Friday, May 31, 2013

Alan Jabbour's hypothesis on (syncopated) fiddle tunes from the old frontier

Notes for upcoming talk on "roads and rivers," creolization, etc. "Roads, Rivers and Creole Girls: Early Music of Central Illinois," Rock Springs Conservation Center, Macon County Conservation District, Decatur, Illinois, June 16, 2013 ...

Alan Jabbour, founding executive director of the American Folklife Center, hypothesizes that late 18th-century fiddlers in Virginia blended British and African American musical idioms into a hybrid style. The African American influence, a type of syncopation, was subtle but pervasive. (He also suspects Cherokee Indian influence in the contour of fiddle tunes that begin with the high course and go to the low course in the B part -- e.g. "Cripple Creek." Which isn't as off-the-wall as it might appear, when you consider Cherokee elder Walker Calhoun's clawhammer banjo playing, etc.) Jabbour doesn't use the word "creole" but he says the southern Appalachian style was different from the Irish and Scottish styles being developed at much the same time.

Jabbour's hypothesis in outline form: "Characteristic American bowing pattern: sixteenth-note grouping of two groups of three followed by two notes - produces shifting syncopation, occurs from Texas to Virginia, considered Appalachian but is used in both black and white fiddling and is African American contribution" [from notes to an interview with Alan Lomax, cited and quoted at greater length below].

Question: How does this pattern relate to Jean Ritchie's "bum ditty" and the Nashville shuffle?

Alan Jabbour: Fiddle Tunes from the Old Frontier. Video of a presentation in Washington, D.C. Jabbour talks about syncopation from 58:00 to 1:02:10.

"Irish, Scottish and Appalachian Fiddle Music: Talk and Demonstration." There is also a fascinating panel discussion on Appalachian, Irish and Scottish fiddle traditions in which he goes over some of the same territory with an Irish and a Scots fiddle player (he gets into his ideas on syncopation around 5-7 minutes).

Alan Lomax interviewed Jabbour for his Cultural Equity website. Here are unedited program notes, including the passage quoted above (which I'll put in itals):

:: Description :: Conversation between Alan Lomax, Alan Jabbour, and others about American fiddle music and dance in Upper South :: Project :: American Patchwork :: Date Range :: 01-01-1987 to 12-31-1987 :: Particpants :: Lomax, Alan Jabbour, Alan :: Subjects :: Fiddle playing in the Upper South Fiddle playing, Anglo-American - African American contribution of shifting syncopation to Fiddle playing, Anglo-American, possible American Indian influences on Solo dancing - Amerindian influences on dance in Anglo-America and the Upper South Cajun music - American Indian influence in Scots Irish Culture in the American Upper South Fiddle playing, importance of bow in

From notes, this excerpt gets into the creolization bit, although once again Jabbour doesn't call it that:

Alan Jabbour on the uniformity of American fiddle music and its origin in the upper South. Developments in fiddle playing occurred in the English speaking world in the late eighteenth century make its fiddle styles cousins with a common ancestor. Bow is key element in fiddling. Change of direction after each note (can appear virtuosity when done extremely rapidly) versus grouping of notes on the same bow (requires more skill). Characteristic American bowing pattern: sixteenth-note grouping of two groups of three followed by two notes - produces shifting syncopation, occurs from Texas to Virginia, considered Appalachian but is used in both black and white fiddling and is African American contribution. Occurs sporadically in Irish fiddling, predominates in America. Possibility of Native American contribution. Melodies in older repertoires typically have two parts, high and low. ...
[and so on w/ Jabbour's theory about the high course leading in Appalachian idiom (Cherokee?), etc. ...].

See also my post "Blacks, whites and Southern old-time music" on Hogfiddle Sept. 27, 2009.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Cripple Creek" -- Prairieland Strings jam session Tuesday June 4 / plus a new format for sessions at Springfield, Clayville

Several people in our group have suggested we have separate groupings for beginners and more experienced players in our Prairieland Strings dulcimer club sessions. So I've been checking around for ways of doing that without hurting the cohesiveness of the group, and I believe we've got something that'll work. So let's try it over the summer.

Basically, we'll meet from 7 to 9 .m. like always, and we'll continue to learn a new tune during the first hour and go around the circle calling jam tunes during the second. However, we'll split into two groups during the first hour and come back together for the second-hour jam. I've volunteered to take the beginners off to the side and work with them on the basics, including ways of fitting into a jam with more experienced players and how to find the melody line in dulcimer tablature, while the rest of the group learns the new tune.

We think this will have two advantages:

  • More experienced players aren't as likely to get bored while the beginners are learning the "string-side-up" basics; and
  • Beginners aren't as likely to feel intimidated by novice- or intermediate-level players, which is where most of us probably rank in the Prairieland group.

And if we feel like the format isn't working, or we're beginning to get clique-ish, we can always tinker with the format. Both of our groups have grown into friendly, noncompetitive learning communities, and it's important for us to keep it that way. But I think if we make it a point to play together during the second hour, we'll be OK.

