The Button Box
Author: John Gleadall
Age Range: 7,8,9,10,11,12,13
Availability: In Stock
Age guide: 8 - 12 years; 14 songs;1 dance; show version approx 55 mins
The 'Button Box' is an outstanding collection of songs with a ‘round the world’ flavour, ideal for classroom singing, choirs and concerts. It also doubles as a concept musical.
Click on the Photos tab below to see the Albert Hall 'Button Box' concert.
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Two children staying with their grandparents are bored on a wet day. They knock over Grandma’s button box, spilling an array of buttons onto the floor. They ask Grandma to tell them where all the buttons came from, and the story behind each button is revealed in a song. Interlinking dialogue reveals some interesting family history, well travelled relatives and Grandad’s failed diet attempts!
The 14 appealing songs and an Irish dance are cleverly interwoven within a play that has plenty of other dance opportunities. Presentations, in whatever form, can use all or any combination of the songs. Song styles and ‘flavours’ include:- Australian Aborigine, Chinese, Jamaican, African, American, Indian and Irish, as well as music hall, pop and sea shanty.
'Songs from 'The Button Box' launched our Multicultural Arts Week. We adored 'Belly Button Boogie' and the 'Bombay Button'. The rap number, 'Button Your Lip', linked to our emotional literacy, is already a firm assembly favourite.' Val Weston - Teacher, Wiltshire
Background information to the music and songs
Uncle Jack's Button - This song is in the style of a Sea Shanty.
Sea Shanties are the work songs that were used on the square-rigged ships of the Age of Sail. Their rhythms coordinated the efforts of many sailors hauling on lines. Much loved by modern sailors and folk musicians, they are rarely used as work songs today. This is because modern rigging doesn't require many people to be working in the same rhythm for long periods.
Traditional shanties can be grouped into three types: short haul shanties, for tasks requiring quick pulls over a relatively short time; halyard shanties, for heavier work requiring more setup time between pulls; and capstan shanties, for long, repetitive tasks requiring a sustained rhythm, but not involving working the lines.
Visit Shanties & Sea Songs for more information including the lyrics for many traditional sea shanties. Uncle Jack was a whaler. Visit the New England Whaling Centre and Historical Whaling in New England
Before The Dreamtime
The song is based on an aboriginal creation story. Visit the Australian online Museum for more creation stories
Creation Story told by Aunty Beryl Carmichael (including the original grammar!)
'This is the creation story of Ngiyaampaa country, as well as the land belonging to Eaglehawk and Crow.
Now long, long time ago of course, in the beginning, when there was no people, no trees, no plants whatever on this land, "Guthi-guthi", the spirit of our ancestral being, he lived up in the sky. So he came down and he wanted to create the special land for people and animals and birds to live in.
So Guthi-guthi came down and he went on creating the land for the people-after he'd set the borders in place and the sacred sights, the birthing places of all the Dreamings, where all our Dreamings were to come out of. Guthi-guthi put one foot on Gunderbooka Mountain and another one at Mount Grenfell.
And he looked out over the land and he could see that the land was bare. There was no water in sight, there was nothing growing. So Guthi-guthi knew that trapped in a mountain-Mount Minara-the water serpent, Weowie, he was trapped in the mountain. So Guthi-guthi called out to him, "Weowie, Weowie", but because Weowie was trapped right in the middle of the mountain, he couldn't hear him.
Guthi-guthi went back up into the sky and he called out once more, "Weowie", but once again Weowie didn't respond. So Guthi-guthi came down with a roar like thunder and banged on the mountain and the mountain split open. Weowie the water serpent came out. And where the water serpent travelled he made waterholes and streams and depressions in the land.
So once all that was finished, of course, Weowie went back into the mountain to live and that's where Weowie lives now, in Mount Minara. But then after that, they wanted another lot of water to come down from the north, throughout our country. Old Pundu, the Cod, it was his duty to drag and create the river known as the Darling River today.
