Thursday, January 31, 2013

Links to psalmodikon groups in Sweden and online copy of Den svenska psalmboken (1880)

Nordiska Psalmodikonforbundet
  • In Swedish. History page ends with this note: "Årsmötet hölls i Stockholm för första gången. Torsdag 6/9 övning i replokalen i årsta samt medverkande i Kvällsgudstjänst i Bagarmossens kyrka. Fredag 7/9 9.30-12.15 årsmöte med härliga diskussioner. Kl. 14.00 såg vi Musikmuseets lagerlokal i Tumba vilket var fantastiskt. Föredömlig guidning av Eva Olandersson som tog oss runt i cirka 2,5 timme."
  • Page of links to sifferskrift notes, including Din klara sol, Bred dina vida vingar, Den blomstertid nu kommer, Vår Gud är oss en värdig borg (A Mighty Fortress is our God) and Ida's song from Emil of Lönneberga.
  • Contact page for Stockholm group.
Psalmodikonisterna i Hallaryd
  • PDF file about the group at
  • Home page at has this: "Vi är en spelgrupp på 10-12 personer som gärna, till en mycket rimlig kostnad kommer och spelar vid samlingar, musikaftnar och Gudstjänster. Klicka på länkarna här ovan och läs mer om oss och vad våra program innehåller."
  • "En gång i månaden träffas ett härligt gäng i Hallaryds församlings-hem och spelar psalmodikon. De flesta av föreningen Psalmodi-konisternas 10-talet medlemmar kommer från Hallaryd, men vi har även deltagare ända från Södra Ljunga och Skogaby.

online copy of Wallin's psalmbook

Google eBook

Den svenska psalmboken: af Konungen gillad och stadfästad är 1819 ; med dess och messans vanliga m. fl. melodier, somliga äfyen i äldre rythmisk form ; för säng, äfven i stämmor, och orgel eller piano (Google eBook).
Svenska Kyrkan
P. Palmquist, 1880 - 624 pages

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology with screen shot of "Liebster Jesu wir sind hier ..." and Augustana Synod's 1899 Hymnal for Churches and Sunday-Schools

A Dictionary of Hymnology: Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations, with Special Reference to Those Contained in the Hymn Books of English-speaking Countries, and Now in Common Use, Together with Biographical and Critical Notices of Their Authors and Translators, and Historical Articles on National and Denominational Hymnody, Breviaries, Missals, Primers, Psalters, Sequences (Google eBook) London, 1892.

John Julian, M.A., vicar of Wincobank, Sheffield

Wikipedia pretty well sums it up at

A Dictionary of Hymnology: Origin and History of Christian Hymns and Hymnwriters of All Ages and Nations, Together with Biographical and Critical Notices of Their Authors and Translators by John D. Julian, first published in 1892, is a standard historical reference for early Christian hymns, with more than 40,000 entries.[1]

The work contains biographical and historical notes about the history of hymns and hymn writers. It is not a collection of hymn texts or hymn tunes, though brief quotations and references are included. Originally published in 1892 in London by John Murray and in New York by Charles Scribner's Sons, it was reprinted in 1907-1908 by John Murray, in 1957 by Dover Publications (in two volumes) and in 1985 by Kregel Publications. It was not revised after 1902, but remains an important source for early Christian hymns, such as Latin ones.[2]

Has the limitations -- and strengths -- of its era. I haven't seen anything else with Julian's level of detail about some of the chorales I've looked at. Has a detailed analysis of the Bay Psalm Book, too.

Screen grab of Liebster Jesu wir sind hier Deinem Worte nachzuleben is pretty typical of its depth of coverage (click to enlarge)

Hymnal for churches and Sunday-schools of the Augustana Synod. (1899)

Author: Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod of North America.
Subject: Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod of North America; Lutheran Church; Sunday schools; Hymns, English
Publisher: Rock Island, Ill. : Lutheran Augustana Book Concern
Language: English
Call number: SCB
Digitizing sponsor: Calvin College
Book contributor: Princeton Theological Seminary Library

Monday, January 28, 2013

Clayville-Prairieland dulcimer news - Feb. 2-5

Blast email message sent out tonight to everybody on my Clayville and Prairieland Strings lists:

* * *

Hi everybody -

Here's a schedule of dulcimer lessons at Clayville and meetings of the Prairieland Strings at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield for the first part of February. Response in January was so good, we are definitely adding beginners' lessons at Clayville on Saturday, Feb. 2, and Saturday, Feb. 9. They will build on what we learned at the first two sessions, but there's no reason why somebody new couldn't start this week. A few loaner instruments will be available.

Also coming up very soon, we will have the first of our "first Tuesday" sessions of the Prairieland Strings, our dulcimer club in Springfield, Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson (Ill. 97-125). I'll be teaching a fiddle tune the first hour, and I've planned things so it'll be tune we've also covered at Clayville (details below), so this will be a very good opportunity for beginners to start playing with our beginner-friendly group.

Here are some details, and a couple of words about upcoming events:


Saturday, Feb. 2, from 10 a.m. to noon in the barn at Clayville, on Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains. I plan to introduce the "three-chord trick," which is a way of listening for the chord progression in a tune and playing backup chords. That may sound complicated, but it's as easy as playing D, G and A. We'll work on the songs we've already started to learn, "Boil 'Em Cabbage Down" and "Skip to my Lou," and introduce "John Stinson's No. 2," an easy little Irish fiddle tune. American dulcimer players have taken it, transposed it to D (we play *everything* in D!) and made it our own. You can link to a couple of versions on YouTube, including the dulcimer arrangement we're learning, from my blog at:

Be sure to watch the dulcimer players' hands as they play their chords! They're not doing the three-chord trick, but you can always learn a lot by watching people's hands.