So ... Our next beginners' (and novices') session at Clayville is from 10 to noon Saturday at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125 at Pleasant Plains (for details scroll down to the next item, posted Sunday, May 26, or click here to open a new window). And our next Prairieland Strings meeting is 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, at Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson. Judy will introduce the old fiddle tune "Cripple Creek."

"(Going Up) Cripple Creek" is one of the classic old-time southern Appalachian fiddle tunes! If you like tune histories, Andrew Kuntz has a good one in the Fiddler's Companion that includes a rundown on the brothels in Cripple Creek, Colo., a hundred years ago. And the Athens (Ala.) Dulcimer Jam Group has a YouTube clip that you can play along with at home. A good way to build up speed and learn to hear chord changes!

If you're interested in hearing the traditional sound of the Appalachian dulcimer before it got popular outside of Appalachia, there's a 1973 film available on YouTube that shows North Carolina artisan Edd Presnell explaining how he made dulcimers. He was one of the master builders in his day. For example Don Pedi, who will do a workshop here in July, bought his first professional-quality dulcimer from Presnell.

Presnell's wife Nettie plays "Cripple Creek" with a pick and noter (a wooden stick she used to press down the strings) in the intro and "outro" at the beginning and end of the 10- to 15-minute film, and you can hear her playing in the background throughout. The buzzing sound is the "drone" that traditional dulcimer players used instead of chords in order to add harmonic texture to their music.

We won't try to play it the way the old-timers did, but a lot of today's professionals like Don Pedi and Steven Seifert still make it a point to keep the sound of the drone in their playing. It's the authentic sound of the Appalachian dulcimer.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Clayville "academy jam" and Don Pedi workshop

Blast email sent out this afternoon to everybody on the Clayville and Prairieland Strings mailing lists.

Hi everybody --

June is sneaking up on us. Well, it isn't exactly *sneaking* -- it's going to pounce on us! Which means we'll celebrate the occasion with our monthly Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music beginners' jam session from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 1, in the barn at Clayville Historic Site. I'll be there to meet with beginners at 9:30.

Also: Pencil in the date. Don Pedi of Madison County, N.C., who has collected southern Appalachian fiddle tunes for 30 years and plays them up to speed on the mountain dulcimer, will be in town July 15 to give a workshop. More detail below.

* * *

Since we've got several players who have been with us since January, and we're continuing to attract new beginners who need basic instruction, we're going to try a new format:

1. For the first hour, we'll learn a new tune. (Maybe two!) Bev will take the grizzled veterans of our lessons who qualify as "novice" players, and I'll take the beginners. I'll copy and paste below the definitions they use at Ferrum College in southwest Virginia, so you can decide which group you're more comfortable with.

2. For the second hour, we'll get together as one group and jam the rest of the morning. Bev and I think it's important that we all play together as a group at least some of the time. It's more fun that way, and the jam sessions at festivals are always open to people with different skill levels.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, or if you need a loaner instrument, please don't hesitate to get back to me. Hope to see you all Saturday!

In the meantime, here's more information.


They're posting some very good definitions for this month's Crooked Road Dulcimer Festival at Ferrum College in the mountains between Roanoke, Va., and Greensboro, N.C. Here they are:

Beginner: You have very little or no experience with the dulcimer. You need to learn how to tune and strum the instrument. Perhaps you are thinking, “It’s been a long time since I’ve played the mountain dulcimer.”

Novice: You can play a few tunes by ear and/or by using tablature. You are starting to make chords. You are comfortable playing at a slower pace from notation or tab.

Intermediate: You have mastered the novice skills. You can play tunes/songs with confidence up to speed using melody and chords. You are familiar with chords and scales. You are working on more complex chording and capo use. You are familiar with left hand techniques, hammer-on’s and pull-off’s. You have knowledge of right and left hand techniques such as flatpicking.

Advanced: You know the instrument well. You can play backup for others. You are comfortable playing in different styles and tunings. You are focusing on style, arrangement, and ornamentation. You are ready for more challenging techniques and repertoire.


Don will be in Springfield to conduct a workshop at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson (Ill. 97-125 just west of Veterans Parkway) the evening of Monday, July 15. Exact time and theme of the workshop to be announced. He got interested in the dulcimer after he heard Mimi and Richard Farina (best known in folk music circles as Joan Baez' sister and brother-in-law) play in Boston and moved to North Carolina, where he has been collecting fiddle tunes since the 1970s. He is also a tai chi master. More information, including a video clip, available on line at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bonnie George Campbell / Cumberland Gap

Bascom Lamar Lunsford, in his spoken intro to the song on a Library of Congress recording, says "Cumberland Gap" is a speeded-up southern Appalachian verison of "Bonnie George Campbell."

Well, maybe. Tune families are hard to sort out sometimes, and I think this is one of those times.

But it's a fine old Scottish ballad, No. 210 in Francis James Child's collection. Very understated, and boiled down to the hard kernel of the story. Bonnie George Campbell goes riding out one day, and his horse comes back without him. There's blood on the saddle. His wife and mother understand what's happened, and so do we. So do we.

