Tune of the Week for April 16, 2012

It’s a long story. Actually, two stories, for this Tune of the Week entry is in fact two separate tunes from two opposite sides of globe, two completely different peoples, and two separate, but intertwined, histories.

In 1981–while living in Bloomington, Indiana–I was invited to a friend’s house for an intimate session of tunes and folklorist chat with Bobby Fulcher, a banjo-player and park ranger (actually, a cultural conservation officer) for Tennessee State Parks. Bobby had spent years researching the rich old-time music tradition of the Cumberland Plateau that stretched back to the pioneering 1920s recordings of the banjo and fiddle team of Richard Burnett and Leonard Rutherford. That duo from Monticello, Kentucky had a huge impact on music of players from the region, such as Clyde Davenport and the Troxell brothers, Ralph and Clyde. But many locals held that the best fiddler around had been Cuje Bertram, an African-American who had long since moved North.

Burnett & Rutherford
Burnett & Rutherford
Dan Emmett
Daniel Decatur Emmett

After much searching, Bobby had finally located the Bertram family in Indianapolis. That was the reason for Bobby’s visit to Bloomington. It was a stopover the night before his long anticipated meeting with Cuje Bertram. The next day Bobby had an extensive interview with Mr. Bertram about his life and music. Sadly, the octogenarian could no longer play. But the family allowed Bobby to duplicate a home recording from 1970 that contained a couple dozen tunes.

That tape was not intended for commercial consumption, but a European record company issued it anyway, without permission from the Bertram Family or Bobby Fulcher. This, of course, is just another sad chapter in an old story of the commercial co-opting of minority cultural for the gain or advancement of others. I came into possession of a copy of those home recordings, but until I can obtain permission from Bobby Fulcher or the descendents of Cuje Bertram, I will not post the recording here. However, one of the traditional songs that Mr. Bertram played and sang is of continuing interest. His Big Cat, Little Cat is a version of a song recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in 1927.

The Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm Uncle Dave Macon & his Fruit Jar Drinkers

The melodies of the two settings are very similar, though Mr. Bertram is set a step higher in the key of E, an usual key for an old-time fiddler.

T:Big Cat, Little Cat
S:Cuje Bertram
z2 | B2cd e2ef | gefg efec | B2cd efeB | GEFG E2 ::
GA |B2BE G2E2 | GEFE G2GA | B2BE G2E2 | GEFG E2 :|

The lyrics of the two performances are also similar in theme, but they differ in actual wording. A transcription of Mr. Bertram’s lyrics are here.

Then, just this week, I was introduced to a new You Tube video of an Australian band playing an old dance tune The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye (in a medley following the Jenny Lind Polka). The video contains a graphic that reads: “This lively Australian Bush tune was popularised from the version performed by minstrel favorite, Dan Emmett.” Daniel Decatur Emmett, a native of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, was a founding member of the Virginia Minstrels, a four-piece string band that took the theater world of New York and beyond by storm in 1843. The four minstrels were all white men who performed in black face, pretending to be African-American while co-opting Black folk expression for their own financial gain.

The history of Blackface Minstrelsy is fascinating and difficult. Much of America’s old-time music tradition passed through the maelstrom of minstrelsy and was distinctively transformed. Sufficient for our consideration is that both our Tunes of the Week have a theme of confrontation, difference, and power struggle. I’ll leave it to you for further contemplation and consideration. You may want to start with this fascinating discussion about the two songs on the Mudcat Cafe. Most contributors to that thread were not aware they were discussing two completely different melodies. If there is any common ground between the two, it resides in the life and career of Dan Emmett.

Here is notation for The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye. It was collected on Cape Barren Island in the Australian state of Tasmania by folklorist Rob Willis. He learned the tune from local musician Les Brown.

