Friday, June 21, 2013

"Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel" and "Jehovah Hallelujah" -- 2 spirituals from Slave Songs of the United States -- ** UPDATED 1x ** w/ new links and notes on a modal quagmire


It was going to be so easy: I was going to post YouTube versions of a couple of songs I want to learn and take it from there ... the first was "Blow Your Trumpet, Gabriel." Turned out, however, I certainly won't be able to play it as written on a mountain dulcimer. I haven't totally given up, though: See italicized notes below.

Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel

No. 4 on page 3 in Slave Songs with added lyrics in Thomas Wentworth Higginson's article on spirituals he heard while commanding the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (U.S.), "Negro Spirituals" in the June 1867 issue of the Atlantic Monthly:

The next was one of those which I had heard in boyish days, brought North from Charleston. But the chorus alone was identical ; the words were mainly different, and those here given are quaint enough.


"O, blow your trumpet, Gabriel,
Blow your trumpet louder ;
And I want dat trumpet to blow me home
To my new Jerusalem.

"De prettiest ting dat ever I done
Was to serve de Lord when I was young.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel, &c.

"O, Satan is a liar, and he conjure too,
And if you don't mind, he 'll conjure you.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel, &c.

"O, I was lost in de wilderness,
King Jesus hand me de candle down.
So blow your trumpet, Gabriel," &c.

Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel. Performed by Andrew Calhoun and ___. His lyrics here, with this note: "Spritual collected in Charleston, SC in 1845, with additional verses from “The Vinter” in Slave Songs of the United States, and the last, floating verse." Also on Calhoun's CD Bound to Go.

On his website Calhoun, a singer-songwriter from the Chicago suburbs, says:

There's a great source book called Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867, full of obscure gems - I've only ever heard three of the 130 songs performed - and it includes the original, more lyrically vivid "Michael Row the Boat Ashore", a Sea Islands rowing song addressed to the archangel Michael, a prayer for safe passage. This book is a pure source of the real thing. The spirituals were popularized in classical choral arrangements, but to me the original, wild way of using songs in participatory ritual to bind and lift an oppressed community is much more interesting. You can hear it on Alan Lomax's field recordings (Rounder's Southern Journey Series) of Bessie Jones, John Davis and the other Georgia Sea Island singers, recorded around 1960 and still performing in the old call and response/ring shout style. My mother was Jewish, a former union steward who shouted "Jim Crow Must Go!" on sound trucks in the early Civil Rights movement, and drove into the Beethoven School in Chicago to tutor poor kids until she was too sick to drive. I'm fascinated by the connection between the Biblical story of Exodus, and what the African Americans did with it, finding the living heart of a religion twisted beyond recognition by centuries of institutionalized idolatry and sham. I expect to record some of this music after a few more months of research. Because, you know, it's public domain, as, in the new Jerusalem, everything will be. I try not to take these songs for granted anymore.
The English folk group Steeleye Span recorded it on a Christmas album, and the song is listed by the _____ Ralph Vaughan Williams, cited to Slave Songs of the United States. Also to Folk Song in South Carolina No. 9 by Charles W. Joyner (1971).

Lyrics, from Slave Songs and Higginson's Atlantic Monthly article, on Mudcat Café -- lyrics at

Modal meanderings. So, when I go to trying to play the tune, all kinds of problems crop up. It's written in G, but there's an F natural in the fourth measure of the B part that falls between the frets. I'm able to play those intervals by moving down the fretboard, which I think gives me a flatted seventh at the sixth fret ... but it was too much to work out all at once for now, so I made some notes on my photocopy and plan to come back to it. (There's also a variant in the book that appears to be written in G minor [F mixolydian?], so that may be worth trying, too.

And there's something I stumbled across in a Nov. 11, 2010 post "A Mixolydian Hymn: In Christ There Is No East Or West" on the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer website, by Flint Hill. Along with some very good background on Harry Burleigh's hymn, he has this to say in response to other comments on a very enlightening thread:

John, thanks for mentioning the difference between Mixolydian mode and Mixolydian tuning as it applies to songs played on gapped scales. Bertrand Bronson, who studied ballads statistically, found that 2/3 of Appalachian ballads are played on gapped scales, so it's an important point.

The most common scales in order of prevalence are: Ly/Io/Myx pentatonic (π1, lacking the 4th and 7th), Io/Myx hexatonic (lacking the 7th), pure Ionian, pure Mixolydian, Io/Myx/Dor pentatonic (π2, lacking the 3rd and the 7th), Ly/Io hexatonic (lacking the 4th), and Myx/Dor hexatonic (lacking the 3rd).

All except pure Mix and Myx/Dor hexatonic tunes can be played in DAA/CGG tunings on a purely diatonic instrument (i.e. no need for a 6.5 fret). All can be played diatonically on a Galax- or bagpipe-tuned instrument.

But I ramble!

To which I say: Ramble on.

I've never been able to make heads or tails out of Bronson, but this I can use!

Another ramble: Flint Hill says he plays "In Christ there is no east or west ..." noter-drone style on a Ben Seymour Galax tuned dddd (D4 D4 D4 D4). The outermost drone is reverse-capoed on the fourth fret yielding a final tuning of addd which start a D Mixolydian scale on the open melody string." Not what I've learned, but it sounds interesting.

Jehovah Halelujah

Instrumental YouTube clip: "Tim Twiss playing Fretless Minstrel Banjo and other creative projects emerging once in a while. This site represents the single largest collection of Early Banjo music. Playlists are designed to include the music from the "Tutors", meaning the original written record of banjo music beginning mid 19th Century. Also included are playlists designed to put related material into cohesive groups."

Harry Belafonte covered it, adding a lovely set of Christmas lyrics, on a Christmas album in 1958. Available on YouTube at His lyrics widely available on line. As always with Belafonte, the most informative, with complete publication information and a sound file in addition to the lyrics, is on Swedish fan Åke Holm's website. Homepage at and "Jehovah Hallelujah" at

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