora is getting very sleepy, Nora, Nora is getting very sleepy, And she's going to bed right now!


melody When Nora's Spanish grandmother and great-grandfather sing to her, the melodies are those of the Christmas carols we sing every year. As I said earlier, brains are weird like that.

Oh, and when I whistle and it's not one of these civil war songs, it's almost always Appalachian Spring. I love that song! Here, have a listen: