Tag Archive | folk music

La brune habillée en soie

Towards the end of the summer, I went through another French Canadian music phase, this time focused on albums by De Temps Antan, including À l’année, Les habits de papiers, and Consolez-vous. I came across the song “La brune habillée en soie” (The brunette dressed in silk), which I quite liked and also reinforced my impression that there is really only one Québécois song, and all songs express facets of that one ur-song. Actually, the most significant overlap I can detect is between “La brune habillée en soie” and the song “Les larmes aux yeux” (With tears in (one’s) eyes) by Le Vent du Nord. Both are from the point of view of young men who are disappointed in love. Both young men say that if they’d known things weren’t going to work out, “j’aurais pas tout dépensé mon argent” (I wouldn’t have spent all my money) on frivolities (exactly which frivolities varies between the two songs). In both cases, the object of his affections replies (and here again the lyrics are extremely close) that if he spent his money, it was because he wanted to, and how many times had she told him politely to leave because he was wasting his time?!

“La brune habillée en soie” also has the line “C’est par un beau dimanche au soir” (It was on a nice Sunday in the evening). In this case, that’s when some people come tell the young man his brunette has changed lovers, but for me the line echoed “Par un dimanche au soir” (One Sunday in the evening) from Le Vent du Nord’s “Vive l’amour” (Yay, love), which is a fair bit more cheerful. I guess everything exciting always happens on Sunday evening.

“Les larmes aux yeux” and  “La brune habillée en soie” differ in that in the former the young man never seems to have gotten anywhere with the young woman (i.e. it’s all in his head, she’s already committed to a young officer) while in the latter it seems the young man and the young woman were actually together in some sense (though conceivably it could all have been in the young man’s head too, who knows) and she leaves him. That’s probably why the second young man is more bitter at the end of the song. In “Les larmes aux yeux,” he just talks about drinking to heartbreak and saying goodbye with resignation, but “La brune habilleée en soie” ends with the vindictive lines: “Un jour viendra, ta beauté s’en ira / Chère Léona t’épousera qui pourras” (One day your beauty will be gone / Dear Léona, you’ll marry who you can (then)).

Come All You Fair…

A couple of news items: 1) The Turkish translation of Wildings appears to be out! The translator is different this time. If you read Turkish or know anyone who does, the book is available through the publisher, Kırmızı Kedi, here. 2) I’ve made my Chinese New Year zines available on my Other Writing page, if you want to print your own copy.

Recently Isabelle and I were trying to figure out if we had any more folk songs in common–something we do every so often, usually to no avail–and she asked if I knew a song that began, “Come all you fair and tender girls…” She looked up the song she knew, and it turned out to be Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. When she first described it to me, I thought the words were, “Let no man steal your time,” but no, it’s actually thyme. The song starts out as a warning to young women to guard their gardens from thieving young men, and the plant metaphors are so heavy-handed that even I get them. The song also involves rue (both kinds).

The melody was a pretty minor tune that was not familiar, and most of the words I also didn’t recognize, but the opening was reminding me of a song I’d heard before. Except I thought it began, “Come all you fair and pretty ladies…” I could hear it in my head (though I couldn’t remember the gender of the singer), and the tune was different. In fact, the tune was awfully close to that of Wayfaring Stranger, which made me think I wasn’t remembering it correctly.

Later I consulted Google and discovered that Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies is a famous enough song to have its own Wikipedia page (nothing but the finest research for this pseudo-musicology series). But the text I found was, apart from the nearly identical first line, almost completely different from the text of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. In fact, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a different song with its own Wikipedia page and Roud number.

I finally figured out where I knew the first line from: “You Fair and Pretty Ladies” from Anonymous 4’s album Gloryland. And indeed it does sound like Wayfaring Stranger. But most renditions of Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies out there seem to have a different melody altogether. There’s a line in the “standard” Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies, “Then they will go and court some other” that’s almost identical to a line in Solas’s “The Silver Dagger,” a song I like very much. And actually, the more prevalent tune for Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies reminds me vaguely of The Silver Dagger, mostly rhythmically…

Then I noticed this comment on a Youtube video of Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: “Interesting that the lyrics seem to be half what I know by this title and half what I know as ‘The Water is Wide.'” Ack! It never ends!

The Unquiet Grave

One day at the end of last year, I was exploring traditional music of the British Isles on Youtube, as one does, and I happened to click on a video of a performance of Star of the County Down, followed by Tam Lin (possibly my favorite reel, but I was surprised to find the two juxtaposed in a set). I also scrolled down to glance at the comments, which I rarely do, and someone had said that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same tune! What?!