Our last Saturday session for beginners at Clayville will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 9.


We'll meet from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson (on Ill. 97-125 just west of Veterans Parkway). We spend the first hour learning a new song, and I'll be teaching, yep, wait for it, "John Stinson's No. 2." We introduced it a couple of years ago, but we've had several new players join us since then. So it'll be a good review for us, and a good way to welcome beginners from the Clayville lessons who'd like to join us.

Starting with the new year, we're now meeting on the FIRST TUESDAY and THIRD THURSDAY of the month. This will allow some of our members who have other commitments, as well as new people who can't come on Thursdays, to join us.

Our schedule for the rest of the month is to be announced, but I hope to be able to move it from Feb. 21 back to Feb. 14 since Mike Anderson's Winter Weekend dulcimer camp in Chilicothe, Ill., is the weekend of Feb. 22-24.


There's still room at this event at Three Sisters Folk Arts School north of Peoria. Mike will teach beginners, and Doug Birch and Maureen Sellers will teach more experienced players. Details on Mike's website at


I'll send 'em out as we go along.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A book on Swedish hymnody and folk music to track down on interlibrary loan - and an academic website on Swedish folk music

Title: The Influence of Folk-music and the Romantic Movement on Swedish Hymnody
Author: Edith Duff Miller
Publisher: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1948
Length: 154 pages

Entry on a Google Books page/

Plenty of good information on Umeå Akademiska Kör pages - Course leader and musical instructor Örjan Larsson of the Department of Aesthetics, Faculty of Teacher Education, Umeå University, has a big data base with PDF files of the melodies and MIDI files of a large number of Swedish folk tunes. Some hymn variants.

Other resources on Larsson's faculty website: Composer bibliograhy (links). Thoughts about music. Thoughts about folk music with Swedish music examples (MP3-files). A personal collection of Swedish folkmusic (NWC-, MIDI- and PDF-files). Early Music Map which covers composer bibliography, discography, sheet links (MIDI and PDF-files) and performing examples (MP3-files). Sing á la Renaissance - an example of amateur ensemble singing at home (MP3-files). Early Music Examples and Folk-Music Examples discussed during the courses in Medieval and Renaissance Ensemble Singing and Folk Music Ensemble Singing, respectively (password protected MP3-files).

A selection of links to music-data-bases and choir home-pages containing MIDI-, PDF-, NWC- and MP3-files with choral music.

Friday, January 25, 2013

John Stinson's No. 2 - featured tune for Clayville & Prairieland sessions, Feb. 2-5

We'll be continuing our beginners' dulcimer lessons from 10 a.m. to noon next Saturday, Feb. 2, in Clayville Historic Site, at Pleasant Plains on Ill. 125, and holding the first of our first Tuesday sessions (please note schedule change) of the Prairieland Strings from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson (Ill. 97-125) in Springfield. I want to introduce a new tune to the beginners at Clayville and re-introduce it to the first Tuesday group. The tune is called "John Stinson's No. 2." It's easy to play, and it's a lot of fun.

So if you've been coming to the beginners' sessions at Clayville, you'll know the tune and this will be your golden opportunity to start taking part in our Prairieland Strings jam sessions. Please join us.

Odd name, isn't it? John Stinson's is an Irish reel that's migrated to the United States and been kind of taken over by the dulcimer world. It's a lovely tune, and it has an interesting history. But first, here are links to the mountain dulcimer tablature we'll use and to a couple of YouTube clips to give you an idea how it's played.

DAD tab by Zukerman and a MIDI file are available from the Mountain Dulcimer Association of Huntsville, Ala., at (scroll down to "John Stinson's #2" and click on the tab link). Zuckerman is a member of the group, which has an active learners' program.

The first of our YouTube clips features a mountain dulcimer group called the Flat Mountain Dulcimers of eastern North Carolina, where any mountains indeed would be flat! Watch the players' left hands. The woman on our left looks like she's playing the same chords that we'll learn, especially in the B part of the tune. Watch both dulcimer players, though. You'll notice they don't chord the same way. Dulcimers aren't standardized, and our hands aren't either!

The second version shows what the tune sounds like in Ireland.

This performance is by a couple of players all the way around the world from Ireland, Anna (on fiddle) and Ryan (on Irish bouzouki) of Tasmania, the island off the coast of Australia. It's the first tune in the set. (The second is "The Otter's Holt," or nest, sometimes considered a variant of John Stinson's No. 2.) We can't match the ornamentation of an Irish traditional fiddle player on the dulcimer, but if you watch Ryan on bouzouki, you'll hear a similar chord progression to ours in the B part.

Some of us in Prairieland Strings learned it in 2011 (click here for more YouTube clips, including one by mountain dulcimer wizard Bing Futch and hammered dulcimer player Rick Thum of Missouri). There's also information about the song's origin.

