Monday, August 31, 2009

HUM 223: Roots music concert Sept. 22 in Springfield ... a good choice (but not the only one) for your live music review paper

Sparky and Rhonda Rucker

Performing in Springfield at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, are Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, a husband-and-wife team who play "a variety of old-time blues, slave songs, Appalachian music, spirituals, ballads, work songs, Civil War music, cowboy music, railroad songs, and a few of their own original compositions." They'll be at the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 745 Woodside Rd. just west of South Second Street Road and the Toronto Road exit off I-55. Tickets are $10 or $5.

Here's the blurb from Prairie Grapevine Folklore Society, which is sponsoring the concert:
Sparky Rucker has been performing over forty years and is internationally recognized as a leading folklorist, musician, historian, storyteller, and author. He accompanies himself with fingerstyle picking and bottleneck blues guitar, banjo, and spoons. Rhonda Rucker is an accomplished harmonica, piano, banjo, and bones player, and also adds vocal harmonies to their songs.

Sparky and Rhonda are sure to deliver an uplifting presentation of toe-tapping music spiced with humor, history, and tall tales. They take their audience on an educational and emotional journey that ranges from poignant stories of slavery and war to an amusing rendition of a Brer Rabbit tale or their witty commentaries on current events.
I should add this: I consider Sparky an old friend, and I first got interested in roots music hearing Sparky, and a lot of other old-time musicians, play at parties, festivals and taverns near the University of Tennessee campus back in the day (I won't say how long ago, especially after Prairie Grapevine gave it away), and he has a deep knowledge of America's diverse musical traditions. He plays music instead of teaching classes, but he's one of the most sensitive historians of American culture I know. In fact I first heard about Robert Johnson, one of the artists we'll study this semester, from Sparky.

Enough testifying. Let's get to the point.

At some point during the semester, I want all of you to attend a live roots music event and write up your reaction to it. You'll use the three questions I've been bombarding you with: (1) What stands out about the performance? (2) Why do I feel that way? And (3) What, specifically, about the performance makes me feel that way? I never require my students to spend money outside of class, and there will be free musical events you can also attend. But the Ruckers' music relates directly to what we're studying in HUM 223, and their concert would be an excellent choice for your live performance paper. In the next few days, I will have more instructions for you on how to write this paper, along with more suggestions for roots music events in our area.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

'Happy hardcore' Danish/Swedish roots music band ... with a lilt

If you stray here from my humanities class, this isn't on the syllabus. But it's roots music. There's more of it in places like Ireland and Scandinavia, where my family came from, than there is in the United States. At least downstate Illinois.

Following are notes to myself, starting with a song I'd like to play myself, and a kind of lilty (if that's a word), swinging style I want to develop in my own playing. So if you'e taking HUM 223, you can relax now ...

Heard on this week's Multe Music Scandinavian roots music program out of Northfield, Minn., a lovely Danish polska dance tune called "Bugge and Busk" after the musicians featured on the cut, or, more accurately "pohlsk dans efter Jens Millersen Bjergs nodebog No. 49" [polska dance after Jens Millersen Bjerg's notebook No. 49], featuring Kristian Bugge on fiddle and Nikolaj Busk on keyboard. They're part of a group of Danish and Swedish musicians calling itself Totakt-pols (which means a two-beat variation of a three-beat dance that sounds to my undereducated ear a little bit like 6/8 but maybe a little slower and with more of a lilt). According to the profile on its MySpace page, Totakt-pols is a "Folk / Acoustic / Happy Hardcore" band. Other personnel are Steffan Søgard Sørensen, bass; Gerd Nielsen, accordion; and Åke Persson, fiddle.

"Bugge og Busk" a.k.a. "pohlsk dans efter Jens Millersen Bjergs nodebog No. 49" is on the MySpace page, along with three or four other audio cuts and a video of a dance in Copenhagen. And links to Friends including Busk's MySpace page, which has a tune called "Sparta and Haltwhistle Common" with the same subtle interplay between keyboard and fiddle. He says his genres are "Folk / Experimental / Jazz," and he claims Mozart, Gustav Mahler, Bach and Carl Nielsen as musical influences, as well as the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Louie Armstrong. "Atitlan" is a fascinating blend with a catchy little melody that's almost Beatle-linke, and, again, that lilt. Way too many links to follow ... a trio called Habbadám, from the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Poland, that plays Norwegian poskas and a wonderfully lilting little thing called "I Markersen ja traff ejn majn." Sounds Celtic, or, as they say in their MySpace blurb, "Strong connections can be made to both Scandinavian, Baltic and English music." Which may have something to do with why Habbadám has played a folk festival in New Zealand and has several dates in Scotland this fall.

Anyway ... most of these groups are young, although I noticed a couple of established groups like Hoven Droven and an old-fashioned Danish accordionist named Karl Skaarup (Folk / Acoustic / Roots Music) who would fit right in on a 500-watt radio station in the Midwest. Scandinavia has a burgeoning acoustic-traditional-jazz-rock scene, most of which puts our indie label singer-songwriters to shame, and I've been spending way too much time with it this afternoon!

HUM 223: Writing about music, writing about 'Amazing Grace'

"Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art." -- Charlie "Bird" Parker

This week, we'll watch a video of "Amazing Grace," a Public Broadcasting System documentary narrated by Bill Moyers. It's about the hymn "Amazing Grace," and it can give us an outstanding example of how one piece of music has transcended boundary lines.

But first some preliminaries ...

