Join us each month in song!

Last year we designated 2016 our Year of Song. We chose it for two reasons: to honor the start of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles’ prolific folk song collecting in southern Appalachia (1916-1918), and to look at how song serves CDSS's mission. This examination also begins a cycle of focusing on one or two genres at a time, as we identify community needs and allow for better use of our resources.

A special feature of 2016 was a monthly song. You'll find an archive of these songs below as well as new ones being posted in the months to come because we are continuing our Song of the Month through 2017!

CDSS’s song traditions are based primarily in the English and Anglo-American traditions—folk songs, ballads, sea shanties, rounds, songs with choruses. We also include spirituals, work songs, country harmony, African call and response, shape note and gospel, contemporary a cappella, and new arrangements of traditional songs. Our special emphasis is on community singing.

Lorraine Hammond, CDSS Board member and Song Task Group Chair, spearheaded our Year of Song efforts and oversaw 2016’s song selections. This year Judy Cook will be taking on that role. Our thanks to them both as well as to Caroline Batson and Lynn Nichols of the CDSS staff for shepherding them to our website.

Join us in song!

Tha Sneachd’Air Druim Uachdair (There is Snow on Druinoehter)

introduced by Judy Cook

February’s song is a Gaelic song submitted by Sara Grey. It is a traditional song sung by Donnie Murdo MacLeod from the Outer Hebrides, and here's a recording made on Skye of Donnie singing it:

Sara Grey is a fine American singer, banjo player and song collector, who is immersed in the song traditions of both sides of the Atlantic. Her love affair with traditional songs for over 60 years has given her an incomparable knowledge of songs and ballads and how they have moved and evolved. She wants to gather the songs and pass them on to future generations so that they will have the pleasure of hearing and singing them just as she has. After living and singing in Britain for more than 45 years, Sara has returned to her native New England and is living in Maine with her husband Dave. She continues to tour actively, mostly with her son Kieron Means.

See more about Sara at Recordings of Donnie Murdo MacLeod available at

~ Judy Cook

antler graphicOne of the attractions for me when I gravitate to a song or ballad is that perfect balance between the lyrics and the tune. You can remove the tune and still be left with an exquisite piece of poetry, and conversely, you can take away the lyrics and the tune will stand alone. This Gaelic song fulfills this for me. The tune evokes a strong nostalgia for me about Scotland and in particular, the Highlands and Islands, having lived there for so many years. The lyrics have the most unique format—almost mystical, plaintive—a true lament. The story behind this song is that of Fearchar Macklin Oig, a native of Kintail, Scotland, who shot the factor who had confiscated his wife’s kettle when she did not have money to give him for their rent. The song was prompted by Fearchar’s enforced fugitive status.

Tha Sneachd’Air Druim Uachdair (There is Snow on Druinoehter)

‘S gann nach gabhainn an t-eagal ro son mhac breabadair beio
Mharbhainn foil dhuit is sithionn laths nach figheadh an clo.

Mharbhainn foil dhuit is sithionn laths nach figheadh an clo.
Bheirinn feidh far a’mhonaidh bheirinn bric as na loin.

Bheirinn feidh far a’mhonaidh bheirinn bric as na loin.
Leis an t-sneachd bhiodh air m’theusaig ‘s gann gu leir dhomh mo bhrog.

Leis an t-sneachd bhiodh air m’theusaig ‘s gann gu leir dhomh mo bhrog.
‘S gann gu leir dhomh ni ‘s fhsisg orm na lorg athaf tha nam dhorn.

‘S gann gu leir dhomh ni ‘s fhsisg orm na lorg athaf tha nam dhorn.
Tha sneachd air Druim Uachdair far ‘n robh mi cuallach nam bo

Tha sneachd air Druim Uachdair far ‘n robh mi cuallach nam bo
‘S ann do nighean fear Donnchaidh a thug mi ‘n trornagahol ‘s mi og.

English Translation:

I hardly fear one living weaver’s son
I would kill for meat and venison for you on a day when the cloth would not be woven.

I would kill for meat and venison for you on a day when the cloth would not be woven.
I would bring deer from the moor and trout from the lochs.

I would bring deer from the moor and trout from the lochs.
With the snow which would be on my beard, I can hardly see my shoe.

With the snow which would be on my beard, I can hardly see my shoe.
I can hardly see anything close to me nor find the walking-stick in my hand.

I can hardly see any thing close to me nor find the walking-stick in my hand.
There is snow on Drumochter where I herded the cattle.

There is snow on Drumochter where I herded the cattle.
I fell heavily in love with the daughter of Duncan in my youth.

