Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monochord - notes

--- Whipple Museum Cambridge University

The monochord was used as a musical teaching tool in the 11th century by Guido of Arezzo (c. 990-1050), the musician who invented the first useful form of musical notation. By laying out the notes of a scale on a monochord, he was able to teach choir boys how to sing chant and also to detect incorrect chanting. A monochord-like instrument called the Tromba Marina was used for practical music making between the 15th and 18th centuries. The monochord was also used for tuning instruments and was still in use in the 19th century for tuning organs. More commonly, the monochord was, and still is, used for demonstration purposes.

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge


Google Books

Universal harmony and the Scientific Revolution:
Books concerning music in the Whipple collection

Relationships between music, mathematics and science have strongly influenced the thinking of music theorists and philosophers since ancient times when it was found that music's natural consonances and scales were the product of simple whole-number ratios.

In Greece followers of the philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570–c. 495 BC) identified musical intervals with the ratios of lengths of strings. The difference in length between two strings sounding music's most pleasing interval, the octave, was found to be in the ratio 2:1. Similarly, music's second most pleasing interval, the 5th, equated with the ratio 3:2, whilst the 4th equated with 4:3.


Tim Eggington

pix: A monochord: This is a musical instrument for measuring relationships between musical intervals. Since antiquity monochords have been used to demonstrate the mathematical principles underlying music. In this illustration from Robert Fludd's Utriusque cosmin, a monochord is mathematically divided to achieve a two-octave scale. Interval names indicated in Greek and Latin.

============ The LoveToKnow Free Online Encyclopedia is based on what many consider to be the best encyclopedia ever written: the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, first published in 1911. ...

MONOCHORD (Gr. µovSXopOov,;caw :o p µovaucos) : med. Lat.

monochordum), an instrument having a single string, used by the ancient Greeks for tuning purposes and for measuring the scale arithmetically. The monochord, as it travelled westwards during the middle ages, consisted of a long board, or narrow rectangular box, over which was stretched the single string; along the edge of the sound-board was drawn a line divided according to simple mathematical ratios to show all the intervals of the scale. A movable bridge was so contrived as to slide along over the string and stop it at will at any of the points marked. The vibrating length of string, being thus determined as on the guitar, lute, violin, &c., yielded a note of absolutely correct pitch on being twanged by fingers or plectrum. In order the better to seize the relation of various intervals, a second string tuned to the same note, but out of reach of the bridge, was sometimes added to give the fundamental. (K. S.)

Valdis Muktupāvels
"Musical Instruments in the Baltic Region: Historiography and Traditions" (excerpt)

An instrument whose origins are strongly linked to musical practices in northern Protestant countries is the monochord (moldpill, laulupill, laulukannel, harmoonik EE, ģīga, ģingas, džindžas, manihorka, meldiņu spēle, akerdonis LV, manikarka LT). It is said to have been reinvented by the Swedish Lutheran pastor Johannes Dillner in 1829 based on the Greek monochord. Swedish authorities approved the monochord’s use as a simple and easy-to-make instrument in parishes that did not possess their own church organ. Since it aided the learning and accompaniment of sung psalms, it was named “psalmodicon.” The instrument was actively propagated from the 1830s to the 1860s, and it spread, in addition to Scandinavia and Finland, throughout Estonia, the Lutheran regions of Latvia and the western Lutheran region of Lithuania. The psalmodicon was above all a church musical instrument, but apart from that context, it also turned out to be good for use in secular musical activities such as choral singing, music education and even to produce dance music.


Harald Herresthal [review of ...?] Toomas Siitan: Die Choralreform in den Ostseeprovinzen in der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des protestantischen Kirchengesangs in Estland und Livland. Diss. (Edition IME. Reihe I: Schriften. Hrsg. im Auftrag des Instituts für deutsche Kultur im östlichen Europa e.v., Bonn.) Sinzig: Studio Verlag,

