Monday, July 31, 2006

Willie Nelson on who's (not) a Texan

Willie Nelson says the Dixie Chicks got "a raw deal" when they voiced disapproval of President Bush in 2003. According to an Associated Press story published Sunday, he told Time magazine he's said as much or more about Bush himself:
"I said 'He's not from Texas and he ain't a cowboy, so let's stop trashin' Texans and cowboys.' It got a little chuckle, but I didn't get run out of the country," Nelson told the magazine.
The crossover bluegrass-country-pop group stirred up a firestorm of controversy when lead singer Natalie Maines said she was embarrassed both she and Bush were Texans.

Nelson, 73, said both he and Maines were out of the country when they offered their opinions of Bush.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Christian Harmony minutes, Brasstown, N.C.

Posted here are the minutes to this year's Christian Harmony singing at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. They were compiled by Dan Huger of Asheville, who keeps minutes and sends out schedules of upcoming singings in North Carolina and adjacent states.

Christian Harmony

John Campbell Folkschool Singing
Brasstown, Cherokee County, North Carolina
Saturday, 8 July, 2006

All selections “Alabama book”.

Bob Dalsemer welcomed the singers to the Folk School.
Laurel Horton opened the singing with 206-Prayer Meeting.
Opening prayer given by Ed Smith.
67b-Dundee, Wayne Richard
70b-Brown, Becky Walker
339-Samanthra, Steve Walker
20-Cranbrook, Guy Bankes
85b-Mercy Seat, Sharon Kellam
280t-Zion, Judy Mincey
51-Lonsdale, John Hollingsworth
110-Volunteers, Ed Smith
26b-93rd, June Spencer
185b-Corinth, Pete Ellertsen
187b-, Lee Rogers
117-Angel Band, Susan Schmidt
323-Holy Manna, Ralph Parker
35b-Boylston, Cora Sweatt
184-Never Grow Old, Andy Morse
109-Not Made with Hands, Ken George
282-Friendship, Mary Baumeister
367-David’s Lamentation, Mike Nichols
76b-Night, Robert Varkony
101-An Address for All, Eddie Mash
218t-, Chris Berg
81t-Maitland, Dan Huger
140-Edom, Laurel Horton
55b-Idumea, Wayne Richard
89b-Northfield, Becky Walker
88-Pisgah, Steve Walker
171-Sessions, Guy Bankes
47-Panting for Heaven, Sharon Kellam
Blessing, Dan Huger

87-The Promised Land, Laurel Horton
Jan Davidson, Director of the School, welcomed the singers.
16-The Finest Flower, Judy Mincey
369-Easter Anthem, John Hollingsworth
131-Will You Meet Me?, Ed Smith
332-Babylon is Fallen, Jane Spencer
293-Lenox, Virginia Douglas
147b-[Hallelujah], Pete Ellertsen
264-Harwell, Lee Rogers
215-In That Morning, Susan Schmidt
82b-Gospel Waves, Ralph Parker
129-Coronation, Cora Sweatt
29-The Midnight Cry, Andy Morse
316-This Heavy Load, Ken George
24t-Volusia, Mary Baumeister
268-Come Ye to the Waters, Mike Nichols
128t-Hester, Eddie Mash
66t-Balerma, Robert Varkony
148-Leander, Chris Berg
52-Newburg, Dan Huger
11-Minster’s Farewell, Laurel Horton
255-Watchman, Jackie Elsner
41b-Ardor, Guy Bankes
49-Forever with the Lord, Sharon Kellam
340-Blue Vale of Naucoochee, Judy Mincey
1-Weary Rest, Ed Smith
274-Mother Tell Me, Ralph Parker

200-Parting Hand
Closing prayer, Steve Walker

There were about 100 singers, and at least another twenty listeners.
The day was quite mild.
Thanks to the Folkschool for having us.

