Thursday, March 31, 2011

Websites on 19th-century guitars ... and fiddles in a searchable website at Tufts

Valuable source: Search engine for Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University Perseus 4.0, also known as the Perseus Hopper. In addition to Greek and Roman classics, it has several Civil War-era memoirs and a paper called the Daily Dispatch [from where?] with 8 pages of directory from Plato to the 1860s on keyword "fiddle." Directory of 19th-century American sources at

Guitars Guitar Foundation of America Guitar - Social History, Cultural Studies, and Sources This guide to research aims to recognize the social and cultural studies that have been done thus far on the guitar's behalf, including Web sites (as works in progress), and to suggest online resources that could yield good results if they were well and wisely searched. The Unstrung History of the American Guitar: The Guitar and 19th Century American Music - David Bradford - The guitar is the voice of American popular music. How it got to be that way has a lot to do with Alpine yodelers, blackface minstrels and your great great grandmother. The blues and " Join us for an excursion through the neglected nineteenth century, when “guitar fever” first seized America. includes a page on minstrel shows,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Workshop: Songs of Wilderness Road - New Salem - Sat April 2

Sent tonight to the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings email list:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 7:52 PM

Workshop: Songs of Wilderness Road - New Salem - Sat April 2

Hi everybody -

A reminder: Our last off-season workshop on 1830s-friendly music in "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road" by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeill is at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 2, in the Visitors Center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. Bring your dulcimer tuned to DAA.

We'll take up four songs. The "Riddle Song," "Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Sheep Shell Corn" are in "Wilderness Road." I am attaching to this email message a set of lyrics w/ DAA fret numbers over the words for "Clar de Kitchen," an 1832 minstrel show tune that has a direct New Salem connection.

And I've been posting YouTube clips for all the tunes to my blog, Hogfiddle, so you can hear them before you start trying to learn them. Here, to get you started on Saturday's tunes, are the most recent links: Background information on "Clar de Kitchen," along with a link to the 1832 sheet music (in D, so we don't have to transpose it for mountain dulcimer) a YouTube clip and a 30-second sound bite from a CD. Background information and YouTube clips for The "Riddle Song," "Storms Are on the Ocean" and "Sheep Shell Corn." A little bit about modes, too, since "Sheep Shell Corn" is mixolydian and the other two are Ionian. Schedule for March and April, and links to blog posts for earlier workshops in the series.

I've enjoyed coordinating these workshops this year, and I hope to see you there for this last one! - Pete

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Classical music of India - some basics - and an awesome zither-like instrument

Perhaps the best introduction (read as: the best one I've found so far) is a blog by Likhati, an Indian writer living in London who, in her words, "[u]sed to be a lawyer" and is interested in dogs, cats and "Indian Classical Music" (she lists them in that order), along with religion, diasporic communities and other topics ... link here -

Also a 30-minute interview with Jayanthi Kumaresh, who plays the veena - a fretted lute-like, zither-like instrument ... YouTube has a 1:13-minute tease and this link - to the full interview.

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - April 2 - "Clar de Steamboat/Kitchen"

For our last off-season workshop on 1830s-friendly music we can play in the historic village at New Salem, I'm adding a fourth song. It's an old minstrel show tune, and I learned about it because a parody appeared in The Sangamo Journal in the spring of 1832 ... the time a steamboat made it up the Sangamon River to Springfield. It even mentions New Salem.

It's called "Clar de Kitchen" (minstrel show dialect for "Clear the Kitchen"), often spelled "Clare de Kitchen"). Mike Thomas is tabbing it out chord-melody style in DAD for the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings. But I like to play it in an open Ionian tuning like DAA or CGG. And I've made up some 1970s-style tab - with fret numbers above the words - for Saturday's session, since we're working with open modal tunings.

Here are a YouTube clip and a link to help you get the tune in mind. Come tuned to DAA.

Gordy Ohlinger-Clare de Kitchen
Ohlinger, of California, plays a minstrel-style banjo. His talking-blues delivery is probably more from the 1930s than the 1830s, but his act is in the spirit of the minstrel shows as they influenced vaudville, medicine shows and 20th-century artists as varied ("diverse" isn't the word we want here!) as Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and the old Amos & Andy radio show. Ohlinger's patter leading up to the song begins at 1:25, and the song itself begins at 2:45.

Ohlinger works in a few of his own licks here (IMHO they're pretty effective, but they aren't in the sheet music on the Johns Hopkins University library website). A more traditional version - relatively speaking - is by the 2nd South Carolina String Band, a group of Civil War re-enactors It's on their CD Dulcem Melodies (30 second sample available on Their arrangements are for a modern old-time string band - fiddle, banjo, guitar, etc. - but they play a lot of the old minstrel-show repertory, and I think their vocals are as close as we're going to get to the spirit of 19th-century blackface minstrels.

Below are some notes on the song I wrote for The Picayune, newsletter for interpreters at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, but it never got in the newsletter. So you're reading it here first.

* * *

Blackface minstrel shows had their heyday a few years after the town of New Salem winked out, but their music was already being heard in the 1830s – and it was heard in the Sangamon country. Several of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite songs had their origin on the minstrel stage, and one such tune has a direct connection with New Salem - more precisely with the mill dam at New Salem.

The song was a ditty called “Clar de Kitchen” (minstrel show dialect for “Clear the Kitchen”), and a parody of the song was printed in The Sangamo Journal when the steamboat Talisman cleared the New Salem mill dam on its way to Springfield in the early spring of 1832.

Blackface minstrelsy is a popular genre of the 1800s that makes us feel uncomfortable today, since it featured broad, sometimes vicious stereotypes of African Americans. But if we ignored it, we would ignore something that was an important part of the popular culture of the early to mid-19th century.

We would also ignore some of the music that Abraham Lincoln most enjoyed.

“Lincoln was an lifelong admirer of the Negro minstrel songs so much in his day,” says John Lair, a Lincoln buff who knew something about music as founder of the Renfro Valley (Ky.) Barn Dance. “Nothing could more quickly arouse him from a fit of despondency than a rollicking nonsense song of this type. Ward Hill Lamon, his close friend and associate through the years, said Lincoln’s favorite was ‘De Blue-Tailed Fly’ [also known as ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’], which he called ‘that buzzing song.’”

In his book “Songs Lincoln Loved” (1954), Lair also mentioned “Lucy Long,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Jim Crow,” “Jim Along Josey” and “Zip Coon.” All were very popular minstrel songs of the 1830s and 40s.

Another, mentioned in Carl Sandburg’s “American Songbag” (1927), is “Hoosen Johnny,” a ditty about a black bull that may have its roots in African American folk music of the day and was a great favorite of lawyers riding the 8th Judicial Circuit. Constance Rourke, in “American Humor” dates it to the 1840s “and probably earlier,” which would put it in our period.

Almost all of the earliest minstrel hits are thought to have originated in the oral tradition, in one variant or another, well before they were published.

One that surely was popular in oral tradition before it got on the stage was “Clar de Kitchen,” or “Clear the Kitchen” to use the modern standard English spelling. On his “Fiddler’s Companion” website, Andrew Kuntz cites a description of a fiddler on the Indiana frontier around 1810, “delving [a]way with fingers, elbow, cat-gut and horse-hair, to the joy of all around - The pieces of music mostly called for, were 'The gray cat kittened in Charley's wig,’ 'Captain Johnston', 'Buncomb' &c. the whole ending in a jigg called 'Clear the kitchen'.”

