Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Money Musk" - old contradance tune, mentioned by Lindsay and Masters

For Vachel Lindsay Home gig ...

Usually played in A major but also very often in G, according to Andrew Kuntz' Fiddler's Companion. But The Session has it in A major, and O'Neill's collection of Irish tunes does too. Interesting comments (as always), including this:
My dad, who was Glaswegian, used to thump this one out on the piano when I was a wee thing. He always played it with a lift and snap.

My father in law who plays English style, played it very differently, as I recall it was smoother.
Some very interesting comments by Alan Jabbour in Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection that I need to go back to: "Henry Reed recorded "Money Musk" four times; it was a project of sorts for him to get it assembled in all its possible parts. The tune--or at least its first two strains--is a Scottish reel from the end of the eighteenth century. [details omitted here] Henry Reed's version is a rarity in the Upper South, and it is all the more extraordinary for adding extra strains that turn the piece into a complex and challenging set piece. His first two strains are always the usual strains of "Money Musk," but following Upper South predilections he begins with the highest strain, and his second strain (the usual first strain) is distinctive in rising to the octave rather than descending to the lower tonic. His third and fourth strains (in this performance) are unique to his performance. ..." [This is really worth coming back to!] Sheet music at ... and ...

ABC notation website has it in G at

And here's the audio version to learn the song from: A very nice contradance version w/ clarinet and brass and piano joining the string band - Nils Fredland calls Money Musk at the Swallowtail 30th anniversary dance weekend. Backed by members of Swallowtail, Wild Asparagus and Elixir contradance bands in New England

Adds the YouTube blurb: "Money Musk is an older contra dance that was very popular in the time of Dudley Laufman, in the 60's and 70's. Nils is calling in the style of Dudley in this video." [He kind of sings, or intones, the calls.]

Better visual quality at

Elixir has a CD out. Info on Elixir website plus address for ordering the CD by mail ... "Elixir blends driving fiddle and guitar with the rich texture and rhythmic excitement of a full horn section, deftly weaving brassy riffs and daring solos in and out of traditional Irish, French Canadian and New England tunes. Elixir plays for dances, festivals, camps, weddings and other events, with a repertoire that includes contra, English, swing, waltz, couples dance, and concert music." Personnel:
Nils Fredland, calling / trombone
Ethan Hazzard-Watkins, fiddle
Jesse Hazzard-Watkins, trumpet
Anna Patton, clarinet
Owen Morrison, guitar / feet

Another version, and more contradance lore. Fiddle and piano. Footage is from a dance party in Canterbury, NH on March 7, 2010, organized by Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman as part of International Money Musk Month. ...

Adds the YouTube description, by a participant in the dance: "(They are the first couple on the left at the start of the video; in the second clip, Dudley is visible in a lilac-colored shirt and Jacqueline in blue.) In all, we danced Money Musk-- Dudley would say "The Money Musk"-- three separate times in the course of the afternoon, along with half a dozen other older dances; these clips are from two of those times. The third time (not shown) we did it in four-couple longways sets, with the active couple dancing twice and then moving to the bottom of the set, for a total of eight times through the figures."

Yet another version on YouTube: "Money Musk" being danced in Norwich, Vermont, on March 14, 2009, as part of "Cracking Chestnuts," an entire evening's program devoted to older contra dances" ... part of International Money Musk Moment (see below) ...

Adds YouTube: "On that same night, dancers in numerous locations around the US and abroad were celebrating the International Money Musk Moment, with many of us doing that dance at about the same time.

"The tune for Money Musk originated in Scotland in 1776 and the first dance instructions appeared in 1785. By 1792, the tune and dance had made it to North America, and both spread rapidly. (Many of today's dancers first encountered the phrase Money Musk when they were children, reading Little House in the Big Woods; it was a tune that Laura's Pa played on his fiddle.)"

Fiddler's Companion has a detailed history of the tune, which it attributes to 18th-century Scots fiddler Daniel Dow ... says it is named for a Scottish estate and adds "...‘Moneymusk’ is the ‘Englished’ version of the Gaelic words Muine Muisc" which meant some kind of noxious weed).