For more information about Christian Harmony singing, go to ... if you follow the links to the minutes of singings in 2006, you will find a link to pictures of the Brasstown singing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Website preserves Dena'ina music

A valuable source on Dena'ina Athabascan music is the "Dena'ina K'eliga" (Songs) page on the Dena'ina Qenaga website put up by the Alaska Native Language Center at UA-Fairbanks. Its overview:
Dena’ina music remains a source of community pride and holds great potential in bilingual education. There are at least seven types of Dena’ina song: funeral songs, potlatch dance songs, paddling songs, hunting songs, good luck songs, gambling songs and love songs. Recently there have also been a number of English songs translated into Dena’ina. You can read more about Dena’ina Song Tradition by reading Music of the Tanaina Indians of South Central Alaska - found in the Dena’ina Qenaga Digital Archive.
(To see the papers on music and song traditions, written in the 1970s by Thomas Johnston of UAF, I'll let you go to the K'eliga/Songs page and follow their link.) There are several sound files linked to the page, including:
  • "Qetitl' K'elik'a Ch'tunik'nasdzeden" or "Potlatch Song of a Lonely Man," composed and sung by Peter Kalifornsky. One of the last fluent native speakers of the Kenai dialect of Dena'ina, Kalifornsky worked with UAF linguists to establish it as a written language so it can be preserved for the future.
  • "Chickalusion Mourning Song," in honor of a respected chief of Tyonek village, composed and sung by Shem Pete. One of the last speakers of the Upper Cook Inlet dialect, Pete was a gifted storyteller who passed on much traditional knowledge about the Dena'ina people.
  • A traditional Athabascan gambling song and versions of "Down in the Valley," "Silent Night," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" in the Dena'ina language.
In Dena'ina, by the way, the title of that last song is "Ggagga Dghili Jenghiyu." The word for bear is "ggagga." It's the only word I know in Dena'ina, but I think I'm likely to remember it because it reads exactly like what I said once when I got between a bear and her cubs in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuning a dulcimer (and an aside, dear reader, on how a blog is like the old-fashioned oak filing cabinet in my home office)

Copied from an email message I just sent out to members of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings in Springfield on the theory (mentioned below) that a blog -- this blog, at any rate -- is kind of an electronic filing cabinet where I can tuck away information that would get lost otherwise.

Hi everybody --

I've got a couple of links below for the beginners, but I'm emailing everyone to remind you Bonnie and Ken Lawson have invited us (and our dulcimers!) to a picnic at their home for our regular August meeting, Thursday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m. I'll forward their message with directions, etc., in a few minutes.

Something else I keep forgetting to mention: Mike Thomas of our group has several extra sets of strings he's willing to sell. If you're interested, contact him ... or contact me, and I have his email address so I can forward the message to him.

Now, about tuning ...

At the end of last week's meeting, we looked at some of our tablature and decided there isn't a whole lot that calls for playing the 6+ fret, so it's probably best for the folks with WalMart dulcimers to play in DAD. I'm going to paste below a primer on how to tune the dulcimer from Jerry Rockwell's website. He's a very talented player and luthier from Ohio, and his website is one I keep going back to. Very informative.

Here's how you can tune the dulcimer when you don't have an electronic tuner. You always start with the bass string, and tune the rest of them to it. If you're playing with someone else, get your bass strings in tune with each other. Then tune the other strings to it. Rockwell explains how:

D Ionian (D-A-A)

Step 1. Tune the 3rd or bass string of the dulcimer to the D below Middle C (this is the same note as the open 4th string of the guitar).

Step 2. Hold the 3rd or bass string just to the left of the 4th fret and pluck this note (A). Tune your middle or 2nd string so it exactly matches this pitch.

Step 3. Tune the melody or 1st string to the same note as the open middle string. Now play the Ionian mode from frets 3 through 10 and back down. Skip the 6+ fret!

D Mixolydian (D-A-D)

Steps 1 and 2 are the same as for D Ionian.

