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Sing Along With Us!
Since the days of Daisy Low, Girl Scouts and their leaders have been writing, singing, and playing songs that celebrate sisterhood and the fundamental ideals of Girl Scouting.
Whether your favorite Girl Scout memory is from the last day of summer camp, a meaningful troop ceremony, or a special event, chances are music was a part of it.
Music is woven through the basic fabric of Girl Scouting, a tangible display of our fundamental ideals. Rounds exemplify working together, singing games or action songs are fun in groups, and international songs bridge language differences to cement the truth of universal sisterhood.
The love of music started with founder Juliette Gordon Low, who used the Kent County Song Book, which contained folk songs from the British Isles. As Girl Scouting grew in the U.S., there was need for a songbook that reflected American life.
The first songbook published by the Girl Scouts, Girl Scout Song Book, was in 1925 and is a collection of tunes recommended by the girls themselves. "Singing," the foreword began, "is one of the most important expressions of good fellowship." The Girl Scout Song Book was considered very progressive for its time. It featured Negro spirituals and songs about cowboys, patriotism, sea shanties, religion, and included songs from all over Europe.
In the 1930s, Janet "Toby" Tobitt joined the Girl Scouts and played a key role in shaping the organization's musical history. First a camp counselor and later a music consultant for GSUSA, Toby brought her musicianship and passion for collecting folk songs to Girl Scouts. She designed her Sing Together songbook of 1936 to provide material for Scouts' Own ceremonies and other occasions, believing in the power of music to bring everyone together.
Sites of Great Girl Scout Music
The famous "Singing Steps" leading to the terrace of the Great Hall at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor, New York, are large and shallow, perfect for groups to sit upon and see a song leader down below. "It was tradition to gather on the singing steps and sing before dinner, and after dinner into the twilight," describes Corinne Murphy, Girl Scout music historian. "People who come back to Macy today say, 'Oh, please, let's go sit on the Singing Steps and sing one song!'"
Girl Scout camp tunes hold a special place in many hearts. Perhaps that mirrors Janet Tobitt's belief that "a singing camp is generally a happy one…and [music] correlates most beautifully with outdoor programs." The massive Senior Girl Scout Roundups of the 1950s and 60s are ingrained in the memory of many who attended because of the overwhelming feeling of being in a camp of thousands, all singing the same songs.
Marilyn Mathews, a GSUSA trainer for song leaders, has been in the Girl Scout organization for more than 40 years. She shares some favorite moments: "Sitting around the campfire [or] being in a canoe on a quiet lake all tied up together harmonizing, singing as the stars come out."
But camp isn't the only place to make musical memories. Marilyn was very moved during the 2002 Girl Scout Convention in Long Beach, California. "At one point there was a lull, some glitch, the lights were dim," she recalls, her voice lowering as she recreates the moment, "and up in the corner of the balcony, you could hear a few voices singing, 'Girl Scouts Together,' and everybody joined in—in the dark."
Pop, Rock, and Rap
In addition to the traditional music Girl Scouts love, today Girl Scout music is moving into more contemporary genres. Melinda Carroll, a professional singer/songwriter in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a music consultant who travels the world visiting councils and troops, sees this as a positive way to attract more girls into the organization.
Melinda shares her recipe for successful Girl Scout songwriting: "The whole secret of creating and having messages in the music is to write it in a way that is enticing, inviting, interesting, and fun." Fun is very important, she says, because girls today have so many other options for activity.
New Generation Voices
This generation of girls is also very musically inclined. Jamie, an 11-year old with the Girl Scouts of Utah, sang and danced in the internationally broadcast Olympic opening ceremonies in 2002. The Illinois Crossroads council mentored future musicians last summer during a weeklong music camp. And the twice-held world's biggest Girl Scout Sing-Along on the Mall in Washington, D.C., inspired hundreds of thousands to lift their voices as one in celebration of Girl Scouting.
Few experiences can compare to sharing music with a Girl Scout group. Singing is a fast trip to a place where you make new friends, but keep the old, because, as we all know, one is silver and the other's gold.
Adapted from LEADER, Spring 2004. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.