Introduced by Sasha Hsuczyk

Interest in singing from the American “Sacred Harp” tradition has grown stronger in recent years, an awareness that is reflected in our selection for this month’s Song of the Month.

The Sacred Harp is an American collection of hymns that has been continuously in print since it was first published in Georgia in 1844. Families of singers in many parts of the South have been singing from the book for generations, and today the Sacred Harp is enjoyed and used all over the U.S. as well as abroad. Part of what I think makes the book appealing to people from such a wide range of places and backgrounds are the universal messages that many of the songs express. As individual people we may lead very different daily lives, but as humans, collectively, we share a lot of the same emotions as we face the various trials of life. I find that singing from the Sacred Harp can offer a great deal of comfort, as well as a chance to empathize with others through song.

Canaan's Land tune notation
Click here for a downloadable PDF with notation and lyrics.

For September, I chose a popular favorite from the Sacred Harp that helps to inspire me — Canaan’s Land. For those who have a copy of the book it can be found at the top of page 101. The tune is rather interesting in that it is one of only a few songs in the Sacred Harp that uses just four notes in the melody. The words can be found going back as early as 1822 in a words-only hymnal called Social and Campmeeting Songs for the Pious, and was printed in several later hymnals, as well. It was no doubt a popular piece of poetry.

It’s not certain, but this song was likely composed by E.J. King, one of two compilers of the first edition of the Sacred Harp. He is described as “a farmer and singing teacher with ‘bright prospects as a musician'” in David Warren Steel’s book, The Markers of the Sacred Harp. Unfortunately, he passed away at the young age of 23, just after the Sacred Harp was published.

The words in the second half of the song look to the Eternal Spirit to give the singer guidance to “steer thro’ [sic] life’s tempestuous sea, where stormy winds do blow.” We can look for the same comfort in raising our voices in song with friends; try these harmonies with some of your favorite singing pals!

Sasha Hsuczyk was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Her first few years of college were spent in Ireland attending the University of Limerick’s undergraduate program in traditional Irish music, where she studied the fiddle. It was there in the traditional music section of the library that she discovered a copy of the Sacred Harp. She completed her undergraduate degree in Western Massachusetts at Hampshire College, earning a certificate in ethnomusicology. She has traveled all over the east coast to sing from the Sacred Harp, with several pilgrimages to Alabama and Georgia. Sasha currently resides in Pennsylvania, where she works as a vegetable farmer and musician, splitting her time between rural Berks County and Philadelphia. Thanks to Aldo Ceresa, Rachel Hall, Alex Forsyth, and Emma Swartz for their support!

Introduced by Sarah Jane Nelson

It was a challenge to pick one song (just one?) from the Max Hunter Folksong Collection, but “Farmer’s Daughter” swiftly made its way to the top of the pile. Harrison Burnett, who sang this song for Max in 1959 and in 1961, had the great fortune to be a “singing watchman” at the University of Arkansas where folklorist Mary C. Parler taught classes. Parler and her husband, Vance Randolph, were lifelong mentors to Max and often shared tapes and “informants” with him. Max visited Harrison at least twice, and got 16 songs from him. See The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection at Missouri State University.

Listen to “Farmer’s Daughter,” as sung by Harrison Burnett, Fayetteville, Arkansas on June 15, 1959. (Source: Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Missouri State University)

Farmer's Daughter notation
Click here for a PDF with both notation and lyrics.
Source: Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Missouri State University

Checking the Ozark Folksong Collection at the University of Arkansas, I see that Parler got there first, having collected this same song under the title “I’m Gonna Get Married A-Sunday” back in 1955. It was clearly a favorite of Harrison’s, who sang it with an authority in which he gives equal weight to both the old man’s cautionary message and the young-girl-in-a-hurry. There is such a visceral quality to this song — I can just feel the sun on my back as I “walk down in town” and I can smell the [implied] scent of lavender on the “bonnet and shawl” as they “lie on the shelf.” And then there’s the buoyancy of the melody itself which will put you on a cloud as you sing.

And while this piece could be tossed off as a “quaint little ditty” about a young girl’s naïve obsession with ribbons and bows, Harrison’s manly, sonorous voice (note the bass clef transcription!) delivers it on a much deeper level; it’s really about love and sex, hindsight and foresight, wisdom and impulsivity —a ll the things that make the world spin. There is a timeless universality in the dialogue between these two people, and they reside in every one of us.

According to writer Ted Anthony, Max had this to say about Burnett: “I believe Harrison is one of the finest singers I have ever visited and collected from.” I would encourage readers not only to listen to the Hunter recording, but to get a hold of Mark Bilyeu and Cindy Woolf’s recording Wolf Hunter, a magnificent album which gives this song (along with many others) new life.