The Black Cat Piddled in the White Cat’s Eye by Warren Fahey’s Australian Bush Orchestra

T:The Black Cat Piddled in the Little Cat’s Eye
S:Rob Willis from Les Brown of Cape Barren Island
D2 | G2BB BBBB | G2BB B4 | G2BB BBBB | d2A2 A2AB |
c2cc c2A2 | F2AA A2AB | c2cc B2A2 | B2G2 G2 ::
ef| g2(3fgf e2dd | g2f2 e3f | g2f2 e2d2 | c2A2 A3d |
f2e2 ddde | g2e2 dddd | A2Bc B2A2 | B2G2 G2 :|

-Paul Tyler, convener
Chicago Chapter

Tune of the Week for April 9, 2012

Ed Cosner & Katie Bern
Saturday, April 14, 7:30, Room E324 in Old Town School East

Katie Bern & Matt Danaher
Katie Bern & Matt Danaher

Katie Bern drove up to Lincoln Square from Palos Heights to enter our Midwest Fiddle Championship for several years running. (Her younger sister Kristen is still a regular entry, but Katie has missed the last few contests as she completed a degree in music education at Belmont University in Nashville.) In 2006, Katie placed fourth in the Fiddle Team division in a duet with her neighbor Matt Danaher. They came back the next year and took 2nd place.

This week’s tune of the week (submitted just in the nick of time) was played by Katie and Matt in the Championship finals in 2007 on the main stage at the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival. “Poor Muriel” was composed by local bluegrass and jazz guitarist John Parrott.

[Click the arrow to hear only Poor Muriel. Click the blue title to hear the whole medley, along with Katie’s introduction of the tune, in which she mentions their teacher. He, of course, was Ed Cosner.]

Poor Muriel-St. Anne’s Reel

T:Poor Muriel
O:John Parrott
BA | GFGA BGBd | edef g2fe | d^cde dBGB | A^GAB cBAF |
GFGA BGBd | edef g2fe | dgba gedc | (3BcB AF G2 ::
+D2A2+ | a3b afdf | e^def gfec | dcde fd(3fgf | ecAc e2(3efg |
a2ab afdf | e^def gfec | dfed BABc | (3dcB AF D2 :|

More info about Katie’s visit to Fiddle Club — and more tunes! — is posted below.

Tune of the Week for April 2, 2012

Frank Hall
Frank Hall
Emmett Lundy
Emmett Lundy

Frank Hall, my good friend and fellow Hoosier-in-exile, visited a while back from Ireland, where he has lived for the past decade. Our session served as the maiden voyage for my then brand new Zoom digital recorder, which has since been a real work horse for Fiddle Club of the World. Here is a tune from that October 2007 session in my living room. Frank played one that was first recorded by the great Emmett Lundy of Galax, Virginia. Compare the versions below. Obviously the same tune, but quite different treatments.

Also, compare the photos above. Both men are quite dapper and accomplished. Frank, however, has recently become a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. Sláinte (to your health), Buddy!

Piney Wood Gal by Frank Hall (2007), with Lena Ullman, banjo

Piney Wood Girl by Emmett Lundy (1925), with E.V. Stoneman, harmonica

BTW Frank Hall has an open invitation to be a featured guest at the Fiddle Club of the World any time he flies in to O’Hare from Dublin.

T:Piney Woods Gal
S:Frank Hall after Emmett Lundy
+E3B3+B AGEG | ABBA Be3 | +E3B3+B AGEG | DEGB AG3 |
dega bgag | eddd edeg | dega bgag | egag abag |
dega bgag | eddd eged | b3b ageg | dgbg aG3 :|

Tune of the Week for March 26, 2012

I’m a little late posting this weeks TofW. Sorry about that. Sometimes life in the fiddle-industrial complex gets hectic. But my mind is back home in Indiana, so I think it’s time for a Lotus Dickey tune.
Sugar Hill Serenaders
Lotus Dickey, Paul Tyler, John Bealle, Teri Klassen

Little Bess

T:Little Bess
S:Lotus Dickey from Poindexter Ainsworth
D2f2 fgfe | d2F2 A3F | E2AB cBAc | d2F2 A3+EA+ |
+D2A2+fe fgfe | d2F2 A3+FA+ | +E2A2+AB cBAc | +F4d4+ +F4d4+ :|
e4 e3f | e2c2 +c4e4+ | B4 g2eg | aeae c’3c’ |
e4 e3f | e2+ce++ce+ +c4e4+ | B2ef gefg |1 +c4a4+ +c2a2+z2 :|2 +c3a3+z =+B3g3+z ||

Tune of the Week for March 19, 2012

Let’s stay on the Irish theme for one more week. Here’s one of my favorite jigs, one we can play on Friday, March 23 with Deirdre Ní Chonghaile visits Fiddle Club. This was the first in a set played by Kevin Burke & Michael O’Domhnaill in Bears Back Room in Bloomington, Indiana in February 1982.