So the song was a favorite on the Midwestern frontier long before it got on the stage. Both “Jim Crow” Rice and another blackface entertainer named George Nichols claimed it. The chorus, in Rice’s version, is:

In old Kentuck in de arternoon,
We sweep de floor wid a bran new broom,
And arter dat we form a ring,
And dis de song dat we do sing:
Clare de kitchen, old folks, young folks,
Clare de kitchen, old folks, young folks,
Old Virginny never tire.
When the steamboat Talisman made its voyage from St. Louis to a river landing by Springfield in March 1832, crew, passangers and a crew of men with axes had to cut its passage through heavy ice on the Sangamon River. You probably remember this: Young Lincoln was one of the axemen, and he piloted the boat as it bushwacked its way back downstream in April.

An anonymous “bard” in the April 5 issue of The Sangamo Journal commemorated the Talisman's passage with a lengthy song, specifying it was to be sung to the tune of "Clare de Kitchen." It began:

The Talisman came with a great hurra,
To go up the Sangamo;
She beat the ice, aft and fore,
And left us safe upon the shore!
So clar the steam boat, thick ice, thin ice;
Clar de steam boat, thick ice, thin ice;
Young Illinois never tire!
One verse directly refers to New Salem, where the steamboat was manhandled over the mill dam. As the “bard” put it:
O! When we come to Salem dam,
Up we went against it,
We tried to cross with all our might,
We couldn’t do it – we staid all night;
O! clar de steam boat &c.
Rice's lyrics and a MIDI file are available on line at Benjamin Robert Tubb's "Music from 1800-1860" page in the Public Domain Music website at There’s more rhythm than melody to the song, but it’s a catchy little tune. And it was definitely popular in the 1830s.

But there’s more to it than that, and “Clear the Kitchen” is one of very few old minstrel show ditties I wouldn’t be embarrassed to sing in public today.

Says jazz afficionado, pianist and historian Karl Koenig on his website, “Popularized by Thomas Dartmouth ‘Daddy’ Rice, the text is close to the tradition of Negro humor. In a succession of nonsense verses we meet various animals, an old blind horse; a jay bird sitting on a hickory limb; a bull frog dressed in soldier's clothes; and a little whip-poor-will whose sad fate is to be eaten. … George Nichols was the first to sing ‘Clare’ in public and is said to have adapted it from a melody which Nichols had heard sung by Negro fireman on the Miss. River.”

A couple of verses will give us the flavor:
A Jay bird sot on a hickery limb,
He wink'd at me and I wink'd at him;
I pick'd up a stone and hit his shin.
Says he, "you better not do that agin."

And this:
A bull frog dress'd in soger's [soldier’s] close,
Went in de field to shoot some crows;
De crows smell powder and fly away,
De bull frog mighty mad dat day.
Koenig echoes the influential African American poet and folklorist Sterling Brown, who sais in "Negro Folk Expression: Spirituals, Seculars, Ballads and Work Songs," excerpted in the University of Illinois' Modern American Poetry website. Says Brown, "... power and pomp in the guise of the bullfrog and bulldog have the tables turned on them by the sassy blue-jay and crow."

That didn't always happen in the minstrel shows, and I think it ought to be celebrated when it did.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cantilever barns in East Tennessee

Photo: Brian Stansberry, Creative Commons. "Cantilever (or "Overhang") barn at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, USA. This barn was originally located near Seymour, Tennessee. The Appalachian cantilever barn, derived from similar European barn designs, is rarely found in the United States outside the mountains of East Tennessee."

Marian Moffett of the University of Tennessee Knoxville, co-author (with Lawrence Wodehouse) of East Tennessee Cantilever Barns (1993), says in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture Version 2.0:
Documentary evidence on these barns is very scarce. Most seem to have been built from 1870 to about 1915, by second- or third-generation settlers. Cantilever barns were constructed on self-sufficient farms, where accommodations for seed corn, feed, livestock, and equipment were basic needs. The unusual design may derive from German forebay barns in Pennsylvania, built into the hillside with an overhang along the out-facing side. Pioneer blockhouses in East Tennessee and elsewhere had modest overhangs on all four sides of the upper story, and these may have inspired the shape of later barns.
Moffett says, " In studies of mountain buildings made in the early 1960s, Henry Glassie identified these barns as characteristic of the southern highlands, indicating that they were found in North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia." Mostly East Tennessee.

Informative backgrounder on Pennsylvania forebay (Schweitzer) barns on the Schmidt-Dalziel Barn website. "The Pennsylvania Barn stands as an excellent example of acculturation, incorporating the heritage of three nationalities - Swiss, German, and American - into one structure. Its many names - Sweitzer, Swisser, Overshoot, Porch, Forebay, and Bank barn reflect the melting pot of traditions that went into its design." Also summaries of Dutch, English and Swiss barn types. the Schmidt-Dalziel Barn is in Ontario.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kate Rusby on "My Music" (British TV)

From the TV series "My Music," 13.04.08

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Research on Civil War brass bands

Two Four that look especially valuable ...

1. Band Music from the Civil War Era makes available examples of a brilliant style of brass band music that flourished in the 1850s in the United States and remained popular through the nineteenth century. Bands of this kind served in the armies of both the North and the South during the Civil War. This online collection includes both printed and manuscript music (mostly in the form of "part books" for individual instruments) selected from the collections of the Music Division of the Library of Congress and the Walter Dignam Collection of the Manchester Historic Association (Manchester, New Hampshire). The collection features over 700 musical compositions, as well as 8 full-score modern editions and 19 recorded examples of brass band music in performance. [In the Library of Congress' American Memory series.]

Special Presentations



Civil War Band Collection: 1st Brigade Band of Brodhead, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. After a furlough over Christmas of 1864, the band returned south and participated in Sherman's march through the Carolinas. During a brief respite in the action in April, Kimberley reported that the band had received attention from Gen. Sherman, himself:

Last night, according to previous notice, we repaired to Sherman's headquarters for a serenade. A new song, composed by prisoners [Lt. H. S. M. Byers of Iowa, who wrote the song while a prisoner of war in Charleston, S.C.] is in my possession, entitled When Sherman Marched Down to the Sea. After some rehearsing, I was the first one to sing it before our old hero, Billy T. [Sherman] and his entire staff, after which I sang another and rec'd a very high compliment from Sherman. After playing several pieces the crack band of the army made its appearance, namely the 33d Massachusetts and played several pieces. After all this we played another piece and returned to camp, assured we had done honor to ourselves at least. After getting in camp our Brigadier [Clark] came with a compliment from Sherman to our band, stating we were the model band of his entire army. This, said by a Gen'l of such wide world renown is certainly a big thing!-a great feather in our caps. The Massachusetts Band spoken of has always had the name of being the best band in Sherman's Army - pronounced by Sherman himself at Savannah


3. A profile of William Tidmarsh, Wauconda blacksmith and band leader of the 51st Illinois Infantry in 1861 and 1862, gives an account of a regimental band:

Numerous communities across Illinois had their own local bands in the Nineteenth Century, before and after the Civil War. A Wikipedia source estimates that there were 10,000 community bands across the United States in the late 1880s. In the days before phonograph, radio, movies, television, world wide webs, and in smaller communities without orchestral ensembles, the local band was the primary source of musical entertainment. Bands ranged in size from 12 to 25 members. Tidmarsh was the leader of the band in the Wauconda area. The Waukegan Weekly Gazette of October 12, 1861 put the population of Wauconda at 111, not enough of a population base to support the membership of a band; the members were drawn not only from Wauconda but also from surrounding farms and communities. The Gazette reported on October 26, 1862, "All or nearly all of this band are residents of this County."

The October 12 Gazette reported that "Mr. William Tidmarsh of Wauconda is authorized to get up a Regimental Band of twenty-four pieces, for [the Fifty-First Illinois]." Tidmarsh was able to recruit twenty players. All twenty were signed up on the same day, October 5, 1861, in Wauconda, by William Tidmarsh. He himself was enrolled one day earlier by Colonel Gilbert Cumming. It's as if the Wauconda Band became the Fifty-First Illinois Band. The community supported the effort, partially funding instruments for the band members. W. B. Clark, one of Tidmarsh's players, stopped by the offices of the Gazette to show off his new saxhorn. "It is a beautiful B flat instrument of German Silver, and has a range of two and a half octaves. The price was $65, of which our citizens donated $30" (November 2, 1862). The band left Lake County on October 22 and traveled to Chicago "to join the Chicago Legion [51st Illinois], to which regiment it is to be attached during the continuance of the war."

