Thursday, December 03, 2009

New Salem: Re workshops on period music

Our next session at New Salem will be at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Dec. 5, in the basement of the museum store. (If you're not familiar with the historic village, I'll leave directions at the desk in the Visitors Center. Since the last session, I've been asked if we can come up with some fairly simple pieces we can play or sing in the village, i.e. that are easy to play and appropriate to our period. Especially pieces that can be played on an Appalachian dulcimer tuned to DAA and/or DAD. Here are a couple for starters.

Tablature is available on line for several good pieces that fit our period. Check the Everything Dulcimer website at ... The name's appropriate. It has, well, everything about dulcimers on the site. To find the tablature, pull down the "Files" menu and click on "Tab." You'll find a lengthy directory (654 tunes). The songs I'd recommend for starters are "Froggie Went A Courtin’," "Lincoln and Liberty" and "Shenandoah."

(If you're really, really bored, here's something else you can do on the You can also click on "ED Articles" while you're in the files menu, and scroll down to my article "Drones, picks and Popsicle sticks." It has a little bit about New Salem and a lot about the old-timey ways of playing.)

Some notes on the songs:
  • "Frog Went a-Courting." There's only one version in, but in one form or another, it dates back to a ballad called "Of a most strange wedding of a frog and mouse" printed in 1584. It's tabbed out for DAD and DAA, which confuses a lot of people. Choose the tuning you want - DAD if you're playing with the Monday night or Thursday night groups who stick to that tuning - and use a yellow highlighter so your part (the D string in DAD or A string in DAA) stands out. But look at the tab for both tunings and notice how they're related to each other. Lyrics: A webpage by music-lover David Highland collects different versions going all the way back to the 1500s. And Bob Dylan (of all people) has a singable set of lyrics that's true to the original or at least versions that would have been heard in the lower Midwest during the 1830s.
  • "Lincoln and Liberty" ("Rosin the Bow"). "Lincoln and Liberty" doesn't fit our period, of course, but it's about our guy. And "Rosin the Bow" derives from a family of Irish and English fiddle tunes dating from the 1600s and 1700s. Citing Samuel Bayard's authoritative collection of early Pennsylvania fiddle and fife tunes, Andrew Kuntz in the Fiddler's Companion says, "the air was known to most fiddlers, fifers, and singers in Pennsylvania, as in many parts of the country." The lyrics to "Rosin the Bow" were published as sheet music in the late 1830s, so it's fair game for our period. Again, the tab is for DAA and DAD both. What does that tell you about playing songs in D?
  • "Shenandoah." An old and very, very widespread song, but one that may have origins as a boatmans' song in the Mississippi Valley during our period. There are fascinating, although inconclusive, threads in Mudcat Cafe on its origins and history with links to yet other threads. A Bruce Springsteen tribute page has the lyrics in a version from the Pete Seeger Sessions that's very faithful to the original.

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