Three people singing to guitar accompanimentCDSS Song of the Month

Community and traditional song in the 21st century

Join us each month in song!

CDSS 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.

Our Song of the Month feature has been so well received that we decided to make it a permanent part of the website. You'll find an archive of these songs below as well as new ones being posted in the months to come.

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. Judy Cook took on that role in 2017 and continues to contribute each month, with help from Lorraine. Our thanks to them both.

Happy singing!

Note: Many of these old songs should be looked at as "fairy tales for adults" in that they often address very strong, and sometimes scary, subject matter. They allow us to deal with difficult situations and emotions with the distance afforded by putting it in a song. They are cautionary tales, and had their use as such.

Painting of "The Journey of the Magi" by SassettaDetail from "The Journey of the Magi" by Sassetta (Stefano di Giovanni)

A Pilgrim’s Way

Submitted by Cate Clifford

"A Pilgrim's Way" began as a Rudyard Kipling poem which, according to Mainly Norfolk, appeared in his book The Years Between. Then Peter Bellamy added his original tune.

When I first heard this love letter to humanity, sung by A.J. Wright, I felt like I'd heard my own heart in song. May it lighten and strengthen yours.

The Amorites were a semi-nomadic people who lived in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Syria during the 3rd millennium BC. They founded the ancient city of Mari, and the first dynasty of Babylon. Eremites are Christian hermits. A "general averagee" is a sailor on a cargo ship.

Listen to Peter Bellamy performing "A Pilgrim's Way:"

"A Pilgrim's Way" sheet musicClick here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,
Or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray.
If these are added, I rejoice—if not, I shall not mind,
So long as I have leave and choice to meet my fellow-kind.
And as we come and as we go (and deadly-soon go we!)
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Thus I will honour pious men whose virtue shines so bright
(Though none are more amazed than I when I by chance do right),
And I will pity foolish men for woe their sins have bred
(Though ninety-nine per cent. of mine I brought on my own head).
And Amorite, or Eremite, or General Averagee,
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they bore me overmuch, I will not shake mine ears,
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears.
And when they labour to impress, I will not doubt nor scoff;
Since I myself have done no less and—sometimes pulled it off.
Yea, as we are and we are not, and we pretend to be,
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they work me random wrong, as oftentimes hath been,
I will not cherish hate too long (my hands are none too clean).
And when they do me random good I will not feign surprise.
No more than those whom I have cheered with wayside courtesies.
But, as we give and as we take—whate'er our takings be—
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

But when I meet with frantic folk who sinfully declare
There is no pardon for their sin, the same I will not spare
Till I have proved that Heaven and Hell, which in our hearts we have
Show nothing irredeemable on either side of the grave.
For as we live and as we die—if utter Death there be—
Chorus: The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

Deliver me from every pride—the Middle, High, and Low—
That bars me from a brother's side, whatever pride he show.
And purge me from me all heresies of thought and speech and pen
That bid me judge him otherwise than I am judged. Amen!
That I may sing of Crowd or King or road-borne company,
That I may labour in my day, vocation and degree,
To prove the same by deed and name, and hold unshakenly
(Where'er I go, whate'er I know, or whoe'er my neighbor be)
This single faith in Life and Death and to Eternity:
Chorus: The people, Lord, thy people are good enough for me!

Cate Clifford is a Rhode Island-based singer of traditional and trad-adjacent folk songs who has performed in homes, venues, and festival showcases across New England and New York, and is featured on Lynz Morahn's EP Kick It Off. When she isn't singing, Cate collects traditional songs of Robin Hood and King Arthur, traditional and trad-adjacent folk songs about love beyond the romantic and libidinous, and little songs (with Ben Gagliardi); schemes about how to fit more Shakespeare into her setlists; and serves on the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival board. For more about Cate and the songs she loves, visit her website.

Painting of "A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl" by David Allan"A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl" by David Allan

Glenlogie

Submitted by Jeff Gillett

Glenlogie, or Jean O Bethelnie is No. 238 in the Child Collection. The earliest text in Child dates back to 1768.

It is a ballad with a happy ending, but perhaps none the worse for that! There is no murder, no rape, no incest: the most sensational element is emotional blackmail. The young Lady Jeannie sees Glenlogie and falls head-over-heels in love with him. When he says he is already promised to another, she takes to her bed and prepares to die for love. Glenlogie relents, they are married and (we suppose) live happily ever after!

A young woman working in an herb garden

Sprig of Thyme

Submitted by Peter and Barbara Snape

"Sprig of Thyme" was widely collected and published on broadsides throughout the British Isles. The version we sing here is from the John Greaves collection of Irlam Hall, Manchester and published in Lancashire Lyrics, Songs and Ballads of the County Palatine, edited by John Harland in 1866.

The song is of the same character as "The Seeds of Love" and also "Love's Evil Choice or The Unfortunate Damsel," a poem written by Mrs Fleetwood of Habergham Hall, Padiham, near Burnley in Lancashire, who wrote it to console herself when, in 1689, her husband’s extravagances finally led to the loss of the family estate.

It is interesting to note some similarities between "Sprig of Thyme" and "Seeds of Love," the first song collected by Cecil Sharp.

Lord Bateman chained to a tree, while Sophia approaches

Lord Bateman

Submitted by Arthur Knevett

This ballad has enjoyed widespread popularity. It was regularly printed on broadsides, which have kept it in circulation and helped to stabilize the text.