Musician and writer Sarah Jane Nelson is still at work on her biography of Ozark song collector Max Hunter. You can learn more about her project by going to her campaign site.

(a.k.a. The Ladies Drinking Song)

Introduced by Hannah Shira Naiman

July’s song of the month is to be served with a slice of lime.

Ladies Rejoice (or The Ladies Drinking Song) was written over a hot summer weekend in Northern Ontario as Emily Adam and I nursed frozen cocktails by the lake. Emily and I were dancing on Toronto Women’s Sword (TWS) at the time, and, as I recall, although the two of us had a decent repertoire of songs, we found that we didn’t feel comfortable contributing during rowdy morris ale sings. All of the songs that we knew felt inappropriate―they were mostly about tragedy and love, and none of them rowdy.

But as we searched for a peppy drinking song within the existing repertoire, Emily pointed out a lack of songs from the woman’s perspective. True there are a few drinking songs with female narrators―but we didn’t want to talk about love and marriage or sailing on the ocean, as many other drinking songs with female narrators did. We wanted to sing simply about the joy of drinking. And also dressing up―two things, I dare say, TWS does very well besides dancing! The team has since taken to singing this song as something akin to their anthem.

Ladies Drinking Song notation
Click here for a link to a PDF of the notation

I am happy to share with you a song for summer refreshment and indulgence. I invite you all sing it as well! Ladies―and gentlemen too―raise your glasses! Cheers!

Here’s a YouTube video of Hannah and friends singing Ladies Rejoice. The videographer was Christopher Blow.

Hannah Shira Naiman (Toronto, ON) grew up just north of Toronto―a few thousand miles away from the hills of Appalachia, and yet her family home was always full of the sounds from that land. Raised by a banjo plucking Pa, and a children’s musician/dance caller/fiddling Ma, her home was a hub for American roots music in the cold heart of a Canadian metropolis.

Hannah is a songwriter and a traditional dance and music leader. She released her first album of original songs in 2013 (Tether My Heart, Merriweather Records Ltd.), and since then has been actively touring throughout North America. She is a founding member and regular caller at Toronto’s first regular American oldtime square dance, The Hogtown Hoedown, and also calls contra dances and family dances regularly. Hannah’s day job is in early childhood music, where she specializes in French playparty games for primary grades. This fall, Hannah will release her second album, Know the Mountain.

Introduced by Chris Koldeway

“The Press Gang (On Board A Man of War)” (Roud 662) is a song from the days when the British crown felt it could, in times of war, “press” into service anyone whom they deemed fit. (Or fit enough.) Gangs of Navy officers and Seamen would, in times of war, scour the English seaside towns, and gather up as many men as they needed. In some cases, this was done by “the book,” and other times, by less scrupulous methods. In fact, the impressment of American sailors was one of the issues that helped us to enter into the War of 1812. The Mainly Norfolk website, which is a great resource for British traditional music, quotes A.L. (Bert) Lloyd about this song:

“Rarer than a good song should be, this one. Sharp heard it, or three verses of it, in a Herefordshire workhouse (the workhouse was a great place to find singers in his day). Jack Moeran noted a fuller version at Winterton, Norfolk, and that’s the one Mike bases his performance on. Moeran’s singer was James Sutton, nicknamed “Old Larpin”, from whom the great Sam Larner learnt a boatload of songs.”

There are many wonderful versions of this song including those by Ewan MacColl, and Mike Waterson, but I first heard it from the magnificent singing of the late Roy Harris, singer of traditional songs, promoter of folk, supporter of budding singers, and life-long supporter of Nottingham Forest FC.

Sheet music for The Press Gang
Click the image for a link to a PDF of the notation

Roy sang this at the Lancaster Maritime Festival in the U.K., when my wife Joy Bennett and I were there, and I knew I needed to learn this song. I tracked Roy down, asked for the words, and with his genuine, welcoming grin took out a piece of paper and wrote down the words.

I noticed that the paper on which he was writing had some typed words, and some hand-written notation to “Shallow Brown,” a lovely sea chantey, and asked whether he might still need it. Roy casually mentioned that it was something “Bert” (A.L. Lloyd) had given him, and he knew the song now, so, “no,” he didn’t need it anymore.

The words—the ones that Roy wrote out, and what I know is on the back—now hang in a place of honor and remembrance in my studio at home. I look at them almost daily, and remember one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met. The last time Roy and I spoke, we were in Wales, and I gave Roy a call. He thanked me for putting the song on my CD, and was delighted that I had kept in “his” verse: “These Navy officers…”. I asked, “your verse?” “Oh, yes, that one was mine.”