Robert M. Seiler of the University of Calgary in Canada suggests that when his students write about music, they actively listen for the sound of vocals or instrumentals, and the “dynamics or the intensity of the sound, in terms of loudness, uniformity, and change.” He also suggests they listen for:

a. the movement of the piece, i.e., concentrate on its rhythm, meter, and tempo,

b. the pitch, i.e., in terms of its order and melody, and

c. the structure of the piece, i.e., its logic, design, and texture.

Seiler’s entire tip sheet is available at -- his examples are from classical music, but his suggestions work for blues, gospel, jazz, rock or hip hop, too. They’ll work for "Amazing Grace," too.

As we watch the video, we'll see people from different walks of life singing the music, including a family reunion in the Kentucky mountains, a youth choir in New York City, convicts, popular musicians, opera singers. Take notes as you watch. Ask yourself: How many different types of people are featured? How do they relate to the song? What, specifically, do they get out of it? How do you react to their singing? What do you learn about music as you listen to all these different people? What do you learn about yourself? Here are three questions to ask yourself. You've seen them before, and you'll see 'em again:

1. What about this piece of music and/or performance stands out in my mind?
2. What in my background, values, needs and interests makes me react that way?
3. What specific things about the performance trigger that reaction?
We'll keep asking these three questions all semester long. Let's give it a trial run before we do the Bill Moyers video. We'll watch gospel singer and motivational speaker Wintley Phipps performing "Amazing Grace" at Carnegie Hall.

Ask yourself the three questions. Then post your reactions as comments to this one. For those who haven't posted yet, here's a reminder:
How to post your response
Scroll down to the bottom of this post. On the right side of the last line, there will be a link that says "___ comments" (with a number filled in where I've left a blank, depending on how many comments have been posted). Click on that link and fill in the comment field on the right. Sign in (and make a note of the username and password you choose because we'll keep on posting to the blog, and if you don't make a note of it, you'll be out of luck). Review your comment if you wish, and publish it by clicking on "Publish Your Comment." It's relentlessly user-friendly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Irish and Scottish D R A F T

In the first video clip, American folk singer Jean Ritchie visits a village in
Ireland to share a folk hymn from her native Kentucky with Irish musicians who sing and play in the traditional Irish style (in Gaelic, "sean nós" pronounced shawn-NOS"). Listen for the man in the cardigan sweater singing in Gaelic, followed by Ritchie singing the Old Regular Baptist hymn, "Look away ... you can see the promised land" in a traditional Appalachian style. Notice how much it sounds like Irish sean nós.

A woman singing in the sean nós style at a folk festival in Co. Kerry. Notice the older folks joining in.

A clip from Irish television service TG4 of a young girl, Nell Ní Chróinín, singing the old way (in Gaelic, "sean nós"). Notice how proud the older man (her grandfather?) is. And notice the subtitle, as he says, "The tradition is safe for now."

More polished is this performance by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh fronting the Irish roots band Altan, on a "Balcony TV" show shot on, yeah, a balcony in Dublin. I'd call it popular music, but it's rooted in the tradition. How Ní Mhaonaigh's performance like the folk singers'? How is it different?

Altan at a 2003 folk festival in Cambridge, England.

A Scots string band featuring Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham at a New Year's Eve party in Scotland, followed by piper Gavin Stoddart ringing in the new milennium at Edinburgh, Scotland.

Aly Bain play "Bonaparte's Retreat" at about the same tempo. Its melody is similar to the pipe tune, but it's a purely American fiddle tune.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

HUM 223: "Saints" in class Thursday, Aug. 27

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It's a really stupid thing to want to do." -- Elvis Costello

Today we're going to be writing about music. We got a good start Tuesday, or seven of us did. I liked what you posted. I agreed with vjb79, who recalled a high school madrigal dinner and said the King's Singers sounded "more like the madrigal song than the song Saints did" when Harry Belafonte joked about singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" like an old English madrigal. (I thought his arrangment sounded more like a 1950s studio band, which of course is what was backing him up!) And I agreed with cylegilbert who said we shouldn't label music as belonging to a particular ethnic group or nationality, because "music comes from cultures and from the heart." What we'll see this semester is a type of music, actually several types of music, that developed when people of different cultures adopted each other's riffs and ultimately each other's values. I like what jazz saxaphone player Charlie Parker said (as quoted at the top of our syllabus) ...

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art. -- Charlie 'Bird' Parker
We're going to talk about folk, popular and art music, and listen to some of each.

Also we'll watch two versions of "When the Saints Go Marching In" on YouTube. The first is a jazz version by Louie Armstrong and Danny Kaye.

It looks like it was on television in the Netherlands, by the way, since there are subtitles in wht appears to be Dutch. Talk about no boundary lines to art!

The second version is by Bruce Springsteen and his Pete Seeger Sessions band, at a concert in Bologna, Italy. No boundary lines here, either. In fact, Springsteen's Sessions tour was more popular in Europe than it was in the United States:

After watching them, I want you to write your response to the two versions of the "Saints." How do the artists performing each version and make it their own? As you listen, ask yourself these questions:
1. What about each piece of music and/or performance stands out in my mind?
2. What in my background, values, needs and interests makes me react that way?
3. What specific things about the performance trigger that reaction?
Post your thoughts are comments on this blog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

HUM 223: How to post a comment

How to post your response

Scroll down to the bottom of this post. On the right side of the last line, there will be a link that says "___ comments" (with a number filled in where I've left a blank, depending on how many comments have been posted). Click on that link and fill in the comment field on the right. Sign in (and make a note of the username and password you choose because we'll keep on posting to the blog, and if you don't make a note of it, you'll be out of luck). Review your comment if you wish, and publish it by clicking on "Publish Your Comment." It's relentlessly user-friendly.