The tune is traditional Irish. It's called John Stinson's -- or John Stenson's -- No. 2 after a button box (accordion) player named John Stenson of County Sligo in the west of Ireland, who collected it. It appeared on Irish fiddle master Kevin Burke's CD If the Cap Fits in a set of reels with "The Star of Munster" and John Stenson's No. 1. Burke played it in A, and most string bands do, too. Mountain dulcimer players generally tab it out in D, but some play it in A.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

D R A F T / Cats and cultural diversity in the Holy Land: Walking (on little cat feet) in Jesus' steps

D R A F T So Debi and I were going through our pictures of the tour of holy places in Israel and Palestine that we joined in November, and I decided we've got enough cat pictures to make a whimsical little post on the cats we saw -- and photographed -- in Casearea, the Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the adjacent Desheisheh refugee camp. We're cat people.

So whenever we saw a cat on our tour of the holy sites in the Galilee, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we said "oh look, a kitty" (or words to that effect) and snapped a picture.

Which means we have all these cat pictures from the Holy Land.

And I have a blog ...

Anyway, that was the plan, to put the cat pictures up on the blog. After all, what's a blog without cat pictures? Well, you know what happens to the best-laid plans, if you'll excuse the reference, of mice and men?

But ...

When I started Googling, it quickly became apparent there's all kinds of information available on line about cats in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

So here's more than you ever could have imagined about a subject you probably never even thought about.


Feral cat surveys its domain in the old city of Jerusalem

By most accounts, in fact, feral cats in Israel and the occupied territories are as much a legacy of the British mandate in Palestine as the bagpipe bands that play in Bethlehem's Manger Square at Christmastime. According to the commonly accepted story, the Brits brought in cats during the 1930s to control rats, but apparently nobody figured out how to control the cats. So Israel now has a feral cat problem.

Which means it has public-spirited people who trap, neuter and feed the animals. One is called Meow Mitzvah Mission, and it was written up in the English-language Jerusalem Post.

"Cats were not prominent in Israel’s streets until the 1930s, when they were brought in to help eradicate a rat problem, but this decision ultimately caused a 'cat infestation' in and of itself," said reporter Sharon Udasin of the Post. "No one knows exactly how many of the street cats live in Israel now, but estimates say about 2 million, according to Meow Mission."

How they got there is quite a story.

For one thing, there's scarcely any mention of cats in Jewish or Christian tradition, although they do have an honored place in Islam -- and their current status in most of the Holy Land owes more to the British than any of its religious traditions. According to the authoritative 1907 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, only one doubtful reference to cats occurs in the Christian bible. It's in the apocryphal Book of Baruch, which came to us from the Septuagent, the Greek-language collection of Jewish scripture dating from the first or second century BCE. The encyclopedia says:

Mention of this animal occurs only once in the Bible, namely Bar., vi, 21. The original text of Baruch being lost, we possess no indication as to what the Hebrew name of the cat may have been. Possibly there was not any; for although the cat was very familiar to the Egyptians, it seems to have been altogether unknown to the Jews, as well as to the Assyrians and Babylonians, even to the Greeks and Romans before the conquest of Egypt. ...
None of which seems to bother the cats ...

The Galilee

The Lonely Planet guidebook to Israel and the Palestinian territories says, I think very accurately, "Walking in the footsteps of Jesus is a much-touted line in the Galilee, but pilgrims these days spend more time in the back of an air-conditioned coach than experiencing the biblical connection to the land" (256). But in Capernaum I had the sense that we were, literally, walking in Jesus' footsteps and experiencing that connection.

We also noticed cats walking in Jesus' footsteps.

We even saw a cat outside St. Peter's house in the village of Capernaum, which is the archaelogical site with what I think is the best claim to be "where Jesus walked."

Other holy places we saw, like the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have been functioning shrines since the fourth century, and they incorporate ancient traditions that demand our respect. But we can't say much about them before the Roman emperor Constantine's mother established them around 326 CE. Even the tour guides are careful to acknowledge we don't have concrete evidence that they go back all the way to the time of Christ.

At Capernaum, it's different.

Ironically enough, that's because the village was destroyed after the Arab invasion of 700 CE and never redeveloped until the Franciscans acquired the site in 1894. So the archaeological features haven't been damaged by later construction like they have in Jerusalem. And, of course, they haven't been built over by 20 centuries of urban development. In Capernaum there is a palpable sense of history that somehow gets lost in thriving 21st-century cites like Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Byzantine shrine, in foreground, marks house thought to be St. Peter's

In Capernaum we have the archaelogical remains of what is thought to be St. Peter's house, more accurately the home of his mother-in-law, beneath a lovely 20th-century Franciscan shrine. It comprises a rough stone house dated to the firstcentury BCE, beneath fourth- and fifth-century Byzantine churches bearing very early pilgrims' graffiti in a plaster wall.

"Presumably it belonged to Peter's family and was where his mother-in-law was healed from a severe fever ...," say John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed in the careful language of scholars. "It actually is one of the few localizations of a New Testament tradition" (92).

This, to my skeptical 21st-century turn of mind, is as close as it gets.

And the cat was a friendly little tabby.