Star of the County Down is a lovely song with a lovely melody that gave rise to the hymn tune Kingsfold (though Kingsfold is in 4 and the song–usually?–is in 3), which I also like very much (you might know of it with the text “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” though other texts also use this tune). Star of the County Down is also played as a waltz; the first time I heard this done was at a bal folk in France.

The Unquiet Grave was mentioned to me as a Kate Rusby song after I discovered Rusby’s I Am Stretched on Your Grave. I like her Unquiet Grave very much also, but it certainly isn’t Star of the County Down.

After reading that Star of the County Down and The Unquiet Grave had the same melody (something something Child ballads), I looked for other recordings of The Unquiet Grave, and lo! it was Star of the County Down! So perhaps Kate Rusby’s text is adapted and her tune is original?

If you want to listen and compare, these two sisters singing Star of the County Down are cute, but I also really like their rendition. And here is Claymore’s The Unquiet Grave, which definitely is Star of the County Down!

This post brought to you by precisely zero research.

Une Jeune Pucelle

If you, like me, have spent a lot of time reading hymnals, you might know that most hymns, in addition to having a title, have a tune name that identifies the music, separate from the text. The other day I was playing the Christmas carol “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” (I know, it’s still Advent! But it’s in a minor key, so it’s okay!) from a Presbyterian hymnal and noticed (not for the first time) that the name of the tune was “Une jeune pucelle” (French for “A young maid,” where “maid” has its most archaic sense). (The only song I’ve ever learned with the word “pucelle” in it is “Au chant de l’alouette,” a Québécois song the counselors at Voyageur camp would sing to us after we’d settled down for the night in our tents.) “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” is itself a French Canadian Christmas carol. The original text was written in the 17th century by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary, in Wendat (Huron). The tune is evidently older, though.

Here’s an arrangement of “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” by Cantus:

I looked up “Une jeune pucelle” to see what I could find and discovered it was a song about the Virgin Mary. It’s very pretty, but the tune of “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” strikes me as having migrated somewhat from that of “Une jeune pucelle”:

Then somehow I discovered that “Une jeune pucelle” developed from an earlier song, “Une jeune fillette” (“A young girl”), which turns out to be about a girl (no longer–or rather, not yet–the Virgin Mary) who is made a nun against her will and wants to die. Fun times. It’s much more clearly the same melody:

And finally, if you’re not sick of this, here’s a great track from the album In the Fields in Frost and Snow that’s called “Huron Carol” (another name for “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”). The Huron Carol is really only the instrumental part at the beginning, though; then there are two songs in French, one about starvation and the other about one’s clothes only having one button.

Round About Our Coal Fire

First, a couple of news items:

Now on to the main event, yet another song connections post! Last Friday I went to the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s fall concert, which was entitled The City Cries: 300 Years of English Joy and Sorrow. There was Purcell, Dunstable, Byrd, Jenkins, Morley, and…Playford! Playford, publisher of The Dancing Master, a 17th century collection of dances and dance tunes for English country dancing. One of the tunes, performed on violin, viola, and viol, was “Old Simon the King,” and upon hearing it I 1) detected that it was in 9/8 and 2) thought it sounded rather like another English country dance tune I knew.

I thought that tune was “Old Wife Behind the Fire,” but when I looked that up I discovered I was wrong, so I went back to the program for the 42nd Annual English-Scottish Ball, my last folk dance ball at Swarthmore. We had danced to the tune I was thinking of at that ball, and the next morning several of us had it stuck in our heads. The program told me the tune I wanted was “Round About Our Coal Fire” (so I had the bit about fire).

It would seem I’m not imagining things because I uncovered some evidence that the two tunes are related.

The song that has stuck with me most since that concert, however, is Henry VIII’s “Hélas Madame” (which I fancy bears some vague resemblance to my other favorite Henry VIII song, “Pastime With Good Company”). I’ve been enjoying the Québécois early music ensemble Skarazula’s recording.

 

The Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest

I devoted most of last weekend to musical activities. Saturday was the LA Regional All-Day Singing at Angels Gate in San Pedro. Many songs were sung, the requisite photos of the Korean Friendship Bell were taken, and Robert’s rules of order were much abused. We had visiting singers from Colorado and Georgia!

On Sunday, the LA Sacred Harp singers held workshops at the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival, which is…exactly what the name says. You can compete in different levels on fiddle, banjo, voice, and other instruments, or you can just listen to music, jam, dance, and check out the vendors and exhibitors. In the morning, I got a ride to the festival with two Sacred Harp singers who have been involved in the LA folk scene since the 1970s. One of them called herself a lifelong folkie and talked about Pete Seeger (!) performing at her Jewish camp (?) way back when.

