When explaining to a friend that you are technically breaking the law if
you sing "Happy Birthday" in a public place without an appropriate
license, I realised that what we need is a new song to sing when
celebrating a person's birthday that has a Creative Commons license. It
should also be short, relatively repetitive, include a space for singing
the birthday person's name that can be extended or contracted easily,
and easy to sing.
In fact, "Happy Birthday" is remarkably badly suited to singing by large
groups of inexperienced singers and amateur musicians:
- It does not start on the start of a bar - it has a two-note intro that
takes place before what most people would think of as the 'first' bar.
- The note it starts on is not the dominant note of the key that it
starts on. If you play 'C' for 'Happy' then the key it starts on is 'F',
and you don't actually hit that note until 'to'. 'Birthday' isn't on
the dominant note either, for that matter. This means that the note that
the singers start on and the note that anyone playing harmony starts on
is completely different. And not in a good way - it's a fourth, which is
a less common interval (the 'Close Encounters' theme demonstrates the
four most common intervals in Western music - the tone, the third, the
octave and the fifth).
- If, as demonstrated above, you start on the most common note for a
piano - a C - then it involves a B♭ Major chord, not an easy one to
play for beginners.
- The tune involves a leap of an octave between the third 'Happy' and
'Birthday', a difficult stretch for inexperienced singers and anyone
that's attempted this near the top of their register (e.g. to be heard
or out of enthusiasm).
It does have simplicity, repetition and the undeniable fact that it's
almost ubiquitous going for it, though.