Cats in Arab culture

In Arab culture, cats were on the scene long before the British imported them for rat control. Cats have always had an honored place in Islam, in fact. A Wikipedia article on "Cats and Islam" notes that the prophet Muhammad was fond of cats and adds:

In Islamic tradition, cats are admired for their cleanliness. They are thought to be ritually clean, unlike dogs, and are thus allowed to enter homes and even mosques, including Masjid al-Haram. Food sampled by cats is considered halal [clean, or lawful, food] and water from which cats have drunk is permitted for wudu [ritual cleansing]. Furthermore, there is a widespread belief among Muslims that cats seek out people who are praying.
When we visited the Masjid al-Haram (the Arabic name for the Muslim holy places on Jerusalem's Temple Mount), we saw a feral colony that somehow didn't seem out of place with the prayer groups meeting elsewhere on the grounds.

According to J. E. Hanauer, a canon of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem who collected traditional animal lore in a book called Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish (1907), the cat was considered "a clean beast, and has the blessing and seal of Solomon set upon it. Therefore, if a cat drinks out of a can containing milk or drinking-water, what remains after she has quenched her thirst is not unclean, and may be used by human beings; so, at least, I was assured by a fellâh [peasant] of Bethlehem." That attitude goes all the way back to the prophet Muhammed. Adds Hanauer:

The cat is liked by the Moslems, it is said, for the following reason. When the Prophet was a camel-driver, he was asleep one day in the shade of some bushes in the desert. A serpent came out of a hole and would have killed him had not a cat that happened to be prowling about pounced upon and destroyed it. When the Prophet awoke he saw what had happened, and, calling the cat to him, fondled and blessed it. From thenceforth he was very fond of cats. It is said that one day he cut off the long sleeve of his robe, upon which his pet cat was asleep, rather than disturb her slumbers.
Other accounts of the legend, according to Wikipedia, say the cat belonged to a friend of the prophet's, named Abu Hurairah (Arabic for "Father of the Kitten") and that the "m" you sometimes see on a tabby cat's forehead shows where Muhammad petted the cat.

Be that as it may, Hauner apparently had no illusions about the way cats operate: "Though generally respected, the cat is sometimes considered as the personification of craft and hypocrisy." To illustrate, Hanauer told a story about a cat who showed up outside a mouse's hole wearing a rosary and announcing he had made his pilgrimage to Mecca.

"As you see from this rosary round my neck," the cat told the mouse, "I now devote myself to prayer, meditation, and the recital of holy books, the whole of which I have learnt by heart ... Go, my injured but nevertheless generous and forgiving, friend, make my change of life and sentiments known to the rest of your people and bid them no longer shun my society, seeing that I am become a recluse."

After some back and forth, the mouse gave his reply.

"I am convinced that you have indeed committed the holy books perfectly to memory," he said, "but at the same time, I am convinced that, however much you may have learnt by rote, you have neither unlearnt nor eschewed your habits of pouncing upon us."

Cats also figure in an online collection of the stories told by Sufi mystics:

Thousands of Sufi stories include cats; lovely stories such as shaykh Ashraf's Madrasa cat, which helped the teachers to bring order to the school, even sacrificed itself for the sake of the dervishes-(disciples), or the tale of the Sufi master from Baghdad, Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Shibli (d. 945) who was seen by one of his friends in a dream when he passed away, On being asked what Allah had done to him, he said that he had been granted admission to Paradise, but was asked by Allah if he knew the reason for this blessing. Shaykh Shibli enumerated all his religious duties but none of his acts of piety had saved him. Finally Allah asked him, ‘Do you remember the cold day in Baghdad when it was snowing and you were walking in your coat when you saw a tiny kitten on a wall shivering with cold, and you took it and put it under your warm coat? For the sake of this kitten We have forgiven you.’

>Feral cats on the West Bank

Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, a Palestinian expatriate and independent scholar in the United Arab Emirates Gazelle Bulletin website Palestine Wildcat (Felis silvestris tristrami open Mediterranean forest in hilly areas

The species is endangered by habitat destruction and especially by the large number of feral domestic cats, which compete for food, and interbreed with them. Unlike other carnivores, Felis silvestris cannot make use of cultivated habitats because of the competition from domestic cats. Because the feral domestic cats are larger than wild cats, they are probably dominant when competing for food and for oestrous females. Feral cats are able to build up dense populations because their main food source is found in garbage and because they produce two litters per year, whereas wildcats normally breed only once.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Clayville-Prairieland Strings UPDATE Jan 19

This message went out tonight as a blast email to everyone on the Prairieland Strings and Clayville workshop lists:

Hi everybody -

Saturday's workshop went so well, I think you all owe yourselves a round of applause! And the folks at Clayville desrve another big round og applause, too. They couldn't be more cooperative and all-around better to work with!

We're working on getting more experienced players for our next workshop on Saturday (which is why you're getting this, by the way, if you're on the Prairieland Strings email list ... I want to make sure we have enough tutors and loaner instruments to go around ... so if you've already contacted me, thanks so much! And if you haven't, please consider coming out to Clayville from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday to help out.) I'm attaching copies of some of the handouts and links for our workshops ... including one to my weblog called Hogfiddle, where I post video links and explanatory material for my classes and workshops. It's at ...

... there's some other stuff on the blog you can safely skip over, but if you scroll down to Jan. 3, you'll find something called "Prairieland (dulcimer) Strings - ** UPDATE ** doin's in January." The update is from Saturday, when I reported on our first workshop and asked for help from more experienced members of our dulcimer club. And after I send it, I'll post a copy of this email message too. That way you can link more easily to a couple of websites.

(Tangent: Sometimes people ask what a hogfiddle is. It's another name for an Appalachian dulcimer.)

