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EARLY AMERICA (1620-1810)
ON OCTOBER 12, 1492, WHEN COLUMBUS' BRAWNY SAILORS REACHED SAN SALVADOR (WATLING Island, Bahamas), they broke out in song with the popular hymn "Te Deum." Thus the first European music was heard in America. Religion was clearly the dominant influence on music during our early Colonial days. "Old Hundredth" ("Doxology") was a favorite hymn as attested to in Longfellow's "Courtship of Myles Standish." Many small bands of immigrants arrived from many countries, established churches, and sang the hymns of their fatherland. It wasn't until 1640 that the first music book was printed here on the first printing press in Cambridge, Massachusetts bearing the title The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated Into English Metre, later known as the Bay Psalm Book.
Secular songs also found their way into the daily lives of the Colonists. Some came over on the Mayflower while others arrived later. A few developed fairly good local popularity. Churchgoing people kept a vigilant ear on secular music. When risque and bawdy songs began filtering in during the middle of the seventeenth century, the Church intervened. Recognizing the persuasive powers of music, the Church took the position, "The first and chief Use of Musick is for the Service and Praise of God, whose gift it is. The second Use is for the Solace of Men, which as it is agreeable unto Nature, so it is allow'd by God, as a temporal Blessing to recreate and cheer men after long study and weary labor in their Vocations."
Virtually all our music was imported, and learned by ear in folk-song tradition. Complaints arose that no two groups sang the same song with the same melody. Thomas Symmes noted in his published pamphlet (1720), "Now singing by note is giving every note its proper pitch ... in its proper place. Whereas, the usual way varies much from this ... some notes are sung too high, others too low, and most too long, and many turnings with the voice are made where they should not be, and some are wanting where they should have been." Thus a movement for "regular singing" gave rise to singing schools, which paved the way for the future choral groups and community sings which are now an important part of our cultural heritage.
The early eighteenth century saw the use of music expand as our population grew. Music was everyone's property, since it knew no distinction of class, race or nationality. Musical instruments were imported, prized, and played. Just ten years after we adopted the Gregorian calendar (1752) Benjamin Franklin invented the much-talked-about armonica, a mechanical version of musical glasses. He was partial to Scotch songs, often playing them on guitar or harp. Thomas Jefferson, gifted with a fine singing voice, frequently played violin duets with Patrick Henry. Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia "The instrument proper to them (Negroes) is the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa." Among our earliest American composers were William Billings and Francis Hopkinson a friend of George Washington and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
When political clouds darkened, Samuel Adams organized singing groups, teaching them partisan songs denouncing unfair taxation and supporting independence. Thomas Paine often wrote the lyrics for such songs. Soon hundreds of political songs appeared, and by the time of Concord and Lexington there began a war of songs as well as gunpowder. Every military and civilian sing-along proved an important morale booster.
The end of the war touched off great immigration and migration, which resulted in an increased number of songs and a wider dispersion of the songs already established. By 1810 our population stood well over seven million as the Western movement was beginning to find its stride. The most prized possessions of our frontiersmen were the rifle, an axe, the Bible, and a fiddle.
THIS FOLK SONG IS WELL OVER 350 YEARS OLD AND WAS HIGHLY POPULAR IN ENGLAND THE LATTER part of the sixteenth century. It was well known to William Shakespeare who refers to it twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" when he has Mistress Ford say, "But they do no more adhere and keep place together than the Hundredth Psalm to the tune of 'Greensleeves'" (Act 2, Scene 1), and later, in Act 5, Scene 5, he has Falstaff say, "Let it thunder to the tune of 'Greensleeves.'"
Shakespeare could hardly have known how immensely popular his dramas and this folk song would become centuries later. Four years after his death (1616) "Greensleeves" was brought to America by the Pilgrims, and it was one of the very few secular songs frequently sung by our early settlers. Throughout Colonial America's growth this song's popularity maintained itself as one of the favorites among little and big people alike. "Greensleeves" was as well known to the man who made barrel staves as it was to George Washington. It was sung lustily by the blacksmith and more elegantly by wealthy Virginia families to the accompaniment of violins and the virginal (granddaddy of the piano).
Shortly after our Civil War this charming melody was given a brand new lyric by William Chatterton Dix, and the song became a fairly popular Christmas carol entitled "What Child Is This?" and is still sung in many places today.
Directly after World War II, America's interest in folk songs took a sharp turn upwards. Folk singers became respected artists and "Greensleeves" was one of their finest songs. Thus this song's popularity steadily increased, and when a new edition was published in 1951 the song reached hit proportions all over again.
