American Heritage Music

School Assembly Program – Sample Outline

Norm: Offers greeting, introduces Trish

Trish: Our program today consists of a variety of songs from our American Heritage. Some may be familiar to you, others you might not have heard before. Hopefully, we will play at least one that you will enjoy during the next 45 minutes. This first melody goes back to at least 1834, when it was published with the lyrics called Old Zip Coon. At that time, several composers claimed to have written it, and it is also said to have been inspired by a dozen melodies from the British Isles. Whatever its roots, it remains an American favorite to this day with its more familiar lyrics – Turkey in the Straw, which were written by Daniel Emmet, who also wrote Dixie and Old Dan Tucker. We’d invite you to help us out on the chorus where it goes “Turkey in the straw... haw, haw, haw! Turkey in the hay... hey, hey, hey!

Play Turkey in the Straw

Trish: Did anybody feel like dancing to that one? Turkey in the Straw is a great number for square dancing.


  1. Now I’d like to introduce our daughter Hannah (age 12, playing 6 yrs, etc.)
  2. How many know what instrument she plays? (show of hands)
  3. Do any of you play this instrument?
  4. Ask Hannah to tell about the fiddle…

Hannah: The fiddle is a four stringed instrument played with a bow. The parts of the fiddle are the scroll, pegs, fingerboard, bridge, tail piece and chin rest. Like our bodies, the fiddle has a neck, shoulders, ribs and a button.

Norm: So Hannah, what is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?

Hannah: About $10,000. Seriously, the difference is more in the way it is played and the type of music performed. Some say that “the violin sings & the fiddle dances.”

Norm: So play us another dance tune.

Play Jinrikisha Hornpipe or Soldier’s Joy

Trish: Our next song is written by a well-known American composer by the name of Stephen Foster. Have any of you heard of him? If you don’t recognize the name, you may recognize some of his tunes. He wrote Camptown Races, Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home and many, many others. Perhaps his most popular is a song called O Susanna! Here is Benjamin on the harmonica to get it started.

Play O Susanna!

Norm: Comment on Harmonica playing… and introduce Benjamin to tell about mandolin….

Benjamin: Mandolins are instruments that are in the lute family, which includes instruments that are plucked or strummed. Modern mandolins have 4 pairs of strings that are tuned to the same four notes as the fiddle. The two most common mandolin body-styles that you see today are the A-style (like this one here) and the F-style which has a decorative scroll near the neck. These styles are credited to Orville Gibson, who started his well known instrument manufacturing company back in 1902. Dad’s banjo is a Gibson. Gibson mandolins are currently out of our price range, but this one is made by Breedlove, another excellent American made brand.

Trish: The mandolin is popular in many styles of music from classical to bluegrass. In fact, it was the instrument played by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. Whether playing a hard-driving bluegrass tune or a beautiful waltz, it is a pleasure to listen to. To illustrate, here is Benjamin taking the lead on the Shamus O’Brien waltz written in 1867 by William S. Hays, a Kentucky songwriter.

Play Shamus O’Brien

Trish: And now a word about the piano. How many of you take piano lessons? Quite a few, I see. Piano is a very popular instrument and used in many styles of music.

FYI, here are a couple of Piano facts taken from

1) Independent studies show that children who learn piano tend to do better in school. This is attributed to the discipline, eye-hand coordination, social skills building, learning a new language (music) and the pleasure derived from making your own music.

2) The piano is known as "The King of Instruments". It earned this title for a number of reasons first of which is its tonal range (the piano covers the full spectrum of any orchestra, reaching notes below the lowest note of the double bassoon and higher than the top note of the piccolo). Second is its ability to produce melody and accompaniment at the same time (you can’t do that on a flute). The next reason is its broad dynamic range from very, very soft to very, very loud. These dynamics were impossible with the piano’s predecessor, the harpsichord. It is also the largest musical instrument (excluding the pipe organ), and one of the most versatile.

In the 1890’s a new American style of music was written for the piano, combining both the European and African musical influences. It was called Ragtime, and one of its star composers was a man named Scott Joplin from Sedalia, Missouri. Here is our version of his 1902 classic, The Entertainer. This song enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the 1970’s when it was used for the Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie, The Sting.

Play The Entertainer

Trish:  For the next few songs we’d like to feature two musical styles that are favorites with our family—Western and Bluegrass. An instrument that figures prominently in both styles is the upright bass. Here’s our 16 year-old son, Daniel to tell you about it.

Daniel: This overgrown fiddle is known by many names including double bass, contra bass, and doghouse bass. Whatever you call it, it looks and sounds impressive, giving a full, rich foundation to any band, ensemble or orchestra. When used in classical music, it is typically played with a bow. In other styles however, the strings are plucked with the fingers, and you will frequently hear a technique called “slapping the bass” that sounds something like this. (Demonstrate)

My first bass teacher played with a band called The Sons of the Pioneers. This group was founded back in 1933 by a man named Leonard Slye—you might know him as Roy Rogers—and the Pioneers are still making music to this day. Hannah’s fiddle teacher is a current member of the group. They are known for such tunes as Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Cool Water and Blue Prairie. They also recorded a popular cowboy tune known as Ghost Riders in the Sky.

Play Ghost Riders

Trish: Daniel really knows how to sing those cowboy songs, so here he is with one more. Written by Bob Nolan who was an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers, it is called The Touch of God’s Hand.

Play Touch of God’s Hand

Trish: Before moving on to a bluegrass tune, here’s Norm to tell you about the 5-string banjo.

Norm: Tell about banjo, incorporating a bit of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Sing Rocky Top (time permitting)

Norm: Bring up Nathaniel to sing Bluegrass Tune

Nathaniel: Here’s a song you might know from the Andy Griffith Show.

Play Dooley

Trish: Like the Dillard family that sang Dooley, many bluegrass bands are made up of family members who love to pick and sing together. Which brings us to one last instrument—one that everybody has—your voice! You can sing solo (that is, all by yourself), or in unison (everybody sings the lead together), or in harmony (each voice takes a different part.) For our final song we will give you an example of a mixed quartet—2 male voices and 2 female voices singing four-part harmony. Hannah will take the lead, I’ll be singing alto; Norm is the tenor and Daniel the bass. It’s called Standing on the Solid Rock.

Play Standing on the Solid Rock

Norm: Closing Remarks