Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Profile of Bishop Hill psalmodikon workshop in Swedish newsletter

My writeup of my Aug. 2 workshop on the psalmodikon at Bishop Hill is in the current issue of Psalmodika (Vol. 20, Nr. 2), the newsletter of the Nordiska Psalmodikonförbundet [trans. the nordic psalmodikon club] in Sweden. A psalmodikon, (pronounced sal-MOW-di-kon), is a one-stringed box zither used by 19th-century pastors in Sweden and Norway to teach four-part harmony singing to rural congregations using a system of tablature called siffernoter [numerical notation].

Background, in Swedish, is available at on the club's website (click on the button that says Kontaka oss [contact us] for a pulldown directory and on Öpna [open] to open an item in the directory). Even if you don't read Swedish, you can find some cool pictures by scrolling down to Bilder [pictures] and clicking on the Öpna button.

A mostly Norwegian-American group in Minnesota, called the Nordic Psalmodikonforbundet (no umlaut in Norwegian), has a wealth of information in English at

Article in Psalmodika (click on picture to enlarge)

Here's what I wrote, translated into Swedish and (since I can't find my original draft anymore) translated back into English:

The Profile

On 2 August, I led a workshop on the psalmodikon for the Bishop Hill Heritage Association in the old Swedish colony of Bishop Hill in Illinois. There were 21 persons. When I in the beginning of my appearance asked if they knew of the instrument Psalmodikon it was only two or three people who raised their hands.

I have a copy of an instrument made ​​in Bishop Hill in 1870 and I showed how to play on it and got them to sing " A Mighty Fortress is our God" by numerical scores [the siffernoter] so they would understand how the numbers relate to the notes in the scale. It was great fun and I think the audience appreciated it.

MORE ON THE PSALMODIKON: In April 2015 I will be presenting a workshop, "Pastor Esbjörn's Singing School," at the Augustana Founder's Day Renuion in Andover:

On Saturday, April 25, there will be interest groups during the day, with a noon lunch and an evening smorgasbord. The evening will close with a hymn sing and brief Vesper service.

On Sunday, April 26, there will be a morning worship service, followed by a noon lunch. The Augustana College Choir will give a special concert from 2:30 - 3:30 pm. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton will be the preacher at the 4:00 pm Founders Day Service. The Reunion will end with an evening dinner.

This special event celebrates the 155th anniversary of the Augustana Synod and the 165th anniversary of the Andover congregation. …

My workshop will be one of the breakout sessions for interest groups on Saturday. The Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn was the first pastor at Andover's Jenny Lind Chapel/Augustana Lutheran Church and one of the founders of the old Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and I have been learning tunes from a handwritten booklet of his siffernoter tablature in the Special Collections at Augustana College's Tredway Library.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Carol of the Bells" -- links to sheet music and videos to inspire us for Clayville's Christmas party and our Advent soup supper gig ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ December schedule

UPDATE FROM BLAST EMAIL, NOV. 16: Our next session of the Prairieland Strings is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Spfld. We'll be practicing for our annual "sing/play for our supper" performance at the Advent soup supper on Wednesday, Dec. 10. The way Thanksgiving, Christmas and Advent fall this year, we won't have as much time to practice as we have in the past. But we got started earlier this year than we usually do, so we'll work out just fine!

Our schedule for the rest of November and December, which I will copy to the Hogfiddle blog, is as follows:

-- Thursday, Nov. 20, 7-9 p.m., "third Thursday" at Atonement -- rehearsal for soup supper.
-- Tuesday, Dec. 2, 7-9 p.m., "first Tuesday" at Atonement -- rehearsal.
-- Saturday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains. Christmas party.
-- Wednesday, Dec. 10. ca. 6 p.m. Advent soup supper at Atonement. Eat at 5:45, play at 6:20.

Our playlist, as it stands now, is:

-- Joy to the World
-- The First Noel
-- Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
-- Carol of the Bells
-- Silent Night

Blast email sent out tonight last night and corrected today to include the link to this blog post, to my Clayville and Prairieland Strings lists.