The festival was held at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains. I found out at the regional singing that the festival site was a Western movie set and that we would be singing in Chin’s, the Chinese laundry. Okay, then.

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This is the building in which we sang. There was nothing identifying it as the Chinese laundry, though it was called Chin’s in the festival program.

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It really was a Western movie set though.

We did three hours of singing: a one-hour workshop with explicit teaching, a one-hour workshop for which the ostensible theme was “minor key tunes mentioning death” (contrary to popular belief, this does not in fact encompass all Sacred Harp tunes), and a one-hour regular singing. A decent number of festival attendees dropped by to listen and even to sing.

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Singing!

I had brought along my thrift shop fiddle on the off chance that I’d have the opportunity to do some jamming. I left the death-themed workshop early to catch the second half of the Scottish Fiddlers of LA’s performance in the Eucalyptus Grove. When I reached the grove, they were about to start a set of two jigs. I recognized the director, whose Welsh fiddle class I was in at Camp Kiya last summer, as well as a couple other members who also went to camp. To my astonishment, after the jigs, they played the exact same set of four Welsh tunes we performed at the campers’ concert at the end of Camp Kiya! I’d left my fiddle in Chin’s; otherwise, I would’ve been tempted to join in.

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The Scottish Fiddlers of LA playing Welsh tunes! You can barely see the guy in the kilt and St. Andrew’s cross sporran playing the bass clarinet…

They closed with a pair of waltzes, and then I went to say hi to the director and one of the other fiddlers I met at camp last year. It turned out they were about to start a fiddlers’ jam right there in the Eucalyptus Grove. I was torn, since the regular Sacred Harp singing was about to begin. I walked back to Chin’s, but then I decided to grab my fiddle and return to the jam session for a handful of tunes. I figured it might be my only chance to play with anyone (and I was right).

They were playing the Swallowtail Jig when I returned, so I joined in on that. Then they switched to Morrison’s Jig, which I also knew. The next few tunes I didn’t know and couldn’t really pick up by ear fast enough to play properly. Then one of the fiddlers suggested Road to Lisdoonvarna, except suddenly she couldn’t remember how it began. By some miracle, I managed to pull the first phrase out of my memory, and then we were off. I’m not sure if I’d ever played that tune on violin before; I definitely had on cello. Anyway, if this jam session taught me anything, it’s that I know tunes in E minor (or E dorian). After Road to Lisdoonvarna, I headed back to the singing.

There was a brief contra dance late in the afternoon that I went to, but it wasn’t anything special. What was special was this hurdy-gurdy trio that played for hours in a pavilion tucked away near the saloon! One of the hurdy-gurdyists let some guy turn the crank of his instrument for one tune, and throughout the day I kept dropping by in hopes that they’d let me try to play a hurdy-gurdy. Alas, they did not offer.

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Hurdy-gurdies!

Unorthodox Adventures

I swear this is not a French Canadian music blog. Probably.

But today I bring you another recent find, “Les Cousinages” by Genticorum.

The text is from the point of view of a newly wed man. On the first night of his marriage, a man comes knocking on the door, and his wife says he’s her cousin. They invite him in, feed him, and set up a bed for him beside theirs. That night, the husband discovers his wife in the arms of her “cousin.” He sarcastically concludes, “When one has a beautiful wife, all men are her cousins.” It’s quite funny. (Actually, it’s pretty misogynistic… As an aside, I have this–quite possibly mistaken–impression that English folk songs tend to be about badly-behaved men while French folk songs tend to be about badly-behaved women. I can already think of exceptions, but I think it’s time to close these parentheses.)

There’s lots of information about this song in Chantons la chanson by Marc Gagné and Monique Poulin, another book published by L’Université Laval. There, it’s entitled “Le Premier Soir de mes noces” (“The first night of my marriage”), or “Le Mari et le Cousin” (“The Husband and the Cousin”). They recorded the version sung by Rosée Doyon of Beauceville, Beauce. The tune looks different from Genticorum’s, and the text is too (even the nonsense is different!). Astonishingly, they include a phonetic transcription, in the International Phonetic Alphabet, of the words as sung by Rosée, and it’s full of characteristics of Québécois French.

According to Gagné and Poulin, versions of this song are widespread in Canada, France, and Belgium. They make this observation (my translation): “The anonymous authors of traditional songs seem to have had a particular taste for narrating certain unorthodox adventures of conjugal life.” Finally, there is apparently a word in French, maumariée, which looks to be derived from “badly married” and specifically means “a traditional song about conjugal misfortune.”