Don't forget: Our next workshop is at Clayville from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 19. And if there's enough interest, we can schedule a couple of added workshops in February. I think it would be good for the beginners to have as much instruction as possible.

Here's another link. Bev Buck has started a webpage for the Prairieland Strings. It's at

... definitely worth a visit. We've just started it, and we plan to make more use of it as we get more experience with it. A couple of attachments:

1. A press release for Mike Anderson's 4th Annual Illinois Mountain Dulcimer Weekend Feb. 22-24 at Chillicothe. Mike is teaching the beginners' class. Tuition is $130, and lodging is available at a motel right down the road from from Two Sisters Park, where the workshop will be held. This is a real opportunity to get started on a fast track and learn from a master. Steve Endsley of Canton, who makes and repairs dulcimers, will be there. He tells me he has a few ready for sale, by the way. Another reason to come to the workshop. Another link follows, to details on Mike's website about Winter Weekend ...

2. "Where the Notes Are on a Dulcimer," which has a diagram of the fretboard when the instrument is tuned DAD and a couple of suggestions about playing scales and very simple songs by ear so you can hear, well, what the title says, where the notes are. We started working with it last Saturday, and we'll come back to it this weekend. (You may want to keep coming back to it -- it's based on what I do to warm up before learning a new song, or playing an old one for that matter.) The objective here is to know what the notes sound like and where to find them -- to learn your dulcimer, in other words.

Next time, we'll move on to two more subjects: (1) the "bum-ditty" strum that provides the basic rhythm for playing an old-time dulcimer tune; and (2) the "three-chord trick" for playing backup chords. It's the foundation for accompanying your singing, for playing rhythm in a group ... and, for faking it till you make it in a jam session. I'll have handouts and tablature for you Saturday.

In the meantime, there's a very good instructional video by "Strumelia" (not her real name). She's from the Northeast somewhere and she learned a very traditional style of playing after mastering the chord-melody style we're learning. There are differences in the two styles, but the basic strum she teaches here is still used for dance tunes, and once you master it you can go on to play just about any kind of folk music on the dulcimer. Her video, the third of a series of 10 or 11, is available at ...

Watch it a couple of times, and try to strum along once you're getting the hang of it. You'll also want to hear what the "bum-ditty" strum sounds like in the hands of an experienced player, and there's none better than Jean Ritchie. Originally from Kentucky, she did more than any one person to popularize the dulcimer from the 1940s and 1950s onward by playing it in Greenwich Village and teaching it to Yankees caught up in the folk revival. From there it went nationwide. There's a fine YouTube clip of Jean Ritchie playing of an old mountain minor key fiddle tune called "Shady Grove" on Pete Seeger's old TV show Rainbow Quest during the late 1950s or early 60s at ...

... and a clip of her performance of the same song at a music festival at the Hindman Settlement School in eastern Kentucky in 2007

Finallly, a couple of upcoming meetings of the Prairieland Strings:

-- Thursday. Jan. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. we'll have our regular "third Thursday" session at Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson. You're welcome to come and listen, or play with us if you feel ready to try it, and meet us in any event. Kate Kaneley-Miller will inroduce us to a lovely Irish air called "Si Bheag Si Mhor" (which is Irish for something like the fairies of the Big Hill and the Little Hill). It's intricate, but well worth the learning! There are links to performance videos on my updated blog post for Jan. 3. Well worth a listen.

-- Tuesday, Feb. 5, our "first Tuesday" session from 7 to 9 p.m. at Atonement. PLEASE NOTE: This is a new meeting time. So more members of our group can join us, we're changing our monthly schedule to the FIRST TUESDAY and THIRD THURSDAY of the month.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please don't hesitate to get back to me.

Hope to see you at Clayville Saturday!

-- Pete

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Holy Land - Fall 2012 - 2 of ___: On Jordan's Stormy Banks We Stood

Second of ____ posts in an occasional series of random thoughts on the songs that were running through my head during my visit to the Holy Land in November 2012 with a tour group from St. John's Lutheran Church, Rock Island, Illinois. (Click here to see the first one, on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.) Today we celebrated the festival of the Baptism of Our Lord as observed in the Lutheran liturgial year. It prompted me to get out the scraps and passages in my writer's journal about the Jordan River.

Like many Americans, especially those of us who love the old hymns from the 1800s and their modern descendents in the Southern gospel tradition, I sang about the Jordan River long before I saw it. And when I did, it wasn't what I expected.

Frankly it isn't much of a river. It's important, though. Two of the foundational events in Jewish and Christian tradition took place along the Jordan - it's where the Israelites crossed over into their Promised Land and where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.

The Jordan River rises in the mountains above the Galilee and flows south past Jericho to the Dead Sea. While the north is fairly verdant, as it is at Israel's Yardenit baptismal site just below the Sea of Galilee (pictured at right, with a baptismal party dressed in white on the riverbank), mostly it flows through the desert and there isn't very much of it.

You wouldn't know that from the song, though.

Written by 18th-century English Baptist hymnwriter Samuel Stennett, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks" appears in the iconic shape-note songbook known as the Sacred Harp like this:

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie.

O the transporting, rapt'rous scene
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight.

Filled with delight, my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay!
Though Jordan's waves around me roll,
Fearless I'd launch away.