2. I have been ready and at your hand
For to grant whatever your heart would crave
And I have waged both my life and land
Your dear love and your good will to hold and have
3. I bought thee kerchers to 'dorn thy head
That were wrought so fine and so gallantly
I kept thee well both at board and bed
Which did cost my own purse so well favoredly
4. I bought thee petticoats of the best
With a cloth so fine and soft as might be
I gave thee jewels for thine own chest
And yet all of this cost I did spend on thee
5. Well I will pray to our God on high
So that thou my constancy mayest see
And that yet once more before I die
Thou so surely wilt vouch safe to love me
6. Greensleeves now farewell adieu adieu
For to God I pray Him to prosper thee
For I am still thy one lover true
Come to me once again and do love me
BARBARA ALLEN 1622
THIS IS ONE OF THE OLDEST OF OLD SONGS, AND ONE OF THE FEW THAT HAS ENJOYED CONTINUAL popularity for well over three hundred years in England, Scotland, and America. This folk song originated in Scotland and dates back at least to the beginning of the seventeenth century, at which time there were both Scottish and English versions. This was a song that peasants understood, felt, and enjoyed since the lyric tells a story as old as man himself. Somewhere along the line the story became a rhyme, and the rhyme became a song. Like most folk songs it just developed, and was passed on orally from generation to generation.
"Barbara Allen" arrived in Colonial America about the time of the Pilgrims and was one of their favorites. Very shortly there were several English and Scottish variations of the song in old New England. Later, migrants from New England took this song with them to the Southern mountains where they developed a few of their own variations including extra verses to suit their own tastes. Even before the American Revolution the entire East Coast of America was covered with many variants of "Barbara Allen."
In the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys there is a January 2, 1666, entry conferring praise on the performance of this song by actress Mrs. Knipp at Lord Brounker's. Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) was often moved to tears when his diarymaid sang it. Horace Greeley (1811–1872), in his Recollections of A Busy Life, speaks of his mother singing this old folk song. Today there are literally hundreds of versions of "Barbara Allen;" but the central theme is always the same, and the song is always fairly popular.
2. All in the merry month of May
When buds of green were swellin'
Young Jemmy Grove on his deathbed lay
For love of Barb'ra Allen
3. He sent his man unto her then
The house where she did dwell in
"You must come now to my master dear
If you are Barb'ra Allen"
4. "For death is printed on his face
And o'er his heart is stealin'
Then haste away for to comfort him
Oh lovely Bar'bra Allen"
5. "Though death be printed on his face
And o'er his heart be stealin'
Yet not a bit better shall he be
For I am Bar'bra Allen"
6. But slowly slowly she came up
And slowly she came nigh him
And all she said as he lay in bed,
"Young man, I think you're dying"
7. He turned his face unto her straight
With deadly sorrow sighin'
"Oh pretty maid, come and pity me
I'm on deathbed lyin"'
8. "If on your deathbed you do lie
What needs the tale your tellin'?
For I cannot keep you from your death
Farewell," said Barb'ra Allen
9. He turned his face unto the wall
And death was with him dealin'
"Adieu adieu to my friends and all
Adieu to Barb'ra Allen"
10. As she was walkin' o'er the fields
She heard the bells a-knellin'
And ev'ry stroke seemed to say to her
"Unworthy Barb'ra Allen"
11. She turned her body round about
And spied a corpse a-comin'
"Lay down the corpse" said she with a shout
"That I may look upon him"
12. With scornful eyes she looked at him
Her cheeks with laughter swellin'
Then all her friends said "Don't touch a limb,
Unworthy Barb'ra Allen"
13. When he was dead and in his grave
Her heart was struck with sorrow
"Oh mother, oh make my bed, I pray
For I shall die tomorrow"
14. "Hard hearted creature, him to slight
Who really loved me dearly
Oh that I would have been kind to him
When he was 'live and near me"
15. She on her deathbed as she lay
Begged to be buried by him
And sore repented of ev'ry day
That she did e'er deny him
16. "Farewell" she said "Ye virgins all
And shun the fault I fell in
Henceforth you take warning by the fall
Of cruel Barb'ra Allen"
THANKSGIVING PRAYER (We Gather Together) 1630
THIS SONG'S EVERLASTING POPULARITY DATES BACK TO THE FIRST DUTCH SETTLERS IN AMERICA. Its origin is either in the traditional folk songs of the Netherlands or was written by the Dutch composer/author Adrianus Valerius. In either case "Thanksgiving Prayer" was first published in Haarlem in Valerius' collection Nederlandtsche Gedenck-Clanck in the edition of 1621 or 1626.
A short time after Hendrik Hudson sailed his "Half Moon" up the Hudson River (1609), Peter Minuit arrived with a number of Dutch immigrants (1626) and bought Manhattan Island, erected a fort, and founded New Amsterdam and other settlements in surrounding areas. These Dutch people brought their culture with them, including songs, dances, and children's games. One of the songs was "Thanksgiving Prayer."
