CDSS 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.
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.
The January Man
introduced by Judy Cook
Our 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
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!
Introduction by Katy German
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 its 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.
Skin and Bones
Introduction 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.”
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
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.
introduction 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 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)
introduction 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
Introduction 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
Introduction 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.
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.
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.
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!