HUM 223: First day, syllabus, etc. [folk, popular, art]

Until I can make corrections to our syllabus on my faculty webpage, I'm putting our syllabus for HUM 223 on this blog. You can scroll down a couple of items, or click here to get it in a new window. We'll go over the syllabus in class. I know it's kind of like the air safety instructions you get from your flight attendants when a plane leaves the airport. Boring. But, like the safety information, you may need it sometime.

After that, we'll scroll back up to this post --

In class, we'll listen to singer and actor Harry Bellafonte give his impression of what the old New Orleans jazz number "When the Saints Go Marching In" might have sounded like it hadn't been for the African American influence in our music. Like "an old English madrigal," he said at a famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1959. Bellafone was joking, of course, but there's something to what he said. I want us to keep it in mind as we follow African American music from the cotton fields of Mississippi to Chicago, and from there to England, this semester.

For comparison's sake, we'll start by listening to a couple of madigrals. I posted them to this blog back in July. Link here to open a new window so you can follow the words. (By the way, if you haven't sung in a chorus that gives public performances before, you'll probably think these guys' facial expressions are over the top. But they're pretty standard.) Wikipedia has more information about the King's Singers, who have made a lifelong career of a cappella singing and know more than 2,000 songs, including the two we'll hear.

We'll spend the rest of the hour listening to a variety of music from British, European and African American musical traditions, both folk and popular, as well as classical. Or, as I sometimes like to call it, back-porch, front-porch and art music.

It's worth knowing because: (1) we'll be dealing with these concepts all semester; and (2) there's a very, very good chance it'll be on the midterm. (See? First day of class and you're already getting hints about what might be on the midterm.) I'm going to highlight some things I think will be especially important as we go along.

So, let's read through the rest of this blog. Then listen up! As we play selections from my flashdrive, be asking yourself: Where does this selection fit? Why? What makes it sound that way?

Here's how the late Daniel Kingman, composer and professor emeritus at California State University-Sacramento, described the three types of music in his book "American Music: A Panorama" (2nd ed., 2003):

Folk music. "... evolves within fairly close-knit homogeneous communities possessing a strong sense of group solidarity. [You'll probably hear me calling them "bounded communities," which means the same thing, because that's how I first learned the concept.] It is music known to and enjoyed by a large proportion of the community, who identify it as 'their music,' made by and for themselves. Many of the members of the community … perform the music themselves, with varying degrees of skill." Used to be rural and geographically isolated, but this is no longer always true. Conventional in style. Catchy melodies. Often easy to sing. Emphasis is on the song and not the singer. Other the music has a purpose in daily life beyond making pretty sounds -- e.g. work songs, dance tunes, religious music used in worship. In the past learned by oral tradition instead of written music, "but this must now include by extension radio, recordings, television, and film." Often the community is defined by ethnic identity. But not always -– e.g. protest songs, labor songs, other types of music sung by close-knit groups with a common purpose. A lot of sacred music started out as folk music.

Popular music. “… created for and enjoyed by the vast majority of the people, undefined by region. No specific ethnic background is requisite to fully appreciate or identify with it. It is primarily (though not exclusively) music for entertainment, and as such it makes only modest demands on its listeners’ musical knowledge and experience. It tends to adopt sounds from both folk and classical music that have become sufficiently familiar to the wider public.” Played by skilled professionals. [p. xvi] It's commercial, sold as sheet music in the old days, now radio, sound and video recordings. Is gospel popular music or folk music? Or both?

Art music, or classical music. Has been around longer than pop music, and includes music from earlier periods. Said Kingman: “As cultivated music it rewards a certain degree of musical experience in the listener, though its devotees are not defined by any intellectual, social, economic, regional, or racial classification.” I like calling it “art music,” as the 3rd edition does instead of classical), because it includes both classical music and a lot of jazz. However, art music often uses techniques and conventions borrowed from classical music -- symphonies, concertos, operas, requiem Masses, etc. The online Wikipedia encyclopedia says art music “primarily refers to classical traditions (including contemporary as well as historical classical music forms), focuses on formal styles, invites technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and demands focused attention from the listener.” It also tends to demand a very highly skilled, totally focused performer (most of us can't sing opera). So are the members of a good techno band like classical musicans? Are they art musicians? Folk? Popular? Or a little bit of all of above?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nuts & Bolts - BenU-Springfield - Aug. 2009


An electronic assessment newsletter serving Springfield College-Benedictine University at Springfield

August 2009
Vol. 10 No. 1

Editor's note: Due to technical difficulties, I am temporarily unable to post documents to the Springfield College-Benedictine University at Springfield website. In order to make this month's issue of Nuts & Bolts available in a timely fashion, I am sending it out by email to faculty and staff as classes begin. Please also note: This revised copy incorporates a fresh link to another website that incorporates the discussion of "What Students Want in a Teaching Professor" by Doug Eder. Until the technical problems are resolved, I will post the archival copy of this issue to my personal weblog at -- Pete Ellertsen


OK, let's gather around, folks. I want to address this year's first issue of Nuts & Bolts especially to new adjunct instructors, who might like to have a couple of sure-fire, ever-ready gimmicks for this mysterious thing called "classroom assessment" that we're all supposed to do and none of us ... really ... quite know how to describe. It's getting to be a beginning-of-the-semester tradition, sort of like the "back-to-school" edition of a local newspaper. But it's not designed to sell Aeropostale and Tommy Hilfiger ads, it's designed to give new teachers information you can use right away.

