Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Salem: "Pretty Saro" in open Ionian tuning played w/ noter

We'll meet as usual Saturday, Jan. 7, from 10 a.m. till noon at the Visitors Center, but I'll have to leave a few minutes early to sing at the memorial service for Becky Schildman in Springfield. Becky was an inaterpreter in New Salem historic village and a founding member of the New Salem Shape Note Singers during the 1990s. Link here to her obituary.

We'll learn two tunes in the Ionian tuning Saturday. (See information on modal tunings linked below.) If you have a dulcimer, we'll tune to DAA. If you don't, contact me ahead of time and I can bring a loaner. My email address is peterellertsen - @ - (delete the spaces and hyphens I put in there to discourage spammers).

The first tune will be the version of "Pretty Saro" in Jean Ritchie's Dulcimer Book. It's a great song, well attested in the oral tradition. Ritchie's version, which is under copyright, is lovely. So I'm posting it under fair use since we're involved in an educational venture in the historic village. The YouTube clip below shows the song being played with a noter on the mountain dulcimer.

Pretty Saro (traditional), played by Ginny White, using noter on mountain dulcimer. Place: Johnson County Missouri Historical Society.

I'll bring some noters, BTW.

I found a whole bunch of homemade noters when we were cleaning out the gargage the other day. I like to whittle on them, and I have a lot of extras. So if you find one you like, you can keep it.

The other tune is one we started to learn last month, "The Legacy" from Irish Melodies by by Thomas Moore. John Armstrong, an old-time Menard County fiddle player and son of a New Salem village, called it "Missouri Harmony," and we know it was sung at Rutledge Tavern, but it's available on line in the Southern Harmony, and I'll bring copies with dulcimer fret numbers written above the melody line (the lead or tenor part, the middle line in the three-part harmony of the day). The Southern Harmony version is easier to play with a noter than the piano-and-voice arrangement I handed out last month. And I plan to use it to show you how to play Ionian tunes directly from a shape-note tunebook without fooling around with tablature.

"Ionian" isn't just a fancy word for "major." A lot of the traditional music we play on the dulcimer is modal - i.e. it comes down to us from vocal music that was sung to different scales in medieval and early modern Europe. The scales, or modes, were given Greek names by church musicians of the Renaissance era. Which is why we know them as "Ionian" (major), "Aeolian" (minor) and so on. But the same scales found their way into instrumental music in the British Isles, and they came to America with the old Anglo-Celtic ballads and fiddle tunes.

The best explanation I've found on line is by Colorado dulcimer player Bonnie Carroll, in a webpage titled Modes, Keys, and Tunings. She explains:

A mode is simply a name given to a particular seven-note order of whole and half steps. It is a scale or sequence of notes or sequence of whole and half steps, but it is not a tuning or a key.

The names of the modal scales and the frets at which they begin are:

  • open -- Mixolydian

  • 1st fret -- Aeolian

  • 2nd -- Locrian

  • 3rd -- Ionian

  • 4th -- Dorian

  • 5th -- Phrygian

  • 6th -- Lydian
The mode of a piece is determined by the notes of that piece as laid out in the linear form called a scale. Further, if you learn at which fret each modal scale begins (the above list), the order of whole and half steps is automatic on the dulcimer due to the location of the frets. Each of the modal scales has a different sound and feel. Let me characterize each one.

The Ionian mode we know as the major scale: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. The Mixolydian mode has exactly the same whole and half steps as the Ionian, and therefore sounds the same, until we reach the seventh tone, Ti. It is a half step lower in the Mixolydian scale (Ti flat) than the seventh tone in the Ionian. It is, however, still a major sounding mode. The Lydian is the same as Ionian, except the 4th is a half step higher, another major sounding mode. The Aeolian scale is the same as the natural minor scale. The Dorian has the same notes as Aeolian and sounds minor, except the 6th is a half step higher than the Aeolian 6th. It is sometimes called mountain minor by old time musicians. The Phrygian is a minor sounding mode, and the 2nd tone is lowered a half step from the Aeolian. It is the scale that Flamenco music uses. All of the modes mentioned so far differ from the most common major or minor scale by only one note. That leaves the Locrian mode, a minor sounding mode but with a lowered 5th, which makes it sound most unusual for the structure of our usual western European music.
Remember: This is the clearest discussion I could find on line! For practical purposes, we only deal with three modes on the dulcimer - the Ionian (which Jean Ritchie calls the "do scale"), the Aeolian ("la scale") and the Dorian ("re scale") or "mountain minor."