Avhandlingen tar for seg russifiseringsprosessen i årene mellom 1832 og 1847, og hvordan den lutherske kirke forsøkte å stå i mot propagandaen fra den russisk-ortodokse kirke. Siitan gir videre en detaljert skildring av sangundervisningen i skolene og arbeidet med å kvalifisere lærere som kunne utbre de riktige melodiformene og utrydde de mer ornamenterte folkelige sangformer. Forskjellige instrumenter som dreielire, fiolin og psalmodikon ble trukket inn som hjelpeinstrumenter. Melodiene ble notert i sifferskrift. Orglet, som ble betraktet som et mindre egnet instrument i reformprosessen, er omtalt, og Siitan har laget en historisk oversikt over orglets utbredelse i de østersjøiske provinsene.
En oversikt og vurdering av trykte og [140-141] STM Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning

Svenska samfundet för musikforskning

================== FAQ page of the blog The Celestial Monochord: Journal of the Institute for Astrophysics and the Hillbilly Blues

pix of Robert Fludd's monochord (1618) and link to blogger Kurt Gegenhuber - re permissions, etc.


The Harvard dictionary of music By Don Michael Randel = google books
ment. clavichord - In the Middle Ages, it was used for theoretical demonstations, for the training of singers, and for tuning instruments ... As late as the 19th century, a metal-stringed monochord was still in common use by organ tuners, and was still in common use by organ tuners, and it was used by acousticians and ethnomusicologists into the 20th. See also Tromba marina.

The Whipple Museum's collection includes a 19th-century example from the Wheatstone laboratory, King's College London

Adkins, Cecil D. The Theory and Practice of the Monochord. (Ph.D. diss., State University of Iowa,. 1963).

bio The Curt Sachs Award 1999 Händel-Haus in Halle (Saale) The clavichord, documented as from 1404­, goes back to the monochord, a mathematical instrument used in the times of the ancient Greeks.

Michel, Andreas. “Scheitholt und frühe Formen der Kratzzither.” Studia Instrumentorum Musicae. Musikinstrumenten-Museum der Universität Leipzig 2001.

RTÉ Radio - podcasts - Documentary on One

Documentary on One

The Fiddler's Frenzy (21:28)
In The Fiddler's Frenzy, Aoife Nic Cormaic presents a bi-lingual feature about fiddle players and the magic of fiddling - clár dhátheangach a bhreathnaíonn ar an ndraíocht a bhaineann le ceol na fidile.

The fiddle is one of the most popular instruments in Ireland and evidence suggests that this has been the case throughout history - indeed there is evidence of bowed instruments in
Dublin dating back even as far as the 11th century.

Over the centuries the form of the fiddle (or violin) has developed and the one now seen played, only emerged in Italy in 1550. But its popularity has never waned and tin fiddles were even used in some areas when wooden ones were harder to come by.

For some people the attraction of the fiddle is its closeness to the human voice, its range and adaptability. It is also a very beautiful instrument, which is equally at home playing jazz, bluegrass, classical music, folk or traditional music.

In the documentary, Aoife Nic Cormaic talks to fiddle players - including Martin Hayes, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Charlie Lennon about the attraction of the fiddle.

Listeners will also hear voices from the archives speaking about their love of fiddles and fiddle music.

Aoife also talks to fiddle maker Kieran Crehan, and to writers and folklorists about the fact and the fiction associated with the instrument.

Produced by Aoife Nic Cormaic. Production supervision by Lorelei Harris.

"The Fiddler's Frenzy" was first broadcdast on the 5th March 2003.

It was part of a short season of bi-lingual documentaries called 'Fusion' in the Documentary on One slot on RTÉ Radio 1.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

Also (partial listing - click here for directory):

Even the Walls were Sweatin' - A radio documentary about dance halls and the ballroom in Charlestown, Co Mayo

Like Feathers on the Breath of God - A documentary about the power of hymns by Séamus Kelly

The Tar Road to Sligo - A documentary about musicians Thom Moore and Vincent Harrison and their relationship to Ireland and America.

Behind the mic - A radio documentary about a young hip hop Irish act from Ballymun, Dublin, Urban Intelligence.

The Glen Road to Carrick - A radio documentary about the fiddle player Paul O'Shaughnessy

Bachelors Last Waltz - A radio documentary about Sunday dancing and dancing at the crossroads.

House of Song - A radio documentary about the last professional song collector in Ireland, Tom Munnelly.