From that description, I doubt Stennett ever saw the Jordan River.

But his hymn was very popular in 19th-century America. Mark Twain knew it. (Growing up in Missouri how could he not?) And his reaction to it was about like mine.

Sweet fields arrayed in living green

In Innocents Abroad, his narrative of an 1867 tour of the Holy Land and his first successful book-length project, Mark Twain recalled wading the Jordan, and noted the "water was not quite breast deep, anywhere." He added it was dark, well before dawn:

So we saw the Jordan very dimly. The thickets of bushes that bordered its banks threw their shadows across its shallow, turbulent waters ("stormy', the hymn makes them which is rather a complimentary stretch of fancy) and we could not judge of the width of the stream by the eye. We knew by our wading experience, however, that many streets in America are double as wide as the Jordan. (387)
In the fall of 2011, when I saw it, we were warned of minefields going back to the 1967 war. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, but the entire Jordan valley and the shores of the Dead
Sea were heavily mined (see picture at left, taken on the Dead Sea near Jericho). For the most part, it looks like the mines are still there.

A few miles south of Galilee, we crossed through a military checkpoint and entered the West Bank territory occupied by Israel since 1967. Most of it is effectively closed to civilians, other than traffic on the main highways controlled by the Israeli army. And like military reservations everywhere it is pretty desolate except for a few irrigation projects in the Palestinian enclave around Jericho.

So the Jordan River didn't live up to expectations for me any more than it did for Mark Twain.

None of which means that "On Jordan's Stormy Banks" isn't one of the masterpieces of American vernacular hymnody. According to Samuel Stennet's Wikipedia profile, it appeared in Ripon's Selection (1787), a very influential source of Baptist hymns, and "found enormous popularity especially amongst 19th-century American Methodists. It was sung in camp meetings and brush arbors, and also found its way into the 1835 Southern Harmony and is one of the most well beloved hymns in the American shape-note tradition. It's still sung today, to several different tunes (click here to hear a traditional East Texas shape-note version and here for a choral arrangment of the most common tune by the Mercer Singers of Mercer University in Augusta, Ga.

To Canaan's fair and happy land (road to Jericho at left)

So why the popularity of a 200-year-old Baptist and Methodist song associated with brush arbors and camp meetings in an age of praise bands, megachurches and contemporary worship services?

In an online essay on Sacred Harp shape-note singing titled "Stormy Banks and Sweet Rivers: A Sacred Harp Geography," theology student James B. Wallace of Emory University explains it as well as anybody:

Song after song in The Sacred Harp expresses longing for the next life, frequently designated "Canaan" and celebrated as a heavenly promised land. Rooted in Biblical descriptions, the geography of Canaan is depicted as a peaceful land of lush vegetation and gentle, flowing rivers where families and friends reunite permanently and all sorrows cease. By contrast, this present life is a tangled wilderness or the stormy banks of the Jordan River, which one must cross.
Cool, it's a powerful metaphor. But what of the actual river?

Taxis and tractors share the street in Jericho

The first time the River Jordan is mentioned is in the Old Testament, where the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land and "fit the battle" of nearby Jericho.

Located in an oasis and said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, with archeological features dating back to 9600 BCE. Mark Twain found it in ruins. "When Joshua marched around it seven times, some three thousand years ago, and blew it down with his trumpet, he did the work so well and so completely that he hardly left enough of the city to cast a shadow" (385). We didn't see any walls, although we did speed past an archeological dig that looked like something had come tumbling down there! But Jericho struck me as a nice little farm town. Even Mark Twain conceded "it is one of the very best locations for a town that we have seen in all Palestine."

Jericho is a tourist destination, so we saw street vendors selling kaffiyehs -- the traditional

Palestinian head scarves -- dates and fresh produce. (Picture at left.) The countryside around it was hot and sandy, but it was nice and green and shady in town. It reminded me of the little farmers' market towns I saw years ago in eastern North Carolina, which was also flat and hot and sandy, and I could get a little sense of what Canaan must have felt like to the Israelites after 40 years in the desert.

The other, and I think more important, biblical tradition is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. While some legends maintain it took place in the Galilee, the weight of ancient tradition has it on the lower Jordan near Jericho.

According to the Gospel of John, in the words of the New International Version, it happened this way:

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned [John the Baptist], “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

According to Holly Hayes, an Oxford-educated art historian who maintains the Sacred Destinations website, since 1994 when the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed, archaologists

Baptisimal sites (security fence separates Israel, Jordan)

have "uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods" at a site called al Magthas on Jordan's side of the river. It has been identified as the Bethany, or Bethabara, mentioned in St. John's gospel, and Pope John Paul VI visted in 2009.

More recently, the Israeli government has demilitarized the adjacent Qasr el-Yahud site on Israel's side of the river and opened it as a tourist attraction within the past year.

Like practically everything else in the Middle East, the location of the baptismal site is a matter of controversy. Wikipedia, which can be trusted on matters like this because it is closely monitored by partisans on all sides of most issues, cites ancient authority for both sides of the river: "In the 3rd century Origen, who moved to the area from Alexandria, suggested Bethabara as the location. In the 4th century, Eusebius of Caesarea stated that the location was on the west bank of the Jordan, and following him, the early Byzantine Madaba Map shows Bethabara as (Βέθαβαρά)." That map, a ___th-century mosaic, also shows Jerusalem in late antiquity.

