Made famous by Simon & Garfunkel in their 1966 recording, Scarborough Fair is a traditional English song. Its roots can be traced way, way back to medieval times and it is an example of a song where a series of impossible tasks are set for someone in order that they prove their love.
Here is the sheet music and some audio tracks for the song along with a video introduction. Below are some suggestions for things you might like to discuss / do with your children.
Background to the song
- How are the verses structured? Which bits repeat? Which lines rhyme with each other?
- Where is Scarborough? (it’s in Yorkshire on the NE coast of England)
- What sort of fair do you think it was? (we’re probably talking medieval trade fair rather than one with bumper cars, but it’s all up for discussion…)
- What are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? (this line in the refrain may well be a corruption of other words; there’s a lot written about the history of the song. But talk about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with the children. Take some in for them to see / smell. Maybe you could grow some? Do some cooking with them? This could also be the starting point for some observational art work.)
- Who do the children think is singing to who? (this really is up for interpretation!)
- What about the things the person is asking their true love to do:-
- can you have a shirt that isn’t sewn?
- can you wash things in a dry well (and anyway, what is a well?)
- can you dry things on a thorn? (it’s actually a bit unclear to me what this is about and again, there are a lot of documented interpretations)
- Is it fair that the person is asking their love to do impossible things?
Learning the song
- The song (this version) is in a pulse of three – encourage your children to feel that pulse. Can they tap on beat one? Can they tap on beats two and three?
- I’ve put it in a key that can be played without needing accidentals (and is slightly too high for my voice at the moment, as the recording demonstrates…) Once the children know the tune, start them off on “D” on a xylophone or keyboard and see if they can work the rest out.
- I’ve included a simple glockenspiel accompaniment too, which could also be sung.
- Use the vocal line only music to show the children how the melody rises and falls / how some notes are held for longer whist others are shorter.