“Swans on the Lake”

My mom when I was seven or so bought from a friend or coworker an upright piano. They put it at the top of the stairs. I guess she learned how to play it when she was young. Sang in the choir. Was proud of her musical background and hoped, the idea was, to instill this in her kids. Shani, the eldest, was probably a lost cause, already into her teen years by then.

But Jenny and I, we ate it up. The piano came with a ton of instructional books in the bench, most of them from the early-to-middle part of the twentieth century. Our friends the Soltyses up the street had an upright, too, and their bench was filled with books that had sheet music for current TV theme songs. I learned to play the “Cheers” theme by myself, though I feel like Jenny learned it before I did and was better at mastering it.

At any rate, the first song I ever taught myself to play with both hands at once—and if you want your children to learn how to read music, put a bunch of early-level piano instruction manuals in your piano and keep those idiots bored to tears on summer afternoons—was this one, “Swans on the Lake”, from the John Thompson instruction manual. I’m pretty sure it’s Grade I of a V-grade series.

Here are the lyrics, which until I found them online had only sketchily been running through my head all day:

Stately as princes the swans part the lilies and glide,
under the willows.
Are they enchanted men soon to be free again here,
under the willows?
Oh how I would like to be
here when the fairy wand
touches the leader and
changes his looks!
Would he be handsome and brave as the heroes that live
hidden in my fairy books?

It’s a dumb song, right? But in many ways it’s my ur-song. And if you know me, go ahead and Freud-up the whole thing to say A-ha! No wonder! and we’ll call it a late-spring’s eve.

31 thoughts on ““Swans on the Lake””

  1. God, I’ve had this song running in my mind for over 65 years, having first undergone Ordeal by John Thompson in 1944. So it’s nice to meet a fellow sufferer.
    Forrest Smith

  2. This tune has been going around in my head for a week, rendered as a little two-handed piano ditty, and the words have been slowly emerging. By today I had all but two lines–more than enough to google with! I was amazed to get a hit. This was my first piano book, too, back in about 1953.

  3. Wow! I googled the first line and got a direct hit! This was from my first piano book in 1976. I like the song.

  4. I too am so happy to find this. It was the very first piece of music that I ever learned. I was trying to play it this evening to teach it to my grandson. Cute song!

  5. My best friend played this when she was taking piano lessons in grade school. I taught it to myself from listening to her play. I’ve always loved the meolody and lyrics. Now I finally know where to get the music. Thanks for putting to rest a 45 year search

  6. yes indeed. stately as princes. it was about 1971 for me. it still swims through my head, a permanent fixture.

  7. There were four children in my family. My mother (high school assembly pianist) knew this piece so well she could call out corrections from the next room over.

    “That’s a middle C, dear!” floating out from the kitchen.

  8. My story is exactly the same as yours, I am now 47 years old, was singing this song today, and my search brought me right here. Unbelievable! It’s the ur-song, indeed.
    I remember every word, it’s strange, and I can still play the song, even though after years of piano lessons its the only one I recall.

  9. That was one of my favorite songs from the John Thompson series. The words may seem trivial (hey, it’s an introductory piano course book), but the melody was very dreamy. I have good memories of it.

  10. I’ve always liked this song since I found it in an old piano book that belonged to my dad, even though I don’t really know what it is supposed to sound like, since I’ve never learned more than the super-basics of playing a piano. The memory of it was stuck in my head today, and I was regretting that the book had been given away, and that now I would never get to find out what it sounded like, but I did some searching and found the piano book on amazon, saw the title, and found this blog, and now I am sure that this is the song I was looking for. Thank you~ Now I’ll be able to hear it someday, since now I know the title.

  11. I remembered it clear as day that rather than ,’ in my fairy books,” it was , “under my fairy bush.” My adult misrememberings of childhood tend to try to make piano lessons more psychedelic.

  12. Oh, my goodness! Thank you for putting these lyrics out there. My sister sang part of that song on a voice mail to me today and I could only remember part of it and I sure couldn’t remember the title. It was so much fun to play that song on the piano back in the day….circa 1970…I’m so glad you posted it! Thank you!

  13. I can’t believe I found this after 60 years. My family could not afford piano lessons for me so after the kids across the street had their lessons I went over & they taught me what they had learned. I can only play with one hand but I learned “Swans on the Lake” & every time I get near a piano I try to play it. At age 69 I have decided to learn to play the piano & was shocked to find out I could purchase this music book from the 1950’s. I love the internet. Thanks for a trip down memory lane.