Until February 14, 1862, the band along with the rest of the Fifty-First was at Camp Douglas, Chicago, recruiting, training, and outfitting. Tidmarsh lost two members of the band to desertion even before the regiment left for the field: Edgar Brooks deserted on November 20, 1861 and Charles Bell on February 12, 1862.

The regiment's first field assignments were at New Madrid and Island No. 10 as part of General John Pope's army. In April, 1862, the regiment along with the rest of Pope's army embarked on river steamers to travel to Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Army participation in the Fort Pillow mission was aborted in mid-April and the regiment with its band steamed back up the Mississippi on its way to Hamburg Landing, Tennessee. When the fleet tied up at Cairo, Illinois to take on coal, the men of the regiment visited the town and Tidmarsh lost two more members to desertion: William McClain and Frederick Brown never returned to the boat. From April 22 to May 30, the regiment was engaged in the move against Corinth, Mississippi, which was evacuated by Confederate forces at the end of May. In mid-May a deputation of Chicago citizens came to Farmington, Mississippi where the regiment was camped and presented the regiment with its first set of colors. The ceremonies were elaborate and the band played its part. But, the band—along with most other Federal regimental bands—was not long for the world. As a cost-saving measure regimental bands were mustered out and sent home. The Fifty-First's regimental band was formally mustered out of the service on June 30, 1862 at Corinth, Mississippi. The government paid transportation home for the band members. The Waukegan Weekly Gazette reported the return of the band. "Last evening they gave our citizens a musical treat from the steps of the Court House. It is not too much to say that they were one of the finet bands in the army. We understand that they intend giving a few Concerts through the county, under their able leader, Mr. Tidmarsh, for the purpose of raising money to replace instruments lost [by other regiments] at the battle of Pittsburg Landing" (July 12, 1862).

The decision to muster the bands out was a hasty one—and certainly not a unanimous one at the highest reaches of military administration. ...


4. A HISTORY OF THE WIND BAND by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes at David Lipscomb ... looks like class notes ... medieval, renaissance, 18th- and 19th-century Europe, England, America ...

[from table of contents] 6. The 19th-Century American Wind Band
The Brass Band Movement: Keyed Brass, Valved Brass, The Saxhorn - Brass Bands and the Civil War: Responsibilities of Bandsmen, Interaction between Union and Confederate Bands, Over-the-Shoulder Saxhorns - Professional Bands: The Dodworth Family, Great Entertainers, Monsieur Antoine Jullien - Patrick S. Gilmore: Gilmore vs. Kendall, Civil War Engagement, Oversized Concerts, National Peace Jubilee, World Peace Jubilee, Gilmore's Contemporaries, Gilmore's Band, Concert Soloists - John Philip Sousa: The Marine Band, The March King, Sousa Forms His Own Band - Creatore and the Italian Invasion - Patrick Conway - Frederick Innes - Arthur Pryor

Pinetop Perkins, July 7, 1913-March 21, 2011

One of the greats of Chicago blues died this week. A summary and a link to a 10-minute YouTube clip on the Capitol Fax blog, which usually concerns itself with Illinois state government and politics. "Often accompanied by Sugar Blue on the harmonica and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith on drums, the last of the great Mississippi bluesmen always put on a fine show," said Rich Miller, the blog's editor-publiser. "You had to get there early for the Saturday night shows, however, because Perkins stopped playing at midnight. He wouldn’t perform on a Sunday." Miller added, "Rosa’s will be the place to be this weekend. Bet on it."

Andy Greene of Rolling Stone has a succinct obituary, with one of those headlines that sum it all up: "Legendary Delta Blues Pianist Pinetop Perkins Dies At 97: Perkins played with Muddy Waters for 10 years and recorded with everyone from Sonny Boy Williamson to Eric Clapton." Greene notes he kept touring and recording till quite recently. His 2008 disc Pinetop Perkins & Friends featured contributions from Eric Clapton and B.B. King.

Best obit of all is by Shelia Byrd of the Associated Press ... her lede:
Muddy Waters was looking for a new piano player when chain-smoking journeyman Pinetop Perkins showed off his aggressive keyboarding during a jam session.

"He liked what he heard. The rest is history," said Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, who was a drummer in Waters' band back in 1969.

By then, Perkins, an old school bluesman with the gravelly voice, for years had played the rickety bars among the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, and toured far beyond them with rock pioneer Ike Turner in the 1950s. He performed with the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk.

When he and Waters hooked up, Pinetop was in his 50s and never had recorded an album of his own but "had more energy than us younger folks did," Smith said.

That verve kept him jamming in the clubs and collecting Grammy Awards until shortly before his death from cardiac arrest Monday at his Austin, Texas, home. He was 97.
Some great quotes in the AP story:
"I didn't get no schooling. I come up the hard way in the world," Perkins told The Associated Press in a 2009 interview.

Bob Corritore, a harmonica player who performed occasionally with Perkins and produced some of his work, said, "Pinetop could find the cracks and fill them in and be the glue and mortar of the whole band."

Fellow great bluesman B.B. King was saddened by the loss of his friend.

"He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen. He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world," King said in an emailed statement.

* * *

Perkins lived his life in the tradition of many bluesmen, rambling from place to place, watching most of his contemporaries pass on. He moved to Austin in 2004 to live with an associate since he had no family.

His manager, Patricia Morgan, said funeral arrangements were pending in Austin and a graveside service would be held near Clarksdale, Miss., where he wanted to be buried.

"We knew he lived a good life. What can you say about the man? He left here in his sleep. That's the way I want to go," said Smith.
Also an especially knowledgeable discussion of his musical influence in The Telegraph of London. Then there's one in Entertainment Weekly that gets its facts scrambled by saying he turned from guitar to piano when he suffered injuries in a fight with a choir girl in Helena, Ark. According to all other accounts, she was a chorus girl (but I kinda like the idea of the choir girl in a knife fight).

The NPR show Mountain Stage has an 18-minute clip of Perkins' performance on the program in 2001 with Bob Margolin on guitar, Tad Walters on bass and Wes Johnson on Drums. Said show host Larry Groce of the pianist's three appearances on Mountain Stage, "Pine Top was an inspiration. He last visited when he was 88 years old and he still had a twinkle in his eye, a chuckle in his voice and fingers that were right in the groove. Truly, an era has ended."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - April 2 - mixed modes (Ionian and Mixolydian)

This year's last workshop on 1830s-friendly music in "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road" by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeill is at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 2, in the Visitors Center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. We'll take up a couple of songs in the Ionian mode we didn't get to earlier, and a third song in A mixolydian that we can play in DAA. I've really enjoyed arranging the workshops, and I've learned as much as I've taught from the people who've been coming to our sessions. I think it's been a real addition to our interpretive program at New Salem.

Tangent (that isn't really a tangent): A lot of people will tell you DAA is the Ionian tuning, and DAD is the mixolydian tuning. True enough, as long as you're talking about songs in the key of D. But you you fool around with modes and open tunings for a while, and if you're not afraid to retune your dulcimer, you have a lot of flexibility. (Or ... think about it ... you have an excuse to go out and buy more dulcimers. I have one for DAD, one for DAA, one for CGG so I can accompany myself singing in C, and so on.) All three songs go way back, but Ralph Lee explains them best. Below are some YouTube clips you can listen to. They'll help you learn the songs by ear.


