Saturday, November 17, 2007


Too burnt to post at length (listened to papers all morning, gave an hour long paper, then turned around and played an hour-long concert), and a very long day on Southwest tomorrow headin' home, but here's what we played at the end of this:

The model was a snapshot of the musical world of central Long Island--rural and urban, black and white, middle-class and working-class, abolitionist and anti-abolitionist, parlor barn-dance--in the 1840s.

Dorsetshire March - Published in the 1768 Gillespie MSS, popular Revolutionary-era march, found in my artist's manuscript papers

Miss McLeod
/Hop High Ladies - first the original Scots reel on flute, followed by the banjo song it became in the Ozarks and on the Missouri River

Musings of an Old Bachelor/Merry Girls of New York/Shep Jones' Hornpipe
- Three tunes associated with my guy: the first composed by him, the second a transcription, the third by a friend who he painted--I'm sitting about four blocks away from Shep Jones Lane right now (fiddle & piano)

Old Dan Tucker/Get Off the Track
- The first one popularized by Dan Emmett's Virginia Minstrels in 1843, but almost certainly borrowed by him from an early, maybe Ohio River source; the second an abolitionist contrafact (new words to the same tune) by the Hutchinson Family Singers, New Hampshire-born media stars and fervent abolitionists. They used to provoke riots (pro- and anti-) when they sang this song in the late '40s (clawhammer banjo, solo vocal, plus chorus)

Good Morrow to Your Nightcap
- A simple Bminor hornpipe, its title commemorating either the last jar of the night before, or the first of the morning-after "hair of the dog" (mandolin & whistle)

Old Folks Quadrille
- From Stephen Foster's Social Orchestra of 1854,l an immensely popular collection of amateur music for which he made $154 as a flat fee and no royalties

Oh Susanna
- Written by Foster at the age of 20, in 1847, and quickly adopted by the Gold Rushers of 1848 and '49, the "Forty-Niners" (mandolin and chorus)

Waltz from Lucia di Lammermoor
- more "at-home" music based in the amateur taste for simplified versions of Italian opera, in this case Donizette (piano/violin)

The Century Hornpipe/Harvest Home/From Mr L Robinson's Collection
- Three dance tunes from my guy's MSS collection, the middle one a very well-known Irish tune (mandolin, flute, fiddle, piano)

- Another for violin/piano from The Social Orchestra

Follow the Drinking Gourd
- song attributed (probably apocryphally) to a Underground Railroad-era escaping slaves; more likely a heavily rewritten post-Civil War version of a folk-song, with the "code" retroactively embedded--but still a great song (mandolin/voice)

On the Cars of the Long Island Railroad
- wonderful little scordatura (AEAE - "high tuning") "train piece" for fiddle composed by our guy

Jump Jim Crow
- probably the most famous--and notorious--blackface minstrel song of all. There were hundreds of variants and literally thousands of floating verses, many containing the noxious racial caricatures of the time, but many more taking a more "tall-tales of the frontier"and/or gleeful-nose-thumbing-at-power approach. We chose one rife with braggadocio but absent the racism. See Rip Lhamon's Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Texts, and Manuscripts of the First Atlantic Street Culture (clawhammer banjo, vocal, chorus)

The Battle Cry of Freedom
- in 1861 fresh-faced young boys still believed they could sign up for the "crusade" against the Peculiar Institution, and that they'd still be home by Christmas. By 1863, the carnage at Shiloh, Antietam, and (dear God) Gettysburg had put paid to any such idealism. Now, I hear this song not as rabble-rousing patriotism but as a lament whispering down the wind, full of the naivete that sends young men out to die, thinking it's "glorious" (mandolin, voice, fiddle, piano)
Arkansas Traveler - authentic media craze in the 1840s: it came out of the South, but the tune, and the comic dialog bits interpolated within it, took over middle-class parlors in the North too; there's a copy in our painter's MSS. Sample dialog:
[City Slicker]: Say, friend, have you lived here all your life?
[Sly Rube]: Waal…Not yet!

[CS]: Well, where does this road go?
[SR]: Don't go nowhere, stays right where ‘tis.

[CS]: Why don't you fix the leak in your roof?
[SR]: I ain't goin' up on the roof in the rain!
[CS]: Well, why don’t you fix it when it's not raining?
[SR]: If it ain't rainin' it don't need fixin'!

[CS]: How do you get to Little Rock?
[SR]: You cain't get there from here.
[CS]: Say, you're pretty dumb, aren’t you friend?
[SR]: May be… but then, I ain't lost!
Home Sweet Home - A sentimental song adapted from an Italian opera melody in the 1850's by Sir Henry Bishop. The ubiquity of this song in middle-class parlors before the Civil War marks the near-final stage of the transformation of American culture from a community of yeomen, farmers, artisans, and aristocracy, and the rise of a bourgeois. What we lost!

Home tomorrow.

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