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“Gaily Now Our Boat is Sailing”

Laura loved singing school. It began with singing scales to limber up the voices. Then Mr. Clewett taught them a simple exercise, the first in the book… — These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 23, “Barnum Walks”

In These Happy Golden Years, one of the town activities participated in by Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder during their courtship was singing school. There was a singing school held in De Smet from February through April 1884, conducted by a Mr. Forbush. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that singing school was taught by Mr. Clewett; Frank Clewett had taught the De Smet (academic) school during the spring 1883 term. A homesteader in neighboring Clark County, Mr. Clewett often lived in De Smet until moving to California in the 1890s. It is possible that he taught a singing school that was never mentioned in the local newspapers.

Laura’s singing school book was called The Conqueror; it was written by C.E. Leslie and R.H. Randall and published in 1880 by The Chicago Music Company. Leslie wrote a number of hymnals and singing school books, and he traveled widely, promoting his program and holding classes in a number of states. Many of the songs in The Conqueror were composed by Leslie or Randall. Laura’s singing school book originally cost seventy-five cents and is today on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. The book begins as Wilder wrote in These Happy Golden Years, with an explanation of notes, rests, and clefs. It then continues with simple exercises, starting with “do re mi fa sol la si do” and moving on to simple songs.

Wilder went into more detail about singing school in both the Pioneer Girl manuscripts and the manuscript for These Happy Golden Years. Obviously an important and pleasant memory from her young adulthood, she included complete lyrics for a number of songs which were omitted from the published These Happy Golden Years.


Gaily now our boat is sailing
O’er the blue and spark-ling wave,
Soon we’ll reach yon dis-tant har-bor,
Soon we’ll meet the fair and brave.

(from These Happy Golden Years)

Gaily now our boat is sailing,
O’er the blue and sparkling wave.


Used in the teaching of quadruple time, base clef, and the brace.    



“Gaily Now Our Boat Is Sailing” (THGY 23)