Of course that doesn't mean the rest of us can't listen up, too. I've been posting introductory tip sheets like this for quite a while now, and I don't do it just to be of service to new teachers ... even though I remember what it was like for me as a new adjunct instructor. I had covered criminal court, coal mine strikes, prison escapes and a Chicago city election as a newspaper reporter, but I was virtually panic-striken by the prospect of 25 freshman English students sitting in neat little rows in front of me. So I do want to be of service to the new folks.

But mostly, going back over the basics for the newsletter reminds me how to keep my eye on the ball in my own classes.

So here, after all that windup, comes the pitch.

Classroom assessment is, in a nutshell, a process of using multiple measures to find out what our students are learning. It's mandated by our "outside stakeholders," government and accrediting agencies mostly, but it's also part and parcel of good teaching. If we rely too much on one way of measuring learning ... true-or-false quizzes, for example, or 50-point essay questions ... we don't get the full range of data we need, because no one test can measure everything. So we try to mix them up a little, and use the different measurements to control for each other. When we do it as we go along, it's called "formative assessment." Which means we can use the data to form our next lesson plans as we go along.

Confused yet? I've noticed the longer I try to talk theory to my students, the more confused they get. (Noticing things like that, by the way, is where classroom assessment begins.) So let's just throw out a couple of real tools you can use right away.

They're called CATs. The acronym, which has spawned litters and litters of tedious cat puns, stands for "Classroom Assessment Techniques." Here are two especially useful ones from a Vanderbilt University tip sheet:

-- The Minute Paper tests how students are gaining knowledge, or not. The instructor ends class by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: "What was the most important thing you learned during this class?" and "What important question remains unanswered?"

-- The Background Knowledge Probe is a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions.

See? In both cases, we're using multiple measures to find out what the students are learning.

The Minute Paper, like most CATs, isn't graded. Instead, it tells us what we got across that day and what we need to spend a little extra time on in our next class. We're using it to control for the feedback we get via our graded assignments, much in the same way a scientist - or an auditor, for that matter - builds in controls to keep tabs on what's really going on.

A lot of experienced teachers at Benedictine like the Minute Paper, by the way; it comes back time after time on our CAT surveys. For one thing, it gets its name for just about how long it takes to administer it, and it gives us the information we need right away. Often it confirms what we were beginning to suspect from blank looks, furtive texting in the back rows and other visual cues our lessons aren't going over exactly as planned. But the one-minute essay helps us document it.

The other CAT is called the Background Knowledge Probe (no acronym, alas! Perhaps because it doesn't lend itself to cat jokes). It's especially useful in the humanities and social sciences, where preconceptions and attitudes come into play so often. A lot of instructors like to administer the questionnaire at the beginning of the semester as a pre-test, and again at the end as a post-test. Done right, pre- and post-tests can be a good measure of "value added." If the kids didn't know who did what to whom in the Battle of the Little Bighorn at the beginning of the semester and they do at the end, then we can assume they learned it during the semester. So it counts as value added.

Vandy's Center for Teaching defines CATs as "generally simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening." They list several others, followed by bullet-point answers to "Why Should I Use CATs?" and "How Should I Use CATs?" I'll paste the address below in my Works Cited list. It'll get you started. Or, if you've been teaching a while, it'll remind you why and how we do what we do. Either way, I highly recommend looking it over as the new school year begins.

Also highly recommended is a tip sheet on "What Students Want In a Teaching Professor" by Douglas Eder, emeritus biology professor and assessment guru at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. It's no longer available on the SIU-E website, but it has been copied on a Brazilian website called "Ser Professor Universitario" in Brazil.

Eder cited research indicating students were looking for clarity & organization, an easy command of content knowledge, a caring attitude, challenge, spontaneity, drama, enthusiasm, sincerity, acknowledgment, a sense of humor and involvement. Students respond positively, he added, to:

-- High levels of interaction with faculty outside the classroom
-- Genuine effort to make courses interesting
-- Frequent examples, analogies, and metaphors
-- Use of contemporary issues as appropriate
-- Application of course materials to other fields of study
-- Enthusiasm for the student and the subject
-- Clear, well-organized classes
-- Involvement of students through: Discussion, library research, oral presentations [and] small group activities.

There's more. Eder also listed nine “Key Traits for Good Teaching and Learning on which Students and Faculty Agree.” They're worth reading and going back to. In fact, if you click on the "IMPRIMIR TEXTO" at the bottom of the page, you can print out the entire handout on one page and tape it to your office wall for convenient reference. It's linked below in the Works Cited list.

Included among the nine traits is "Sensitivity to and Concern for Students' Level and Learning Progress." We all have that sensitivity we wouldn't be teaching, we'd find an easier way to make a paycheck. But using CATS helps us do something about it.


New members of the committee have been appointed now. They are Teresa Saner, who teaches math, and Nancy Weichert, new director of Becker Library. Dave Holland, who teaches biology and has chaired the General Education (standardized testing) subcommittee, has been appointed co-chair. Other faculty members are: Wayne Burrows, Brian Carrigan, Tom Jackson, Darlene Snyder and Pete Ellertsen (chair). Serving ex offico, in addition to Nancy, are Kevin Broeckling, dean of students; Michael Bromberg, academic affairs dean; Joanna Beth Tweedy, associate dean; and Amy Sayre-Roberts, resource center director.

Other interested faculty, especially adjuncts, are invited to consider joining the committee. Bringing our assessment program in line with Benedictine University's will be an important part of the transition to a four-year university offering graduate degrees in Springfield.