Twelfth of Never/Riddle Song on Mountain Dulcimer

Dulcimer player Judith Giddings, whose YouTube channel is called dulcimerintheforest, plays a nice non-traditional finger-picking arrrangement. She's probably tuned in DAD, but I don't do enough chording myself to recognize chord patterns. I like it best in DAA, and I like Ralph Lee's "Version B" especially, but she does a nice job playing it chord-melody style.

Mary O'Hara singing "I Gave My Love a Cherry"
A very influential Irish soprano who accompanied herself on the harp during the 1950s, O'Hara learned this song from her first husband, poet Richard Selig (originally of Chicago). After his death in 1957, she entered a Benedictine convent but left the order after 12 yers and resumed her career during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

We know it as a Carter family song, and Ralph Lee Smith gives us the Carter family's version in "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road," but it has ancient roots. Sir Walter Scott included it in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" (1802-03), and it is also known as "The Lass of Roch Royal" or Child Ballad No. 76.

The Storms Are On The Ocean cecilmoody2002
There's nothing slick about amateur musician Cecil Moody's version of the song, but it's worth listening to and learning from. He plays it the old-fashioned way, holding the noter with thumb on top Kentucky-style and singing in unison with a simplified version of the melody. This is what the Appalachian dulcimer sounded like back in Appalachia!

Mother Maybelle Carter ( Family) - The storms are on the ocean
At the Newport Folk Festival - in the 1960s?

Sharon White & Ricky Skaggs : Storms Are On The Ocean [Transatlantic Sessions]
Awesome session work from a BBC-TV special. From Transatlantic Sessions 2. Aly Bain and Michael Doucet on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro. Informed speculation on the other backing musicians in the comments.

It's most common for dulcimer players to tune to DAD and play in A mixolydian. But the modes are just scales, and the tunings aren't written in concrete. Ralph Lee Smith plays this old fiddle tune in A mixolydian, with his dulcimer tuned to DAA.

(The key signature for A mixolydian, like D, is two sharps ... there's a good chart of how the different keys and modes are related on the Small Circle Tune Learning Session website put up by Irish traditional session players in the Denver/Boulder metro area, at The Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts. I find it indispensible.) Here are three versions from YouTube.

Ben Seymour playing "Sheep Shell Corn" on an inlaid Cherry Galax Dulcimer
Ben Seymour, of Tyron, N.C., playing the same version we're learning. He doesn't say, but I think he's tuned to A unison (aaaa) to get an A mixolydian scale starting on the open A string. Says Ben, "Playing the great old tune "Sheep Shell Corn by the Rattling of his Horn" which I learned from the playing of Ralph Lee Smith. (Thanks Ralph!!)" Ben made the Galax-style dulcimer I bring sometimes to Prairieland Dulcimer Strings sessions.

Bruce Hornsby/Ricky Skaggs [Kentucky Thunder] - Sheep Shell Corn (clogging)
Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, and Kentucky Thunder live @ the Ferst Center in Atlanta, GA on Mar. 29th, 2008. Writes , who uploaded the video to YouTube, "Apparently it's a common practice (on this particular tour) to call people up on stage to clog when the band plays this song as I've seen it on a couple other videos as well." I'd add: It's common practice everywhere, at least down South.

Joe Hermann & Ralph Gordon - Tennessee Mtn Fox Chase /Sheep Shelled Corn by the Rattlin' of His Horn
A fiddle and cello duo. Joe Herrmann and Ralph Gordon play traditional tunes Tennessee Mtn Fox Chase and Sheep Shelled Corn by the Rattlin' of His Horn in a concert performance which is part of the Fiddle Summit music weekend in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. "Sheep Shell Corn" begins at 1:48.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zither-Maxl: Duke Maximilian Joseph of Austria

Lots of good information about "Zithermaxl," Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (1808-1888), who championed the zither during the 1840s. (He also had a hand in getting recognition for composer Richard Wagner, according to Wikipedia, after his cousin Ludwig II of Bavaria noticed some of Wagner's sheet music on his piano.) Duke Max learned the instrument from Johann Petzmayer, a virtuoso who grew up in a tavern in Vienna and refined the traditional folk zither into a concert-grade instrument. The instrument in the picture is obviously a folk zither. Also a mention in a Munich newspaper of a municipal »Zitherschlager« in Munich in the 1600s.

Duke Max' profile in Wikipedia says:
Maximilian Joseph was one of the most prominent promoters of Bavarian folk-music in the 19th century. Under his influence the zither started to be used in court circles and eventually became identified as the national musical instrument of Bavaria. Because of his interest he received the nickname Zither-Maxl. He himself played the zither and also composed music for it.

From a very informative article by Ernst Schusser on the Zither US website:
The association of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (1808-1888) with the zither was very greatly influenced by his getting to know Johann Petzmayer through two concerts given by the zither virtuoso on the 22nd and 26th of February, 1837, in Bamberg, Germany. Johann Petzmayer was born in the town of Zistersdorf near Vienna, Austria, in 1803. His father owned and operated a tavern in Vienna, where he grew up. In his early youth he learned to play the violin and at 16 years of age, he just happened to start playing the zither, with which he immediately became enamored. Through diligent study, he developed an astounding ability in playing this simple instrument ...

* * *

At the behest of the Duke, Petzmayer (as musical specialist) assembled other musicians around the Duke, certainly for his, but also for mutual enjoyment. Max himself often played his own compositions as well as folksongs on the zither in this group. The circle of musicians, the various society functions and gatherings, but also quiet and undisturbed moments were opportunities for Duke Max to reach for his zither. The zither played a much larger role in the life of Duke Maximilian than simply a beloved instrument, a sentiment underscored by one of the very few poems written by Max, entitled appropriately enough “My Zither“ ...

[extended quote from poem]

However, it is not only with their zither playing and music making that I wish to draw attention, because through their collaboration, Petzmayer and Duke Maximilian also contributed immeasurably to the development and dissemination of the zither. First of all, was the simplification and specification of the term “Zither“, which started about 1840, the time that Duke Max first took pains to support zither playing. Previously, the term “Zither“ included all the many different historical forms and types of instruments, such as the psalterium, scheitholz, lute, guitar, violine, hammered dulcimer, etc. just as with the zither we have today one can find similar instrument forms and further developments. In Musicology works one often finds the expression “junk“ instrument in relation to the zither of that time. This started to change first through the efforts of Johann Petzmayer around 1825 as he developed into the first zither-virtuoso of the modern zither in the 19th century. This, coupled with the efforts of Duke Maximilian from around 1837, led to the unambiguous meaning of the term.

At that time, the term zither meant a stringed instrument with two play areas, namely, the fretboard, with its changeable tones and the free strings with their permanently fixed tones. “The strings run parallel to and over a narrow box-like resonating body, and are made to ring by a combination of gripping and striking with both hands.“ This zither is represented therefore as a combination of both a “gripped“ and an “ungripped“ instrument, which in some cases is historically accurate. Coming into the 19th century, the zither was thoroughly unfinished and in need of improvement. More than anyone else, it is Petzmayer who we have to thank that this instrument in its unfinished form had already begun to gain some popularity around 1825. This type of instrument is called Petzmayer’s “Plucking Zither“, which is most likely where the term “to pluck the zither“ comes from. Technically the zither is called diatonic. At the most, one could play only three tones, most often G, D, and A. The fretted fingerboard contained just 14 notes. At the beginning of the 19th century there were only three notes on the fingerboard. The tuning of the free strings, used mostly for accompaniment, was without any system, one claimed they belonged to the “good sound of the zither player,“ so that each player developed his own system for stringing the instrument. Most of the early drawings depicting Petzmayer and Duke Maximilian show us this type of zither, which is quite individual and totally without standardization, which soon showed what an impediment it was to further dissemination of the instrument. ...

