Cabbage Variations

by Paul Jennings

For our recorder feature in this issue Paul has created a fairly simple set of variations on the old folk song, "Bile (Boil) Them Cabbage Down." The work starts with a straightforward ostinato playing beneath the melody of our folk song. As this winds down after a full statement of the song, it transitions into a Latin American feel under a slightly altered version.

Next, there is a short interlude built around elements of the melody which melts into a different variation reminiscent of the chorus of a typical march, complete with drums and tubas. The next interlude builds into the finale, which is the melody played twice as long per note with thick moving harmonies.

Just as it seems headed to a big ending, it drops suddenly to just the opening soli over an ostinato again, and as that is about to end quietly, we are surprised one more time by the addition of several big, rich chords that bring it to a close.

Discussing form - This is a perfect tune for discussing form. You can compare the form here as it compares to other songs students may be playing, singing, or listening to. Or you can reserve your discussion for just this song and its form. It is fairly simple and the variations are short. In some other cases, for instance, there may be themes and variations with ten or more longer variations!

What types of variations are there? - Ours are large variations of style and melody. But in others, there could be changes of harmony or key center. Variations could state the theme in a minor key, change time signatures, or make the theme twice as long or as short.

Create - Pick a short simple tune and with your students, create ideas for writing variations on that melody. If you or a student play piano, try to build a simple accompaniment; or arrange your variations for a group that exists in your classroom, like a bucket band, Boomwhackers®, or rhythm band. Consider adding recorders for your composition.

More to discuss - When you are writing for different instruments, what do you have to consider? (Available notes, for one thing.) Can you create a variation for unpitched percussion? Consider how to string the work together... and will you end it upbeat or down as we almost did? These are just a few of the decisions a writer makes while composing a musical work.

Extras! - Don't forget that there are special resources online, including a PDF of the piano/recorder score and an interactive "Diving Deeper Into The Music" learning assessment worksheet. These are provided free to Music K-8 subscribers.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.