Step 3. Hold the 2nd or middle string down at the 3rd fret and pluck this note (high D, one octave above the open bass string). Tune the melody or 1st string to this note.
Here's a link to his page, which has some more information:

You might want to surf around his website sooner or later. He's got a page on improvising that I really like, and he knows a lot about music theory. Jerry Rockwell's website is one I keep coming back to.

-- Pete

I'm going to copy this message to my "Hogfiddle" blog, too, so I don't delete the information. It's at ... I use it as kind of an electronic filing cabinet.

Kolyadkas: Carols from Ukraine

Here's a website where you can access a four-minute sound file of a kolyadka from Ukraine by a vocal ensemble from Kiev called Drevo. Strong harmonies. A good example of Slavic choral folk music, and a tradition that was adapted by Native and "creole" Alaskans as part of their Christmas celebration. Liner notes from Drevo's CD explain:
One thousand years ago with the ward of Christianity to Ukraine the culture on these grounds did not begin anew, but its new page was opened. Alongside with the partially kept prior archaic layers and on their basis, Christianity has formed other original forms of culture, genres and styles.The influence of these processes on national music was especially expressive.

In pagan times the Kolyadkas [including track 1, the one that's linked to] and Shchedrivkas [track numbers omitted] were a component of sacramentals related with New Year Day and vernal equinox. In later time Kolyadkas and Shchedrivkas (Christmas carols) became a symbol of Christmastime and other biblical dates and events. Obviously, such reassess of function has served as the reason of a semantic and stylistic variety of Kolyadkas and Shchedrivkas, represented on the disk.
The kolyadka tradition is the basis for "Starring" celebrations among people of Aleut, Tinglit and Yup'ik heritage in Alaska. A press release from the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage explains:
Starring comes from the Ukraine where at Christmas time groups of people go from house to house carrying a decorated star singing “koyatkee” or carols. The star honors the wise men that followed a star to find the Christ child. An honored individual has the responsibility of spinning the star, which is made from wood and decorated with festive ribbons and colors that look similar to a pinwheel. The center of the star contains a picture or an Icon.

Starring is observed differently among the cultural regions of Alaska Native villages. Starring is held for three days and begins late in the afternoon and can continue through the night. In many villages, the singers follow the star as it travels from house to house and at each home, food is offered to the singers and guests.
Drevo, the choral group from Kiev, is worth listening to on its own merits.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Alutiiq children's song

Lately I've been reading up on how Alaska Native and Russian Orthodox cultures influenced each other's music, and this weekend I found a sound file for an Alutiiq children's song that sounds to my untrained ear like its melodic contour is European in origin. It's called "Louse Song," and it was sung by Phyllis Peterson, an elder of Akhiok Native Village of Kodiak Island, at their Alutiiq Week in 2003. I like it because I see in it a mixture of Native and Russian cultural influences, but most of all I think it's a delightful little song and elder Peterson clearly enjoys singing it so much in the video clip.

The lyrics, in Alutiiq and English, are:
Neresta taarimallria
The Louse whisked himself
He whisked himself long and hard (showing off)
Ingqim yaamaat ciqiluki,
The baby louse (nit) splashed water on the rocks
neresta atunguarualuki
And the louse sang to his little self (for the heck of it)
Ru-ru-ru-ru, Uqnartuq!
Hoo-hoo-hoo, It's Hot!
Transcription and translation is by staff of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaelogical Repository in Kodiak.

I can't help loving the humor of a louse joining the people in the banya, a traditional Russian steam bath very much like a Scandinavian sauna or a Native American sweat lodge. The museum staff explain:
Villagers in the past were often bothered by lice from the many furs they kept in their homes; at that time there was little effective relief. Rather than ignore the problem, they made fun of their own discomfort with lively songs like this one, where even the louse gets to banya.
The museum's website is an excellent source of information about the Alutiiq people (also known as Aleut), and the National Museum of the American Indian has a fascinating profile of the people of Akhiok village and their culture with text by Alutiiq museum staff and lots of photographs.