Jewish tradition also holds, according to an account in the Religion News Blog, that Qasr el-Yahud (which translates into English as castle of the Jews), "is where the ancient Israelites crossed into the Promised Land following their flight from Egypt."

When we visited the Israeli site in November 2012, pilgrims wearing white robes were immersing themselves on both sides of the river. The site was ringed with barbed wire fence and bearing red-and-yellow minefield warnings. And a couple of Israeli Defense Force soldiers, both packing what looked like M-16s, relaxed with the faithful in a picnic pavilion. The Israeli tourism ministry has set up a nice little visitors' center with cold drinks, sunglasses, ball caps and other tchotchkes on sale. Showers, too, for the faithful who renewed their baptismal vows in the river. It was a perfectly ordinary bright, sunny afternoon.

But you sensed it was important to the people who padded in flip-flops down to the river, wearing white baptismal gowns. I'm Lutheran enough to think one baptism is enough for me, thank you, and we only had 15 or 20 minutes at Qasr el Yahud anyway. But as we experienced so often at the holy sites in Israel and the Occupied Territories, there was a sense of the imminence of God there, mixed in with the everyday-ness of the pilgrims going in and out of the showers showers, the flip-flops and the postcards, sodas and souvenir towels on sale in the concession stand.

Pilgrims or tourists, we were also part of something that qualifies as big business.

"Of the 3.45 million tourists who arrived last year, about 69 percent were Christian, and 38 percent defined their visit as a religious pilgrimage, according to the [Israeli] Tourism Ministry," reported the Associated Press when Qasr el-Yahud was developed in 2011. "Palestinians reject any Israeli moves to develop the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state ... Jordan maintains that its site on the other side of the river is the actual place were Jesus was baptized, competing for Christian tourism."

So Jordan's banks are still stormy.

But, as with the other sacred sites we visited, you couldn't help but get the feeling that great things -- in this case, foundational events for two of the world's more important religious traditions -- had happened here. And there was a sense of the holy, even on a quiet, sunny afternoon in the late autumn even with the ubiquitous minefield warnings on the fences and security guards chatting affably with the tourists.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Links: One-String Diddley Bow

One-String Diddley Bow How to Make a Diddley Bow: A Simple One-String Blues Slide Guitar By Marcy Paulson on Nov 30, 2010 Read more at Suite101: How to Make a Diddley Bow: A Simple One-String Blues Slide Guitar | Suite101 Follow us: @suite101 on Twitter | Suite101 on Facebook other articles on how to play a diddley bow, history, etc.

also by Marcy Paulson on Suite101:

The most popular fiddle shuffle in old time music is called the Nashville shuffle. This is the bowing pattern that lends tunes their hoedown feel. The Nashville shuffle helps break up a long stream of notes and put emphasis on the right beats. To play a Nashville shuffle, a fiddler will kick off with a long bow followed by two short bows. ... * * * Fiddlers often use the Nashville shuffle to kick off a tune or fill in monotonous quarter notes in melodies like “Boil Them Cabbage Down.” To do this, they play one long bow and then two short bows in a pattern that can be spoken “strawberry, strawberry.”
Read more at Suite101: How to Fiddle with the Nashville Shuffle | Suite101 Follow us: @suite101 on Twitter | Suite101 on Facebook

Monday, January 07, 2013

Old hymns, new music: Indelible Grace, "On Jordan's Stormy Banks," a college youth ministry and the transcendence of cultural blind spots

I've been singing different shape-note versions of "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" for 30 years now, and the other day I came across a contemporary version on YouTube with a melody that's so true to the spirit of the orginal, I thought it was an authentic 19th-century American folk hymn. It wasn't. It was written in 1997 for a campus ministry at Belmont University in Nashville, and I was blown away by it.

Here's the clip. It shows Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace performing "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" at Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Durham, N.C., on April 24, 2007.

Not bad for a campus ministry.

Of course Belmont is just down the street from Nashville's Music Row, and it has a well-known and highly regarded music program. Starting in 1995, the Rev. Kenneth Twit started an on-campus group called the Reformed University Fellowship, affiliated with the theologically conservative Presbyterian Church in America. He gave some of the singer-songwriter students old-fashioned hymn texts, by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and the like, and suggested they write contemporary music for them.

Not surprisingly, they were more than equal to the task.

By the year 2000, the RUF students had formed a performance group called Indelibile Grace and were cutting CDs. One of their first songs was "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand," with music written by Christopher Miner and copyrighted in his name in 1997.

Indelible Grace is more of a ministry than a band, and its music is freely available on line (for personal use, of course, and for churches with a CCLI license - click here for the details). There's also a YouTube clip showing the lyrics in sync with the music, at as well as lead sheets and chord charts in the original key of F# and the more amateur-friendly key of D on the RUF Hymnbook Online.

Indelible Grace is more of a loose collective of Belmont students and alumni than a band, but several of its members have gone on to careers in the music industry. And in 2010 they came together for a Hymn Sing at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

In a spin-off video called Roots and Wings, singer-songwriters Matthew Smith, Sandra McCracken and her husband Dereck Webb, among others, recalled how RUF pastor Twit handed the students photocopies of old lyrics and got them to writing hymns, and how Indelible Grace and their independent careers alike grew out of it.

McCrackin also spoke of what the old hymns offer musicians in the 21st century.