Bonnie George Campbell - Traditional Ballad (Child 210) - Russell Malcolm

Several threads in Mudcat Café -- one, at, transcribes Lunsford's intro (and outro):

"This is a text of 'Bonny George Campbell' as sung in the southern Appalachian region. Very seldom you hear it except in terms of a fiddle tune called 'Cumberland Gap.' The slower tune 'Bonny George Campbell'..."


Now, of course, the mountain boys speed it up, play it on a higher pitch, and use it for a country dance tune 'Cumberland Gap'."

The other, at, has this bit of dialog:
Back in the early seventies at Mike Henry's club in Oxford (when it was still at the Gardener's Arms) we had one of those nights when every song seemed to be about death - often multiple, always gory. Not in any way wanting to be left out I sang Bonny George Campbell. At the break I went for a Guiness and had the following conversation with a large Scotsman at the bar, whom we had never seen before:

LSATB - I'll get that for you. You cheered me up. Yours was the only cheerful song all night.
SM - Thanks, but I think you are mixing me up with someone else. I sang Bonny George Campbell.
LSATB - I know. And my name is McDonald.

(GUEST, Suffolk Miracle, 04 Jun 08 - 05:46 AM)

Remembering the Old Songs ... a monthly feature of INSIDE BLUEGRASS, the publication of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association: lead sheet with the traditional air that Malcolm sings above and background by Bob Waltz (Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, February 2002). Waltz has Bascom Lamar Lunsford's words with it. He explains:
... I put the transcription in Braid Scots because it flows best that way, but -- allowing for changes in accent -- this survives in almost that pure form in the old-time tradition. It's been recorded by, among others, Bascom Lamar Lunsford (whose text I print below, and which fits this tune) and Frank Proffitt. The problem with both those latter recordings is that they're by banjo players (Lunsford played fiddle also, but you can hear the "banjoishness" in his playing). And the song is in triple meter in all the old and most new versions. Lunsford (as the transcription in Bertrand Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads shows) hacked out a really complicated thing in which no two verses are the same, while Proffitt, or his sources, wormed it into 4/4 time. But if you're going to sing this as a song, as opposed to a complex recitation, you have to have a standardized tune. That's this. It's commonly sung (at least, I seem to recall at least three very similar recordings), though all such versions all seem to go back to the tune printed by Robert Archibald Smith in The Scottish Minstrel (1820-1824). I've printed that tune, correcting it slightly toward the version I've heard.
Waltz is editor of the Traditional Ballad Index and Inside Bluegrass, which "document[s] links between bluegrass and old-time music and the traditional music of Appalachia, the British Isles, and elsewhere." A lot of folk-ish Anglo-Celtic tunes and ballads I don't usually associate with bluegrass are discussed. Looks like a good resource.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Creolization, cultural hybridity -- misc. notes & links ** UPDATED 3x (at least) and counting **

A cultural studies motif pioneered by Scandinavian scholars that I first came across in, ya sure, a book on "polkabilly" bands in the upper Midwest ... and found useful in finessing some of the controversy over origins of the spirituals, "plantation songs," etc.

Ulf Hannerz, "Flows, Boundaries and Hybrids: Keywords in Transnational Anthropology." Published in Portugese as "Fluxos, fronteiras, hibrids: palavras-chave da antropologia transnacional" Mana (Rio de Janeiro), 3(1): 7-39, 1997.

H: Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

Anyway, here we are now, with hybridity, collage, mélange, hotchpotch, synergy, bricolage, creolization, mestizaje, mongrelization, syncretism, transculturation, third cultures and what have you; some terms used perhaps only in passing as summary metaphors, others with claims to more analytical status, and others again with more regional or thematic strongholds. Mostly they seem to suggest a concern with cultural form, cultural products (and conspicuously often, they relate to domains of fairly tangible cultural materials, such as language, music, art, ritual or cuising); some appear more concerned with process than others. [13]

n17 ... cf. Wolf's mestizo -- Christopher Waterman's study of juju ... "Popular cultural styles in Africa, argues Waterman (1990:8-9), "have rarely trickled down from the Western-educated elites or bubbled up from an autochtonous wellspring"; they are more often pioneered by an intermediate, cosmopolitan layer of artisans, laborers, sailors, railway workers, drivers, teachers and clerks. These are the people who are "characteristically adept at interpreting multiple languages, cultural codes and value systems, skills which enable them to construct styles that express shifting patterns of urban identity." And among them, then, are the musicians - "highly mobile and positioned at important interstices in heterogeneous urban societies, they force new styles and communities of taste, negotiating cultural differences through the musical manipulation of symbolic associations". [18]

Also, this: "... as I have said somewhere else, when you take an intellectual ride on a metaphor, it is important that you know where to get off." [6] (metaphor is culture as flow)

James P. Leary, Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music. New York: Oxford UP, 2006.

