Friday, January 01, 2016

"Parting Glass" -- an old Irish song to usher in the new year (with a hat tip to an old dulcimer buddy who's now in Arizona)

As luck would have it, the first piece of music I heard this year was one of my favorites. It's called "The Parting Glass," and it dates back at least to the 1700s. It has both Scottish and Irish antecedents. It's known today chiefly as a trad Irish song, first popularized in 1959 by Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, but according to the fountainhead of all useful knowledge at Wikipedia, it was said to be the most popular song of farewell in Scotland before Robert Burns wrote "Auld Lang Syne."

Which no doubt has something to do with how I came to be hearing it the first thing in the morning on New Year's Day.

[*If you're interested in knowing more about the tune, see FOOTNOTE below.]

In Irish music circles, it's associated with partings, from wakes and funerals to closing time at pub sessions, with its lovely refrain,

So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.

The same events and transitions, in other words, as "Auld Lang Syne." So yesterday evening on New Year's Eve, my old dulcimer-playing buddy Ryan Reeves posted a very fine arrangement by the High Kings to his Facebook feed. You can link to it here or watch this stunning a cappella arrangement by the UCD Choral Scholars of University College Dublin:

Ryan was an adjunct English instructor at Springfield College in Illinois before it got absorbed into Benedictine, and he played with the old Prairieland Dulcimer Strings when his schedule permitted (he was an adjunct teaching night classes, so his schedule didn't permit very often), but he bought one of Steve Endsley's dulcimers and got to be quite good at it. He moved on to greener pastures in Arizona several years ago.

(Tangent: There's something about that phrase "greener pastures in Arizona" that makes me wonder if I ought to find another cliche. But there's something in my sense of irony that enjoys this one very well, thank you. At least the high Sonoran desert country doesn't have a governor hell-bent on shakin' it up these days.)

Anyway, when I saw Ryan's link from New Year's Eve, opened it and played it, I sent him this one in reply. It's amateur footage from Liam Clancy's funeral in Co. Waterford in 1969, and I get a lump in my throat every time I hear it (which is fairly often, because I love the music -- they also sing a verse of "Wild Mountain Thyme" at graveside):

Which got me to thinking -- why don't we play this at the latest reincarnation of the Prairieland dulcimer group? We have two sessions coming up this week:

  • At Clayville Stagecoach Stop Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains, Saturday (tomorrow), 10 a.m. to noon.

  • Our "first Tuesday" session in the narthex (lobby) at Atonement-Faith-Luther Memorial Church, 2800 W. Jefferson, Tuesday, 7 to 9 p.m.

Plus I found dulcimer tab in what seems like a reasonable key for singing.

Dave Holeton has it in B minor -- which is a variation on "D for dulcimer" since Bm is the relative minor for the key of D -- at in the Everything Dulcimer website's tab collection. His tab is for an instrument tuned to DAD, which is most often used to play tunes in Dmaj, but from looking at the notes on the page (OK, OK, the notes on the computer screen), I think it should work out all right. If you get some funky discords, just flat-pick the melody note.

And, just to prove you never know what you're going to find in Wikipedia, I just learned that the melody got into the American shape-note tradition, by way of William Walker's Southern Harmony.

Stands to reason. So many of Walker's folk hymns were in an Anglo-Celtic oral tradition (for lack of a better word for it) that came to American with the Scots-Irish immigrants of the 1700s. It's in the Sacred Harp, too, where it's known as No. 42 CLAMANDA. In the Sacred Harp tradition, the tempo and dynamics are very different to what we know from trad Irish music. Here's a video of CLAMANDA being sung at the First Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, held in 2011 at University College Cork:


* A FOOTNOTE (really): Everything you've ever wanted to know about the song is available on line in Jürgen Kloss, "Some Notes On The History Of 'The Parting Glass'." 30 March 2012. ....Just Another Tune: Songs & Their History.

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