Monday, September 1, 2008

Young Children Vs. The Snobs: Obernkirchen Children's Choir: "The Happy Wanderer"

I am sorry for the smallish (in the world of blogging) pause here, readers, but I am currently helping my mom redo her apartment and am busy packing up and re-packing my own things in preparation for my big move to London late this month. However this has not stopped me thinking about this song, and surprisingly there is a lot to consider, which I didn't expect.

"The Happy Wanderer" is a first in several ways for this particular parade of number twos - the first sung in another language, the first sung by children, the first one to inspire a movie, as opposed to coming out of one. It is easy to see this as a one-off, and in many ways it is, but those are all important precedents and I expect them to crop up again in various ways. The song itself is about the joys of taking a walk in nature - fresh air, blue skies, hills, pretty flowers and birds and so on. (The a-a-a-a-a part of the chorus I imagine as some hiker tiptoeing over/around something, or perhaps going down a slope he didn't expect a little faster than he would like.) It is as forthright and hearty and trailmix-crunching as you would expect a song about walking in the woods to be. The fact that it is being sung by a choir made up of German war orphans (whom Dylan Thomas called "pigtailed angels" - this being mentioned at the YouTube site) makes it a little more complex, to say the least. It's 1954, however, that odd year before so much began to be set in motion - and the world was busy renewing itself, rebuilding, repaying, and who better to act as a living bridge between once-mortal-rivals than a bunch of kids singing about the simple joys of nature?

Never mind the fact that the majority of listeners wouldn't know what they were singing about - the song itself is sung well, with passion, and the more than slight knowledge that those singing it are singing about something that they have heard about, but may or may not have experienced yet themselves. (The choir are from northern Germany; I am not sure how wild that area is, nor how much time these children got to spend in nature.) The song has become so famous (it is the backpacker's anthem) that you might think it was handed down from generation to generation of woodland-crazy Germans, but in fact it was written by the choir-leader's sister and eventually became a staple of primary schools in the UK and elsewhere in the post-war era (my husband had to sing it as a boy and did not enjoy doing so, which points to another inescapable thing - the song is fairly simple and repetitive and may well have annoyed as many people as who enjoyed it - I am willing to bet it is the first number two to hit that mark, as well).

That quality of annoying others oddly points to two examples - a little oblique, but I think they are worth mentioning. The first is an episode of The Sopranos entitled "The Happy Wanderer" wherein Tony complains to his psychotherapist about people he sees on the street who are happy, smiling, carefree - people who may have cares or worries but have genuine happiness nevertheless, unlike himself, a man who has nothing major to worry about and yet is depressed. (If I have this wrong, Sopranos fans, let me know.) I don't know what Dr. Melfi says to him, but I would say that it is folly to judge your happiness against that of others - to resent the happiness of others in particular is cruel and unforgiving. Also rather snobby, which is a word I would apply to one Madonna, who not too long ago tried to get people to stop hikers from crossing her land – land that presumably had well-worn paths crossing it already – as if those treading it cared whose estate was nearby, and were probably birdwatching, not Madonna-hunting.  In contrast to these two examples, the British public were warm and welcoming to this choir (who debuted at a festival in Wales) who were bringing their own happiness to the world.

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