Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot" -- notes on origin (and an 1881 visit to Springfield by the Jubilee Singers that we won't want to celebrate)

There are several differing accounts regarding the origins of this gospel song. Some sources say the origins of the spiritual tune lie in attempts of slaves escaping slavery and finding freedom by means of jumping into a wagon, train or ship to hide and ride away. African-Americans working in the cotton fields would sing this gospel song about a slave escaping by this means, the word "chariot" being used as a euphemism for the means of transport.

Other sources claim the song was written by a slave, Sara Sheppard, who having contemplated suicide as she and her baby Ella were to be sold off to different owners, recalled the words of an old black "momma." She had told Sara that she and her child would be carried to a far better place by God's chariot. Chariot was the French word for the sledge used to collect cotton in the plantation fields.

Yet more sources claim Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, composed this spiritual sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah being taken to heaven by a chariot.

We do know for a fact that in 1871 Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school attended a performance of The Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He had heard Willis singing this song years earlier and had transcribed the words and melody. Reid thought this and other songs he had heard Willis singing were better than those he had heard and he sent the music to the Jubilee Singers. The group added it to their repertoire and popularized the song during a tour of the United States and Europe.

As a footnote, Ella Sheppard, was later re-united with her mother Sara, and became the first pianist of the Fisk University Choir.

References a cover by Clapton -- (w/ reggae beat): "A version by Eric Clapton was a track on his 1975 album, There's One in Every Crowd. Released as a single, it peaked at #19 in the UK."

Toni P. Anderson. 'Tell Them We Are Singing for Jesus': Original Fisk Jubilee Singers and Christian Reconstruction, 1871-1878. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2010. p 189 and 283n78.

Detailed account of story of Ella S's mother intending to drown her, "... but Mammy Viney had seen a different future. 'Don't you do it, Honey, don't take that that you cannot give back,' Mammy Viney counseled. She slowly lifted her eyes heavenward and counseled Sara to do the same. 'Look, honey, don't you see the clouds of the Lord as te pass by. The Lord has got need of this child'" (189). Endnote says, "The prophetic element of this story tends to place it in the category of family folklore. Nonetheless, Sheppard's retelling and inclusion of it in printed form indicates that she heard and received it as a factual part of her life history" (283n78). Quotes John Work, in Folk Songs of the American Negro, as saying "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and "Before I'd Be a Slave" relate back to this incident.

Andrew Ward. Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. 380-381.

In summer 1871 as students were sharing songs with eorge White. "Ella Sheppherd brought him 'Before I'd Be a Slave" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," songs her mother Sarah, had taught her and later claimed to have composed" (110). Cites Work (pp. 79-80) and Mary Spence, note, Jan. 12, 1940 [in Fisk archives].

1879 and 1881 - refused accommodation in Springfield hotels ... controversial, especially in the Chicago papers, and Gov. John M. Palmer objected and "Lincoln's brother-in-law, Clark Moulton Smith, declared the Jubilees' treatment 'a burning shame and a disgrace to the people'." (380) to their exclusion. Quotes owner of Leland Hotel on Capitol Street:

"Yes, sir, by God, I did refuse 'em," boasted [hotel keeper] Horace Leland to a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. "I am not going, by God, to buy cheap beefsteaks for [a racial slur] and expect my guests and my friends to sit down by their sides and eat them too. No, sir, not by a God damned sight. ... They're all well enough in their place, but God damn me if I want to eat with them, or sleep with them, or have any of my relatives marry 'em, by God, sir." (381)
Note 34 refers to Chicago Tribune April 29, 1881. Inter-Ocean and unidentified paper in Fisk University archives also quoted. Smith owned several dry goods stores in Springfield and built what is now the Vachel Lindsay home on South Fifth Street. Lincoln drafted his first inaugural -- "Needing a quiet place to compose his first inaugural address, Lincoln used a desk on the third floor of the store to write the speech." (Carl and Roberta Volkmann, Springfield's Sculptures, Momuments and Plaques

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New tunes for Clayville Pioneer Academy and Prairieland Strings in August -- "Down By the Salley Gardens" and "Red River Valley"

(... in case you've been checking the blog and wondering when I'd finish what I'd started, I've *finally* written the rest of the post as of Tuesday night, July 30).