So God came out with Mudlark, his little mate, and they set off from the north and they created the big river. Flows right down, water flows right throughout our country, right into the sea now. And of course, this country was also created, the first two tribes put in our country were Eaglehawk and Crow. And from these two tribes came many tribal people, many tribes, and we call them sub-groups today. So my people, the Ngiyaampaa people and the Barkandji further down are all sub-groups of Eaglehawk and Crow.
So what I'm telling you - the stories that were handed down to me all come from within this country.'
The Frog King - The Mandarins of China had a hierarchy of buttons:
Mandarin was originally the language spoken by Chinese officials, most of whom came from Beijing. Their language was called gu?ny? (Official Language) in Chinese. The word Mandarin comes, via Portuguese, from the Sanskrit word mandari (commander). The Portuguese used the term to refer both to the Chinese people and their language. The mandarin language is spoken in official and legal circles; it is also spoken over a considerable portion of the country, particularly the northern and central parts, though not perhaps with the same purity. Mandarin duck (anas galericulata) and Mandarin orange (citrus nobilis) possibly derive their names, by analogy, from the sense of superiority implied in the title mandarin
The term mandarin is not, in its western usage, applied indiscriminately to all civil and military officials, but only to those who are entitled to wear a button, which is a spherical knob, about 2cm in diameter, affixed to the top of the official cap or hat. These officials, civil and military alike, are divided into nine grades or classes, each grade being distinguished by a button of a particular colour. The grade to which an official belongs is not necessarily related to the office he holds. The button which distinguishes ,the first grade is a transparent red stone; the second grade, a red coral button; the third, a sapphire; the fourth, a blue opaque stone; the fifth, a crystal button; the sixth, an opaque white shell button; the seventh, a plain gold button; the eighth, a worked gold button; and the ninth, a worked silver button.
The mandarins also wear certain insignia embroidered on their official robes, and have girdle clasps of different material. The first grade have, for civilians an embroidered Manchurian crane on the breast and back, for the military an embroidered unicorn with a girdle clasp of jade set in rubies. The second grade, for civilians an embroidered golden pheasant, for the military a lion with a girdle clasp of gold set in rubies. The third grade, for civilians a peacock, for the military a leopard with a clasp of worked gold. The fourth grade, for civilians a wild goose, for the military a tiger, and a clasp of worked gold with a silver button. The fifth grade, for civilians a silver pheasant, for the military a bear and a clasp of plain gold with a silver button. The sixth grade, for civilians an egret, for the military a tiger-cat with a mother-of-pearl clasp. The seventh grade, for civilians a mandarin duck, for the military a mottled bear with a silver clasp. The eighth grade, for civilians a quail, for the military a seal with a clear horn clasp. The ninth grade, for civilians a long-tailed jay, for the military a rhinoceros with a buffalo-horn clasp.
There are many Chinese folk tales – this one concerns a frog who boasted that he was king of all he surveyed – but of course he only saw a small pond – and when word of his greatness spread abroad as far as the sea, a turtle came to see this ‘great king’ and squashed him when he tried to enter his domain.
Uncle Tom's Button
The backdrop to this song is the the first day of the Battle of the Somme – the worst day for casualties in the history of the British army. We should imagine Tom writing home as the artillery crash away relentlessly day after day. When the bombardment stops, the soldiers go ‘over the top’ i.e. climb out of their trenches and run across open ground to attack the enemy. There was a plan to keep the shelling going just ahead of the troops but this was abandoned. The start of the battle was marked by the detonation of a huge mine which had been planted by the British sappers and this massive explosion was actually filmed and can be viewed on the net. The crater it caused is still visible today.
The Battle of the Somme was planned as a joint French and British operation. The idea originally came from the French Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre and was accepted by General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) commander, despite his preference for a large attack in Flanders. Although Joffre was concerned with territorial gain, it was also an attempt to destroy German manpower.
At first Joffre intended to use mainly French soldiers but the German attack on Verdun in February 1916 turned the Somme offensive into a large-scale British diversionary attack. General Sir Douglas Haig now took over responsibility for the operation and with the help of General Sir Henry Rawlinson, came up with his own plan of attack. Haig's strategy was for a eight-day preliminary bombardment that he believed would completely destroy the German forward defences.