We have two sessions of the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music and the Prairieland Strings coming up in the next week or so. At our last meeting, we made a good start on Christmas music, and we'll devote at least part of both sessions to getting ready for the annual Christmas party at Clayville Historic Site and our annual Advent soup supper performance in December at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield.

We've chosen the following songs for the Advent supper, which is our chance to say thanks to the Atonement congregation for hosting our Springfield meetings:

Carol of the Bells --

Silent Night --

Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella --

The First Noel --

Joy to the World --

For "Carol of the Bells," we will essentially be making our own arrangement. I think we're ready for that, we went through it at the last meeting and we think it's going to sound pretty good. To inspire us, I am posting several YouTube clips to Hogfiddle at" that show different arrangements with various stringed instruments. Give 'em a listen, and see if you hear any ideas we can borrow.

And, for further inspiration, I'm posting the link I sent out earlier of Darth Vader directing an a cappella flash mob in the library at Algonquin College in Ontario:

See if that doesn't get you in the spirit of the season!

Here are the videos I mentioned in the email above:

Carol of the Bells - Steve and Ruth Smith - Hammered Dulcimer. This song is from Steve and Ruth's new Christmas/winter CD "An Appalachian Winter." They even bring in a riff or two from other songs.

Carol of the Bells - Hammered Dulcimer & Cello. Hammered dulcimer by National Champion Joshua Messick and cello by Max Dyer.

Guitar Duet - Carol of the Bells cover. My bud Evan came over and we decided to make two videos, this first one being Carol of the Bells. The backing track got a little off sync at the breakdown and a few other parts, I dunno why. Enjoy!

Carol of the Bells: On Mandolins. YouTube user MandolinMan93 writes, "IT'S DONE!!! I have been working on this for some time now and I am very proud of it. The way i did this is i went into GarageBand and recorded myself three different times.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Ballad of Bruce Rauner": Shakin' up down Springfield and bringing' back Illinois, one plutocrat at a time ** UPDATED x1 **

Judging by the way the polls are trending, it looks like hedge fund manager Bruce Rauner is about to buy up another distressed asset. The last three surveys show Republican gubernatorial candidate Rauner leading incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn by as much as 3.8 percent, and I'm starting to look for "Don't Blame Me -- I Voted for Quinn" bumper stickers.

So a new Johnny Cash-style talking blues titled "Plutocrat: The Ballad of Bruce Rauner" was -- literally -- music to my ears:

Lyrics at

Written by a Chicago lawyer named Matt Farmer who fronts a band called the Blue State Cowboys ("Chicago's Most Litigious Band"), the song went up Thursday. I saw it on Fred Klonsky's school "reform" blog, and a little while later a link appeared on the Capitol Fax political blog. (CapFax crashed that night, and Thursday's posts are no longer available, but blog administrator Rich Miller blames technical issues rather than Rauner, or Rauner-inspired hackers, for that.) The song hits all the campaign themes -- from the way Rauner clouted his suburban daughter into an elite Chicago magnet school to the the negligence and wrongful death litigation that has dogged Rauner's nursing homes.

The chorus:

So, Springfield, get out the welcome mat
What this state needs is a plutocrat
A slashin’, burnin’, union-bustin’ guy

I’ll hammer and shake that capitol dome
Like it’s a grandma stuck in a nursing home
Hey, grandma, it’s time to say goodbye

I could say more, but I probably shouldn't.

LATER: Ben Joravsky, education (and Chicago city politics) reporter at The Chicago Reader, has linked to Farmer's video. "Hey, Matt," Joravsky writes, presumably with tongue firmly planted in cheek, "have you considered the witness protection program?"

What is it about Rauner that makes so many people think, even in a joking way, he's out for retribution?

Could it be the way, in Joravsky's words, that "Rauner blew his stack when former Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney cowrote a mildly critical article about something someone said about him many years ago?" McKinney resigned last week after Sun-Times owner (and Rauner pal) Michael Ferro blew his stack and pulled him off the Statehouse beat, and Farmer did dedicate the song to McKinney. But, gee whiz, it couldn't be that.

