Sunday, August 19, 2007

Into The Flow, Part 1 - England

It is often said that “America is a country of immigrants”, I would like to add that “The proof is in the music.”

The first European settlers to these shores brought with them the music of their homeland for comfort and entertainment.
The music of the earliest settlements was identical to that of the settlers’ origin. The Spanish music in St. Augustine, English in Jamestown, and French in Charlesbourg-Royal was one of the common threads that helped hold the new communities together.

It wasn’t long before the number of settlements increased. Soon the Dutch built a port at the mouth of the Hudson River and German settlers followed William Penn to settle the land between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. The coastline was soon populated with ports and cities, and many adventurous folks headed west to find their dreams in the wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. As the number of settlements increased, the trade of goods, and music, was inevitable.

They call it the “Folk Process”, the evolution of folklore and music as it is passed aurally from one person to the next. In the “Old World” there was little daily interaction between common folk of different cultures, but in the “Mixing Bowl” of the “New World” it was commonplace.

In the time before radio and recordings, all entertainment was live and local. Communities, from bustling city to humble farm town, had church picnics and barn dances as a means of getting together for a couple of hours of good times, dancing and music each week. If a community wasn’t lucky enough to have a resident fiddler one would be hired from a neighboring community. Some musicians found that they could make a living traveling the backroads and playing at small get-togethers. Traveling minstrels and medicine shows brought music and entertainment to communities large and small. As musicians traveled and played together they traded licks and styles. Background, culture, even skin color did not matter.

A mighty river is made great by the many small creeks and streams that flow into it. This week, the Old Blue Bus is going to take a journey along some the streams that flow into American music


The largest numbers of early immigrants to America were from what are now the British Isles. It stands to reason that the music of England was the most prominent influence on the music of America, so that is where we will start our journey.

The basic tune of many American songs, including the National Anthem, can be directly traced to popular songs that the settlers from England brought along with them. The Old Time breakdown fiddle tune, “Black Eyed Susie”, has been traced back to a melody called “Rosasolis” by musical historian, Samuel Preston Bayard. Many more songs may have started as tradional English folksongs, but were made uniquely American through the workings of the Folk Process.

The music of England has long had a strong influence on the music of America, the British Invasion didn’t start with the Beatles.

Janita Baker - Greensleeves.mp3

Lonesome Strangers - Billy in the Lowground.mp3

New Lost City Ramblers - Blackeyed Susie.mp3


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves" - Shakespeare, 1602

'Tis a bloody old tune, that one, but I've always liked it, guv.

Looking forward to this week's history.

August 19, 2007 8:44 PM  
Blogger Monster Library Student said...

Wow...impressive. It is amazing how many things we take for granted and never stop to think about the origins of them! Thanks as always!

August 20, 2007 10:27 AM  
Blogger kjk said...

The Fiddler's Companion is a great source describing the origins of thousands of fiddle tunes, along with related tunes and even the tunes themselves in ABC format.

For the non-geeks out there, ABC format is plain text, which when opened with (free) software, renders in standard musical notation and can be played and saved as a MIDI file ...

August 20, 2007 10:57 AM  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Mon Dieu, a weekend in the mountains and look at this terrific essay on migrating sound. I'm almost sure that language and even accents gave this folk-chain evolutionary wings. Language is music and makes new mighty rhythms like your mighty creaks and streams.I recognize Blackeyed Susie or traces of it. There are quite a few irish music sessions down here and I believe this song has miles on it. Waiting for the next chapter in your travel log. The OLD BLUE BUS is equiped with archival material. Bravo.
all thoughts fly... k.

August 20, 2007 2:16 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

“Bloody old tune”, indeed. It is sometimes claimed that Greensleeves was written by Henry VIII.

Thanks, once again, Ken, for the link to The Fiddler’s Companion. It is one of my favorite resources for history as well as working out a new tune to play.

Black Dog, the evolution of language is just as interesting as that of music, and often runs in parallel.

August 21, 2007 6:48 AM  

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