In their introduction to an issue of the Journal of American Folklore devoted to the topic, editors Robert Baron and Ann C. Cara declare, "Creolization is cultural creativity in process. ... Baron and Cara go on to enumerate distinctly creole musical forms ("jazz, salsa, calypso ... the tango, the mambo, the samba"), while they and fellow contributors located creolization in tropical climes where European traders, soldiers, missionaries, and colonizers encountered African, Arab, and East and American Indian peoples -- implicitly suggesting that cultural fermentation occurs only amid extreme heat and humidity.

Surely their "cultural and critical lens" would neither fod up nor freeze if refocused to include the Upper Midwest. Here, putatively superior Anglo-American elites were never completely successful in forcing the assimilation of supposedly inferior Woodland Indian and European immigrant peoples. Here, musical interactions have long been distinguished by egalitarianism, by freewheeling accommodation and blending across complex boundaries. Here reside North Coast creoles. (12)

* * *

As neighbors on farms, along lake shores and river banks, in and about small towns, in mining locations, in urban working-class neighborhoods, or as seasonal laborers in lumber cams, hop-picking fields, and cranberry bogs, Upper Midweserners traded songs and tunes, forging a new regional style that creatively fused their cultural and linguaistic similarities and differences. (13)

* * *

Indeed in the industrialized backwoods towns and hamlets of the Lake Superior region -- where farmers, miners, factory hands, merchants, dock [17] workers, and sailors mingled - successful working musicians of whatever background acquired new songs, tunes, and styles partly out of curiosity and partly because of the shifting demands of their diverse audiences. ... [16-17]

* * *

Nor was the [Scandinavian, German, Slavic and old-stock American] musical mix appreciably different in the rolling hills and farmland of the Upper Midwest's lower reaches. The creolization of sounds and dance steps had commenced by the mid-nineteenth century in the river, mining and farming communities on both sides of the Mississippi River where Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin flank and link with each other. ... [17]

Thomas Hyand Eriksen, (1999) “Tu dimunn pu vinn kreol: The Mauritanian creole and the concept of creolization”

In an era of global mass communication and capitalism, creolisation can be identified nearly everywhere in the world, but there are important differences as to the degree of mixing. … In spite of the differences, there are some important resemblances between the various conceptualisations of "the creole", which resonate with the theoretical concept of creolisation: Creoles are uprooted, they belong to the New World, are the products of some form of mixing, and are contrasted with that which is old, deep and rooted. …

A very relevant aspect of Creole identity, as opposed to other collective, ethnic identities in Mauritius, is its fluidness and openness. It is sometimes said that "many Creoles look like Indians nowadays", and it is true that many Mauritians with Christian names and a "Creole" family structure, Creole networks and a creole way of life do look vaguely Indian. This is caused both by conversions and by intermarriage. In general, Creoles are more tolerant of intermarriage than other Mauritian groups, and it is to some extent possible to become a Creole within one’s own lifetime -- while one cannot conceivably become a Hindu, a Sino-Mauritian or a Franco-Mauritian. The fuzzy category of Mauritian Creoles thus includes both the traditional Creoles, that is dark-skinned working-class people most of whose ancestors were slaves, and a residual category of modern or postmodern Creoles, who are Creoles because they do for various reasons not fit in elsewhere. …

Yim Tan Lisa Wong, "Hybridity & Postcolonial Music." 1997. Postcolonial Studies @ Emory

Examples of musical hybrids abound as the post-colonial period of history reigns. The colonized and the colonists affected and influenced one another. The diaspora of migrants contribute to the fusion of different cultures’ musical instruments, structure, and sound. The result of the hybrid musical forms demonstrates a new world sound, one that can not be compartmentalized according to land, language, and political borders. Read more:

Robert Christgau, "Juju Beats: The Rise and Rise of African Music." Village Voice Nov. 1990.

Review of JUJU: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music / By Christopher Alan Waterman (University of Chicago Press) and AFRICAN ROCK: The Pop Music of a Continent / By Chris Stapleton and Chris May (E.P. Dutton)

... African pop genres are compellingly paradigmatic subcultural forms--usually shaped, as Waterman emphasizes, not from below by "the people" or from above by "the artist," but by displaced, uprooted seekers who fight for their identities by riding the waves of cultural flux. And to a subset of European and American listeners who've been immersed in mediated African rhythmic and vocal ideas all their lives, they're also compelling as pure music. ...

Good directory page by Foot-Notes, a Norwegian-American dance band in northeastern Iowa near Decorah, with lots of Norwegian and upper Midwest links at ...