Thanksgiving Day in the Netherlands was simply a day when various churches held a special service of thanksgiving. This was a day of solemnity and simple food, even fasting, a day when farmers, in particular, gave thanks for rewarding their toil with a bountiful harvest. Here in America "Thanksgiving Prayer" became a favorite with the Dutch settlers, not only because of its beautiful melody and expressions of gratitude but also for the expressions of hope for a better life in this new world. Appreciation for this folk hymn has not diminished for over three hundred years. It is now America's Thanksgiving hymn. It is sung by millions of people today and is often heard on radio and television.
(We Gather Together)
2. Beside us to guide us our God with us joining
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine
So from the beginning the fighting we were winning
Thou Lord wast at our side and all the glory be Thine
3. We all do extol Thee, Thou leader triumphant
And pray that Thou still our defender wilt be
Let thy congregation escape all tribulation
Thy name be ever praised in glory, Lord make us free
THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND 1650
THIS SONG HAS BEEN POPULAR IN AMERICA SINCE ABOUT 1650. ALTHOUGH IT WAS FIRST PRINTED IN 1791, in Dublin, Ireland, its origin dates back some two hundred years earlier. It was popular during Queen Elizabeth's reign, and she died in 1603. In addition to its present title it was also known in Ireland as "The Rambling Laborer" and "The Spailpin Fanach," and in England it was called "Brighton Camp."
This song was quite easy to play on the fife since it is based on the major scale, with no sharps or flats. In eighteenth-century England drums and fifes were the traditional instruments for marching soldiers, and this tune was one of their favorites. Military bands soon fell into the habit of playing it for naval and military departures.
This song was brought to America by the English and Irish immigrants who followed in the path of the Pilgrims (1620) and settled in New England around 1650. It has been popular in our country ever since. Many people associate Archibald Willard's painting Spirit of '76 with this song. For many years West Point has used this number as a march when the graduating class is assembled for the last time in June.
THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND
2. For she is as fair as Shannon's side
And so much purer than its water
But she did refuse to be my bride
Though many years I had sought her
Then to France I went and sailed away
Her letters oft remind me
That I promised never to gain-say
The girl I left behind me
3. Now she says "My own dear love come home
My friends are rich and they are many
Or abroad with you I want to roam
A soldier's heart stout as any
But if you'll not come nor let me go
I'll think you have resigned me"
Oh my heart nigh broke when I said "no"
To the girl I left behind me
4. Never shall my only true love brave
A life of war and heavy toiling,
Never never as a skulking slave
I'll tread my own native soil on
But if it were free or to be freed,
The battle's close would find me
To my Ireland bound, nor message need
From the girl I left behind me
1. Come on all ye handsome comely maids
That live near Erin's Carlow dwelling
And beware of young men's flatt'ring tongue
When love to you they are telling
Now beware of the kind words they say
Be wise and do not mind them
For if they were talking till they die
They'd leave you all far behind them
2. In the Carlow town I lived I own
All free from debt and ev'ry danger
Till a colonel Reilly listed me
To come and join Wicklow Rangers
Where they dressed me up in scarlet red
And used me very kindly
Still I thought that my poor heart would break
For the girl I left behind me
3. I was scarcely fourteen years of age
When I was very brokenhearted
For I'm so in love these two long years
Since from my love I was parted
Now these maidens wonder how I moan
And bid me not to mind him
That he might have more of grief than joy
For leaving me behind him
A FROG WENT A-COURTING 1700
THIS SONG LANDED IN AMERICA ALMOST THE SAME TIME AS THE PILGRIMS. ALTHOUGH IT WAS FIRST printed in England in 1611 under the title "A Moste Strange Weddinge of the Ffroge and the Mouse," it was listed long before (actually 1549) in Wedderburn's The Complaynt of Scotlande under the title "The Frog Cam [came] to the Myl Dur [mill door]" and it was sung chiefly by the shepherds.
Despite the fact that our New England ancestors treated this as a sort of folk song, it has its roots in political satire as did the Mother Goose rhymes. It seems that Queen Elizabeth (1533–1603) gave her various suitors the amusing nicknames of animals: She called Sir Walter Raleigh her "fish," Leicester her "robin," the French Ambassador Simier her "ape," and the Duc d'Alençon was her "frog." This song refers to her romance with the Duke, which was so unpopular with her subjects.
Colonial New Englanders had no particular interest in the historical significance of this song and sang it only because they and their children liked it. Around the time of the Salem witchcraft trials, migrating New Englanders (1700) brought this song (and others) with them to their new homes in the Southern Appalachians, and for a long time afterwards the Blue Ridge mountaineers kept this song's popularity alive. During our period of national expansion (nineteenth century) this song spread over the entire country, and today there are hundreds of versions and verses.
Excerpted from The American Song Treasury by Theodore Raph. Copyright © 1964 Theodore Raph. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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