-- Pete Ellertsen, editor, Nuts & Bolts.


Eder, Douglas. “What Students Want in a Teaching Professor.” Aug. 24, 2009. Reprinted in _Ser Professor Universitario_ at

Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching. 2008. “Classroom Assessment Techniques.” Teaching Resources. Aug. 24, 2009.


Nuts & Bolts is an electronic newsletter published by SCI's Assessment Committee. If you have information, comments or feedback, please contact any committee member or editor Pete Ellertsen, in 211 Beata Hall, 525-1420 ext. 519 or by e-mail at pellertsen at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Swedish sifferskrift (partly) explained


Ardith K. Melloh

Reprinted with permission from The Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly
October 1981. On the Nordic American Psalmodikonforbundet website at

A description of modes, etc., that might be enough to tell how to play the Swedish sifferskrift:
A recent book on [Johan] Dillner by Leif Eeg-Olofsson states
that a psalmodikon and numerical notation were used as early
as 1822-23 in Denmark, but were discontinued after about
five years. In Norway, Christian Gottried Bohr published
numerical music in 1825. Its widespread use there, however,
was due to Lars Roverud who improved the instrument and
made changes in the notation. Like Dillner, he deplored poor
congregational singing and the two men could have
exchanged ideas when Roverud visited Stockholm in 1828.
Dillner also made changes to simplify and
improve the instrument and its notation, but basically the Norwegian
and Swedish instruments were the same: a single
string stretched over a long wooden box with a fretted, hardwood
fingerboard marked in half-steps and the notation numbers
marked beside the fingerboard. On Swedish psalmodikons
the spaces between the frets were colored white and black.
Dillner’s notation used numbers one through eight together
with some simple signs; Norwegians used numbers one
through seven. Placing the instrument and music on a table,
standing or seated player looked from the music to the numbers
beside the fingerboard and pressed down the single
sheep-gut string in the correct place as he played it with a violin
bow. Being a monochord, only one
melody line could be played on an instrument. When more
parts were needed two to four instruments were used. To
change key, Norwegians used a set of thin boards with different
scales that could be easily attached beside the fingerboard. Dillner omitted these transpositional boards by having the
player retune the string. A capital letter placed
below the number of the psalm was the note on the organ to
which the open string should be tuned and it was followed by
the scale of the mode in which the
music was written. Players and singers had to
memorize the six mode scales just as they do key
signatures today. However, as most songs were in the Ionic
mode, there was little need for retuning the string. The use
of modes even made exact tuning
unnecessary when the instrument was played alone and the
string only needed to be loosened or tightened to suit the
player or the singer.

Also this, which gives a hint regarding performance practice:
Even after seeing a psalmodikon I never really expected
to hear one, but that came true on July 28, 1978, at the
Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, when Henry Storhoff of
Lanesboro, Minnesota, played his Norwegian salmodikon.
He does not know who made it, but it has been in his
family for about a hundred years and was given to him by
his grandparents Kulsrud of rural Lanesboro about thirty
years ago. It had been used in their farm home and also
to lead the singing at the local parochial school. It is made
of spruce with some pine wood and is 40 by 3 ½ by 1 ½
inches with a single string and a finger board marked by
metal frets. After making necessary repairs he taught
himself to play it, aided by an instruction book from
Norway. Being a fiddler, he used both a violin bow and
technique to produce vibrato, as he pressed the string
down just behind the fret. This gives a smooth melody,
pleasing to present-day listeners. Although he has a
Norwegian book with music in numerical notation, he plays
by ear and has marked the letters on his instrument. To
produce more volume for large audiences, he uses a steel
string tuned to G below middle C and rests the instrument
on a stand constructed to hold it with a minimum of
physical contact. This gives more resonance than the
traditional way and he is able to produce a volume of
sound somewhat less than that of a good violin. From
comments made by people in the audience and the way
they joined in singing the last hymn, “What a Friend We
Have In Jesus,” there was no question that others enjoyed
hearing it as much as I did.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An antebellum African American work song?

Sheet music published in Cincinatti in 1854 titled "And Dat's Another Pull Back" by Frank Williams that's billed as an authentic plantation song i.e. "A Sure Enough Corn Song Taken From the Darkies Themselves." It does look like a call-and-response work song.

In the Library of Congress collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(P)salmodikon - links

So I don't lose them ...
  • At the bottom of a Norwegian webpage about old guitars a picture of an 1886 psalmodikon and this discussion: "Salmodikon består i sin enkleste form av en flat rektangulær trekasse av varierende mål. Kassen virker som resonansrom. Det er strukket bare en streng over instrumentet, opprinnelig var dette en streng av sauetarm. Strengen strykes med en fiolinbue. Under strengen ligger gripbrettet, en linjal hvor det er påskrevet en rekke tall og tverrstreker. Gripbrettet er inndelt etter en halvtoneskala som gjør det mulig å spille i alle dur- og moll- tonearter. Vanligvis er det nok med fire linjaler, hver med fire ulike transponeringstabeller. I "sifferskrift" kalles grunntonearten 1=1. Dette vil man se i alle noter for salmodikon. 4=1 betyr at siffer 1 på tabellen nå skal dekke over siffer 4 på grunnskalaen (C-dur). (hentet fra Sigve Ellingsen)

  • In the discussion of the salmodikon at a brief Norwegian-language overview with a picture and links, including one to the sifferskrift for "A mighty fortress is our God" ("Vor Gud Han er saa fast en Borg") in J.A. Lindeman, Coral-Melodier for Psalmodicon til de i Kingos, Guldbergs og den evangelisk christelige Psalmebog forekommende Psalmer, udsatte i Siffre efter den ved kongelig Resolusjon af 15de Juni 1835 authoriserede Choralbog, tilligemed en Veiledning til Brugen av Psalmodicon (Christiana [Oslo], 1862).

