Posted by: Hannah | 04/27/2012

the death of music

When I was a kid, I had a terrible music teacher.

Her name was Mrs. Johansen. She’s been a music teacher forever. FOREVER. She taught my mom in the 60s. I Googled her full name today and as recently as 2000 she was still bloody teaching music at the same goddamn school. Which would be really impressive and inspiring blah blah blah, had she been a good teacher. Or even a nice person.

She was not either of those things. She hated children. Seemed like she hated music, too. Enthusiasm was discouraged. When we were very young, she decided if we were “good at music” or not. And that designation lingered for the seven long years of elementary school. If you were “good”, heaven help you, because she would force you to compete in music festivals, join glee club, take solo parts in the Christmas concert. If you were “bad” she would tell you so and not let you do anything outside of regular class activities.

She told a friend of mine once that she had “no ear for music” and should find another hobby. My friend was nine. She went on to be an accomplished French horn player (and that’s one of the hardest instruments to master).

Short version – she sucked, and she sucked for generations of kids.

She taught us all songs, which we had to sing. And one of those songs was “Found a Peanut”.

In “Found a Peanut” (sung to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine), the protagonist finds a peanut. It is rotten, but s/he eats it anyway. The rotten peanut causes horrible stomach pains, necessitating surgery. The patient dies on the operating table, goes to heaven, is rejected at the pearly gates, goes “the other way”, finds all his friends there (!!) and eventually wakes to find it was all a dream.

So, in brief, child eats peanut, brings about the apocalypse. Oh, but it’s OK, because it was a dream. HA HA KIDS, FOOLED YOU.

My sister and I were talking about this today. She remembers being terrified of the song. One day at home she started singing it, and part way through started crying uncontrollably, but couldn’t stop singing until it was finished or everyone would die.

It’s a long, terrible, droning song to listen to even without the nightmarish lyrics, too. It’s got a hellish number of verses – and since there are various versions you can just add MORE verses, should the notion take you. Now that I spend my day with little kids and am often asked to lead sing-alongs – especially this week, which has been very rainy & windy – I cannot fathom what would make a person voluntarily teach “Found a Peanut” to 30 five year olds.

I’d rather sing “I’m Henry the VIII”. And that song could replace waterboarding at Gitmo.

Anyone else remember ‘Found a Peanut’? What irritating songs do you remember from your childhood? What ‘meant for children’ thing scared you?



  1. I have never heard of that song! Maybe it’s an East Coast thing? That is the most depressing song I have ever heard.

    I do, however, remember singing a Christmas carol with words switched around to reflect First Nations names. “Twas in the moon of wintertime” – using First Nations words for God, etc. I remember clearly it being explained to me that this song was used to teach First Nations people about Jesus and Christmas. Huh. Looking back, THAT is terrifying. Now I think – was it used in residential schools? Or was that just something I was told? Ugh.

    • Apparently the peanut song was used in a few movies dating back to the 1940s. Maybe your music teacher wasn’t a zombie and so wasn’t familiar with creepy, decades-old songs. But that Christmas song you’re talking about, that’s the Huron carol. It dates back to the 17th century! Here’s the wiki link: I’ve always loved that song, although I guess if you think about it, it is kind of strange.

  2. Oh doctor, oh doctor, oh dear doctor John. Your cod liver oil is so *something something* strong.


    I loved music class. It was fun. Except singing. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket with half a roll of duct tape.

  3. I just had this exact conversation with a group of friends, we were heard pressed to come up with anything that wasnt traumatizing to a child. the one that started it was: Ding, dong, bell,
    Pussy’s in the well.
    Who put her in?
    Little Johnny Green.
    Who pulled her out?
    Little Tommy Stout.
    What a naughty boy was that,
    To try to drown poor pussy cat,
    Who ne’er did him any harm,
    But killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn
    gee lets promote animal abuse!
    also ladybug lady bug fly away home your house is on fire and your children will burn.
    three blind mice isnt exactly a cheery song either!
    I also worry about the old man in it’s raining. I mean, shouldn’t we check on him since he didn’t get up in the morning?! pretty sure the old man in knick knack paddywack is a child molester as well. my people make me add an extra line to the end of rock a bye baby. “and then the mommy (or daddy) catches them.” lol ok obviously you found my little rant topic

  4. My choir sings the Huron Carol because our conductor is Canadian, and I didn’t find it any more strange than seeing stained glass windows with white-skinned, blond-haired Jesus beaming beatifically onto a horde of little white children. For weird songs look no further than “Miss Polly Had a Dolly” (warning, terrifying man in the last five seconds) and its variant where Miss Polly’s dolly’s head pops off.

  5. I’d forgotten all about the peanut song. I don’t think I was traumatized by anything we sang in music class, but hopefully they’re not making kids sing the bloody “Blackfly Song” anymore. Admitedly though, my Aussie friends think it’s super cool that we were allowed to sing “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” in music class. I liked it when we listened to “Danse Macabre” every Halloween. And I used to like the song about the fellow who forgot to bring his “specs” to the cornermaster store.

    That said, she was fairly unpleasant most of the time, pitting the schools against each other (“My kids at _______ School are SO MUCH better than you are”) and unilaterally deciding who had musical talent and who didn’t. I also remember when the whole school gathered to sing Xmas carols in the gym and every year, without fail, when we sang the additional lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” she would angrily slam her hands on the piano keys and threaten to send everyone back to their classrooms (and I also remember seeing more than one teacher roll their eyes when she did this).

    The one downside to our (often successful) attempts to piss her off is that even though Neil Young is my all-time favorite musician/songwriter, I still can’t listen to “Love is a Rose” without hearing the “alternate” lyrics we used to sing (“rose” becomes “nose”, you remember the rest, right?)

  6. Good lord, I have NEVER heard that version of ‘found a peanut’. The version I learned you found a peanut, it was rotten, ate it anyway, got a stomach ache, went to the doctor, died anyway, went to heaven, and then, IN HEAVEN, you found another dang peanut. I always thought of it as amusing, because the peanut-eater never really learns her lesson and continues to eat rotten peanuts, even within the gates of heaven. I never learned any verses where friends die and it turns out to be all a dream.

    I think your music teacher made this version up to make children cry.

    Because she’s evil.

    • According to Wikipedia, there’s a version where the doctor leaves the scissors *inside your stomach* during the surgery, and that’s what kills you. SO THERE ARE EVEN MORE INSANELY TRAUMATIC VERSIONS.

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