Sunday, April 28, 2013

Clayville beginners' jam Saturday -- "Amazing Grace" and "Rosin the Bow" -- WATCH THIS SPACE for links to some other songs we've learned so far ** plus a very cool African American variant of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" **

Editor's (blogger's?) note: After trying the dulcimer tablature for a couple of arrangements of "Rosin the Bow" below, I've found one posted by the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society in Washington state that I think will be easier to learn, especially for beginners, so I am linking to it here

... and revising some of the discussion below to incorporate the new tab (with my revisions in italics). It has a different title, "Acres of Clams," but it's the same tune. -- pe

New for next month's session of the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music tune learning circle and teaching jam -- from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 4, at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains:

"Amazing Grace"

By request. There's dulcimer tablature in DAD, by Ron Zuckerman of the Huntsville (Ala.) Mountain Dulcimer Association, available on line at: ...

Here's a nice finger-picked version by YouTube user JustDulci, playing it as a memorial to her father on a mountain dulcimer that he built:

And here is a very traditional rendering by YouTube user LewDite, playing with pick and noter in DAA:

You don't have to be a Luddite to think an Anglo-Celtic folk hymn like "Amazing Grace" sounds best in open, modal tunings like DAA. It's best to learn it in DAD, however, since most dulcimer clubs nationwide play in DAD and most instruction books are written for DAD.

"Rosin the Bow"

This is a versatile tune. It was first published in the United States in 1838 as a drinking song for a young men's rowing club in Philadelphia, and it has popped up as an English morris dance and a fiddle tune in Scotland, Ireland and America. In Springfield the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club plays "Lincoln and Liberty" to the same tune, and on the west coast they call it "Acres and Acres of Clams."

Since Clayville was the scene of Whig Party rallies during the 1840s, I'll have lyrics and suggested backup chords for a song I'm adapting from Whig candidate Henry Clay's 1844 presidential campaign ready for you by Saturday. There are many other versions, too, including some that are not for polite company (click here for more about the song's checkered career). The melody, one of the grand old Anglo-Celtic tunes, is the same for them all, however.

Here's a very straight-forward arrangement by the Three Rivers Dulcimer Society of Richland, Wash.

("Acres of Clams" is quite a song in its own right. Wikipedia has lyrics and history.)

If you want a more elaborate version, with lots of ornamentation and doodley-doo's, Ron Zuckerman of HMDA has a nice arrangement at ...

Should it be spelled "Bow" or "Beau?" You see it both ways. Rosin (also spelled "resin") is what you put on a fiddle bow to give it tone, and "Beau" is an old-fashioned word for a handsome young man or boyfriend. Andrew Kuntz, in the Fiddler's Companion, suggests it was a nickname for a fiddle player.

Here it is on YouTube as performed by Bing Fultch:


After April's session at Clayville, I went looking for dulcimer tablature that better reflected the lyrics and would be more fun to play, not necessarily in that order of importance (click here for as good a set of lyrics as any, at

Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody,
Go tell Aunt Rhody that the old gray goose is dead.

The one she's been saving to make a feather bed.

The old gander's weeping, because his wife is dead.

The goslings are mourning, because their mother's dead.

She died in the mill pond from standing on her head.

Go tell Aunt Rhody that the old gray goose is dead.

Don Pedi, traditional dulcimer artist and radio host of North Carolina, sings a version recorded by Almeda Riddle called "Go Tell Aunt Nancy" with a wonderful set of lyrics detailing that the goose was hit in the head by a walnut and broke out grandpa's teeth, along with the teeth on a circle saw, a gray wolf, a black dog and a coyote, and other wonders to behold, when they tried to eat the tough old goose. Almeda Riddle's version is available on YouTube:

We won't try to play it of course (for one thing, it's an a cappella vocal -- how do you play an a cappella vocal?), but this is worth a listen: A shorter version from a Duke University tribute to Alan Lomax' Sounds of the South field recordings, featuring trio Megafaun of Durham, N.C., and jazz band Fight the Big Bull, with vocalists Justin Vernon and Sharon Van Etten, singing a cappella, shows just how much you can do with this childrens' classic:

"Aunt Nancy," by the way, may have some in common with the West African goddess/folk hero Anansi. Independent scholar John Bealle, writing for the Alabama Folklife Association, explains:

... Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle sang "Go Tell Aunt Nancy" to the "Aunt Rhody" tune—a version she learned in her childhood that speaks to the alleged African American connections of the song. A key theme in Riddle's "Aunt Nancy" was that the goose was killed by a falling walnut. The gander and goslings mourn. When she is taken in and cooked, the family is stricken by misfortune—the fork breaks, grandma's teeth break, and the saw teeth break when she is butchered (Abrahams 1970a:117-120). Thus Riddle's trickster goose links the song, as folklorist Roger Abrahams observes, to the African American "Grey Goose" (such as the version sung by Leadbelly to a wholly different tune) where the goose exacts revenge upon her killers (178n47). And "Aunt Nancy" is the character "Anansi" from the West African story cycle, who appears in the Caribbean and parts of the U.S. with the "Aunt Nancy" name.
There's more in Bealle's introduction to a CD of 1947 field recordings titled Bullfrog Jumped: Children’s Folksongs from the Byron Arnold Collection. A list of Works Cited, including those referred to in the quote above, is available there.

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