"I think the hymns just have more depth, they just have more transcendence," McCrackin said on the video. "Because so many of these texts were written years and years ago, the transcend a lot of our cultural blind spots."

In an October 2007 article for the denominational magazine byFaith, Melissa Morgan interviewed Smith and said his "journey parallels many in today's postmodern culture, those who crave authenticity over affectation, mystery over order, community over individualism, and substance over ephemera."

And in a perceptive blog post called "Hymns for the Present Tense" Philip Sasser of The Oxford American suggested in a particularly nuanced way, how music like Indelible Grace's can transcend some of our cultural blind spots:

Hymns—like certain kinds of primitive blues or country music—both attract and repel modern listeners. In the music’s sorrow and spitting-out of pain and suffering, we feel our common humanity and, beyond that, our souls somehow essentialized. But we also feel our historical isolation and our material privilege. We are cut off from the particulars of the world that those songs embody. ... We are not, after all, sharecroppers. Not even the sons of sharecroppers. But we go on listening to Son House and Uncle Dave Macon, and singing the hymns of Isaac Watts because we intuitively sense that, external optics aside, the rich material life we live is not really so different from a sharecropper’s once we get down to the bones. Our hearts are the same, we think, and so, too, our fears, our depression, anxiety, heartbreak. In the end, Son House didn’t sing the way he did because he suffered more than anyone else, but because he expressed it better.
And the same would go for Isaac Watts or Samuel Stennett.

Footnote. Indelible Grace has been criticized for writing new settings for the old hymns. While that's largely true of its performance numbers, the RUF Hymnbook Online contains guitar lead sheets and chord charts for hymns set to their traditional melodies. In fact, the first hymn in its directory is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." And Indelible Grace still performs traditional numbers - e.g. this clip of Matthew Smith and Indelible Grace performing "Nothing But The Blood" in its concert at Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church in Durham.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Prairieland (dulcimer) Strings - ** UPDATE ** doin's in January

Some updates on what we've been doing this month, what we'll be doing in the next few weeks -- and an appeal for help with my lessons for beginners at Clayville. We had 22 people show up this morning! (I expected four or five.) They're having fun, and they're enthusiastic. I think these workshops can be a wonderful way of recruiting people for the Prairieland Strings and Clayville alike. But I need a couple of more experienced players -- and extra loaner dulcimers! -- to help the newbies at our next workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 19, at the Clayville Historic Site on Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains.

So if you can help out, please let me know at hogfiddle - at - If you linked here from my email message, just send me a reply to that message.

We also have our regular third Thursday meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson. Kate will be introducing us to a famous piece by Turlough O'Carolan called "Sí Beg Sí More" in Mel Bay's Complete Book of Celtic Music for Appalachian Dulcimer by Mark Nelson.

And beginning in February, we'll meet on the first Tuesday and third Thursday of the month. This will be more convenient for members of our group who have other responsbilities on Thursdays. Details below at the end of this post.

Sí Beg Sí More

Mel Bay's Book of Celtic Music is one of three books we're using, and it's available for $29.95 from and other online retailers. You can also find dulcimer tab online at on the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society's website in Washington state. (Also a very nice tip sheet for beginners.) I don't know if the chord positions are the same as Nelson's, but the melody line should be the same. The tune is said to be Carolan's first, and it dates from the early 1700s.

If you're looking for the song online, you may see it called "Si Bheag, Si Mhor" -- which is what Three Rivers calls it -- or "Sheebeg Sheemore." Don't worry. It's the same tune. It's Irish, and it gets transliterated into English different ways. It means the big hill and the little hill, and the song tells a story about a conflict between the little people, or fairies, who lived on (logically enough) a big hill and a little hill. The lyrics are in Irish.

Here's a lovely arrangement of "Si Bheag, Si Mhor" - by Andrea Beaton (violin), Matt Haverly (harp), and Mike Saunders (guitar) at the Terrible Beauty Irish Pub in Renton, Wash.

"Jam-along" versions on harp, guitar and Appalachian dulcimer are linked to the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association website (directory at Scroll down to the various spellings of the Carolan song.) I don't know if I could jam along with any of them without a lot of practice, but the way to get that practice is to try playing along at home. And I enjoy listening to them already. NGFDA has a lot of valuable resources posted to the World Wide Web, by the way.

Forked Deer

Another song we played at our last session the first week in January was "Forked Deer" from Stephen Seifert's Join the Jam (available on his website at "Forked Deer" an awesome old southern Appalachian fiddle tune that's easy to play and has some interesting chording in the B part. Here's an Appalachian dulcimer performance at Winterfest 2010. Gary Gallier, dulcimer; Dave Wilson, fiddle; and Bo Brown, guitar.

And here it is played up to speed by an old-time string band (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass). Up to tempo. Matt Arcara, Tashina Clarridge, Wes Corbett, Steve Roy & Joe Walsh perform Forked Deer at Community Music Center in Yarmouth, Maine, 2006.

Our new schedule: 1st Tuesday, 3rd Thursday

Starting in February we will be changing our schedule a little. We'll play:

  • On the first Tuesday of the month. From 7 to 9 p.m. at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, as always.
  • And the third Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Atonement.
If you live in Springfield, they test the tornado warning siren on the first Tuesday of the month, so it can be a reminder that we meet that night. Otherwise, just repeat to yourself first Tuesday, third Thursday a few times.