Bonnie Carroll also has this from a traditional Irish music listserv. You may enjoy it after trying to wade through the discussion above:

Subject: Modes and Human Sexuality

The five original modes were the Androgynous, Bubonic, Carthusian, Derranian, and Eucalyptic. All except the Derranian were quickly abandoned when it was discovered that they required a nine-note scale (although you could get away with eight and a half in the Eucalyptic if you had to). The reason for this anomaly was never made clear, but after an initial flurry of curiosity during the first few months of 43 B.C., no one really seemed too interested in pursuing the matter further. The Greek philosopher Ctesiphon (or "the big C," as his friends used to call him) reportedly wrote a lengthy treatise explaining the whole mess, but most of the scrolls comprising the only extant copy of this work were erased and re-used for a collection of really dirty Corinthian limericks. (i.e. "A daring young girl from Mycenae / Wore naught but a bright purple beanie," etc., etc. - the translation work continues).
(Parentheses in the original.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Roskilde Passionen i Helligaandshuset på Strøget, optagelser fra langfredag 2011

A website called Roskildes Musikhistorie has this (in Google translation) account:
Since the early church days have been in the week leading up to Easter entered the Passion as a kind of singing games. Opførelsen var en blanding af soloer og korsang. The building was a mixture of solos and choral singing. Fra Roskilde Domkirke har man bevaret en Johannes-passion fra 1673. From Roskilde Cathedral has preserved a Johannes-Passion from the 1673rd Under ledelse af domkirkens domkantor eller kordegn har udvalgte elever fra Roskilde Katedralskole opført lidelseshistorien, som den beskrives i Johannes evangelium. Under the leadership of the Duomo cathedral precentor and sacristan has selected students from Roskilde Cathedral School listed Passion, as described in John Gospel.

n we as a whole has preserved the old passion play, because it is an opaque, pietistic pastor at the cathedral, H. Jacobsen Buch, who were offended over this relic of Catholic times. Han fattede derfor pennen den 1. He therefore took the pen the first marts 1736 og skrev til kongen via sin foresatte, Sjællands biskop CW Worm, for at foreslå, at denne skik blev erstattet af en opbyggelig prædiken. March 1736 and wrote to the king by his superiors, Bishop of Zealand CW Worm, to suggest that this practice was replaced by an edifying sermon.
Upshot: "Instead of an exciting Singspiel was a boring church sermon of a fellow servant," and this: "And it sent copies of Roskilde passion smoke in the National Archives, so we know it today."

Bibliographic entry w/ library holdings in the U.S. on the WorldCat website: Roskilde-Passionen. Johannespassion efter Dansk tradition; 1673. Udgivet af Samfundet Dansk Kirkesang, 1946. A setting in Danish of the Passion test from St. John's Gospel, for unaccompanied tenor and bass soloists and chorus (STBarB). Columbia, Unaiversity of Arizona and Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia have it.
Description: 24 p. 29 cm.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dec., Jan. music workshops at New Salem

Emailed tonight to the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings electronic mailing list.

Finally! Finals are over, and I have the time to write up this month's period music/mountain dulcimer workshop at New Salem and plan for our next session Saturday, Jan. 7. It's from 10 a.m. to noon in the Visitors Center, and I'm going to send this message to everyone on the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings list in case anybody else wants to join us. There's no charge for the workshops, and all are welcome.

We had five people there Dec. 3 at our first workshop, and I think this year we're off to a better start than ever before. We introduced a song that was sung at Rutledge Tavern, an Irish jig called "The Legacy" with lyrics by the poet Thomas Moore, and we talked about what we want to do in the remaining workshops, January through March.

What we decided on:

-- Playing tips on the mountain dulcimer, both for beginners and for more experienced players who want to learn the old-fashioned, traditional pick-and-noter style.

-- How the music fits into the "Southern upland" culture that early settlers brought to Illinois, plus background on specific songs like "Barbar'y Allen"

-- A written guide to dulcimer history and playing the dulcimer at New Salem, as well as building repertoire, or learning new tunes that are appropriate to the period.

We can do all of those things.

On Jan. 7, I plan to go over the open modal tunings in Jean Ritchie's "Dulcimer Book" and introduce a couple of her tunes in the Ionian, or major, mode: "Pretty Saro" and "Barbr'y Allen." (They're written in C, but we'll play them in D since you can do that easily on a dulcimer.) I also want to do a little more with "The Legacy," and show you how to read shape notes.