General Sir Henry Rawlinson was was in charge of the main attack and his Fourth Army were expected to advance towards Bapaume. To the north of Rawlinson, General Edmund Allenby and the British Third Army were ordered to make a breakthrough with cavalry standing by to exploit the gap that was expected to appear in the German front-line. Further south, General Fayolle was to advance with the French Sixth Army towards Combles.
Haig used 750,000 men (27 divisions) against the German front-line (16 divisions). However, the bombardment failed to destroy either the barbed-wire or the concrete bunkers protecting the German soldiers. This meant that the Germans were able to exploit their good defensive positions on higher ground when the British and French troops attacked at 7.30 on the morning of the 1st July. The BEF suffered 58,000 casualties (a third of them killed), therefore making it the worse day in the history of the British Army.
Haig was not disheartened by these heavy losses on the first day and ordered General Sir Henry Rawlinson to continue making attacks on the German front-line. A night attack on 13th July did achieve a temporary breakthrough but German reinforcements arrived in time to close the gap. Haig believed that the Germans were close to the point of exhaustion and continued to order further attacks expected each one to achieve the necessary breakthrough. Although small victories were achieved, for example, the capture of Pozieres on 23rd July, these gains could not be successfully followed up.
On 15th September General Alfred Micheler and the Tenth Army joined the battle in the south at Flers-Courcelette. Despite using tanks for the first time, Micheler's 12 divisions gained only a few kilometres. Whenever the weather was appropriate, General Sir Douglas Haig ordered further attacks on German positions at the Somme and on the 13th November the BEF captured the fortress at Beaumont Hamel. However, heavy snow forced Haig to abandon his gains.
With the winter weather deteriorating Haig now brought an end to the Somme offensive. From the 1st July, the British suffered 420,000 casualties. The French lost nearly 200,000 and it is estimated that German casualties were in the region of 500,000. Allied forces gained only 12km at a few points.
The Bombay Button features several Indian instruments including tabla and dholak drums, sitar and tanpura and also the shenhai. Visit: here to find out more about these instruments. Visit: here to find out about Kathakali dance.
The Kalbadevi Market district has a somewhat ‘rogueish’ reputation. The narrow lanes and the shops in this area are overwhelming. This is a predominantly a Muslim area. This is basically an overcrowded wholesale market where everything is available in small shops. One must accept lot of jostling in this area.
Zaveri Bazar is famous for ethnic gold & diamond jewellery. Gold & diamond studded watches are also available here. Mangaldas Market is known for cloth and dress material produced in Surat. Dhabu Street is for leather products and the famous Chor Bazar is a local market for stolen items! It also boasts of 'antiques', often reproductions! Bargaining over here is essential. One can sometimes find good original old books.
Mumbadevi Temple is also situated in this area. It is a temple of a Goddess believed to be the one who looks after the Mumbai and on whose name Mumbai has been named.
Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region in Southeast Asia.
As many Bhangra lyrics reflect the long and often tumultuous history of the Punjab, knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the music. While Bhangra began as apart of harvest festival celebrations, it eventually became a part of such diverse occasions as weddings and New Year celebrations. Moreover, during the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae. As Bhangra continues to move into mainstream culture, an understanding of its history and tradition helps to appreciate it.
Although Bhangra has possibly existed since as long ago as 300 BC, over the past forty years it has experienced new highs in popularity and innovation. The term "Bhangra" has gradually evolved and now refers to many different sub-classes of dance and music for many occasions. While Bhangra historians speculate the dance may have originated in the time of the wars with Alexander, no one is sure it existed until about five hundred years ago. Around the 14th or 15th Century, Punjabi wheat farmers danced and sang songs about village life to help pass the time while working in the fields. With time, these became part of harvest celebrations at Bhaisakhi (April 13) festivals, as the sight of their crops growing invigorated the farmers. From here the dance quickly moved through all divisions of class and education, eventually becoming a part of weddings, New Year parties, and other important occasions.
Button Up Your Lip - This song tells the story of a fairly typical school dilemma – do you ‘take the rap’ or ‘grass ‘em up’?
