Friday, July 03, 2009

Song of the Week: Five elephants on one spiderweb

I'm learning French songs for my summer French camp gigs. In two weeks, I'll lead 2 storytime circles twice a week for 20 minutes apiece. Many of the songs have 2 or 3 chords, but a song like "Le Bon Roi Dagobert" for Bastille Day has a bouncy, boisterous rhythm with not much repetition, so I'm definitely stretching myself. My French is not spectacular (my college professor can attest to that), but I know enough to compose simple songs. If I can ever figure out my new video editing software, I'll share my new composition about colors and clothes.

In the meantime, thanks to the fabulous Mama Lisa's World, I rediscovered a variation of a circle game song I learned in Cote d'Ivoire called Un éléphant se balançait ("An Elephant Was Balancing on a Spider Web"). You may listen to the MP3 here. The midi is the more standard tune, but I really like the jazzy version as sung on the MP3, and that's what I've based my guitar chords upon:


An elephant was balancing
On a web, web, web, a spider web,
It was a game that was so much fun
That he called.... a second elephant.

How many elephants can balance on a spider's web? I hope that the humor of the setup will be apparent with the felt-board figures I'm planning to make.

Some of you may be familiar with Sharon, Lois and Bram's recording "One Elephant, Deux Éléphants" which had a variation in both English and French to the tune of "Five Little Ducks Went Out to Play":

One elephant went out to play
Upon a spider's web one day
He had such enormous fun
That he called for another elephant to come.

Deux éléphants allaient jouer
Sur une toile d'araignée
Ils s'amusaient tellement bien
Qu'ils appelaient à un autre, viens!

Three elephants went out to play
Upon a spider's web one day
They had such enormous fun
That they called for another elephant to come.

Quatre éléphants allaient jouer
Sur une toile d'araignée
Ils s'amusaient tellement bien
Qu'ils appelaient à un autre, viens!

All the elephants were out at play
Upon a spider's web one day
They had such enormous fun
But, there were no more elephants left to come!


Anonymous said...

The last verse of that song, the way I sing it, runs:

$NUMBER elephants went out to play
All on a spider's web one day
But alas, the web gave way
And that was the end of a perfect day!

I've actually seen versions of this exact same song in Spanish and in Swedish both. I've yet to figure out how it's spread to so many different areas.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Cool! I've got a version of this song on that classic Lois, Sharon & Bram CD with all the jumping-rope rhymes on it. In fact, the girls and I were JUST listening to it in the car. I think that CD is called "Deux Elephantes" (or "Elephants"???), in fact. That's a fabulous CD for children.

Farida, you might be proud of me: You know how I'll be doing a storytime this summer at my local library (and I asked you for story tips)? Well, I know that when an instrument is involved, kids tend to perk up a bit more, but I don't play anything. BUT...I borrowed my dad's ukelele, and my mom taught me three cords yesterday -- enough to play a song for storytime! I'm so excited!

I've got three weeks to practice the cords -- playing them w/out looking at my fingers and pausing, that is -- but I think I can do it.

(Is it "cords" or "chords"?)

I hope you do figure out that video editing software. I'd love to hear your new composition.

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

You just snuck Cote d'Ivoire in there, didn't you? Would love to more.

And yes, the elephant song IS the same in Spanish! Jose Luis Orozco recorded it for his cd "De colores."

alissa said...


There is a similar song in Swedish also.

One possibility as in the you tube clip below is where one more child starts singing in the beginning of each verse.

To make it end there are two possibilities, first is to pitch up each verse until it becomes impossible to sing and a second is to sing each verse a little faster, again until everyone just giggles at the speed.

-Swedish text:
En elefant balanserade
På en liten, liten spindeltråd
Det tyckte han var så intressant
Att han gick och hämtade en annan elefant.
One elephant was balancing
On a little little spider web
He found it so interesting
So he went to get another elephant.

The Swedish word for "web" also means string unless you mean the whole net (a "spindelnät" is a finished web, not a single strand of webbing).

This is my first visit to your blog, so fun to find it!

Saints and Spinners said...

Wow, thanks for all of the comments and information! It's a real kick to read about variations on a theme. Elephants balancing on spider-webs... what's next?

I'm thrilled that Jules is learning to play the uke, too.

Conuly and Alissa, thanks for visiting my blog for the first time. It's late now, but I plan to visit your blogs tomorrow.

Anamaria, I was in Cote d'Ivoire for 12 weeks from May--July in 1993. It was part of my college study-service term. I should do a blog post about some of the aspects of that visit. At the time, I was 21, and a very young 21 at that.

Anonymous said...

This actually isn't the first time I've visited, just the first time I've commented. And I think I commented on a YouTube video of yours once. I'm Uly or Conuly everywhere, so.

And you're welcome and hi yourself!

Steff said...

We have a different version in Australia.
5 grey elephants bal-en-cing
step by step on a piece of string
they thought it was
such a wonderful stunt
that they called for another

mammafairy said...

My mother sang a variation on this, in English, when I was small, that would be in the early 1960s. So it has been around a long time.