It’s a form of inflation, but one we’re glad to live with: Our songbook, Sing along with ease, keeps getting larger.
It’s a slow process, but steady. Since we started promoting the book in January, its contents have increased from 313 oldtime favorite songs to a current total of 318. Now that’s not very fast, but two years ago, before we started committing the songs to computerized sheet music, the total was around 250.
When I began doing weekly singalongs at our county infirmary more than 17 years ago, I started with only six songs. They were given to me on mimeograph paper by the activities director who had accepted my offer to play backup guitar while she led the singalong. Well, she didn’t show up for the second week, so I was on my own from then on — and desperate for sheet music, which is the only way I can play. So I started scraping together songs from any place I could find them, copying them onto staff paper by hand, and the rest is, as they say, a burgeoning songbook.
A great help in this process has been my father- and mother-in-law, Glenn and Virginia Sunderman, who joined me shortly after my first singalongs, and then their daughter, Bonnie, my wife. We play as the Hat Band (we all wear hats) and do three singalongs a week at area nursing homes and senior residences.
There is a downside to our songbook’s slow but steady growth — our shipping costs also are growing slowly but steadily. In January, the songbook weighed just under three pounds, and the cheapest postal rate — the media or book rate — for that weight was our original shipping cost, $3.16. Then we found it necessary to add bubble-wrap packaging, and that pushed the cost to $5.40. Then we added some ‘new’ songs, and now we’re over three pounds and at a shipping cost of $5.79 per book.
The three-ring binder we use has the capacity for another 240 songs, but I doubt we’ll reach that number any time soon, so the shipping costs for our future customers should creep up only slowly. And our growth, by the way, will be shared by our past customers at no cost because they’ll get the additional songs for free.
One of the neat things about our Internet age (and there are many things that are not so neat) is that we’re electronically connected to our customers. And so, as we add songs to the book, we can send out electronic copies to those who already have bought the book. Although it’s a free service, it’s really nothing to brag about — we simply send a mass email with the added sheet music as pdf attachments to all our songbook customers for them to print out for themselves.
It’s nice to know we’re all using the same songbook, no matter where we live on this planet.
A note about what songs we add: We always get suggestions for additional songs, but only infrequently do we add them. They have to be the right era — oldtime — and songs that a lot of people know. Musical quality isn’t always the criterion.
For example, we just added ‘On Top of Old Smokey,’ not a musically challenging song but one that our audiences know and sing along with (which is the whole idea, right?). And then there’s ‘Darling Nelly Gray’ …. well, yes, that is a case of musical quality …. one of the most beautiful, saddest songs ever written.
And there’s ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ a song to which I knew only the chorus, and frankly, it bored me. But then we started getting customers from Australia and I couldn’t imagine a songbook without the unofficial Australian anthem, so I looked up the whole song and found it much better than my preconception.
It’s about an itinerant traveler who stops somewhere in the outback to brew some tea and spots a wandering sheep. The man is hungry, but the sheep’s owner and his posse aren’t far away, so …. Well, you’re just going to have to buy the book.
– Sid Leavitt