Upcoming sessions of the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music and the Prairieland Strings during the next week or so:

  • Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music, from 10 a.m. to noon (9:30 for beginners if you want to come early), Saturday, Aug. 3, in the barn at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. Route 125, Pleasant Plains.
  • "First Tuesday" session of Prairieland Strings, from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuweday, Aug. 6, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Springfield.

Links below for tablature of a couple of songs we decided at the last session of the Prairieland Strings that we'd like to add to our repertory ...

And I'm making the tab available for Saturday's session of the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music, too. We have several of the same people coming to both sessions now, and it just makes sense for us to have the same music at each. (Makes it easier for me, too, to not have to keep up with deciding "well, let's see now, which tunes do we play in Springfield and which ones at Clayville?")

At our last session of the Prairieland Strings, we tackled a new tune, "Down By the Salley Gardens," and liked it so much I promised I'd find lyrics. They're by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and they're very nice. Link here:

The tune is one of those gentle, lyrical Irish airs, too. Ron Zuckerman of the Huntsville (Ala.) Mountain Dulcimer Association has a straightforward arrangement at:

Another tune we decided we want to learn:

"Red River Valley" -- there are several versions of DAD mountain dulcimer tab. One that has everything, i.e. melody, chords and lyrics, is by Wendy Grethern on the Dulcimers in Duluth website at:

Upcoming sessions during the next week or so:

  • Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music, from 10 a.m. to noon (9:30 for beginners if you want to come early), Saturday, Aug. 3, in the barn at Clayville Historic Site, Ill. Route 125, Pleasant Plains.
  • "First Tuesday" session of Prairieland Strings, from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuweday, Aug. 6, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Springfield.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mark Twain on the Fisk Jubilee Singers

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Letters Of Mark Twain, Volume 4, 1886-1900. Ed. Albert Bigelow Payne. [Rpt. ____: Harper, 1917.]
To Rev. J. H. Twichell, in Hartford:

LUCERNE, Aug. 22, '97.

DEAR JOE,—Livy made a noble find on the Lucerne boat the other day on one of her shopping trips—George Williamson Smith—did I tell you about it? We had a lovely time with him, and such intellectual refreshment as we had not tasted in many a month.

And the other night we had a detachment of the jubilee Singers—6. I had known one of them in London 24 years ago. Three of the 6 were born in slavery, the others were children of slaves. How charming they were—in spirit, manner, language, pronunciation, enunciation, grammar, phrasing, matter, carriage, clothes—in every detail that goes to make the real lady and gentleman, and welcome guest. We went down to the village hotel and bought our tickets and entered the beer-hall, where a crowd of German and Swiss men and women sat grouped at round tables with their beer mugs in front of them—self-contained and unimpressionable looking people, an indifferent and unposted and disheartened audience—and up at the far end of the room sat the Jubilees in a row. The Singers got up and stood—the talking and glass jingling went on. Then rose and swelled out above those common earthly sounds one of those rich chords the secret of whose make only the Jubilees possess, and a spell fell upon that house. It was fine to see the faces light up with the pleased wonder and surprise of it. No one was indifferent any more; and when the singers finished, the camp was theirs. It was a triumph. It reminded me of Launcelot riding in Sir Kay's armor and astonishing complacent Knights who thought they had struck a soft thing. The Jubilees sang a lot of pieces. Arduous and painstaking cultivation has not diminished or artificialized their music, but on the contrary—to my surprise—has mightily reinforced its eloquence and beauty. Away back in the beginning—to my mind—their music made all other vocal music cheap; and that early notion is emphasized now. It is utterly beautiful, to me; and it moves me infinitely more than any other music can. I think that in the Jubilees and their songs America has produced the perfectest flower of the ages; and I wish it were a foreign product, so that she would worship it and lavish money on it and go properly crazy over it.

Now, these countries are different: they would do all that, if it were native. It is true they praise God, but that is merely a formality, and nothing in it; they open out their whole hearts to no foreigner.

The musical critics of the German press praise the Jubilees with great enthusiasm—acquired technique etc, included.

One of the jubilee men is a son of General Joe Johnson, and was educated by him after the war. The party came up to the house and we had a pleasant time.

This is paradise, here—but of course we have got to leave it by and by. The 18th of August—[Anniversary of Susy Clemens's death.]—has come and gone, Joe—and we still seem to live.