Among the links is one to "The [Norwegian-American] Old-Time Music Scene Today" by Philip Nusbaum, an excerpt from a 1988 Minnesota Historical Society project, available on the Rivers of Song website from the 1998 PBS series at

While this recording emphasizes Norwegian tunes, many of the players involved have eclectic musical backgrounds. Typically, they not only attended Scandi- navian entertainments but those of other groups as well. In the 1940s and 1950s, many listened to broad- casts of German-American and country music. Some of their repertoire shows the effects of such exposure. Ar-chie Tiegen, for example, picked up "Mariechen Waltz" from broadcasts of the famed German-style band led by Whoopee John Wilfahrt of New Ulm." (30) Tunes such as "'Gary Polka," played here by the Erskine Olde Tymers, and "Life in the Finnish Woods" are cur-rent in the repertoires of Norwegian and other ethnic based old-time musicians throughout Minnesota. Songs from American popular tradition, such as "Red Wing," "Love Letters in the Sand," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, 3-31 as well as American hoedown numbers such as "Soldier's joy" and "Ragtime Annie" also have found their way into the repertoire of old-time musicians. Members of The Bjorngjeld Family grew up in North Dakota listening to old-time music both locally and over the radio, along with broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry. The result of these early influences is a synthesis. It is not necessarily a tune's origins, but the style of playing-- the fiddle/ accordion lead over a string band and/or piano accompaniment-- that accounts for the Norwegian old-time "feel" of most of these recordings.
... from Norwegian-American Music from Minnesota: Old Time and Traditional Favorites by Philip Nusbaum. Companion booklet to the music recording published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and the Minnesota State Arts Board. (blurb at"targt="_blank">

From Creoles of Color of the Gulf South (1996) By: James H Dormo. Quoted on zydeco page in website at

In America, both European and African cultures were far from home, on new ground. Settlers learned some old ways from each other and made up lots of new ways for themselves as they carved out a new world on the frontier. Among the most important influences in this new blend was percussion. This new music was hard-driving, polyrhythmic dance music. This critical African tradition may also have been reinforced by an overlap with Native American drumming. In any case, it survived to provide a beat for zydeco and Cajun music, as well as for rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, hip hop, and other black-influenced American music styles. Zydeco, zarico, zodico, zordico, and even zologo represent a few of the spellings used by folklorists, ethnomusicologists, record producers, and filmmakers, as well as dance hall owners and fans, to transcribe the word performers use to describe Louisiana's Creole French music. The word Creole, which originally meant simply "native or homegrown, not imported," served, among other things; to distinguish African slaves from the more valuable Creole slaves.

In South Louisiana, where the French language is an important cultural identity maker, French-speaking blacks often called themselves Creoles noirs (Black Creoles) or Creoles de couleur (Creoles of color), Creoles Francais (French Creoles) to distinguish themselves from French-speaking whites, who might be either Creoles Francais (French Creoles) or Cadiens (Cajuns), as well as from English-speaking blacks, who are called negres americains (American Negroes).

Subject: RE: Origins: Lakes of Ponchartrain From: PoppaGator Date: 19 Aug 04 - 05:00 PM

[Mudcat Cafe

The word "Creole" comes from the Spanish "crillo," which originally referred to the first generation born in the "New World," offspring of settlers from Europe (Spain or France). It has come to mean different things to different people; the most controversial aspect of the various debates is probably whether the term "Creole" refers to white or to black/mixed-race people. (Way back during the days of that first generation of American-born "Creoles," there may have been disagreement over whether the term was restricted to kids with two white parents, as opposed to those born to a Frenchman and an African or Native American woman.) You'll find staunch proponents of one interpretation to the exclusion of the other, plus plenty of us who accept "either/or."

Whether referring to Caucasians or colored folk, the adjective "Creole" usually connotes a more urban, aristocratic, and/or sophisticated cultural quality than the funky down-home "Cajun."

One very common meaning for "Creole" refers to the New Orleanian population of light-skinned black folks (most of them no more than 1/16 or 1/32 African) whose ancestors were never slaves and who maintain their own little elite society to this day.

Another meaning for "Creole" refers to any and all French-speaking black people of southwest Louisiana, the community that developed Zydeco music. Unlike most of the other meanings, "Creole" in this context has absolutely no connotation of urbanity or aristrocracy. These Creoles come in all shades of brown and black, including pure African blue-black, and they're farmers, not city folk. Of course, their numbers do include royalty, such as Clifton Chenier, the late great King of Zydeco.

A couple of us debated meanings of these terms in another recent thread on this same song, along with a few other questions and opinions brought up by the lyrics -- you might be interested.

... In the mid-1830s, during the first mass emigration from Ireland to the US prompted by the first potato famine, New Orleans was by far the most popular US destination -- large numbers of jobs were available to dig the New Basin Canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississipi River. These jobs were available to immigrants because the work was so dangerous that slave-owners would not risk their "property" to perform the necessary heavy labor. The work force was overwhelmingly Irish, and huge numbers died of tropical diseases, mostly yellow fever. In fact, statistically, an Irish worker had a better chance of surviving if he stayed home to suffer through the famine than if he went to New Orleans to work and die on the canal.

Family and friends who stayed home in Ireland were certainly aware of the many deaths in the swamp, and Irish immigrants never again came to New Orleans in significant numbers, turning instead to New York, Boston, and (via the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes) Chicago.

Even today, native New Orleanians with Irish surnames are many generations (170+ years) removed from their Irish roots and usually of mixed Irish/German/Italian/French ancestry. Anyone here who knows of relatives in Ireland, or who even knows what county or what town their ancestors came from, is someone who moved to New Orleans from the North or West (or whose parents made such a move).