Gael Linn - A radio documentary celebrating fifty years of Gael Linn.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Karan Casey and John Doyle - Exiles Return - lyrics of "Sailing Off to the Yankee Land"

Mountain Stage host Larry Groce chats with Irish guitarist/singer/songwriter John Doyle Backstage at Mountain Stage:

Review on Music Road blog by Kerry Dexter "writer, producer, photographer, manager, teacher, storyteller

The dozen tracks are all stories of loss and longing and leave taking in one way or another, and in Casey’s and Doyle’s hands they become companions on the journey of figuring out one’s own experiences with these emotions. They are all not positive tales, exactly. ... Sailing Off to the Yankee Land tells of emigration in famine times, a song with an edgy sentiment set to a jaunty tune.


Frank Harte: vocals

Donal Lunny: bouzouki, guitar

In fact, the companion booklet, which contains extensive historical notes as well as full lyrics of all the songs, has become so thick it is difficult to put it back underneath the little plastic tabs of the jewel case without fraying the cover. A small price to pay, to be sure, for the motherload of information within. Some of the songs, of course, are fairly well known, standards like "Skibbereen" or "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" for instance, but Harte also includes some lesser known gems like "Sailing Off to the Yankee Land." The concluding "City of Chicago" is a lovely contemporary song penned by Luka Bloom (Barry Moore) which, despite its newer vintage, fits very nicely and appropriately with the rest of the collection.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Mel Mercier at a charity event in Limerick's St. Mary's Cathedral in September 2009

"Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin is one of Ireland's best known musicians. He has over ten CD recordings on release of his own compositions and arrangements performed by the Irish Chamber Orchestra under his direction. As a pianist, he is widely acknowledged as having originated a unique Irish piano style out of an Irish traditional base."

Website at

"Black Joak March" on harpsichord - 1980 on TG4 - Gaelic intro w/subtitles

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Salem workshops on 1830s-appropriate music

Emailed tonight to members of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings, Springfield.

Hi everybody -

Our off-season music workshops at New Salem got off to a good start last week. We had a half dozen people there, and we decided on an interesting approach for the December, February and March meetings.

(I'm getting back to you a little late because I was in Minnesota for a funeral at the beginning of the week, and I'm mailing everyone on the list because I think more people might be interested in what we decided to do with the workshops. If you missed the first one, it's still not too late to start.)

After kicking a couple of ideas around for a few minutes, we decided to go through Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil's "Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road." It's a Mel Bay book, and it's available for $10.16 at and $15 directly from Ralph's website at ...

Ralph is literally the guy who wrote the book on the Appalachian dulcimer's history. In fact, he's written several of them! "Wilderness Road" is one of the best short histories of the instrument available anywhere, it it has tablature for a good dozen songs that are appropriate for New Salem. (Some of the oldtimers in our Thursday night Prairieland Dulcimer Strings group will recognize the "Devil's Nine Questions" that Joyce Cary and I used to sing.) An awful lot of the early settlers, including Abraham Lincoln's forebears, came down the Wilderness Road through Virginia and up through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky on their way to the lower Midwest. It's also where the dulcimer was developed, so we'll learn a lot from reading it.

We also liked "Songs and Tunes of the Widerness Road" because it's such a good introduction to the old open modal tunings ... DAA (Ionian), DAC (Aeolian) and DAG (Dorian). Ralph explains them clearly, and he has some beautiful songs in all three. There's one, maybe two, in DAD (Mixolydian), too. In fact, some of our group were especially interested in learning more about DAA. Ralph's book will tell us how.

So we kind of set as our "homework" for the next session, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, to order the book and read up a little on the history and the tunings.

Another book that's good on the traditional technique and modal tunings is Jean Ritchie's "Dulcimer Book." Her tablature is a step down from Ralph's -songs are in the key of C instead of D - but the intervals are the same. And the technique is, too. Between the two of them, they offer a good supplement to chord-melody playing that brings out the traditional voice of the dulcimer.

I'm attaching lyrics of a song that has a strong connection with New Salem. It's one of several that John Armstrong, son of Jack Armstrong of Clary's Grove who got in the famous wrestling match with Lincoln, sang for Edgar Lee Masters on a visit back to the Sangamon River country, and Masters felt like he was "re-creating the past of the deserted village (New Salem) for me." It's called "Tipping it up to Nancy" (or the "Old Woman of Wexford"), and there's dulcimer tab available on the Digital Tradition website at:;ttMARBONE3.html

If you're like me and need to hear a song before you play it, YouTube has a version by the Clancy Brothers in concert that's pretty close to the same melody, altho' with slightly different words. Link here

The song also comes up in "Huckleberry Finn," so it's right in our historical period. There are several versions floating around, so I combined a few of them for my talks and performances.

