Sunday, February 27, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - Dorian - New Salem, March 5

This month we'll meet from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 5. We'll be in the Visitors Center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. Last month we chose three songs from Ralph Lee Smith's "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road" to work on -- "Shady Grove," "Old Man at the Mill" and "Three Babes" (also known as the "Wife of Usher's Well" or "Lady Gay," and sometimes as Child 79, since it's No. 79 in Francis James Child's collection of English and Scottish ballads). All three are in the Dorian mode.

If you've been playing everything in DAD, it may take you a little while to get used to the Dorian mode.

Here's what the Dorian sounds like ...

To hear it, play the video below. It's by Thomas Marchevsky, a professional guitarist/composer who has an M.M. in guitar from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Don't worry too much about the music theory, and not at all about the guitar fingerings! Just listen for what the notes of the scale sound like together -- the intervals, in other words.

To play in the Dorian mode on the dulcimer, tune your melody string(s) down to G. If you've been in DAA -- the recommended Ionian (or major) tuning -- you lower them one step to G, so you're tuned to DAG. (If you've been in DAD, you're on your own, but you want to wind up in DAG.) This means D will be at the 4th fret, and the D Dorian scale starts on the 4th fret and goes up skipping the 6+ fret to the 11th. Play up and down the scale a few times, then just sort of noodle around. Learn the combinations of notes, the intervals, and how they fit together differently than they do in a Ionian mode. And where they are on the fretboard. But don't play the 6+ fret ... it'll mess you up!

Keep noodling around. Spend some time learning the fretboard ... where the notes are and how they sound together. See if you can find some tunes you already know. Try "Scarborough Fair" or "Wayfaring Stranger."

If you like music theory (and who doesn't?!), you might want to take a look at an article titled "Marks of the Dorian Family" by Dutch academic Ger Tillekens on "What Will We Do with a Drunken Sailor?" and "Scarborough Fair." Or you might decide music theory gives you heartburn and skip it.

Either way, you'll be ready to look at our songs for Saturday.


Rainbow Quest: Jean Ritchie - Shady Grove
Here's another clip of Jean Ritchie playing this old fiddle tune. From Pete Seeger's TV show in the 60s [?]. Compare her clip from the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Ky., in 2007 that I posted for last month's workshop on playing with a noter In the old TV show, she uses a turkey quill. (She explains how to whittle down a turkey quill to make a pick in "The Dulcimer Book." But be forewarned: Feathers will tear the living @#$%! out of the finish on your dulcimer.) Here's the clip:

A couple, three other versions, one to show another way of playing the song on a dulcimer, and two that show what performers like Doc Watson, "Dawg" Grisman and Jerry Garcia do with "Shady Grove":

Shady Grove on dulcimer MDMstudio
A decidedly nontraditional version. In DAD capoed on the first fret, which gives it that minor sound on the drone strings.

Doc Watson and David Grisman - Shady Grove
Doc & The Dawg -- 1998. Jack Lawrence rhythm guitar.

Garcia and Grisman - SHADY GROVE -5-11-1992


Ralph Lee Smith says this old ballad was very popular in the southern Appalachians; it definitely would have been known to folks at New Salem in the 1830s. The version we have is called "Child A," from its designation in Francis James Child's collection of ballads. Child, in turn, got it from a collection by Sir Walter Scott. Says Smith, "Since the two centuries or more since Child A was taken down from eighteenth century oral tradition, this story of the rich, beautiful wife reduced to ashes by the loss of her children has lost none of its universality and power. It is "the King Lear of ballads." Definitely worth learning.

The Wife of Usher's Well - Hedy West (Child 79)
Hedy West - Old Times and Hard Times - Child Ballad No 79. This is a very traditional southern Appalachian version of the song.

The Lady Gay on the 1910 Lyon & Healy
Clawhammer banjo. An amateur musician plays it on an antique instrument. He says he got the melody from Kentucky folk artist Buell Kazee's recordings, and Ralph Lee got the last verse, and the basic melody, from Buell Kazee as well.

Joan Baez: Lady Gay
From an early LP ... included here because Joan Baez' version is probably the first one most of us ever heard.


A "play party" song ... which means a fiddle tune that morphed into a children's song. Sort of. Since the church frowned on fiddle playing and dancing, young people would gather for events a which they did something that might have looked like square dancing. But it wasn't. No, it really wasn't. It really really wasn't. And since fiddles were frowned on, they'd sing the tunes a cappella. They didn't call it that, they just sang. Unaccompanied, of course. At least, that's what I have been solemnly informed. Why get technical about a good story? Or what you call a good tune? Notice the square dance calls in the lyrics.

Old Man at the Mill by Molly Tuttle
"Clawhammer" guitar ... a 17-year-old w/ an awesome voice who credits bluegrass artist and traditional Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens as her "singing hero."

The Dillards - Old man at the Mill
The original Dillards, live at the Tonder Festival in Denmark in 1999. Probably the last time they came to Europe to play.

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