Whatever. At any rate, Joravsky put in a good word for the singer-songwriter:

OK look, Mr. Rauner, please allow me to make an appeal on Matt's behalf.

He's a nice guy. A lawyer by day. On nights and weekends, he frequently plays guitar and sings old rock, blues, or country songs at bars around town.

He's made a bunch of satiric country-western videos, including one about Blago. You'd like that -— right?

That song about Blagojevich is a classic, by the way. It's titled ""Pay to Play (But Keep Love in Your Heart)," and it's available on YouTube at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us -- Bishop Ussher's date of the creation of the world was 6,018 years ago today

Want to know the exact time the world was created? James Ussher (1581-1656), 17th-century Anglican archbishop of Armagh and vice-chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, figured it out. And it was Oct. 23, 2004 BCE. Not the 22nd, and not the 24th. But Oct. 23. Today.

So ... happy birthday, world!

How did Bishop Usher get such a precise date? Well, he didn't just count up all the "begats" and generations in the bible (although he did take Nebuchadnezar and the day the sun stood still when Joshua fit the battle of Jericho into account). Instead he relied on a complex set of astronomical calculations that sought to reconcile the Julian and Gregorian calendars. It's complicated. Here's how Wikipedia explains it in its article on the "Julian day," a related astronomical calculation that dates back to the 1500s and is still used to time orbits in space and to compare dates in different calendars. And here's how Bishop Ussher explained his final calculation in a book called The Annals of the World, published in 1658:

… from thence I gathered the creation of the world did fall out upon the 710 year of the Julian Period, by placing its beginning in autumn: but for as much as the first day of the world began with the evening of the first day of the week, I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year 710 aforesaid came nearest the Autumnal Æquinox, by astronomical tables (notwithstanding the stay of the sun in the dayes of Joshua, and the going back of it in the dayes c Ezekiah) happened upon the 23 day of the Julian October; from thence concluded that from the evening preceding that first day of the Julian year, both the first day of the creation and the first motion of time are to be deduced.
Ussher is quoted in more detail on a webpage by Donald Simanek of Lock Haven University. And Ussher's methodology is discussed at Included is the quote, which strikes me as both generous and wise, by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould:

I shall be defending Ussher's chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past. ... Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology[.]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Augustana Synod -- misc. liturgical notes

Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association, Vols. 1-7 (Pittsburgh: Lutheran Liturgical Association, 1906) (Google eBook). "The Swedish Liturgies" by the Rev. Prof. N. Forsander, D.D., 2:15-27.

Table of contents for all 7 volumes pp. v-viii. Also histories of Danish and Norwegian liturgies. Google eBooks

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

"Mo Ghile Mear" and Seán Ó Riada ** UPDATED x2 ** lyrics in Irish and English, a very cool arrangement by a choral group at University College Dublin -- and a link to a trad Irish slow session in Dublin

So this afternoon I'm looking for lyrics to "Mo Ghile Mear" I can take to tonight's session of the Prairieland Strings, and I surf into an article by Irish sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird that details Seán Ó Riada's role in developing the modern arrangement of the song for his Cór Chúil Aodha (choir of the Chúil Aodha district in County Cork). Turns out it was crucial; in a very substantial way, the song is Ó Riada's legacy to Ireland -- and all the rest of us.

Then -- what a lovely bonus! -- I find a YouTube video of Ó Riada's daughter, Liadh Ní Riada, winning a seat for Ireland's nationalist Sinn Féin party in the European Parliament back in May. Her supporters sing "Mo Ghile Mear" at 2:18 after the deciding votes are announced.

Link here for the lyrics I was looking for, in Irish and English:

From YouTube, footage of: (1) Liadh Ní Riada's victory celebration; and performances by (2) Iarla Ó Lionáird and (3) the Cór Chúil Aodha:

  1. Liadh Ní Riada elected MEP for Ireland South.
    Published on May 27, 2014. Liadh Ní Riada elected MEP for Ireland South. Video footage from the count centre as declaration was announced. Watch out for the great and emotional rendition of Mo Ghile Mear near the end [beginning at 2:18].