  14. I, too, suddenly, had the tune revolving around my head. Thanks for those lyrics.
    Under the willlll-owwww

  15. Logged on this morning to my BING desktop. I just love my daily pictures from around the world.

    Anyway, today, Nov 19, there is a lovely swan floating in the mist. No lillies but under the trees…I immediately flashed back to my Upright Wurlitzer in Bloomfield, CT playing this song by ear at age 7.

    I had to remember the lyrics and found this forum.

    BTW, I love the song….so perfect for the little princess girls like I was….oh! and still am. :D

  16. This song is special to me because every time my dearest friend came to visit, I would grab her and take her to the organ and plan this song for her. I never learned to read music and this is the only song I knew out of the John Thompson Music book. She is deceased now and I collect swans in remembrance of her. I was in High School then.
    Now I am 80.

  17. Me, too! I’ve thought of this little tune/song often lately. There is a similar turn being used right now in some car ads that I also had learned to play (back in 1949). I’d kind of like to find it, too. (I’m 76 and still remember the words and the tune.)

  18. Awww….this song has been one of my favorite favorite ones for as long as I can remember. I’ve just turned 38, so I’m sure I picked it up at my grandma’s piano. I used to sing this and a slightly personalized and modified version to my daughter when she was very small. I can still remember how to play it on the piano. She’s 15 now…I don’t sing to her now, unless she’s really sick. But when I do, it’s this song that is familiar and comfortable to her now too. <3 all the feels <3 I'd have never dreamed I wasn't the only one who this music made an impression on.

  19. I was taught this song when i was a kid and it was my favourite piece.

  20. I have had this song going around my head for the past few days. I tried to google it but I got no where. and then slowly, the words changing his looks came to me and then the words my fairy book came to me. I found this site and i’m so happy. I am still able to play this with out sheet music. I got mine in the mid 60s from my grandmother. Thank You!!!!!

  21. Just like so many others this was one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano and it has always stuck with me. The melody has been playing in my head for the last 30 years and I realized now that I couldn’t remember the title of the song or the middle lyrics. Can’t believe I Googled it and found it on the second try. This song brings back a lot of fond memories and I’m happy to see that so many people enjoyed it as well.

  22. Add me to the list! I wonder why it’s this song that sticks with us? There are a few others I recall, but this is the one that gets stuck in my head.

  23. My girlfriend taught me to play piano back in the late 60’s. This was one of the songs in her book and I remember the words, and can still “Finger-play” it, even though I haven’t touched a piano since. Needless to say, it’s been with me for decades.

  24. I “graduated” to this songbook in 1955 or so, after “mastering” “Teaching Little fingers to Play.” This song has been floating in and out of my head for more than 60 years. I forgot about the willows, that was what was missing! You’ve made my day! thanks for solving this mystery. Maybe my subconscious will find another tune for a while!

  25. I was thinking today, about getting rid of our piano. Then, I remembered this…It was 1964. I was 10 and just stopped biting my nails. Joseph Snarich, my piano teacher, made me cut my nails! I believe my parents paid him $2 a lesson. I learned to play this song and have never forgotten it. Every time I see a piano, I feel compelled to play this beautiful and innocent song. I have a six month old granddaughter. I can’t wait to teach Elizabeth to play this piece. Memories are one of God’s most incredible gifts!

  26. My goodness! After 20 yrs, I finally have the name of that song. Like you, it was also the first song I played on the piano with both hands, not forgetting some “Would a woodchuck wood chuck wood? How much wood would he chuck?” song or something like that. Thanks for the memory.

  27. I love this song!! I, also, remembered most of the lyrics, but upon googling “Swans on the Lake” found this. This and Heart and Soul are the two songs I can play on the piano. I taught myself to play with the finger numbering in the John Thompson book (older sister had lessons long before). Thanks!

  28. What a beautiful memory for me. I learned this piece also while taking piano lessons. My mom is an accomplished pianist and encouraged me. I didn’t continue but this song has lived in my heart ever since. I am 70. My Mom still plays. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  29. Every day I pass a lake with swans, and this song rubs through my head. So I googled to remember what the lyrics were and found this post! This was my first piano book and I will never forget it.

  30. Oh my, did anyone here have Marcy Alderson from Strawberry Point, IA, for a teacher?

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