A footnote.Lice have been with us across cultures as long as we've had cultures -- at least as long as we've had languages. Somewhere I've read that "louse" is one of the words we get from the Indo-European language, and it has had the same plural "lice" since the fifth millennium (in very round numbers) BCE.

LATER: I don't think I want to base a grand narrative on this, so I'll let it be another footnote. Reading Billington's Icon and the Axe, I came across this reference in his discussion of how life in the forests of 13th- and 14th-century Muscovy influenced Russian culture:
The very process by which the body generated warmth within its clothing attracted the louse to venture forth from the clothing to feast upon its human prey; and the very communal baths by which Russians sought to cleanse themselves provided a unique opportunity for the louse to migrate from one garment to the other. ... The peasant's wooded hut, which provided rudimentary protection against the larger beasts of the forest, served more as a lure to its insects and rodents. They hungrily sought entrance to his dwelling place, his food supply, and -- eventually -- his still warm body. (22)
This follows a discussion of the bears that also lived in the forest (21-22), including this: "Legend had it that that the bear was originally a man who had been denied the traditional bread and salt of human friendship, and had in revenge assumed an awesome new shape and retreated to the forest to guard it against the intrusions of his former species" (21). Again, I don't want to make too much of it, but the legend has counterparts in Athabascan (not to mention Cherokee and other Native American peoples') mythologies.

Billington, James H. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf-Borzoi, 1967.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Resources on Native music

Cross-posted to music and teaching blogs for potential use in HUM 221 (Native American cultures) in the spring of 2007.

A valuable article in the Jan.-Feb. 2003 issue of Sharing Our Pathways, newsletter of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative at UA-Fairbanks. It's by Vivian Martindale, and it's titled "Native American Songs as Literature." In addition to an ANKN (Alaska Native Knowledge Netword) article on the Athabascan peoples, it mentions Joy Harjo, Canyon Records and other resources on Native cultures in the lower 48.

Says Martindale:
Classrooms don't have to be boring. Literature classes especially can be enhanced through the medium of song. In David Leedom Shaul's article "A Hopi Song-Poem in Context", he claims that the listener is similar to an audience during storytelling, in that the listener is also interacting with the music. The listener, as a participant, is not passive; the listener is hearing rhythms, words, patterns and much more. The listener does not have to understand the Native language in order to appreciate the song. Shaul calls attention to the genre called "song poems." These songs are in a category by themselves, separate from poetry and prose. "The text of song-poems in Hopi culture, like much poetry, seemingly create their own context by virtue of minimalist language" (Shaul 1992:230Ð31). Therefore it would be interesting to include the concept of song poems or poetry as music into a curriculum.
She quotes this from a Joy Harjo/Poetic Justice song called "My House is the Red Earth." (Poetic Justice is Harjo's band.):
My house is the red earth. It could be the center of the world. I've heard New York, Tokyo or Paris called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy scraps of fat. Just ask him. He doesn't have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter.
She also has tips and caveats on teaching traditional Native American music.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Irish jig ‘recreates past of deserted village’

Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of The Prairie Picayune, volunteer newsletter at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site.

One of New Salem’s enduring legends has to do with The Missouri Harmony, a shape-note tunebook belonging to the Rutledge family. In his American Songbag, the poet Carl Sandburg’s said, “Young Abraham Lincoln and his sweetheart Ann Rutledge sang from the book in the Rutledge tavern in New Salem, Illinois, according to old settlers there.” Early 20th-century local historian Josephine Craven Chandler recalled “stories of Sunday evenings when the family sang in unison and he turned for her by fire and candle light the worn pages of the ‘Missouri Harmony Songbook’; and, it is told, she sang for him alone sometimes in her clear, strong, girlish voice.”

As it so often happens, there’s at least a kernel of truth to the legend. And as it sometimes also happens, the truth is more interesting than the legend.