The story is a ‘ripping yarn’ concerning an adventurous lord who sails to Turkey and is taken prisoner. The jailer’s daughter, Sophie, releases him and he sails home to freedom. After seven years, she decides to find him, and having done so, he jilts his new bride and marries her!

It’s one of the few Child ballads that has a happy ending (except, of course, for the jilted bride). It has been a favourite of mine since I learnt it in the 1960s from the recording of Bert Lloyd (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. 2 on Riverside Records, 1956).

Currier & Ives engraving of whalers pursuing a whale

Brave Boys

Submitted by Ed Trickett

I spent only one evening with E. G. Huntington at his home on Martha's Vineyard. That was in 1965. It was a truly wonderful evening of music and conversation, during which Gale played for me this version of the "Greenland Whale Fisheries" which he called "Brave Boys."

I didn't have a tape recorder or my photographic memory with me, so he wrote out the melody and sent it to me some months later, along with a small booklet of The Dukes County Intelligencer, May, 1961, which was published by the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

Painting of a young girl feeding chickens by a river

Abroad as I Was Walking

Submitted by Carolyn Robson

The folk song collector George Gardiner collected over 1200 songs from the county of Hampshire in southern England during the period 1904–1908. In 1907, he collected about 164 songs from five women in the village of Axford near Basingstoke in the northwest of the county.

One of these women, Sarah Goodyear, gave him 41 of these songs, including one of my favourites, ’Abroad as I was walking.’ It is the common tale of a young woman who is seduced by an older man and falls pregnant. He is what is commonly termed a ‘bounder’ and blames her for her ‘wanton will,’ though she is just 14 years old. These days, it would have been a clear case of child sex abuse.

Painting of noblemen carrying the bodies of a young couple in medieval Scotland

The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow (Child 214)

Submitted by Margaret Bennett

I've chosen a ballad I’ve loved for years: ‘The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow’ (Child 214).

As a student in the mid-sixties, I joined the Glasgow Folksong and Ballad Club, and among the unforgettable singers was an Aberdeenshire traveller, Davie Stewart. He played the accordion and sang with such conviction that I was transfixed.

Daguerreotype photo of a young hunter with rifle and dog

The Setting of the Sun (Roud 133, Laws O 36)

Submitted by Martin Graebe

I heard this first as 'Polly Von,' sung by Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s, but that is an interpretation of a traditional song with many titles. Though widely found in England and Ireland, Roud lists more variants in the USA than from anywhere else.

This lovely version was collected by Sabine Baring-Gould from mine-worker Samuel Fone, of Mary Tavy, in 1893. Fone was his most prolific singer and a man who specialised in beautiful tunes, some learned from navvies he had worked with. I have 'repaired' verse 2. You can see the manuscript entry here.

Castle and mountains in Scotland

Annachie Gordon

Submitted by Cindy Mangsen

Child Ballad #239 exists in fragments, telling the story of Annachie and his love Jeannie, forced by her father to marry another man for his status and wealth. Jeannie tells her parents that if she marries the lord, she'll refuse to share his bed and will die for her true love.

Sure enough, she dies on the very day of the wedding, which is also the day Annachie returns from his seafaring. He dies, of course, of grief. It's a tear-jerker of a story, but when put to this beautiful melody (thank you, Nic Jones), becomes incredibly moving. Emily Friedman introduced me to this song, many years ago in Chicago.

Alex and friends playing music

Stand Steady

Alex Sturbaum

This song was written in support of our friends working in health care and other essential fields during the COVID-19 pandemic, who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe and healthy while being denied everything from basic protective equipment to hazard pay. We wanted to send support to our friends on the front lines, express outrage and frustration that they have been put in such an impossible situation, and hope for the day that we can welcome them back safely.

This song is also a call to action for those of us who are still financially secure - please check out the fundraiser mentioned at the end of the video, with clickable links available through the video on YouTube and Facebook.

"Brave Lads of Gallawater" sheet music

Braw Lads of Galla-Water

introduced by Andrew Calhoun

This lyric to "Galla-water" is taken from David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scots Songs (1769), p. 312. Herd was an excellent collector who did not manipulate/correct the source material, but he did not publish the song melodies.

The song was next published as #125 in Volume 2 of The Scots Musical Museum, with the lyric poorly adjusted. The SMM’s musical editor, Stephen Clarke, only printed the A part of the melody, a move typical of this indolent character through whom so much of the Scots song tradition, including the bulk of the songs of Robert Burns, has unfortunately been filtered. Clarke was in fact a church organist from Durham, England.

The full tune I sing here, "Braw Lads of Galla-water," was published by James Oswald in book 8 of The Caledonian Companion in 1756. Burns wrote a new version of the song using the same first line for the publisher George Thomson, but it does not match the quality and mystery of the old words. The shifting perspective in the lyric is well supported by the contrasting musical parts.

A poacher creeps through the woods

The Lincolnshire Poacher

introduced by David Jones

"The Lincolnshire Poacher" has been referred to as the unofficial county anthem of Lincolnshire. It is said that the song was a favorite of King George IV and dates back to the American Revolution (1776).

The tune has been used as a quick march by several British regiments, including the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, who are known as the “Poachers.” It was also used by some New York Regiments during the American Civil War. 


On a personal note: This was a song we sang at school. I first sang it when I was 10 years old, so I have known it for 75 years. It was a great relief to sing this song after “Who is Sylvia,” “Nymphs and Shepherds,” and other arty-type songs which were commonly sung in school singing classes. You may remember Jean Redpath talking about songs sung at British schools. She was very funny.

Another factor in its favor is that it has a good tune and is easy to sing.

     
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