"A Mighty Fortress is our God" (Wikmedia Commons)
  • In the Swedish version of Wikipedia, the following: "Just som jag är, ej med ett strå / Just som jag är, jag intet har är en sång från 1834 av Charlotte Elliot, översatt till svenska 1853 av Betty Ehrenborg-Posse. Den svenska texten bearbetades 1955 av Lydia Lithell. Musiken är skriven 1849 av William Bradbury." The words with sifferskrift tab are in Tuve Hasselquist's Det Rätta Hemlandet, Galesburg, March 18, 1857.
LATER (Nov. 2013). I've tried to play "Just as I Am" from the sifferskrift, and Hasselquist's melody is not the same as Bradbury's (which is the one we recognize now). I suspect it's an English melody that went with Elliot's words until replaced by Bradbury's, but I haven't established that.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Nordic music podcast from Northfield, Minn.

Multe Music, a weblog and podcast "[e]xploring the roots, shoots and fruits of Scandinavian and Nordic traditions" from KYMN radio in Northfield, Minn., a "town of cows, colleges and contentment" (the colleges are St. Olaf and Carleton) ... LATER: And a reference to a live music venue called the Contented Cow that went sailing right over my head, although I suspect I saw it - and heard it in the distance - when I was in downtown Northfield.

Northfield is a nice town, by the way. A couple of weeks ago Debi and I had some very good beef curry and chicken Tandoori on the porch of a restraurant overlooking a Carnegie library across the street from a Thrivent insurance office (formerly Lutheran Brotherhood) and a couple of blocks from a bank that was robbed by Jesse James. Kind of an all-American experience.

HUM 223: Roots of gospel, 'lining out,' call and response

From a British video "THE STORY OF GOSPEL: THE POWER OF THE VOICE" (1998) an exploration of how African American gospel differed from the music of white Scots-Irish people and how it got over ...

White vernacular singing wasn't as precise as perhaps the video makes it out to be. Compare the singing of Appalachian whites in an Old Regular Baptist congregation ("Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah") with an African American congregation in the Sea Islands of Georgia ("Sheep, Sheep, Don't You Know the Road"):

Footnote: Cherokee Indian tradition holds that "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" was one of the songs the Cherokee people sang on the Trail of Tears.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Arve Moen Bergset: "Religiøse Folketoner" bl.a.

Heard on NKR ...

A song "Herre Gud dit dyre navn og aere" by Arve Moen Bergset, from the album Religiøse Folketoner ( ). A longtime member of Bukkene Bruse (Billy Goats Gruff), Bergset has made a name as folksinger in the kveding style and for performing classical compositions for Hardanger fiddle. Good bio of Bergset on the Norwegian Music Information Centre website.

A sampling of his work in a 10-minute YouTube clip includes:
  • 'Mitt hjerte alltid vanker' (14 years old)

  • "Bruremarsj Fra Osterdalen" (instrumental)

  • "Maria, Hun er en Jomfru reen" (32 years old)
Arrangements are kind of New Age-y orchestral. Nice, though.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

syllabus - hum 223

Humanities 223: Ethnic Music
Springfield College-Benedictine University at Springfield
Fall Semester 2009

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art. -- Charlie 'Bird' Parker

Humanities 223-01 meets from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday in Dawson 220 (computer lab). Instructor is Pete Ellertsen, 211 Beata Hall (old Ursuline convent), telephone 217-525-1420x519. e-mail . Office hours TBA.

I. Catalog description. Ethnic Cultural Expression in American Music (3 hours). A study of selected artistic traditions of marginalized American subcultures, with particular attention to Scots-Irish and African American musical traditions and their commodification by the theater and the sound recording industry. Minstrel shows, gospel, country, blues and rock will be emphasized.

II. Textbook and materials. The Black and White of American Popular Music by Vera Lee (Schenkman Books, 2007); Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (Penguin, 1982).

III. Mission Statement. The mission of Springfield College in Illinois is to provide students the best liberal arts education in the Ursuline tradition of a nurturing faith-based environment. We prepare students for a life of learning, leadership and service in a diverse world.

Mission statement of Benedictine University. Benedictine University at Lisle dedicates itself to the education for the undergraduate and graduated students from diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. As academic community committed to liberal arts and professional education distinguished and guided by its Roman Catholic tradition and Benedictine heritage - the University prepares its students for a lifetime as active, informed and responsible citizens and leaders in the world Community.

IV. Goals, Objectives and Outcomes
A. Goals. Upon completion of the course the student will:
-- Appreciate both universal and specific cultural values as expressed African American musical traditions, and in the music of the American theater and the sound recording industry.
-- Evaluate the esthetic and artistic contributions of orally transmitted African American musical traditions to blues, gospel, jazz and popular musical genres; and analyze their characteristic forms of artistic expression as part of the nation's multicultural heritage.
-- Reflect on cross-cultural communication processes and evaluate assumptions and beliefs determined by commercial communications and entertainment media in a culturally diverse society
-- Understand the processes and ethical implications of cultural appropriation and commodification of artistic expression in a mass society