This is based on the Hip Hop/ Rap style of music which has become so popular over a period of some twenty five years since ‘Rappers delight’ in 1979. The current trend is for a sung chorus between rap verses. Visit: a Brief History of Rap for a good overview of rap history.
Go here for a kid's Jamaican link. Go here for The History of Scrimshaw. Most scrimshaw was on bone or ivory but there are records of coconut carving in the Caribbean and Hawaii as well as New England
This is based on an African children’s game song. Children stand in a circle holding hands. One child is ikati (the cat) and another is impuku (the mouse). The cat starts outside the circle, the mouse starts inside. The cat chases the mouse in and out of the circle, weaving around each child. When the chant ends the cat and mouse choose a new cat and mouse.
Translation: The mouse and the cat are chasing around (repeat) They say, "meow, meow." They say, "meow, meow, meow!" (repeat). The direct translation into English seems a bit silly...we know the mouse doesn't say "meow," but in Zulu the sound of the language is more important than the accuracy of the meaning.
The Crow's Button
This song takes us back to the era of the music hall. an interesting episode in the history of popular music. Music Hall was a parallel evolution to opera and spawned a huge entertainment industry in late Victorian England.
Visit: http://www.amaranthdesign.ca/musichall/home.htm for some information on the music hall and its performers. An excellent site is: http://www.melodylane.net/ which features actual recordings and ‘singalong’ arrangements of old music hall songs – many of which are NOT appropriate for younger singers – but many are.
The Chocolate Button
Visit: http://www.fmnh.org/chocolate/history.html , an excellent history of chocolate ! Food Technology, Geography and Citizenship solved in one fell swoop!
Belly Button Boogie
Best avoid the obvious Mata Hari connection and concentrate on the music! Boogie Woogie was a craze that enjoyed popularity in the thirties and forties and was based on repetitive left hand piano figures, typically in a 12 bar structure, over which dynamic platform the pianist could improvise exciting rhythmic and melodic forms. Check out: how Boogie Woogie began
Based on the traditional music of Ireland, influenced by the popularity of ‘Lord Of the Dance’ type shows. Go to 'Irish Dance' if you need more information.
Loved it! Review by Stephanie - Student, Essex
I remember doing the Button Box for my year 4 primary school production! I loved it! I still have the DVD, and it's great watching it. My friends and I are always reminiscing the memories from it. It's a great way to see how much we've all grown up and changed. But the Button Box truly was great fun and a very good sing song production!
Huge success! Review by Leah Dryland - Teacher, New Zealand
We've just finished our performances of 'The Button Box'. It was my second time doing your show and once again it was a huge success. The structure of it works so well for a primary school production. I have recommended it to other teacher friends, and last term there were 2 other local schools also doing it in the same week as us! We had approx 300 students to accommodate and 'The Button Box' works perfectly for a large cast. You can easily have around 20 kids in each scene and they all get their special moment on stage (parents are very thankful for this too!!) - rather than just walking on and off again in 2 seconds.
I would definitely be keen to use more of your plays - this show is light-hearted, warm and very enjoyable for teachers and children to work on. Every night the audience walked out humming the tunes, so that's always a good sign!
Loved it! Review by Helen Maxey - Teacher, New Zealand
We loved learning and performing the script and music for 'The Button Box'.
Perfect Show! Review by Miss Graham -junior School Drama Teacher, Edinburgh
The Button Box was the perfect show for our Primary 4's to perform this year! The children absolutely loved the story and the songs. We all had a wonderful time rehearsing the production and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the performances. I would definitely recommend this show to other schools and I would love to do it again in the future. Our favourite song was 'Belly Button Boogie', we even had the audience joining in on the last night!
Fun To Produce And Perform Review by Rose Steele - Teacher, Gloucestershire
We had 120 Year 2s and 3s performing this 3 times this week, and it got a great reaction due to all of the different cultures represented and how original it was. We put a suitable, fun dance to all of the songs. Parents and staff loved it and it was such fun to produce and perform. We had 7 and 8 year olds doing solos and it was wonderful. Costumes were excellent and with lights, musicians and props it looked brilliant.