Roy has now passed on to what is fast becoming an astounding “session” in the next world. I know that I, and many others, will miss him terribly here, but consider myself blessed for many gifts he left behind. Thank you, Roy.

Here’s Chris singing The Press Gang, from his CD Called Away:

Chris Koldewey, a public school music teacher by trade, has been singing folk music and sea music in particular since his early teens. He comes from a family rich in maritime traditions, and from an early age was exposed to a wide variety of folk music during his formative years on Long Island. He has played concerts and festivals in both the U.S. and the U.K., and has led workshops dealing with a variety of traditional music forms, and accompanies himself on a variety of instruments.

Chris has had a long association with the Chanteymen at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. Two of his greatest experiences were to Chantey up the anchor on board the Barque Picton Castle during his three-week stint on board her during the summer of 2009, and to sail and Chantey on board of the historic Charles W. Morgan—the only wooden whaler left in the world—in the summer of 2014.

Introduced by Kim Wallach

We dance in the month of May with Morris and Maypole, so it is fitting that the song of the month be about Morris dancing. Dancing at Whitsun, written by Austin John Marshall to the tune of “The Week Before Easter” or “the False Bride” was first published in 1968 in Karl Dallas’ book, The Cruel Wars, and first recorded by Shirley Collins in 1969 as part of the Anthems in Eden Suite.

Whitsun is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is short for “White Sunday.” It marked the beginning of a week’s holiday for medieval villeins (feudal tenants) from service on the lord’s demesne. This made it a good occasion for celebration, including fairs, Morris dancing, parades, with choirs and brass bands, and girls dressed all in white.

Morris dancing was exclusively a male domain for several hundred years, until the First World War decimated the young men of England. In some villages, there were no young man at all to carry on the tradition, and it would have died if not for the women who danced in memory and honor of their lost fathers, brothers, sweethearts and sons.
I love this song, with an ancient melody and modern words that evoke the terrible loss of the war not with descriptions of gore, but by painting the landscape of their absence. The women cope with their loss by preserving what they have left – the tradition of dance that would also die without the men.

This song has also been recorded by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, Priscilla Herdman, Jean Redpath, and Bok, Trickett and Muir. Austin John Marshall and Shirley Collins (his wife at the time) ended the song with this verse from the Staines Morris to infuse some hope into the mournful song:

Come you young men come along
With your music, dance and song
Bring your lasses in your hand
For ’tis that which love commands
Then to the Maypole haste away
For ’tis now a holiday

The Tim Hart and Maddy Prior version is offered here.

Dancing at Whitsun sheet music
Click the image for a link to a PDF of the notation

Lyrics

It’s fifty-one springtimes since she was a bride,
But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green,
As green as her memories of loving.

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now,
As gentle a measure as age do allow,
Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn,
Where once she was pledged to her true love.

The fields they are empty, the hedges grow free,
No young men to tend them, or pastures go see.
They’ve gone where the forests of oak trees before
Had gone to be wasted in battle.

Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.
There’s a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once was,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

There’s a row of straight houses in these latter days
Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze.
There’s a field of red poppies, a wreath from the Queen.
But the ladies remember at Whitsun,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

(Thanks to Wikipedia, and a lengthy thread on Mudcat, for much of the information.―KW)

Kim Wallach is an elementary music teacher, songwriter, singer, morris dancer, Children’s Music Network board member, and mom, currently cohabitating with a Westie in Keene, NH. Her article about the children’s song “Jenny Jenkins” appeared in the CDSS Sings column in the CDSS News, Fall 2015.

Introduced by Jesse P. Karlsberg

April’s song is an early nineteenth-century set piece for a cappella four-part harmony singing with a name and hymn text that evoke the warming weather, “vernal flowers,” and “warbling choirs” of birds that accompany this season of the year. SPRING was published, without attribution, in James M. Boyd’s 1818 shape-note tunebook Virginia Sacred Musical Repository as a three-part setting. It acquired a fourth part, by W. H. Swan, when it was reprinted in the 1848 Harp of Columbia.1 It sets to music the second verse of Charles Wesley’s eighteenth-century hymn, “The voice of my beloved sounds.” SPRING is best known today thanks to its inclusion in The Sacred Harp, the popular tunebook used at all-day singings and conventions each weekend across the United States and in about two dozen countries.