* * *

Here then we have the two zither styles facing each other. One style, deeply rooted by custom and by their way of life, was considered by the majority of people to belong to the “country folks“ from which only personalities like Josef Wasserburger (1788-1857) “Joey, the Innkeeper from Garching“ stood out. On the other side one could see the extremely useful results of Weigel and the other reformers to lead the zither out of its role as folk instrument and to have it gain musical acceptance. I would place Petzmayer and above all others the late Duke Max who incorporated the folkloric as well as the classical-musical character in the zither. The Duke clearly preferred the folkloric part. This twin track, was under the circumstances in my opinion, especially worthwhile. It offered a great chance of success, led to the zither’s first heyday. As little as Petzmayer forgot about the somewhat lowly origins of the zither, so did his accomplished, masterful style of playing lead him more and more into contact with the upper and noble circles, in fact, all the way to the courts of kings and emperors. This is where the instrument for the first time made the leap from being an everyday common instrument to being an instrument of high society, it became one could say “suitable for the court!“ This development would not have lasted if it had not been for Duke Max making it his cause and strengthening it.
Also good information in an article in Traunsteiner Tagblatt/Chiemgau Blätter of Munich, touching on folk zithers in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps and Duke Max' role in popularizing the instrument in upper-crust "Salons und Konzertsäle" in Bavaria:
Zur Liedbegleitung hatten die einfachen Zithern auf dem Land vor allem im bayerisch-österreichischen Alpenraum und auch im Alpenvorland bereits sehr früh eine breite Verbreitung gefunden und auch in München war das Instrument beliebt. Bereits von 1643, also fünf Jahre nachdem die Zunft der Münchner Stadtmusikanten gegründet worden war, wird überliefert, dass ein Viertel der Musikanten »Zitherschlager« waren.

Die wahre Blüte des Zitherspiels in München kam jedoch erst im 19. Jahrhundert, als der Instrumentenbau bedeutende Fortschritte machte. Damals erhielt die Zither mehr Saiten und es setzte sich eine neue, Münchner Stimmweise durch. Den größten Anteil an der Zitherbewegung hatte jedoch um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts der Virtuose Johann Petzmayer und sein begnadeter Schüler und Protegé Herzog Max in Bayern, der wegen seiner Zitherleidenschaft auch »Zither-Maxl« genannt wurde. Ihm ist es zu verdanken, dass das »Lumpeninstrument« auch in die höfischen Kreise und damit in die soziale Oberschicht Einzug fand. Diesen beiden Virtuosen ist es zu verdanken, dass die Zither mehr und mehr auch Solostimmen spielen konnte. Gleichzeitig eroberte die Zither die Salons und Konzertsäle. Dort wurden vor allem auch auf die Zither umgeschriebene Kammermusik vorgetragen. Die Bemühungen des Herzogs, der Zither Eingang in die Gesellschaft zu verschaffen, waren von großem Erfolg gekrönt. Bald galt es als modern, in städtischen, bürgerlichen oder adeligen Haus Zither zu spielen. Ganze Heerscharen von sogenannten höheren Töchtern erlernten dieses Instrument, zumal es auch wesentlich billiger als ein sonst obligates Klavier war. Im ersten Weltkrieg hatten bei den Instrumentenbauern zusammenlegbare Zither, »die dem lieben Ehegatten ins Feld nachgeschickt werden« konnten, eine große Bedeutung.
Works Cited
“Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria.” Wikipedia. Picture available in Wikimedia Commons.

Ernst Schusser "Zithermaxl." Trans. William F. Kolb. Zither US.

"Die Zither is a Zauberin: München kann als die bedeutenste Zitherstadt der Welt angesehen werden." Traunsteiner Tagblatt/Chimemgau Blätter 17 Jan. 2004

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wilfried Ulrich's anatomy lesson of a hummel

Reproduced by permission

Based on the famous Rembrandt oil painting "Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" (1632). Ulrich (pictured at right) is a luthier of Norden in the German state of East Frisia, who builds and restores hummels. He is coordinating an exibition of hummels and other folk zithers from April 4 to July 7 at the Museumsdorf Cloppenburg-Niedersächsisches Freilichtmuseum in Cloppenburg, Lower Saxony. He plans to publish an English translation of the exhibit catalog titled "The Story of the Hummel" (price and other details to be announced).

Named for the buzzing sound made by its drone strings (the word means "bumblebee" in German), the hummel is a folk zither related to the Appalachian dulcimer. A fine example may be seen on the dissecting table in the picture above.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Dwelling in Beluah Land" - old gospel hymn

Gaither (Rivers of Joy) - Dwelling In Beulah Land

W & M By C Austin Miles

1. Far away the noise of strife upon my ear is falling;
Then I know the sins of earth beset on every hand:
Doubt and fear and things of earth in vain to me are calling
None of these shall remove me from Beulah Land.

I'm living on the mountain, underneath a cloudless sky;(praise God)
I'm drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry;
Oh yes! I'm feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.

Isaiah 62:4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married.,_Georgia Hephzibah, Ga., is in Richmond County near Augusta.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - March and April

Copied below is an email I sent this afternoon to people on the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings mailing list, with links to information that came up at our March 5 session and three more we'll learn in April. We will have four sessions in this year's off-season workshop focusing on songs that might have come up the Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap and on to central Illinois in the 1830s. We've been using "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road," a Mel Bay book with Appalachian dulcimer tab, music in standard notation and historical notes by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeill.

Since our first session in February, I've been posting notes on tunings, playing tips, techniques and YouTube clips to this weblog so you can get an idea of the tune in mind; links to my posts with songs and tips are also copied below. So you can use this post as a preliminary Table of Contents for the entire series so far. I'll post a final TOC in April.
Hi everybody -

We had a good session March 5 on the Dorian mode, learning "Shady Grove" and "Old Man at the Mill" from "Songs and Tales of the Wilderness Road" by Ralph Lee Smith and Maddie MacNeill, along with "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus" from "Mel Bay's Old-time Gospel Songbook" by Wayne Erbsen.

Our next and last session will be at 10 a.m. April 2, at the Visitors Center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. We'll do "I Gave My Love a Cherry" and "The Storms Are On the Ocean" in the Ionian mode and "Sheep Shell Corn" in the Mixolydian. (Tune to DAA for all three.) I'm pretty sure videos of all three are available on line; I'll find them and send you links in the next couple, three days.

In the meantime, here's some information I tracked down and linked to the Hogfiddle blog after our March 5 session: - March 10 - link to "Kitchen Musician," a living history website with sheet music and information about the Old Northwest, including "St. Clair's Defeat" and "Boatman Dance," as well as articles on Ohio River boatmen and other topics of interest to us. Also a lot of very nice Scottish and Irish stuff.

target="_blank"> - March 7 - information and link to an Appalachian dulcimer shown playing "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus," a song we learned this month, in the Dorian mode. The song is mentioned in Edgar Lee Masters' book "The Sangamon" (1942) in the Rivers of America series.

Here are links to material I posted to Hogfiddle in connection with our workshops in February and March. You'll notice we sort of made up the schedule as we went along, and we'll get back to a couple of the songs linked below -- "Sheep Shell Corn" and "I Gave My Love a Cherry" -- at our last session in April.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Healing Power of Art [review] D R A F T

Review of prayer against famine & other irish poems by John Knoepfle. BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 93 pp., $12.95

In 1999, when it was still possible to hope the 21st century
wouldn't be as violent and brutal as the era then drawing to a
close, poet John Knoepfle received an honorary degree from Springfield
College in Illinois. At commencement, he read several poems about
his search for a family history lost in the Irish potato famine
of the 19th century. One, titled "the claire festival of
traditional singing," celebrates the human gift for transforming
sorrow into art:

box of twinkling notes

as a bird cage

songs without words

man taking his own measure


Now Knoepfle has collected that poem and others into a book,
prayer against famine & other irish poems. Published
in 2004 by the University of Missouri at Kansas City's BkMk Press,
it celebrates the transforming power of art.