It'll take me some time to write a guide - I've been trying to find the time since summer - but in the meantime, here are links to a couple of sources on the internet with background on dulcimer history:

-- Ralph Lee Smith's article "The Appalachian Dulcimer's History: On the Trail of the Mountains' Secrets" in Mel Bay Dulcimer Sessions, July 2003, at

-- My article "Drones, Picks and Popsicle Sticks" on the website, September 2009, at

Ralph's article talks about the history of the dulcimer in America, and mine traces it from some of its European ancestors through to the folk revival of the 1960s. It has a lot of quotes on early styles of playing and tuning the dulcimer. And it's a pretty good cure for insomnia, too.

Hope to see you all Jan. 7 at New Salem!

- Pete

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Brightly Shines the Morning Star / Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, Philipp Nicolai

Philipp Nicolai, pasor, poet and composer of 16th-century Germany, "published the chorale first in 1599 in his book FrewdenSpiegel deß ewigen Lebens (The Joyous Mirror of Eternal Life) in Frankfurt, together with Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme ("Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern," Wikipedia). A good bio of Nicolai in the English website Hymns and Carols of Christmas. He also wrote the lyrics and music for "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme." Together, they are sometimes known as the king and queen of chorales.

Bach cantata BWV 1. Thus saith Wikipedia: "Bach wrote the chorale cantata in his second annual cycle for the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March. ... The cantata was chosen by the Bach-Gesellschaft to begin their first publication of Bach's complete works in 1851."

The website has lead sheet and SATB sheet music harmonized by J.S. Bach

J. S. Bach - chorale from Cantata "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", BWV 1 (1/-) St. Thomas' Episcopal School, Houston, Christmas Concert, 2009

Also on YouTube a series of six segments on YouTube of a recording of BWV 1 - Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern by Ton Koopman, conducting the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, beginning at

Michael Praetorius has a lovely choral version.
Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica (1619). Musica Fiata, La Capella Ducale, Dir: Roland Wilson. Uploaded by GustavAdolphusRex on Oct. 29, 2010.

(Also available on YouTube is a 17-minute video recorded wild from the audience at a concert in Italy (?) performed by Concerto da EMM- Coro da EMM.)

Congregation singing "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" [Wo hell schient us de nee'e Steern] in Plattdeutsch. Gottesdienst am 25. Januar 2009 in der evangelisch-lutherischen St. Petrikirche in Langen bei Bremerhaven.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

I trumål - Religiøse folketonar

I trumål - Religiøse folketonar med Ragnar Vigdal, Asbjørg Ormberg og Sondre Bratland by Ragnar Vigdal; Asbjørg Ormberg; Sondre Bratland (MP3 Download - Nov 29, 2011)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Notes to self - futures - etc. - "Sweet Rivers of Redeeming Love"

"Sweet Rivers of Redeeming Love" - SH 166
- has mp3 from the Big Singing (down left)

Jackson puts it in his "Roll Jordan" family - similarities with "Oh Susannah," etc.

Tne tune was first written down by WIlliam Moore -

John Adam Granade - early camp meeting revivalist in Middle Tennessee "wild man of Goose Creek" -


Sacred Harp - Missouri Convention, St. John's UCC, Pinckney, Mo. in Missouri River bottomland - March 12-13 2011 - Peggy Brayfield filmed, shows front bench tenors beating time "in two" - nice framing shots of the church

Sweet Rivers - Out Loud: The Colorado Springs Men's Chorus w/ interesting piano backup that captures the dronal sound of traditional shape-note singing

soprano solo (Jewel Watson) backed by S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, S.C. - choir - arr. "Sacred Harp: Redeeming Love, Repeated Praise" by Robert J. Powell, organist and composer in Greenville, S.C. - "Sweet Rivers" at 1:15 - search "SCGSAH 13"

J.S. Bach - Cantata 194 "Hocherwünschtes Freudenfest"

J.S. Bach Kantate BWV 194 "Hocherwünschtes Freudenfest" - für den Sonntag Trinitatis - 1.Teil (18:49)

See also post on Thomas Kingo: Hører til, I høje himle May 18, 2011.

Background on chorale melody Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele, from the French psalter of 1551, in Chorale Melodies used in Bach's Vocal Works at

Sheet music of Freu' dich sehr, o meine Seele from Cantata BVW 194 "Hocherwünschtes Freudenfest"