One often-celebrated feature of Sacred Harp singings shared with many of the other song traditions CDSS members enjoy is their orientation toward participation rather than performance. At a Sacred Harp singing every singer has the opportunity to stand in the center of the style’s hollow square seating arrangement and lead a song or two of their choice from The Sacred Harp. As Mark T. Godfrey and I recently wrote, “[t]he songs leaders choose are building blocks that construct our experience of the day.” Leaders’ choices are deeply individual, involving songs’ “words, their music, and the memories and emotions that accrue around them.” But as we discovered by analyzing the minutes documenting thousands of singings held since 1995, singers’ choices of when to lead a select handful of songs, including those featuring texts associated with holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July, and a select pair—WINTER and SPRING—named for seasons, reflect how their “individual discrete decisions build over time, shaping the seasonal ebb and flow of our collective experience.”2

Spring sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Spring”

SPRING is led most frequently during the two-week block coinciding with the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring—perhaps less the result of singers’ intentional marking of the equinox than a general awareness of the changing of the seasons. SPRING remains seasonably popular for the following two months, a period during which it is about twice as popular as during the rest of the year. As Mark and I discovered, the song then dips in popularity, before briefly spiking again in mid-July, perhaps reflecting a bit of nostalgia for the season’s cooler weather after summer’s heat arrives.3

SPRING is one of the more challenging songs in The Sacred Harp, with a wide range, complicated dotted rhythms, and a change in time from 2/4 to 6/8. The song is an example of a “set piece,” a relatively uncommon genre in the shape-note singing canon in which “a piece of music [is] set with particular words and designed to be used with those words only.”4 SPRING’s special relationship between tune and text is most evident in the remarkable word painting on the word “coo” late in the song, where the onomatopoeic word for a bird’s call is paired with a dramatic ascending figure in the tenor (melody), echoed by a similar figure in the treble part.

The Sacred Harp’s SPRING isn’t the only song of the season accessible to shape-note singers. The Northern Harmony includes a 1793 rollicking fuging tune also called SPRING by central Massachusetts composer Joseph Stone. It’s spring-themed verses of Isaac Watts’s 1719 versification of Psalm 147 suit its inclusion in the tunebook as part of a three-song sequence of early New England tunes arranged as an anthem on the seasons of the year.

Whether you sing SPRING, or SPRING, or even WINTER, spend a bit of time this month hailing the changing of the seasons with song.

Former CDSS board member Jesse P. Karlsberg is a postdoctoral fellow at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, and editor of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition. He is an active Sacred Harp singer, teacher, composer, and organizer.

Multimedia Extras:

Footnotes

1 David Warren Steel, The Makers of the Sacred Harp (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 204.
2 Jesse P. Karlsberg and Mark T. Godfrey, “Seasonal Songs,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 4, no. 2 (December 31, 2015).
3 Ibid.
4 Hugh McGraw et al., eds., The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition (Carrollton, GA: Sacred Harp Publishing Company, 1991), 23.

Introduced by Robbie O’Connell

Our choice for March is a classic traditional Irish love song, “The Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie,” presented here by Robbie O’Connell.

Irish traditional singer Elizabeth Cronin, also known as Bess, was born in 1879 and died in 1956. She lived in Ballyvourney, County Cork and was recorded by several song collectors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including Seamus Ennis, Alan Lomax, Jean Ritchie and Diane Hamilton. She sang in both English and Irish and had almost two hundred songs.

In 2000, her grandson Dáibhí O’Cróinín published a collection of her songs that included two CDs of her singing. Several of her songs were recorded by folk revival singers such as Mick Moloney, Steeleye Span and Christie Moore. The field recordings can also be found in the Cecil Sharp House in London.

One of her better-known songs is often called “The Top of a Mountain” or “Bonnie Blue-eyed Nancy.”

Here is a version of this song performed by Robbie O’Connell and students at the Institute of Musical Traditions.

"Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie.”

Lyrics

How can I live on the top of a mountain,
Without gold in my pocket or money for to count it?
I’ll leave the money go, all for to please her fancy;
For I’ll marry none but the bonny blue-eyed lassie.

The bonny blue-eyed lassie, with her fair hair so tender,
Her red rosy cheeks and her waist so neat and slender.
I’d roll her in my arms and fondly I’d embrace her,
But how can I love her, ah!, when my people hate her.

Some people say she is very low in station,
While more of them say she is the cause of my ruination.
But let them all say what they will, to her I will prove constant still.
Until the day that I’ll die she’s my charming girl, believe me.

Brightly swims the swan in the broad streams of Youghal,
And loudly sings the nightingale, all for to behold her.
In the cold frost and snow the moon shines deeply,
But deeper by far between me and my true love.

Robbie O’Connell, born and raised in Waterford, Ireland, is a singer, songwriter, and teacher now living in Rhode Island. In addition to performing and recording Robbie leads tours of Ireland that include traditional music sessions every night.