"It seems to me that what is human in us can outlast famine and Holocaust," " Knoepfle told SCI's 1999 graduates, "even as we are coming this day to the end of a century which was the most brutal in the history of the world -- the wars alone have taken the lives of 148 million people. And it may be in some small way each one of you can mitigate the terrible things that happened in this century -- transform them in some way as the singer does in this poem."

Now Knoepfle has collected that poem and others into a book, prayer against famine & other irish poems. Published in 2004 by the University of Missouri at Kansas City's BkMk Press, it celebrates the transforming power of art.

"In this moving book of poems, John Knoepfle transforms
a search for his Irish roots into a meditation on human suffering
and survival," says Kathleen Norris, poet and Benedictine
oblate of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, in a cover blurb.
"The whole book is a prayer against famine and the gratuitous
cruelty inflicted on the innocent ... These are poems of faith
that take into account the real world, and make us see it anew."

Knoepfle, who taught creative writing for many years at Sangamon
State University, contributes poetry to Illinois Times and
has written or edited more than a dozen books. prayer against
grew out his visits to Ireland in the 1990s when he
attempted to trace his ancestors who perished in the famine of
1847 and succeeding years. And it includes poems about American
Indians, sweatshop workers in Honduras and a U.S. sailor whose
death the poet witnessed during World War II. So in a very real
sense it is about how people are caught up in the brutality we
know as history. But it is also about the healing power of human
relationships. Knoepfle recalls a story told by Dominican sisters
in Iraq

... how once on the street

stranger came to them and whispered

archbishop kassab

think he is a good muslim.

There are flashes of elegance throughout the book. One celebrates
Scott Joplin's ragtime

box of twinkling notes

as a bird cage

songs without words

man taking his own measure


And there are touches of Knoepfle's trademark wry humor, for
example his description of non-Natives learning an Inupiaq dance,
"keeping time as well as we knew / and awkward as a room
full of bears."

But overall the mood is dark, somber. At the same time, it
is hopeful in a way that transcends analysis. The title poem,
"prayer against famine," asks God to

us when we are tempted

we want to make ourselves

center of your world

we would deny others

place in the circle of your love.

When Knoepfle read at SCI in 1999, he spoke of this poem in
the context of peacemaking efforts amid a centuries-long "famine
of the soul" in Northern Ireland.

Now, only five years later, we have entered an era much darker
and more brutal than we could have imagined. Perhaps reflecting
this dimming of hope, Knoepfle ends his new book with a novena
that concludes:

there is nowhere to go

is possible

healing will begin

have to believe this.

Just so.

In the end, Knoepfle's poems are more than a celebration of
the transforming power of art. And prayer against famine is
in itself an example of the healing power of faith, of poetry
and human relationships.

To order prayer against famine, contact BkMk Press,
University of Missouri-Kansas City, 5101 Rockhill Road, Kansas
City, Missouri 64110, or on line at
Shipping and handling is $2. Ordering information is available
on line

The Sleepy Weasel,
Vol. 10, 2004-05

John Knoepfle: Poems with Commentary D R A F T

A Set of Poems with Commentary

for the 1999 graduates of Springfield
College in Illinois

by John Knoepfle


Editor's note: John Knoepfle of Auburn, poet and retired
Sangamon State University creative writing professor, received
an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree this year from SCI
and, as is customary, delivered the commencement address. He has
written more than 20 books of poetry, including
Poems from
the Sangamon (1985) and the chinkapin oak (1995), and
has a longstanding interest in the Native American peoples who
once lived in what is now Illinois. Commencement exercises were
May 19, during Memorial Day weekend. Knoepfle's address follows.

Salutations. To make this address I am going to take my privilege
as writer and present to you a set of poems with commentary dedicated
to the Springfield College in Illinois class of 1999.


At Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington they have a
prayer room on the floor above the entrance to the Student Union,
a small place with a bench or two to meditate or pray. There's
an open Bible just under a brilliant stained glass window and
spiral notebooks where students can write their thoughts. It makes
a man feel old just reading them. The students are so young.

But the reason the prayer room is there in the Student Union
is because during World War II a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan
had become a navy chaplain, and he was on a troop transport in
the North Atlantic that was torpedoed. The poem tells the story.


prayer room poem

commemorated here
those who died in the torpedoing
of the uss dorchester
february 3 1943

george fox
john washington
alexander goode
charles poling

died praying together
refusing the overcrowded lifeboats
their jackets given to others

four chaplains
a minister
a minister
a rabbi
a priest

so remarkable a text
all that they could be
they were

The poem is about four men who shared something -- and shared
everything. They were people that we mourned for with admiration.
In their dying they became larger than life. In the midst of the
most destructive war in history they bound themselves together
in charity and concord.


This poem about a sign honors another man of peace -- my brother-in-law
Matt Sugarman, who died Sunday three weeks ago after a long illness.
Born in Brooklyn with a background in business administration
and experience in managing an elevator factory, Matt seemed an
unlikely candidate for the post of California park ranger. But
by following his heart and having serendipitous good luck, that's
what he became -- to the benefit of all us.

Matt was chief ranger at Marshall Gold Discovery State Park
in California - Sutter's Mill, the place where the gold rush began.
He called it "the most important historical site west of
the Mississippi." But he would not call the l50th year anniversary
of the Gold Rush a celebration. It should be commemorated, he
said, not celebrated. Too many terrible things happened during
the Gold Rush -- the persecution of Chinese immigrants, the ethnic
cleansing of native Americans and the destruction of the natural
environment itself. Matt believed that these hard truths should
faced with honesty. "The point is," he said once, "we
as a society have to recognize our participation in what was a

In an extraordinary article he wrote about facing death, he
said in conclusion: "I am a Jew. Next year I'll be in Jerusalem."
In this poem, the "city on the hill" is Jerusalem.


Matt this is your sign
left hand palm forward
over the heart

a high plains sign
a sign for no ill intentions
a sign for coming in peace

a sign for the open heart
brother to brother

a sign for you Matt
brother to brother

the city is on the hill
look up Matt the sign
the sign is everywhere


I traveled to Ireland in 1996 and 1998. County Claire, mentioned
in this poem, is in the West of Ireland, and the Cliffs of Moher
are 800-foot drops at the edge of the Atlantic -- the furthest
western land mass this side of the coast of North America. I assume
the song I am describing here grew from the memory of the famine
that struck Ireland in the summer of 1847 and took a million people
with hunger and attendant diseases. I visited Skibbereen in the
south of County Cork and saw the famine pit in the cemetery there
-- a grassy field that my sons could have played soccer on. There
were 10,000 buried there and I assume some of them were four generations
ago uncles and aunts and cousins of mine.


the claire festival of traditional singing

their songs had melodies
not to be written down
too lost in between notes
like the winds of moher

each singer turned from the mike
searching the key
then turned back and each became
only a voice the men
hands held stiff in their pockets
the women arms at their sides

and then she went up on stage
and told us her song
came from a woman
grieving her twelfth child lost

and we heard a voice
taking a voice
ancient as the language itself the dead silence of the room

it was in that still time
we saw famine enter the room
and we watched his hair turn gray

It seems to me that what is human in us can outlast famine
and Holocaust even as we are coming this day to the end of a century
which was the most brutal in the history of the world -- the wars
alone have taken the lives of 148 million people. And it occurs
to me that you, the class of 1999, are graduating into a new century.
And it may be in some small way each one of you can mitigate the
terrible things that happened in this century -- transform them
in some way as the singer does in this poem.

Famine is male here because the powers that bungled the care
for the Irish were masculine. I should add that the government
of Holland was also dominated by men at the time, and the potato
failed there as well as in Ireland But no one starved to death
in Holland because the governors were men of understanding and
compassion They listened to their intellect or as St. John Fisher
has the phrase "to our Lady Reason."