There seems to be no sure evidence whether "Lakes" is an American or an Irish song. It is, of course, part of the contemporary repertoire for "traditional" Irish musicians, and the subject matter is just as obviously American. My theory -- what I'd **like** to believe ;^) --is that the song comes from one of those poor Irishmen who built the New Basin Canal, or from a family member back in Ireland reading his letters, perhaps creating the song to memorialize a brother or son or friend after he had succumbed to the yellow fever.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dan Evans - an English fingerstyle mountain dulcimer player from the UK who plays in DAA!

Found while I was looking for something else … I never would have imagined anyone -- anywhere -- would be doing so precisely what I aspire to do with the mountain dulcimer!

Several essays and other instructional material, including a lot about DAA chords, on news page at

blurb on home page: " Dan plays mountain dulcimer almost exclusively finger-style. His instruments have three single strings and have been built with a diatonic fretting pattern, there are no half-frets.

On the dulcimer Dan’s repertoire includes traditional English, Scottish and Irish folk songs and airs as well as a few fun original compositions and the occasional timeless classic. He takes a classical approach to British folk melodies with medieval modes and jazzy chords and rhythms."

Ionian / DAA Ionian mode, commonly referred to as DAA, is Dan’s favourite mountain dulcimer tuning. Ionian / DAA allows Dan to play major scale melodies and chords but also to play minor chords to accompany a minor-scale song. There are also other chord families, proving the rich harmonic potential of the dulcimer in Ionian.

Dan exploits this harmonic potential by finger-picking chords to accompany his fine baritone voice on folk songs. He also arranges songs as instrumental airs in Ionian.

other dulcimer tunings Dan uses

The Dorian mode (DAG) conjures up a strong sense of the medieval on the dulcimer, Bagpipe tuning (AAA) gives a rich sound with either a major (Ionian) or a Mixolydian scale and the Aeolian mode (DAC) is sometimes used to evoke a sense of the Elizabethan period.


From influences page:

[T]wo wonderful guitarists that still inspire me are the French Pierre Bensusan, who specialises in playing jazzy guitar ‘landscapes’ in DADGAD tuning and the multi-award winning folk guitarist Martin Simpson – indeed the only instrument training I’ve ever had was an informal one-to-one session with Martin – in just fifteen minutes he transformed my playing, helping me to put power and poise into my right hand technique – both Pierre and Martin are enormously deserving of their success and recognition in the guitar world

dulcimer I’m deeply indebted to the late, legendary British dulcimer player, Roger Nicholson – Roger’s transcriptions of medieval lute tunes for the dulcimer are second–to-none and he has inspired players on both sides of the Atlantic in so many ways – Roger and I made a trip to the USA together and we recorded a couple of dulcimer duets on my Spirit Dancing CD – Roger was not only inspirational to me but he also encouraged and helped me in my own career

Nashville-based Stephen Seifert is also a friend and is probably the leading player in the world today – he was the protégé of the late, great David Schnaufer, whom I had the privilege of getting to know on my first trip to Kentucky – Steve’s playing totally transcends the instrument, which becomes putty in his hands - jamming with Steve when we meet up at festivals is both a delight and an education

Monday, May 13, 2013

Clayville Spring Festival -- tunes, tips ... and an unabashed sales pitch ... for the weekend

We're combining forces of the Prairieland Strings and the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music for this weekend's Clayville Spring Festival ... I'm hoping we can have three or four people playing and talking with visitors, both afternoons, Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19 ... but we can make do with one or two, and we welcome as many people who want to play with us. The more the merrier!

Plans now are for us to play somewhere around the Broadwell Tavern. I hope to have more details to share with you at the Prairieland Strings session from 7-9 p.m. Thursday at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield. That's right -- it's the third Thursday already! Doesn't feel like it, but it sure is. We can go over some fun- and easy-to-play tunes getting ready for the festival, but we don't have to do that much to get ready. Festivals are easy. Here are some more thoughts on playing festivals (click here or scroll down to Monday, May 6).

If you haven't been there before, Clayville has as nice a village festival as you'll find anywhere in central Illinois! Local church and youth organizations from Pleasant Plains will sell brats, burgers and soda, and it will feature "Demonstrations of Pioneer Craftsmanship and Skills," according to the blurb on Clayville's website, including blacksmithing, spinning, pottery, corn grinding, black powder shooting and tomahawk throwing, a Buck-Skinner Encampment, 1860's Baseball hosted by the Springfield Long Nines, Chris Camp ("The Whip Guy") and ... among other attractions ... us!

Festivals are our best way of getting new members. (Just ask us where and when we started playing the dulcimer. Odds are we'll mention a festival where we met some friendly people who enjoyed making music and welcomed us.) Some of us had a dry run for the Spring Festival last week, and it went perfectly.

On Tuesday of last week a couple of us from the Clayville "academy jams" played outside the barn as Clayville hosted a hundred volunteers from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

It went splendidly!

Two of us were newbies from the beginners' sessions in January and February, and I was there more to fill in chords and harmonies ... and to hand out our flier to interested ALPLM volunteers. For a bunch of beginners, we were absolutely fearless!

