I have a song to sing, O

Many children’s poems and songs are cumulative – that is, each verse gets progressively longer, usually in a formulaic way: ‘Old McDonald had a farm’, ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’, ‘This is the house that Jack built’, ‘The twelve days of Christmas’, and more seriously, ‘Green grow the rushes, O’. Some theoretically have no ending (‘Old McDonald’), some have an agreed and perhaps rather arbitrary ending ‘The house that Jack built’, ‘The twelve days’ and ‘Green grow’, and some come to a sudden and absurd halt: ‘There was an old lady’ and Rolf Harris’s ‘The court of King Caractacus’.

Even more seriously, Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Bells’ has progressively longer lines and progressively longer verses, which made setting it to music quite a challenge. For my setting, I created three- and four- and five-note melodic motifs which I could repeat as necessary.

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