If you want to get a feel for the way DAA and DAD relate to each other, you can do it by playing "Tipping it up to Nancy." Just click on "Dulcimer tab" and choose the "Ionian AAD" button for DAA and "Ionian DAD" for DAD (the two at the upper right of the "experimental dulcimer tab" directory). Print out both, play them in the appropriate tunings and you'll get a feel for where the notes are in the two D tunings.

It's a fun song, anyway. Mike Anderson sings another version, also attested in Illinois, called "There Was a Woman from Slab City." I think it'll be a good one for New Salem, also after Christmas for our Thursday night sessions of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings in Springfield.

- Pete

Stuart Thayer - circus & minstrel shows

Stuart Thayer, Traveling Showmen: The American Circus Before the Civil War. Detroit: Astley & Ricketts, 1997.

Reference #6 is to David Carlyon, Dan Rice's Inspirational Project: The Nineteenth-Century Circus Clown and Middle Class Formation. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Northwestern University, 1993. viz. Thayer 53n.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

"Clar de Kitchen" - minstrel show origins

Burnt Cork and Tambourines
A Directory of American Minstrelsy

Edited by William L. Slout and dedicated to the late Charles Crain, actor, director and longtime friend, who insisted I compile it. "Charlie, rest in peace." Copyright © 2005 by William L. Slout. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from "Early History of Negro Minstrelsy," by Col. T. Allson Brown.

* * *

George Nichols, the clown, attached many years to Purdy Brown’s Theatre and Circus of the South and West, was also among the first of burnt cork gentry. Nichols was a man of no education, yet he was the author of many anecdotes, stories, verses, etc. He was original. He would compose the verses for his comic songs within ten minutes of the time of his appearance before the audience. His “flights of fancy” and “flashes of wit” were truly astonishing and highly amusing. Nichols first sang “Jim Crow” as clown in 1834, afterwards as a Negro. He first conceived the idea from a French darkie, a banjo player, known from New Orleans to Cincinnati as Picayune Butler—a copper colored gentleman, who gathered many a picayune by singing “Picayune Butler is Going Away,” accompanying himself on his four- stringed banjo. An old darkie of New Orleans, known as “Old Corn Meal,” furnished Nichols with many airs, which he turned to account. This old Negro sold Indian meal for a living. He might be seen from morning till night with his cart and horse. He frequently stopped before Bishop’s celebrated hotel and sang a number of Negro melodies. He possessed a fine falsetto and baritone voice. Corn Meal picked up many bits and pieces for his singing.

A brother to Arch Madden, the clown, sang Negro songs on a raised platform at the old Vauxhall Garden in New York in 1828, one refrain of his songs reading,
Come, brudder, let us go off to Hayti.
There we be as grand as Gen. Lafayette.

He also sang Negro songs at the Military Garden, kept by Gen. Storms, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Prince Street, New York.

Bob Farrell, an actor, sang “Zip Coon,” composed by Nichols. Lewis Hyel, of Brown’s Company, sang “Roley Boley” by Nichols. Nichols first sang “Clar de Kitchen.” This song he arranged from hearing it sung by the Negro firemen on the Mississippi River. The tune of “Zip Coon” was taken from a rough jig dance, called “Natchez Under the Hill,” where the boatmen, river pirates, gamblers and courtesans congregated for the enjoyment of a regular hoe-down in the old time. Sam Tatnall, the equestrian, sang “Back Side of Albany.” John and Frank Whittaker sang “Coal Black Rose” in 1830. Bill Keller, a low comedian of Philadelphia, was the original “Coal Black Rose.” John Clements, leader of the orchestra for Duffy & Forrest, composed the music. George Washington Dixon created a furor by singing this song; also “Long- Tailed Blue,” “Lubla Rosa,” and other plantation songs at the Chatham Theatre, New York, under the management of Flynn in 1829, when Sloman commenced singing buffo songs. Dixon commenced singing buffo at the Albany Theatre in 1830. In July, 1830, he was at the Park Theatre, New York, announced as “The celebrated American buffo singer,” and continued to get his name at the head of the bills. ...

