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Danes and Singing

By Kay Xander Mellish

There have been very few international singing stars from Denmark, and that’s a surprise, because Danish people love to sing. Joining choirs is very popular, and Danish schoolchildren often start the week with a song – in my daughter’s school, all the grades get together and sing something from the school’s common songbook.  There’s actually a kind of common songbook for all the children of Denmark, called ‘Det Små Synger’, where you can find classics like ‘Se Min Kjole’  (See my dress), Lille Peter Edderkop (Little Peter Spider) orOles Nye Autobil, Ole’s new car.  Ole’s new car is actually a toy car that he uses to run into things, like his sister’s dollhouse. In general, the Small Songs are a throwback to an older Denmark, a quieter Denmark where most people lived in the countryside.  Many of the songs refer to green hilltops, or forests, or baby pigs or horses, or happy frogs that live in a swamp.  And of course, all the humans in the Small Songs are entirely Danish – or ‘Pear Danish,’ as the local expression goes. One out of five children born in Denmark today is not an ethnic Dane, but there’s no such thing as or ‘Little Muhammend Spider’ or ‘Fatima’s New Toy Car.’ Still, everyone who grows up in Denmark learns these songs. And other songs that are just part of the Danish canon. Back when I was looking around for a school for my daughter, I went to a parent introduction meeting where the principal asked everyone to start by singing The Autumn song.  All the Danish parents got up, there were probably 200 of them there, all smiling, brought back to their school days, and happily singing the song. They all knew the words. I had no idea what was going on.  I just stood up and hummed along.  But Danish singing is not just for children.  Danish teenagers and young adults, who tend to drink a lot, love Danish drinking songs.  Snaps songs are made to be sung right before drinking a shot of snaps, they’re an important part of Danish student culture.  One you’ll probably hear is ‘Sail up the river.’   The lyrics are easy to learn: ‘Sail up the river, sail down again. That was a great song, let’s sing it again.’  And then, of course, you sing it again.  Many times.  My neighbors were doing that last weekend.

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