With love from us all.


Also available on line, in the Mark Twain Project, a letter from MT to Theodore F. Seward [music director for the singers at the time], March 8, 1875. MT requests "John Brown's Body" in a concert at Harford just before their second European tour and adds:
I remember hearing them in concert an afternoon in London, when their “John Brown’s Body” took a decorous, aristocratic English audience by surprise & threw them into a volcanic eruption of applause before they knew what they were about. I never saw anything finer than their enthusiasm.
Good explanatory notes, with more info, at;style=letter;brand=mtp

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Shall We Gather at the River / O, hur saligt att få vandra / misc. notes and links,_hur_saligt_att_f%C3%A5_vandra

O, hur saligt att få vandra är en hemlands- och pilgrimssång av Joël Blomqvist och Per Ollén 1876. En riktig "signatursång" för stora delar av 1800-talets väckelserörelse. ... På melodin finns även en välspridd snapsvisa, Jag har aldrig vart på snusen som driver med melodins frikyrkliga bakgrund.

First verse:

O, hur saligt att få vandra
hemåt vid vår Faders hand.
Snart vi slutat ökenfärden
och gå in i Kanaans land.
Gracia Grindal has background at HYMN FESTIVAL: Swedish Songs of Pilgrimage and Grace On the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Augustana Synod and the 125th Anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Chicago, November 2010.

Good account of how "How Blest to Be a Pilgrim" came to be written -- translating Joel Blomkvist's free translation back into English -- for the Swedish-American North Park Covenant Church in Chicago at

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Crossover / D R A F T / notes and links

cites Patsy Cline, metal

"... Five Common Genres of Metal are Heavy,Thrash, Death, Black and Power and this branches off into all different fusion an crossover genres, there are now hundreds of different Metal variants, which is one of the reasons it has survived and thrived for so long." Musicallyobsessed92

Crossover Value -- When speaking about music that has been remixed from one genre to another, it refers to the amount of potential the new remix has in pulling fans from the original genre base. noahFecks

"A genre of music performed, in reality, by extremely talented artists who gave up the secular industry and making possibly millions, to praise their Father. Some however, switch over from Christian to secular, sadly, or make crossover hits, ... Kutlessfan The Classical Crossover Conundrum


Published: January 1, 2006

"... the musical domain known as classical crossover, an odd and sprawling genre that offers classically trained singers a lucrative detour from traditional concert repertory and practice. ... But the category is more complex than that. Sometimes, for better or worse, the music originates in the corporate boardroom; other times it echoes the countless permutations that arose on their own and continue to echo throughout the world."

* * *

As a commercial tag, crossover troubles many in the classical recording business. "Firstly, I don't like the word 'crossover,' " said Robina Young, vice president of the Los Angeles-based Harmonia Mundi USA label. "It implies that there are barriers between one thing and another to be jumped over, and I don't believe those barriers exist anymore. Secondly, as a company, in 47 years of existence, I promise you that not one single time has anyone sat down and thought, 'Let's make a crossover record.' " Many who make classical crossover music resist the idea that their music stems from the cigar-chomping designs of record executives.

* * *

For Robert Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch Records (and no fan of boardroom schemes), "There is a natural sense of what people call crossover that's a very organic thing that has been around for the last 30 years, which has to do with a generation of people who have all grown up with this incredible panorama of music around them."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer John Harbison, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sees crossover as "very much not a recent question." What has changed in recent years, Mr. Harbison said, is the technology.

"We've always had music of various types, genres and intents," he said. "The audiences for all music had to simply just get there. Now, in the communications age, the opportunities for cross-pollination are tremendous."

The pianist Christopher O'Riley said, "I think crossover in general as a commercial term has been a bad designation of something that has an awfully long history to it." On his most recent collections, "True Love Waits" and "Hold Me to This," Mr. O'Riley plays transcriptions of Radiohead songs. He conjures the image of "Beethoven, Mozart, sitting down at a dinner party, playing the popular aria of the day."

"Beethoven was probably better known as an improviser until people started paying attention to his symphonies," Mr. O'Riley said. "Liszt, taking Hungarian folk songs and making them into these orchestral piano fantasies. Bartok used the raw building blocks of popular music as the way he set up major pieces of art. And then Stravinsky would lift them whole cloth."