    Liadh Ní Riada is Sinn Féin’s National Gaeilge Officer. A good bio on the partry's website at It stands to reason she would be Sinn Féin, given her father's role in reviving Irish traditional music.

  2. Iarla 0'Lionaird and Steve Cooney -Mo Ghile Mear.
    Published on Jul 29, 2012 Iarla O'Lionaird and Steve Cooney at Abbeystrewery church - July 27 2012- a celebration of the life and works of Canon James Goodman.

  3. Mo Ghile Mear - Cór Chúil Aodha agus Peadar Ó Riada
    Uploaded on Mar 24, 2010. Notes in Irish Gaelic. [Peadar Ó Riada is Seán Ó Riada's son and director of the Cór Chúíl Aodha.]

Paraphrasing Ó Lionáird's article, Wikipedia says: "The lyrics and verse of the song more commonly performed today comes from the Cúil Aodha Gaeltacht in County Cork. The air was documented by a man named Dómhnall Ó Buachalla and the words are edited from two of Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill's songs: Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló and another without a title. Dónal Ó Liatháin gave an account of how it was formed to the sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird."

** Update #1. Video of a performance by the UCD Choral Scholars at University College Dublin -- well, a rehearsal during a recording session, actually, but you wouldn't know it wasn't the final take by listening to it -- that I surfed into. Link here to

A sneaky video of the last track we recorded in Castleknock College for Signum Records this weekend. We can't wait to hear the mix! This was the very last piece performed together by UCD Choral Scholars 2013-2014. What a joyful year it was for us!
** End update.

Ó Riada performs the melody on the harpsichord in the CD Ó Riada's Farewell (click here for a brief audio clip), but it took the form in which we now know it after his death in 1971 as an anthem for Cóir Chúil Aodha. Dónal Ó Liatháin recalled :

"We were gathered in the Ó Riada house [...] and Peadar had this tape and he put it on and on it was a man, if my memory serves me correctly, whose name was Domhnall Ó Buachalla. ... You could recognise from the tape that his was an old voice. [Peadar] told us that this was a tape that his father had collected from the man in question and he played us a song from it. [...] Peadar gave it to me saying that we could make a song from this melody. ...

"I had no plan whatsoever except that I ... would take the most beautiful verses ... the verses that were ... sort of universal as you might say. There really wasn't any difficulty because it was kind of clear that this was the thing you would do... The words and lines were very nice in the verses that we chose, but ... Seán Clarach really was a superb craftsman as regards metre and so forth and you couldn't really find a bad verse where the metre would not be spot on" [quoted in Wikipedia].

In Ó Lionáird's article in the Journal of Music published in Galway, Ó Liatháin is quoted as saying "it became the song that would be sung at the end of the night and people really loved it." Ó Liatháin added:
Well the thing about it was that it was Gaolach [Gaelic in a tribal as opposed to a linguistic sense] and nationalistic and manly and that it consisted of all these things. … the melody itself … had a marching rhythm, there was the sense of … referring back to times of heroism and triumph in Ireland and … I suppose it fitted into the atmosphere at the time since the situation in the North was quite troublesome. And then Ó Riada himself was dead and there was… there was a certain sadness to that period…

Ó Lionáird continues the story:

Prior to its arrival the choir habitually ended a night’s song in public performance with a humorous song – ‘Scoil Bharr d’Inse’. It would soon be usurped by what was now being called ‘Gile Mear’ – a Cúil Aodha song! It was accorded an additional life when its air started to be played at funerals as the coffin made its journey shouldered from the altar to the hearse. It in effect became the Cóir Chúil Aodha anthem. -
See more at:

Earlier posts:

** Update #2. Worth studying: Trad Irish Slow Sessions at New School of Music in center city Dublin:

The New School's Trad Slow Sessions are traditional Irish music sessions in all ways except one: the tempo. We play the session tunes at a slower than normal pace (usually less than half the speed), so that beginning and intermediate players can more easily learn the tunes and join in the session. More experienced players who wish to refine their techniques at a slower pace are also very welcome.