Belfast has been the capital of Northern Ireland since 1921
and a place of strife and bloodshed between Protestant Loyalists
and Catholic Nationalists for 400 years. Falls Road is a working-class
Nationalist neighborhood, plagued by generations of unemployment
and a flash point for violence because it is near working-class
Loyalist neighborhoods. Elizabeth Groves who runs a community
center at Falls Road, and May Blood, a labor union leader from
a Loyalist background, dared to imagine and work for peace in
their beleaguered city. They crossed the divide between their
two neighborhoods and risked violent retribution in order to talk
to each other and assert their common humanity. Women played a
major role in the Good Friday Peace Accords. Without their leadership
the accords probably would not have been signed. Today these women
continue to work for peace, which they say must include both economic
justice and civil rights.

This poem is based on Elizabeth Groves' account of a meeting
in Belfast where she sat across the table from a mm who had killed
friends of hers. She told him that she was afraid of him. That
was how she was able to begin. In this poem I make childbirth
a metaphor for peacemaking And I also try to show the leap of
imagination and courage it takes to come to terms with your own
history and that of your enemy.

Interestingly enough, when the members of the Falls Road Community
Center were trying to decide if they should take part in the peace
process, they were visited by a delegation from South Africa.
The South Africans, who had spent years fighting apartheid and
suffering from its violence, urged the community center to accept
the risks involved in peacemaking and take part in the negotiations.


belfast on the falls road

and where is the incentive
now in this time of amnesty
forgiving time to forgive

pinned to a conference
painful as childbirth
from a scarred womb

or hands that should have been peaceful
nailed here to this oak table

and that man opposite
and that man smiling now you
knew him of old
from the very edge of your life
this one who killed your friends

how could anyone endure
the concord of his handshake
sitting here in fear
hands white-knuckled under the table
saying I am afraid
afraid of the teeth in your mouth

bringing your dowry of shame
from such a depth of reproach
seeking a calm place
estuary of what can be possible


A day later people from an Ulster television station came to
interview members of our tour group. And we all did the best we
could I was the last to speak, and the moderator wanted to know
if I had roots in Ireland And I said, "Yes, I think they
are in the famine pit in Skibbereen." Then I thought awhile
and said "I think that famines are political and that here
in Northern Ireland there has been a famine of the soul for hundreds
of years." Then I was able to give them this prayer against
famine which may have been broadcast in Ulster later.


prayer against famine

maker of the wheel
that turns the stars
place the shadow of your shadow
between us and everything evil

have mercy on the dead
and on the living
and on those who will be born
in your good time

protect us when we are tempted
when we want to make ourselves
the center of your world
when we would deny others
a place in the circle of your love

cleanse our eyes oh god
and pour your light into them
so that we may see your creation
in everyone on this earth

It's difficult to write prayers because the temptation is to
write in a kind of strange language that I call "church English."
I might note that the Kaddish prayers for Matt Sugarman are in
a language so forthright and handsome that it makes you feel unworthy
to even say them.


This poem is called "Prayer at Commencement," your
commencement. I think I should preface it with a statement by
Thomas Merton quoted by Jane Redmont in her book When in Doubt
Sing: Prayer in Daily Life.

"Don't set limits to the mercy of God. Don't believe that
because you are not pleasing to yourself, you are not pleasing
to God. God doesn't ask for results. God asks for love."


prayer at commencement

pray for everyone
so that we can redeem
all the bleak, bright hours
when we did not
pray for ourselves

Remember that "commencement" means "to begin"
or "to begin again."


This last poem is called "poem for everyone." It
is turning up in all kinds of improbable places on office walls
and refrigerator doors, and I know for a fact that it has saved
a marriage or two.


poem for everyone

love is like a bowl
so when you break it
glue it together
if it won't hold water
fill it with apples

And on this note, Class of 1999, I wish you well as you commence
the rest of your lives. May you be bound together in charity and
concord And in the words of the Peoria and Miami and Tamaroa people,
who hunted in this valley: "May you be happy in a happy place."

Sleepy Weasel, Vol. 5, 1999-2000

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Bibliography - music halls in Great Britain and European pop music studies

"Music Hall." Wikipedia.
Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:

A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts. British music hall was similar to American vaudeville, featuring rousing songs and comic acts, while in the United Kingdom the term vaudeville referred to more working-class types of entertainment that would have been termed burlesque in America.
The theatre or other venue in which such entertainment takes place;
The type of popular music normally associated with such performances.

* * *

The musical forms most associated with music hall evolved in part from traditional folk song and songs written for popular drama, becoming by the 1850s a distinct musical style. ... The emergence of a distinct music hall style can be credited to a fusion of musical influences. Music hall songs needed to gain and hold the attention of an often jaded and unruly urban audience. In America from the 1840s Stephen Foster had reinvigorated folk song with the admixture of Negro spiritual to produce a new type of popular song. Songs like Old Folks at Home (1851)[38] and Oh, Dem Golden Slippers (James Bland, 1879)[39] spread round the globe, taking with them the idiom and appurtenances of the minstrel song. Other influences on the rapidly-developing music hall idiom were Irish and European music, particularly the jig, polka, and waltz.

"Studying Popular Music" by Richard Middleton [Open University Press].

Theodor W. Adorno Wikipedia

__________. Some writings of Adorno [links]

Friday, March 11, 2011

John Armstrong and village of Oakford

On3 or Erich Schroeder's contributions to the Banjo Hangout website, TOTW [Tune of the Week?] Feb 11, 2011 Rocky Road to Jordan with a nice sound clip, clawhammer style, a discussion of the song and John Armstrong's session with Edgar Lee Masters in 1914 ... and information about Oakford including 1910 census data listing Armstrong as an ag implement dealer and a picture of the cemetery ... plus informed discussion of the tune, and variants (and its relationship with "Rocky Road to Dublin") and a link to a transcription of "Chirps" Smith's version.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - "Kitchen Musician" - songs and misc. living history notes

Including the only sheet music I've seen that makes sense for "Bonaparte's Retreat" (no lap dulcimer tab, tho') in the directory of Downloadable Music for Hammered Dulcimer, Fiddle, Tinwhistle, Recorder, etc., Alpha List.

"The Kitchen Musician" is a series of 8-1/2-by-11 format early American, Scottish and Irish sheet music -- plus really good basic information on hammered dulcimers and living history. By Sarah Johnson, who writes a music column for
Smoke & Fire, a magazine for black powder reenactors and buckskinners. I have her book of tunes by Irish harp composer Turloch O'Carolan, and I've seen other material at festivals and on the Kitchen Music website. Recommend it highly. Not all of the music would have been known at New Salem, but she has a lot of music and information about the Old Northwest, including "St. Clair's Defeat" and "Boatman Dance," as well as articles on Ohio River boatmen and other topics of interest to us.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral" – a [not-so] Irish lullaby / and a translation

From concert program notes on an Irish medley selected and arranged by musical director Richard Hoyle for the Croydon Male Voice Choir in England. The songs "were written in the years shortly before the First World War, and ... are similar in expressing themes of separation and longing, both celebrating and regretting the culture of the homeland, whether real or imagined. Strikingly, none of the lyric writers, with one possible exception, were actually Irish." All were recorded in the 1940s by Bing Crosby.
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral – An Irish Lullaby was written in 1913 by a US actor, composer and song-writer, James Royce Shannon. He was born James Royce in Michigan in 1881 and established a touring theatrical company which performed in both the US and Europe. Although of English descent, he adopted the name Shannon to give him street cred for the Irish-themed songs and plays he was writing and performing. He wrote Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral for a musical production, Shameen Dhu, first staged in New York in February 1914.