B. Objectives. The following Common Student Learning Objectives adopted Dec. 9, 2004, are addressed:
Content Knowledge (Lifelong Learning) Know and apply the central concepts of the subject matter. (CK-1)
Content Knowledge (Lifelong Learning) Use current research to support assumptions and beliefs. (CK-2)
Communication Skills (Lifelong Learning and Leadership) Communicate effectively in oral and written forms (CS-1)
Problem-Solving Skills (Lifelong Learning and Leadership) Seek information and develop an in-depth knowledge base, grounded in research. (PS-2); Use self-reflection to enhance personal growth and understanding of content (SR-3)
Global Perspectives (Diversity) Recognize the importance of diversity of opinion, abilities and cultures. (GP-1)

C. Course Based Student Learning Objectives (Outcomes). Upon completion of the course, students will demonstrate their mastery of the following learning outcomes:

CBSLO-1. Explain how a fusion of Scots-Irish and African America modes of religious, artistic and cultural expression has been reflected in the development of American popular and religious music and from the early 19th century to the present (CK-1, CK-2, CK-3, PS-2).

CBSLO-2. Describe the ways in which artists negotiate the conflict inherent in the commercialization by the music industry of folk traditions and their underlying esthetic values (CK-1, GP1).

CBSLO-3. Evaluate the esthetic merit of specific musical expressions in popular genres including the minstrel stage, spirituals, old-time and country music, ragtime, blues and rock (CK-1, SR-3, GP-1).

CBSLO-3. Exercise critical thinking in the use of current research and evaluative skills in written and oral presentation, study and research, including facility with using the World Wide Web for research and evaluating Web sites for content (CK-1, CS-1, SR-3).

V. Teaching Methods/Delivery System. Culture involves more than reading great literature or going to the opera. The humanities in general and history in particular are an accumulation of ideas and values that can be drawn upon so we can survey the past, find understanding for the present and better plan for the future. While we will ground our survey of cultural expression in the history of specific Scots-Irish and African American musical genres that have influenced the larger American culture, we will also consider these developments as case studies that illustrate larger esthetic points and broader cultural trends. Teaching methods may include class discussion, lecture, small group activities, student presentations, guest speakers and/or videotapes. There will be written assignments (both in- and out-of-class), conferences and quizzes as needed; written journals will be turned in to the instructor or posted to Hog-fiddle, the class Web log. In class we will listen to musical selections from the instructor's collection and visit Web sites that focus on specific cultural developments and styles of music; in order for students to keep this information in perspective, it is essential to attend class and to keep up with assigned readings in the textbook and on the Internet.

VI. Course Requirements. As follows:

Attendance Policy. Class attendance is mandatory. Since musical selections will be played in class, absences cannot be made up. As in all college classes, students will need to take responsibility for their own learning outcomes -- i.e., for what they learn. It is understandable that illnesses and emergencies may arise. In either case, please notify the school office or leave a message with the instructor by e-mail at or telephone at 217 525-1420, ext. 519. If a student misses a class, it is that student's responsibility to get class notes and assignments from a classmate; in-class work, by its very nature, cannot be made up. Class attendance will directly impact your final grade.

Reading assignments. Please see course calendar below. In addition to the textbooks, I will link the electronic copy of this syllabus/calendar to World Wide Web sites that will allow us to focus on certain aspects of the cultural and artistic norms of the communities and musicians we study. You need to keep up with the readings in order to understand the broad historical context for what we discuss in class.

Written and oral assignments. You will write 250- to 500-word journals on specific questions to be posted a week ahead of time to Hog-fiddle or the message board linked to the instructor's faculty webpage, or assigned in class without prior notice. These journals are designed to help you focus on the topic(s) we cover in class; some journal assignments will be reflective in nature, i.e. they will ask you to reflect on how your attitudes have changed as you engage the material in the course. All journals will address CSLOs CK-1, CS-1 and GP-1; some may also address CK-1, PS-2 and SR-3 as stipulated in the calendar below. There will be a midterm and a final exam, each of which will address CSLO CK-1 and GP-1. Each student will prepare a documented term paper (at least 2,000 words or eight pages) and deliver an oral report on some aspect of cultural and artistic expression in traditional music or a commercial genre derived from traditional music: a related artistic endeavor or subject to be agreed upon by the instructor and the student. In addition to CK-1 and GP1, the term paper will address CLSOs CK-2, CS-1 and PS-2. Additional in-class writing may be assigned without notice.

Means of evaluation of outcomes. Journals will be evaluated for mastery of CBSLOs as evidenced by an evaluation of content, including clarity of thought and the use of relevant detail to support the student's conclusions. A final examination will be given, consisting of essay and short-answer questions, which will be evaluated for content. Quizzes and in-class journal exercises may be assigned without notice at the discretion of the instructor. Contribution to class discussion and participation in on-line research exercises in class will weigh heavily in each student's grade.

Final grade weighting is as follows:
-- Class participation, 25 percent
-- Written/oral presentation, 25 percent
-- Midterm and Final Exam, 25 percent
-- Journals, 25 percent

Grading scale: A = 90-100. B = 80-89. C = 70-79. D = 60-69. F = 0-59. Please note: The grade of "E" has been changed to "F." You don't want either.

Academic Integrity Statement. Academic and professional environments require honesty and integrity, and these qualities are expected of every student at Springfield College-Benedictine University. In accordance with such expectations, academic integrity requires that you credit others for their ideas. Plagiarism, whether intentional or not, is a grievous offense. Any time you use words or ideas that are not your own, you must give credit to the author, whether or not you are quoting directly from that author. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism. Any incident of plagiarism and/or academic dishonesty may result in serious consequences. Penalties for academic dishonesty vary depending on the severity or extent of the problem but are always serious. The following are consequences you may face for academic dishonesty:
• a failing grade or “zero” for the assignment;
• dismissal from and a failing grade for the course; or
• dismissal from the Institution.
Please refer to the Springfield College Benedictine University Catalog or the Student Handbook for a complete discussion of the Academic Integrity policy.