“Money Musk” was a popular melody as well as a country dance in America by the 1790’s. American published versions of the music appear beginning in 1796 by B. Carr in Evening Amusements (Philadelphia), and both tune and dance were widely published after that, indicating enormous popularity in America in the last decade of the 18th century into the next. Manuscript versions are also numerous: one appears in Ann Winnington’s music manuscript book (No. 29), c. 1810—the frontispiece in the MS. indicates Winnington resided in New York (although she may have removed at some point to England). Elisabeth Crawford (Massachusetts) penned the dance figures in her 1794 commonplace book that contained the rules of grammar alongside 12 other country dance figures. Southington, Connecticut, musician Joel Allen copied “Money Musk” into his music copybook of around 1800, as did Thomas Cushing around 1805 and Silas Dickinson (Amherst, Massachusetts) around 1800. Onondaga, New York, fluter Daniel Henry Huntington copied it into his manuscript “Preceptor for the Flute” in 1817, as did Newburyport, Massachusetts, musician Samuel Morse in 1811. William Patten (Philadelphia, Pa.) noted it in his copybook from around 1800, as did Cherry Valley, New York, fiddler George White, around 1790. In fact, the country dance "Money Musk” has remained a New England staple for two centuries, although one phrase of the original music has been dropped, while the dance measures stayed the same (thus "cramming 32 measures of dance in to 24 measures of music" note Tony Parkes/Steve Woodruff). In some New England dance circles this dance was traditionally danced immediately after the break, where, for just one example, presumably this was so when it was danced in August, 1914, at the 150th anniversary celebration of the founding of the town of Lancaster, N.H. (it was listed on a playbill preserved in the town history). Peter Yarensky remembers that it used to be the first dance after the break for years at New Hampshire dances, and that “some people would line up for Money Musk before the break even began…” By the 1970’s the tune dance was considered a “chestnut” and it is rarely performed today in New England. ...

* * *

In America, in contrast to New England and the eastern seaboard, the tune is very rare in the Southern Appalachians (Jabbour, Krassen/1973), though not unknown. It was recorded as one of the tunes played by fiddler Ben Smith, a Georgian in the Twelfth Alabama Infantry in the Civil War (as listed by Robert Emory Park in Sketch of the Twelfth Alabama Infantry, 1906) {Cauthen, 1990}. Another Civil War reference is to be found in Bell Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb, where it is listed among the favorite fiddle tunes of Confederate musicians. ... In the Midwest “Moneymusk” was much more common and the title appears in a list of traditional Ozark Mountain fiddle tunes compiled by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, published in 1954. Missouri fiddlers still play the tune (it was known as a difficult piece and a “big tune” in Mo. fiddle contests up until the 1970's, according to Howard Marshall, though its popularity has waned in recent years), and “Money Musk” is one of ‘100 essential Missouri tunes’ listed by Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden. John Hartford (2001) recorded a three-part version in the key of ‘A’ he learned from Missouri fiddler Roy Wooliver (“the little cross-eyed snaggle-toothed drifter who drifted in an out of almost everything we played, who was a major influence on Gene Goforth when Gene was young, who in turn was a major influence on everybody else who heard him”), that Hartford and Goforth both recorded as “Wooliver’s Money Musk.” Interestingly, Marshall notes “Moneymusk” is known as an “Irish” tune, a thought perhaps derived from its transmission through Scots-Irish immigrants to the mid-South American highlands, and thence to the Mid-West. Early-recorded American versions include that by Jasper Bisbee (for Edison), who was born in 1843, Col. John Pattee (for Columbia), born in 1844, Henry Ford’s Orchestra, and North Carolina fiddler Dad Williams.


CJS said...

Very nice. Caller Nils Fredland is an old friend from the 1990s Bloomington, IN contra scene.

Pete said...

Thanks for posting! Usually I get spam (at least I assume it's spam since I don't read Chinese). Can't dance any better than I read Chinese, but I loved the way Fredland called the dance.

And the wind instruments playing along with the string band blew me away ... pun not indended. I've never heard anything quite like it in all the years I spent on the fringes of the old-time Appalachian string band scene, and I definitely want to hear more.