Shameen Dhu was a classic musical love story set in 18th-century Ireland. The Shameen Dhu of the title is the nickname of one of the lead characters, Dare O’Donnell, who is among a group of Irish patriots fighting to free Ireland from English rule. The character sings the piece to evoke memories of his mother as he contemplates marriage. It thus combines nostalgia for childhood and for the distant land – “Over in Killarney” – where he grew up. Add the anti-British sentiments of the play, and you have a potent mix to appeal to the expanding Irish expatriate community of early 20th-century New York. It remained popular as a parlour song for the next five years.

The same themes were picked up in the song’s second coming, when it featured in the 1944 movie Going my Way, starring Bing Crosby. Crosby plays a young New York parish priest ministering to the Irish community, Father Chuck O’Malley, and he performs the song in a version which fully exploits its sentimental value. The movie, directed by Leo McCarey, won seven Oscars, including Crosby’s award as best supporting actor. After World War Two Crosby presented a copy of the film to Pope Pius XII and even showed the pope his Oscar.

The song was subsequently sung and recorded by performers ranging from Dean Martin and Steve Martin to Van Morrison and Carla in an episode of Cheers.
Shameen Dhu opened Feb. 2, 1914, at the Grand Opera House on Broadway and closed Feb. 28 after 32 performances. Other songs in the Croydon Male Choir's medley are "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," "McNamara’s Band" and "Danny Boy."

This exchange from Irish Gaelic forum. By bcKay / Gaeilgeoir:

I thought Toor a Loor a was just a made up thing that sounded good in Irish Lullaby. However, I have noticed that it comes up in many traditional songs...Spanish Lady (Dublin City), Jug of Punch etc....

I was wondering is this a 'made up sound' or could it be a warp of an early Irish term?
Answer by Redwolf / Ard-Banríon na Ráiméise:
To the best of my knowledge, it is just lilting (nonsense syllables used to convey an instrumental feel to a tune), and nothing more. You'll find a lot of "toor a loora," true, but you'll also find a lot of "what fol the diddle" and "da row de da diddly da diddly da dum."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Army & Lou's, iconic South Side soul food restaurant, closes

An era closes in Chicago history ... Army & Lou's was one of the places I visited when I was doing color stories on the 1989 mayoral election ...
It was the late Mayor Harold Washington’s favorite restaurant — the booth where he always sat still bears his name. And its storied history goes beyond feeding the grass-roots political movement that elected the city’s first black mayor.

At its original Black Metropolis location, it fed the leader of another movement: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the ’60s.

But South Side soul-food legend Army & Lou’s, 422 E. 75th St., thought to be the oldest black-owned restaurant in the Midwest, closed its doors for the last time Sunday.

“It’s really just due to the economy. People are not eating out as much,” said one of the five partners, Goldie McDuffie. “We had to close. We’ll see what happens in the future.”

Songs of the Wilderness Road - New Salem - "I Will Arise and Go to Jesus"

At Saturday's session, we learned "I Will Arise (and Go to Jesus)," a folk hymn that Edgar Lee Masters writes about -- quite movingly -- in The Sangamon. We learned it from Wayne Erbsen's Old-Time Gospel Songbook (Mel Bay, 1993). Erbsen has it E minor (and it can be played in E minor by tuning to DAD and capoing on the first fret), but we learned it by ear starting on the fourth fret with the dulcimer tuned to DAG, which effectively transposed it to D Dorian.

Here's a very nice finger-picking arrangement for dulcimer from YouTube. Look at the guy's left hand, he's playing in the Dorian mode.

[YouTube:] I Will Arise - Mountain Dulcimer
Uploaded by unionshroomer on Dec 31, 2008 - I Will Arise & Poor Wayfaring Stranger medley on the Mountain Dulcimer. The dulcimer is a McSpadden Schnaufer Model.

The version of "I Will Arise" in the Sacred Harp is titled Restoration (312b). It combines Robert Robertson's 1758 text:
Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
... with the wandering chorus:
I will rise and go to Jesus,
He’ll embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior;
Oh there are ten thousand charms.
Says Erbsen, longtime director of the Appalachian music program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C.:
The melody of I Will Arise has been popular in the South for over 150 years. Pieces of the tune have been found in [George Pullen] Jackson's "Spiritual Folk Songs of Early America" (p/ 233) uder such titles as Humble Penitent, Hayden, Bozrah, and New Orleans. Fragments of the tune have also appeared in secular songs like The Bird Song, Oh Love It is a Killing Thing, and When I First Left Old Ireland.

Another scholar of religious folk songs, Annabell Morris Buchanan, has found evidence that the melody of I Will Arise is a descendent of a Scottish tune named Hynde Horn which dates back to the 13th century or earlier.
Erbsen notes that the first verse ("Come Thou Fount ...") is also a floating verse that appears in Nettleton, Olney and Palms of Victory. (I knew about the first two but not the other.) His book is one of the best I've seen for old-time gospel, BTW, and he has a CD with a dozen selections from it. Most of them are too late for our period at New Salem, but one is a lovely duet on "I Will Arise" with Erbsen singing melody and Laura Boosinger of Asheville, N.C., singing alto harmony.

Edgar Lee Masters' reminiscences about growing up in Petersburg are from a later period than ours -- he was born in 1868 and wrote the book in 1942 -- but they are valuable because he knew people who had lived in New Salem, more often their children, and had much to say about Menard County and the "deserted village" on the hill above the Rutledge mill site. He attended the Concord Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the Sand Ridge country north of Petersburg, and remembered the singing there:

There was no organ in the church, the audience following some song leader. They sang "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" and a hymn entitled "I Will Arise: based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. [126] Through the courtesy of Mrs. D.B. Finney, and Miss Nell Carver of Petersburg, I am able to reproduce here the musical score.
These words give no idea of their moving quality when accompanied by the msuic, nor how they tugged at my heart in that longago when those simple people raised their voices in a kind of pastoral sorrow as they sang them. "Buddy" Traylor, a descedndant of the Sandridge Taylors, sings this hymn as he drives his taxi about Petersburg. But he has improved upon the wors. Insead of "He will embrace me in His arms," he sings "He will take me in His [127] arms"; and instead of the wrods "Oh, there are ten thousand charms," he sings, "Oh, I find ten thousand charms."
Which is as good an example as anything I've read how oral transmission works.

Masters also says, of the Concord church:
If there was a culture, a spiritual flowering and grown in the Sangamon River country it was among these Cumberland Presbyterians, these humble, generous souls, who in the days of Andrew Jackson followed him faithfully as their salvation from the evil plots of cities, from the schemes of selfish money-changers. They read the Psalms and the poetry of the Bible, and they sang the hymns of Watts and the Wesleys. Like primite Chrisitans they stood for moral virtue, good will, as the means of accomplishing what they regarded as the supreme object of life, the eternal salvation of the soul. Truthtelling, honest dealing, neighborly kindness were their religion. ...
As always with Masters, we may be learning more about Edgar Lee Masters here than the subject at hand, but what he's saying here rings true with what I read in the county histories and other reminiscences of central Illinois in the 19th century. The Sangamon was part of the "Rivers of America" series, but it's more of an elegy than anything else. Even so, I am inclined to trust it ... in much the same way I trust Carl Sandburg to get at the poetry of life in 19th- and early 20th-century Illinois even if some of the details may not always be 100 percent reliable.

There's poetry in The Sangamon, too. For example this passage, also riffing off of Concord church:
O Orphics, Orphics of the Illinois Prairies,
Of Goodpasures, Clarys!
O voice of Royal Potter, whose thundering tones
Overflowed the church as a goblet which brims,
In singing the hymns
In deep crescendoes and quavering whims!
O Royal Potter, O Royal Potter
What has become of your venerable skull,
Your resurrection bones,
Your judgment day bones and skull? (128)
This is as good a description of an old-fashioned country bass as I've read anywhere.