So we shared a music stand, and we played through the tunes we've learned at our first-Saturday-of-the-month Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music sessons. "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," "John Stinson's No. 2," "Skip to my Lou," "Bile 'em Cabbage Down" (with lots of repeats, harmonies and variations), "Farther Along," "Shall We Gather at the River," "Amazing Grace," "Rosin the Bow" (a.k.a. "Acres of Clams") and a really very cool version of "Old Joe Clark" by Sr. Margaret Mary on the Everything Dulcimer website that I hadn't seen before.

We tried other new songs, too (new to me, at least), like "Old Gray Liza," a medley by the Three Rivers Dulcimer Association of eastern Washington state combining "Old Joe Clark," "Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm" and "Little Liza Jane." When it turned out we were trying to play a tune from the Internet that was tabbed out in G (I forget what it was, maybe "Ode to Joy?"), we tuned down to DGD and played right through it. When I started playing the dulcimer back when Old Joe Clark was still Young Joe Clark, it was several years before I felt gutsy enough to retune my instrument.

And all the time we had ALPLM volunteers milling around and chatting with us before they went off on tours of the Broadwell Tavern. It all came down perfectly because we weren't aiming for perfection, we were just demonstrating what we're learning in our sessions and publicizing our beginners' jams at Clayville and the Prairieland jams at Atonement.

Which is what we'll do at the festival. It ain't a concert, folks. We're out to show how much fun it is to play a musical instrument. Call it outreach. Call it marketing. Call it anything but a high-pressure concert performance. And, most of all, call it as much fun you'll ever have playing a musical instrument.

In the meantime, at last week's meeting of the Prairieland Strings, we came up with a tentative list of tunes we're comfortable with. Again: The festival isn't a concert, and the tunes we identified aren't a hard-and-fast playlist. They are:

  • Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm
  • Coleman's March
  • Amazing Grace
  • Lee's Waltz
  • John Stinson's No. 2
  • Happy Land
  • June Apple
  • I'll Fly Away
  • Angelina Baker
  • Black Mountain Rag
  • Boil 'Em Cabbage
  • Mississippi Sawyer
  • Nutfactory Shuffle
  • Old Joe Clark
  • Whisky Before Breakfast
  • Wildwood Flower
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Rocky Top
Here's how festivals always work: We probably won't play all the songs on the list, and there are no doubt songs that aren't on the list that we will play. Last year we went out to Clayville with set lists, assigned intros and segues -- and we just sat in a circle under a shade three and played whatever we wanted to on the spur of the moment! And the festival-goers loved hearing a group of people having fun with music, whatever we played.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

American Union of Swedish Singers website has list of songs / misc. choral music links

Hans Almkvist "Singing as a Bearer of Culture" (First published in Nordic Reach, 2003) Nordstjernan May 2009

Today, AUSS is a nice group of people with a median age of 60+ years, half of whom have a Swedish heritage. However, very few speak Swedish or understand the language. Most members are also lacking the Swedish singing from their early years.

This is a big difference from 100 years ago. At that time, all members understood and spoke Swedish and had a large repertoire of Swedish songs, most of which they had memorized. That, along with the need to create a new Swedish base, made it easy to bring people together in various Swedish choruses.

So the conditions have changed dramatically in 100 years. Has AUSS adjusted to the new situation? I don’t have a good answer to that question, but other than the reality of an overall dwindling membership, I have made one interesting observation. The music selection used today is almost the same as 100 years ago. The 2004 convention selection could qualify for a program from 1904 with a few exceptions, at least in regards to the male choruses. The women choruses, being much younger, generally have a more contemporary selection.

in Sweden

The Swedes are probably some of the most singing-minded people in the world. In a population of 9 million, over 500,000 are organized chorus singers. However, chorus members are not the only ones singing. At every wedding, birthday party or other similar celebration, sing-alongs are organized involving everybody, very often with original lyrics written for the occasion and sung to well-known tunes.

Swedes begin to sing early in life. Within homes, schools and churches, children are introduced to singing, both as individuals and in groups, everywhere. And the tradition continues. Once a week throughout the summer, Swedish Television airs an outdoor sing-along program called “Allsång från Skansen” from the amusement park Skansen in Stockholm. The show draws more than 10,000 audience members each week regardless of weather and has record viewers when televised.

Swedes bring the sing-along tradition with them when they move abroad. I have been invited to many “Swedish parties” in Connecticut that have turned into long nights of singing.

headnote by Ulf Mårtensson /ED Unfortunately, the situation of Almkvist’s group, like that of other groups within the AUSS, a member Swedish Council of America, is far from unique.

The point the writer makes is not that every organization should or has to do everything and anything in its power to survive into a new age. Times and people change; even well-established fraternal clubs such as the Rotary, Lions and Round Table are facing diminishing membership. The point the writer makes is solely that any organization with the means to change and the resources to do so should do so, not just for the sake of survival but to fulfill its honorable mission and resources.