Judy Cook is an author, entertainer, and folk-singer. She has been living in Oberlin, Ohio, with her husband Dennis since 2013. 2017 will be her 20th year touring throughout both Britain and the US. She is known for her repertoire and storytelling ability in ballad form. Judy has one book and several CDs. You can reach her through her web page:

The January Man

introduced by Judy Cook

greenmanOur song for this month is Dave Goulder’s “January Man.” It’s a song of fine images, insight into human nature, and just a hint of mysticism. We’re invited to contemplate the ever-circling years and our place in them. Dave wants to be sure folks sing the lyrics as he wrote them, and I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear this song sung more; this should help.

Here are the lyrics, the musical notation, and a bit of information about Dave Goulder. I love Ed Trickett’s singing of this song: simple, unaccompanied, very accessible. You'll find a YouTube video (audio only) embedded below or at this link:

Lamb and Lion

introduced by Lorraine Hammond

mary azarian woodcut 2Woodcut by Mary Azarian; used with permission.Our celebration of this "CDSS Year of Song" has kept us singing, and our "Song of the Month" has been a meaningful part of that celebration — a great new CDSS resource for songs. They are archived here, and ready for you to add to your own repertoire, each one chosen by a singer who treasures the choice they offered.

We began our "Song of the Month" year with Brendan Taaffe’s elegant "May It Fill Your Soul," and we’ll close out the calendar with a round that speaks to the heart of this season, "Lamb and Lion." It is a round in four parts that I wrote one wintry season as a holiday gift to tuck into the cards I was sending. It has found its way into the new Rise Again song compilation by Annie Patterson and Peter Blood, and Sol Weber’s Rounds Galore

See the bottom of the page for the tab notation.

The audio below is from a recording by the wonderful songwriter and entertainer, Christine Lavin (with the Mistletones). Songs have an uncanny way of staying in circulation!

Farther On

Introduction by Katy German

fartherontunenotationClick on the image above for a larger image

One of my favorite things about the folk process is the way a song can reemerge in different forms over time. Whether accidental or intentional, changing some portion of melody or words can suddenly give a song new life and depth. This song is a beautiful example. The melody is a simple and beautiful 19th century hymn, with alternative words from Eastern Kentucky singer and storyteller Randy Wilson. Randy kept the melody and some of the poetry from the traditional version, but mixed in phrases and language to give it a more universal spiritual appeal. I first heard Randy sing his version of Farther On about a decade ago at Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY.  At the time I thought it was a clever rewording and recognized it's appeal as a soulful yet easy group singing option. What I have found since then, though, is that this is the song that rises to my mind every single time I am feeling discouraged or low on hope. It is a meditation for my soul when I am feeling derailed. I asked Randy what inspired this version and he replied, "I liked the chorus and wanted to make a spiritual out of it, with repetition so that folks could join in easily." I guess sometimes it's just as simple as that. Here is one of the traditional arrangements, along with Randy's alternative lyrics. I've included both versions so that the readers and singers can enjoy it in more than one incarnation. And Randy, thank you for this beautiful song.

Katy German is a CDSS Board member living in Asheville, NC.  She loves community singing and introducing children, families, and first-timers to country dance traditions. 

Skin and Bones

Skin Bones for Song of the Month tuneClick on the notation above for a downloadable PDFIntroduction by Lorraine Hammond, with Jon Pickow

October’s song will be a spooky one! I learned this long ago from Jean Ritchie, of Viper, Kentucky. I have sung it for hundreds of children, delighting as they jump, startle, and then collapse with laughter and relief. And grown-ups are not exempt either! Perfect Hallowe’en musical fare.

Skin and Bones has a venerable British Isles legacy. The Roud index at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library lists more than sixty sources. One early print source is “Halliwell, Nursery Rhymes of England (3rd edn. 1843) pp.85-86, There Was A Lady All Skin and Bone.”

Canaan's Land

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.

Introduction by Sasha Hsuczyk

101t Canaans Land tune notationClick on the image above for a downloadable PDF with notation and lyrics. 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.

Farmer's Daughter

introduction by Sarah Jane Nelson

farmers daughter notationClick on the image above or below for a PDF
with both notation and lyrics.
Source: Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Missouri State University

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.

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

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


Ladies Drinking Song notationClick the image for a link to a PDF of the notationintroduction 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.

The Press Gang

the press gangClick the image for a link to a PDF of the notationIntroduction 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.”

Dancing at Whitsun

dancing at whitsun smClick the image for a link to a PDF of the notationIntroduction 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.

Spring SH1991Spring

Introduction 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.

Bonnie Blue eyed Lassie score revThe Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie

Introduction 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.

paperofpinssmPaper of Pins

Introduction 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!

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

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