The Circus Roots of Negro Minstrelsy

Stuart Thayer, American Circus Anthology, Essays of the Early Years, arranged and edited by William L. Slout.Copyright © 2005 by Stuart Thayer and William L. Slout. All rights reserved.

* * *

Now let us turn to the thesis of this paper, as embodied in its title, and that is the circus ring as the source of minstrelsy. To do this we must first examine the place of the comic song in the arenic performance, for it was as singers, rather than dancers or instrumentalists that the early performers of what became minstrelsy presented themselves. The art is almost as old as the American circus itself. As early as 1799 there is record of a song being sung in the ring, though it was not comic, nor was it done by the company’s clown. It was, in fact, an aberration, as we don’t find another singer in the ring until 1817. And we don’t see a comic song called that until 1821, this presented by a man dressed as a woman. James West’s Circus of that year had two singers on its roster, one comic, one not. In 1823 a Mister Roberts sang a comic song in the program of the Price &. Simpson Circus, but it was not until the following year that we find a clown offering comic songs. This was Hugh Lindsay, who made a distinction in his autobiography between acting the clown and singing comic songs.

* * *

[George] Nichols was a most unusual entertainer. T. Allston Brown in his history of Negro minstrelsy, which ran for two years in the New York Clipper, said of him: “George Nichols, the clown, attached for many years to Purdy Brown’s Theatre and Circus of the South and West, was also among the first of burnt cork gentry. Nichols was a man of no education, yet he was the author of many anecdotes, stories, verses, etc. He was original. He would compose the verses for his comic songs within ten minutes of the time of his appearance before the audience.”
To this point we have made a distinction between comic songs and Negro songs, but in his 1833 advertisements J. Purdy Brown erased the distinction, announcing as he did that Bob Farrell would sing the comic song “Zip Coon.” This was another of Nichols compositions, as was “Clare de Kitchen,” which William Creighton sang in the same circus that same month. Both of these songs became staples of minstrel shows, and, interestingly, represented characters from the opposite ends of the Afro-American existence, as seen by white persons.

Zip Coon was a street-wise urban character, whose dress mimicked that of the white dandies of the day, yet was a burlesque of that garb. In the words of Hans Nathan, he was a “Broadway Swell.” The tails of his coat were longer, his top hat was larger, his shoes were exaggerated just enough to preserve the style yet miss it. Some interpreters of the personage went so far as to use a lorgnette. The song “Long-Tailed Blue,” popular for many seasons, referred to his swallow-tailed coat. On the stage Zip Coon walked back and forth in exaggerated style while singing his autobiography. One verse went: “I sometimes wear mustachers but I lost em todder day for de glue was bad, de wind was high and so dey blowed away.”

The other song, “Clare de Kitchen,” was sung by a plantation woman who described sweeping the floor of her Kentucky home in preparation for a songfest. Clare was supposedly dialect for clear. The song was usually sung by a man in woman’s clothing.

These two depictions of Afro-American characters, the city dandy and the plantation worker, were eventually carried over from entr’ actes to the order of minstrel shows, in which the first part presented a cast dressed as we described Jim Crow above. The second part, after intermission, was a plantation scene with the performers in ragged clothing, burst shoes, and untamed hair styles. The instrumentation was different as well, the city scene using violins and banjos, the country folks having jawbones and tambourines.

* * *

Paper on folk hymns at Sewanee - 2007

Stephen Miller, "Down from the Mountain: Roland Barnes and his Preludes on Appalachian White Spirituals"

abstract at

mentioned in pre-story on conference in Carrillon News at

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

folk hymn - performances

The Hebrew Children
Folk Hymns of America
Collected & Arranged by Annabel Morris Buchanan
New York: J. Fischer & Bro, 1938.
PERFORMED BY: SOPRANO: Salena Hutcherson; ALTO: Barbara Edwards

Sweet Rivers of Redeeming Love
[Ozark singer-songwriter Mark Bilyeu, soloist, and Ozarks family band Big Smith
Branson Landing
May 7 2009