Nordstjernan followed the Connecticut choirs during preparations for the Tjugondedag Knut Concert at Connecticut's Scandinavian Club in Fairfield... October, 2011 through January, 2012 ..the North Star Singers men's choir under the direction of Ernie Gunn and the Northern Lights Singers women's choir under the direction of Cameron Phillips.

repertory is almost entirely American light popular Christmas music

AUSS website has a page of English translations of Swedish songs Alla fåglar kommit re’n Gärdebylåten (which I didn't know had words!) Hosianna Joachim uti Babylon Vem kan segla förutan vind? at ... Click on the first letter of the title below. Remember that, in the Swedish alphabet, Å, Ä, and Ö come after Z.

Also worth checking -- YouTube Channel of Waukegan Swedish Glee Club at ... lots of clips, some in Swedish.

Choral singing and socio-musical attitudes. A pilot project on choral singing under change -- research project description at Lund University -- abstract: In the first decade of the 21st century, there seems to once again be a social consensus that choral singing supports individuals’ musical and social development and that it creates a sense of community, which benefits the development of society as a whole. However, attitudes to choral singing have varied over the past century. While in Sweden people were speaking of the ‘Swedish choral miracle’, Theodor Adorno in Germany claimed that the Nazis’ use of choral singing had discredited the genre for a long time to come. ... The aim of this project is to investigate how the view of choral singing has changed over the past century. The positive views of choral singing in Sweden today are not a natural phenomenon but rather have developed through various debates since the 1930s. Content manager: Ursula Geisler. Page content last modified 17 Feb 2010

Monday, May 06, 2013

Prairieland Strings May 7: Getting ready for Clayville Spring Festival

Here's how plans are shaping up so far for the Clayville Spring Festival Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19. Our Prairieland Strings group in Springfield and the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music folks will play on the porch of Broadwell Tavern ... that may sound like a lot of people, but it isn't since a lot of the same people are in both groups. I've committed us to be there both afternoons, and left the details to be worked out later ... so we'll need at least two or three people there all the time. The more the merrier, though! Please let me know when you can come.

If you haven't played a festival before, here are a couple of thoughts based on our Prairieland Strings experience at Clayville and the New Salem bluegrass festival:

  • It isn't a concert performance. We'll have a card table set up (or an instrument case) with a flier about the Clayville beginners' jams, and festival-goers will typically come up and listen for a minute or two. If they like what they're hearing, they'll stop and chat us up for a minute or two. I like to tell them how easy it is to get started playing the dulcimer, and how much fun it is.
  • Bring chairs.
  • Festivals are the very best way for newbies to get experience playing music in public. Most of the festival-goers aren't paying a bit of attention to you, but they like hearing music off in the distance. So we can recycle the same tunes through the day. I know people who have survived entire festivals playing "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down" and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody."
  • Bring chairs.
  • Since it's a festival, there will be distractions. We're sharing our space with the 10th Illinois Cavalry, a Civil War reenactors' group who have a nice skit with lots of shoot-'em-up, damsels to rescue and villains to rescue them from. And I'll do an impression of an old-time shape-note singing master.
  • But since it's a festival, you should feel free to get up and walk around. There's lots to see ... click on this link for some ideas:

  • Bring chairs.
Since we'll have beginners from the Clayville sessions and grizzled veterans (read "intermediate") from the Prairieland Strings together, here are some thoughts about playing with people who have different skill levels from the Small Circle Tune Learning Session in Colorado's Denver-Boulder metro area. They're a "friendly and supportive group of musicians," and they "welcome all skill levels to play at a moderate and steady pace." They're able to bring the beginners up to speed by stressing "aural learning" -- learning by ear. Kind of like us.

Especially for newbies --

A couple of tips from the Small Circle folks on how to "pick up tunes in a session, with everyone roaring away but you." There's more at

  • "Well, first of all, remember that listening IS practicing in Irish traditional music. It's not unheard of to spend 75% or more of your time in a session listening rather than playing, and it's generally considered a good thing, because when you're playing, it's much harder to listen, and listening and paying attention to what's going on musically (and otherwise) is key to becoming a good session player."
  • If everybody else is playing up to speed, start to join in softly, one or two notes at a time, "... try to pick up just one phrase in the part, or even just a piece of a phrase. Every time that piece comes around, play it. Once you have it solid, try adding a note or two to that each time it comes round. After a while, you'll have the entire tune."
  • "Never, ever, feel uncomfortable about putting your instrument in your lap and just listening to the tune everyone else is playing. Nor should you ever feel uncomfortable about humming the tune along with them until you know it. (Don't sing so loud that you put off anyone, though.) In actual fact, many players will respect your evident ability to respect the music and learn the tune ..."
  • "Most importantly, remember -- this is supposed to be fun! Relax, give yourself a break and some time to get used to this. It'll pay off big in the future!
Some tab we may want to consider --

These are just a couple of songs I like. You'll have others. Bring your suggestions to Tuesday's Prairieland Strings session:

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Svenska Psalm-boken af år 1819 w/ Koralbok

Svenska Psalm-boken af år 1819: förenad med Koral-bok och Svenska messan med körer för sopran-, alt-, tenor- och basröster (Google eBook)