We can confirm from other sources that young Abraham Lincoln did in fact sing from Missouri Harmony with the Rutledge youngsters. We even know a song he enjoyed singing. After a fashion, at least. Lincoln had a terrible voice, and he made a mess of the song, but sing it he did. Robert Rutledge, Ann's brother, said he’d “tip back his chair and roar it out at the top of his voice, over and over again, just for fun.” The racket was so loud it bothered little Sally, the youngest of the Rutledge children.

The song is called “Legacy.” It was an Irish jig tune, related to “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning” and an English morris dance tune called “Constant Billy” as well as a Scottish song called “How Shall We Abstain from Whisky?” The Irish poet Thomas Moore set a poem to it called “The Legacy,” and his version of it got into Missouri Harmony and other songbooks of the day with that title. What’s more, there’s some evidence the song got into the oral tradition in west central Illinois, at least for a while, as a fiddle tune that John Armstrong and Lee Edgar Masters called “Missouri Harmony.”

Masters heard it in 1914, when he visited John Armstrong in Oakford. In a novel, Masters also wrote of its being played on an Illinois River steamboat. Fiddle playing often runs in families, and the Armstrongs were one of Menard County’s noted fiddle-playing families. John’s father, Jack, was the same Jack Armstrong who got in the famous wrestling match with Lincoln at New Salem.

And Lee Masters listened spellbound for several hours as.“John tuned his fiddle, and sat back and began to preface the playing of each piece with some story concerning its origin, and where and how it got its name, and where he heard it first.”

“For years [Armstrong] had attended the dances, the county fairs, the camp meetings, the festivals,” Masters continued. “There were the continuation of the New Salem events, and I felt that he was re-creating the past of the deserted village for me. I could imagine myself in the Rutledge Tavern, listening to John Armstrong tell stories of the Sangamon River, of Bowling Green, of Mentor Graham whom he knew, of William G. Greene, at the time not so many years gone from earth.”

Some of the songs Armstrong played that night were standard fiddle tunes like “Hell Amongst the Yearlings and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” Then, Masters added, “[Armstrong] played and sang ‘The Missouri Harmony’.” Masters quoted two stanzas:
“When in death I shall calm recline,
O bear my heart to my mistress dear;
Tell her it lived upon smiles and wine
Of the brightest hue, while it lingered here.

“Bid her not shed one tear of sorrow,
To sully a heart so brilliant and light;
But balmy drops of the red grape borrow,
To bathe the relic from morn to night.”
Masters didn’t mention the connection, but it was the same song that Lincoln sang with the Rutledge youngsters. It’s not only in Missouri Harmony but Moore’s poem and a close variant of the tune also got into The Southern Harmony, a very popular shape-note tunebook of the 1830s that has the added advantage for us today of having a copyright-free version available on line. It’s indexed in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at …click on “L” and then on “Legacy.” There you’ll find the music – the melody is in the tenor, or middle, line – and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. If you play by ear, like I do, you can learn it from the MIDI file.

A couple of suggestions as you’re learning the tune. If you read music, you can ignore the shapes. Just read the middle line for the time values and intervals. It’s written in the key of F, but if you play the keynote (the triangular note at the beginning and end that shape-note singers recognize as “fa”) on the third fret and work out the other intervals in DAA tuning, you’ll automatically transpose it to D. Sometimes I’ll make homemade tablature by writing fret numbers above the notes. I don’t play from tab at New Salem. It’s not appropriate to our period. But it is a good way of working out a new tune.

No matter whether you call it “Legacy” or “Missouri Harmony,” it’s a nice tune. It’s in 6/8 time, and I play it on the dulcimer with the lilt of a jig but slow enough to sing the lyrics to. When I play the song at New Salem, I feel like in a small way I’m helping re-create the past of no-longer deserted village.

A footnote. I would appreciate information or leads that can help me learn more about fiddle playing and old-time string bands in west central Illinois, especially Menard and Sangamon counties. Please contact me at