Introduced by Lorraine Lee Hammond

February’s song is a traditional children’s song that is fun to sing and easily turned into a game or simple theatre production. Good entertainment for a wintry afternoon. Perhaps you know a version already. I learned this one from Oscar Degreenia when I was a child in West Cornwall, Connecticut. I give his verses here, but I have changed them many times through the years. I encourage you to do the same. This song is a great vehicle for banter and improvisation – friend to friend, parent to child, sibling to sibling. A simple song of bribery!

Oscar DeGreenia (the song’s composer) and his sister Almeda Bray singing “Paper of Pins:”

Oscar was born in Sheffield, Vermont in 1878. He worked as a farmhand in the region until he moved to Cornwall, Connecticut in 1932 with his wife Etta and Etta’s father and brother. They came to work as tenant farmers on the long established Gold farm on Cream Hill. Later Oscar and Etta moved to West Cornwall, and Oscar worked as a farmhand with my father on our little farm on Sharon Mountain. Oscar had learned his songs from his mother Zoya LaClair when he was growing up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We have included a field recording made by Helen Hartness Flanders in West Cornwall in 1949. Oscar is singing with his sister Almeda Bray of Derby, Vermont. A Google search will bring you many other versions of the song.

Paper of Pins sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “Paper of Pins.”

Lyrics

I’ll give to you a paper of pins, and that’s the way my love begins,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I’ll not accept your paper of pins if that’s the way your love begins,
For I’ll not marry you, you, you, I’ll not marry you.

I’ll give to you a paper and needles to mend your clothes whenever you need ‘em,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I’ll not accept your paper and needles to mend my clothes whenever I need ‘em,
For I’ll not marry you, you, you, I’ll not marry you.

I’ll give to you a little lap dog to go with you when go abroad,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I’ll not accept your little lap dog to go with me when I go abroad,
For I’ll not marry you, you, you, I’ll not marry you.

I’ll give to you a dress of red trimmed all round with golden thread,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I’ll not accept your dress of red trimmed all round with golden thread,
For I’ll not marry you, you, you, I’ll not marry you.

I’ll give to you a coach and six, coats as black as any pitch,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I’ll not accept your coach and six, coats as black as any pitch,
For I’ll not marry you, you, you, I’ll not marry you.

I’ll give to you the keys to my chest that you may have gold when you request,
If you will marry me, me, miss, if you will marry me.

I will accept the keys to your chest, that I may have gold at my request,
And I will marry you, you, you, and I will marry you.

You won’t accept the key to my chest, you won’t have gold at your request.
For I won’t marry you, you, you, for I won’t marry you.

“Paper of Pins” is likely derived from the English folk song “The Bells of Canterbury.” Cecil Sharp names it “The Keys of Heaven” in his Folksongs of Somerset collection, third volume, published in 1906. In this version, the one being courted refuses even the treasure chest, succumbing instead to an embroidered silken gown:

O Sir, I will accept of you
A broidered silken gownd,
With nine yards a-drooping
And training on the ground :
Then I will be your joy, your sweet and only dear,
And walk along with you, anywhere.

Sharp commented, “From what the old singers have told me, I gather that the ballad was generally sung by a man and woman, with much dramatic action.” He collected his version from Mrs. Susan Williams, of Haselbury-Plucknett, and Mrs. Harriet Young, of West Chinnock, in Somerset.

Lorraine Lee Hammond is a member of the CDSS Board and a lifetime folk singer, performer and teacher. She and her husband Bennett Hammond live in Brookline, Massachusetts.

By Brendan Taaffe
Introduced by Lorraine Hammond

We kick off our Year of Song with “May It Fill Your Soul,” a new composition from singer and instrumentalist Brendan Taaffe of Vermont.

"May It Fill Your Soul" sheet music
Download a PDF of the sheet music for “May It Fill Your Soul.”

Composer notes for “May It Fill Your Soul:”

This song was won in the silent raffle at Harmony of Song and Dance 2014. In writing it, I wanted to create a song that reflected some aspects of the different traditions that bring the CDSS community together. Each part of the song on its own is relatively simple but together they create (hopefully) an intricate and interesting tapestry.

Please treat the score as a map to the territory rather than a strict guide. I can easily imagine other lines and improvisations that would fit on top of these four parts and, most obviously, the sopranos could change the words of their line as the song goes on.

Some suggestions: “And our love goes on and on… our hope/ this song/ etc.”

As a final note, I suspect the song will tune better in Bb minor, but seemed like an unkind key for most music readers.

— B.T.