Grade Appeal Process. According to the Springfield College Catalog, grade appeals must be initiated 90 days prior to the end of one semester after the course in question has been completed. The process for appealing a grade is outlined below.

First, contact the Instructor.
1. A student must appeal to his/her instructor in writing (e-mail is acceptable) and provide specific reasons why his/her grade should be changed.
2. The instructor must respond to the student in writing (e-mail is acceptable) and provide a copy to the division chair. Second, contact the Division Chair.
3. If the student wishes, he/she may then appeal to the division chair in writing (e-mail is acceptable) and provide specific reasons why his/her grade should be changed without the instructor’s permission. The student should understand that overwhelming evidence must be presented to the division chair to prove that the current grade is incorrect.
4. The division chair must respond to the student in writing (e-mail is acceptable) and provide a copy to the academic dean. Lastly, contact the Academic Dean.
5. If the student wishes, he/she may appeal to the academic dean in writing (e- mail is acceptable) and provide specific reasons why his/her grade should be changed without the instructor’s or the division chair’s permission. The student should understand that overwhelming evidence must be presented to the academic dean to prove the grade is incorrect.
6. The academic dean must respond to the student in writing (e-mail is acceptable). The academic dean’s decision is final.
Incomplete Request. To qualify for an “I” grade, a minimum of 75% of the course work must be completed with a passing grade, and a student must submit a completed Request for an Incomplete form to the Registrar’s Office. The form must be completed by both student and instructor, but it is the student’s responsibility (not the instructor’s) to initiate this process and obtain the necessary signatures. Student Withdrawal Procedure It is the student’s responsibility to officially withdraw from a course by completing the appropriate form, with appropriate signatures, and returning the completed form to the Advising Office. Please refer to the Student Handbook for important financial information related to withdrawals.

VIII. Course Outline.
A. Traditional music ethnic subcultures and the survival of traditional conventions and attitudes in commercially mediated pop culture
Scots-Irish cultural norms, musical conventions and artistic values; and their development from New England psalmody and traditional balladry through country and rock genres
African American cultural norms, musical conventions and artistic values; and their development from West African genres through blues, jazz and rock
B. The influence of traditional ethnic musical values and conventions on selected genres of American sacred and popular music
Fusion of Anglo-Celtic and African American conventions in traditional string band music, popular song and congregational hymnody
Sacred music -- from colonial psalmody and traditional West African forms, through shape-note hymnody, black spirituals and "Doctor Watts songs" to contemporary Southern and black gospel
Theater -- from colonial times through the minstrel stage, "medicine shows," vaudeville and Broadway musicals
Ragtime and jazz -- from early fusion of African American, French and Caribbean styles through Scott Joplin, big band orchestration, bop and modern jazz
Blues, R&B (rhythm and blues) and rock
C. Negotiation of issues of cultural identity, musical expression, commodification and artistic values as exemplified in the migration of Mississippi Delta blues to Chicago

IX. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Springfield College in Illinois/Benedictine University provides individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodations to participate in educational programs, activities, and services. Students with disabilities requiring accommodations to participate in campus-sponsored programs, activities, and services, or to meet course requirements, should contact the Director of the Resource Center as early as possible. If documentation of the disability (either learning or physical) is not already on file, it may be requested. Once on file, an individual student’s disability documentation is shared only at that individual’s request and solely with the parties whom the student wishes it shared. Requests are kept confidential and may be made by emailing or by calling 217-525-1420, ext. 306.

X. Assessment. Goals, objectives, and learning outcomes that will be assessed in the class are those of SCI's statement of Common Student Learning Outcomes dated Dec. 9, 2004, as stated in Sections IV and VI of this syllabus above. In addition to a non-graded reflective essay regarding student learning outcomes throughout the course, the instructor will use embedded questions in graded work and other Classroom Assessment Techniques as deemed necessary in order to provide continuous improvement of instruction. Specific assignments will be assessed for students' progress toward the goals set forth in Common Student Learning Outcomes statement of Dec. 9, 2004, as stipulated above. Students are required to take part in all assessment measures.

XII. Tentative Calendar. As follows:

Week 1
Overview of issues of ethnic folk culture; artistic conventions and integrity; commercialization of artistic expression; and cultural diversity

Week 2
Read Lee, Chapters 1 and 2, on African-American musical traditions and the dynamics of their appropriation by white culture

Week 3
Read Lee, Chapters 3-5 on ragtime and images of women in black and white popular song

Week 4
Read Lee, Chapters 7-9 on "breaking in," crossing over and Tin Pan Alley

Week 5
Read Lee, Chapter 10-12 on the origins and development of of jazz and swing

Week 6
Read Lee, Chapters 13 and 14 on the fall of swing, the rise of bop, critics and controversy

Week 7
Read Lee, Chapter 15, "The Dance Connection" MIDTERM.

Week 8
Read Palmer, Prologue and Part I, on the development of blues and the culture of the Mississippi Delta (pp. 1-92)

Week 9
Read Palmer, Part II, on Muddy Waters and his move to Chicago (95-169)

Week 10
Read Palmer, Part III, on the Chicago blues (173-253).

Week 11
Read Palmer, Epilogue, "The World Boogie" (255-77).

Weeks 12-13
Oral presentations and video.

Week 14
Review for final examination. Final TBA.