At many Irish traditional sessions the music can be quite loud and fast, which can be intimidating for newer players. Instead, our sessions are ‘softer and slower’ to facilitate the learning process in a friendly and supportive environment. Also, unlike many Irish sessions, those players who need to read the music can use it at the session, although ultimately our goal is to get everyone playing the music in the aural tradition so they can join other sessions. We limit the tunes to those on our tune list, which allows us to repeat the tunes from session to session.

Fascinating tune list!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Gustav II Adolf's Krigspsalm / "Fear not, O little flock" / Förfäras ej du lilla hop -- cf. tunes in Haeffner's chorale book and 1925 hymnal

LATER (Dec. 23, 2014): The tune 378b in Dillner appears in the 1892 koral-bok and the 1901 hymnal. In the 1925 hymnal, however, it is replaced by a melody composed by Augustana Seminary professor Carl Johannes Söndergren. See the discussion in Songs of Two Homelands (31n).

In both of Lars Paul Esbjorn's handwritten notebooks of psalmodikon tablature (sifferskrift) in the Esbjorn Family Papers, Box 14, MSS 1, Special Collections, Tredway Library, Augustana College, are versions of the "Krigspsalm" (war hymn) attributed to King Gustav II Adolf. Better known as Gustavus Adolphus, he was a national hero of Sweden during the 1800s and Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota was named for him.

It is No. 378 in Wallin's 1819 psalmbook, No. 390 in the Augustana Synod's 1901 service book and hymnal.

Förfäras ej, du lilla hop --
Tune used in Haeffner's chorale book -- posted by YouTube user Jens Fredborg, played on piano w/ lyrics, in Swedish, of first stanza

The basics are in the Swedish edition of Wikipedia atörfäras_ej_du_lilla_hop:

Förfäras ej du lilla hop är inledningsraden på "Gustaf Adolfs fältpsalm", som sägs ha sjungits av Gustav II Adolf och hans här inför slaget vid Lützen 1632. Den ursprungliga tyska texten, Verzage nicht, du Häuflein klein av Johann Michael Altenburg. Översättaren är okänd. Den svenska texten har tre 6-radiga verser i den version som bearbetades av Johan Olof Wallin.

Melodin är en medeltida folkmelodi med tyskt ursprung, nedtecknad 1530 i Ain schöns newes Christlichs Lyed.

The hymn is known as Gustavus Adolphus' "swan song" because he is said to have led his troops in singing it before his death in the Battle of Lützen during the Thirty Years War. Excerpt from The Story of Our Hymns by E.E. Ryden, available online at in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, gives the traditional story:

On the morning of November 6, 1632, the two armies faced each other in battle array. Dr. Fabricius, chaplain of the Swedish army, had been commanded by Gustavus to lead his troops in worship. The king himself raised the strains of “Be not dismayed, thou little flock,” and led the army in singing the stirring hymn. Then he knelt in fervent prayer.

A heavy fog prevented the Protestant forces from moving forward to the attack, and, while they were waiting for the fog to lift, Gustavus ordered the musicians to play Luther’s hymn, “A mighty Fortress is our God.” The whole army joined with a shout. The king then mounted his charger, and, drawing his sword, rode back and forth in front of the lines, speaking words of encouragement to his men.

As the sun began to break through the fog, Gustavus himself offered a prayer, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me today to do battle for the glory of Thy holy name,” and then shouted, “Now forward to the attack in the name of our God!” The army answered, “God with us!” and rushed forward, the king galloping in the lead.

Ryden was an Augustana Synod pastor, hymnologist and editor of The Lutheran Companion. Good bio on ArchiveGrid website at Including this: "He served as secretary of the Joint Commission on a Common Hymnal, which in conjunction with the Joint Commission on a Common Liturgy created the Service Book and Hymnal which represented the collaborative work of the eight Lutheran church bodies that comprised the National Lutheran Council. Previously, Ryden served on the Augustana committee that created its 1925 hymnal. In addition to this hymnal, he also co-wrote Augustana's Junior Hymnal in 1930 and its revision in 1960. Several of his original hymns and hymn texts were used in past hymnals and in the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, three of his hymn texts are included."