I was there. It was heavenly.

The Frost Is All Over

Note: Kevin didn’t give a name to this tune. I learned it from one of the first recordings of Irish traditional music I ever owned. The great piper, Seamus Ennis, played it in a medley with The Hare in the Corn and one more jig. He sang a bit of lyric with it.

“The praties are dug and the frost is all over,
Kitty, lie over, close to the wall;
How would you like to be married to a soldier?
Kitty, lie over, close to the wall”

I can’t find that record any more. Maybe Deirdre can help us through The Hare in the Corn.

T:The Frost Is All Over
S:Kevin Burke
AFD DFA | ~B3 BAF | ABA F2E |1 FDD d2B :|2 FDD D2e |:
fdd dcd | fdd d2e | ~f3 def | gag e2g |
fed Bcd | ABd F2G | ABA F2E |1 FDD D2e :|2 FDD d2B ||

Tune(s) of the Week for March 12, 2012

Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, Guest at Fiddle Club of the World
Friday, March 23, 7:30p, Old Town School East

We’ll have an Irish session, with some craic and ceili (stories, talk and fellowship). This will be an easy-going introduction to the world of Irish tunes. Here’s another set of dance tunes that can be learned quickly. The first one is Sullivan’s, not the same tune as Tom Sullivan’s polka that Kathleen Keane taught us last year. Many of you already know the second tune Britches Full of Stitches. In this video, they’re played by Jackie Daly on accordion and Seamus Creagh on fiddle.

And here’s another performance of the same two tunes ending a set of four polkas played by Kevin Burke and Michael O’Domhnaill in 1982, in Bloomington (Indiana)’s beloved Bears Back room.

set of 4 polkas

T:Sullivan’s-Britches Full of Stitches
a3g a3f | e2c2 a4 | c2e2 a3f | e2c2 B2A2 |
a3g a3f | e2c2 a4 | c2e2 B3c |1 B2A2 A4 :|2 B2A2 A2 |:
AB | c2e2 e2c2 | d2f2 f2d2 | c2e2 e2AB | c2B2 B3A |
c2e2 e2c2 | d2f2 f2d2 | c2e2 B3c |1 B2A2 A2 :|2 B2A2 A4 |:
A3B c2A2 | B2A2 c2A2 | A3B c2A2 | B2A2 F4 |
A3B c2A2 | B2A2 c2e2 | A3B A2F2 | F2E2 E4 ::
e3f e2c2 | B2A2 B2c2 | e3f e2c2 | B2A2 F4 |
e3f e2c2 | B2A2 B2c2 | A3B A2F2 | F2E2 E4 :|

Tune(s) of the Week for March 5, 2012

It’s that time of year when many of us wish we were Irish. That was one of my life goals when I was 15, due in part to a vague notion I had then that traditional Irish music might be found along my pathway to a satisfying and exciting future.


A few years later, at the end of 1969, I made first and only journey to Ireland, including a boat ride out to the Aran Islands off Galway Bay in the West. During my few days on Inishmaan, I tried to attend a dance or find a fiddle player, with no success, due to my own social clumsiness. I did hear a few sean nos (old style) songs at night, sung in Gaelic by one or another old man in an Aran Sweater, while we all nursed a pint in the island’s pub. Meanwhile, the young folks–most home for the holiday from work in England–were having a fine old time dancing away the darkness.

Last fall I had the great pleasure to meet Gaelic scholar, Deirdre Ní Chonghaile at an American Folklore Society meeting in Bloomington, Indiana. We played some tunes together with our fellows, and I had a chance to dance a bit with her. And since, Deirdre is from Inishmore, the largest of the three Arans, I finally fulfilled my 40-year-old quest to dance as they dance on the Aran Islands.

Here is a set of two tunes commonly played together on the Arans for a couple copy. The recording is taken from a YouTube video of a kitchen session in County Mayo with Caomhie Donlon on fiddle, her father Larry on banjo, and Cormac Gannon on pipes. The first tune is a common hornpipe, The Stack of Barley. Deirdre calls the second tune Some Say the Devil is Dead and Buried in Killarney.

The Stack of Barley-Jenny Will You Marry Me

T:The Stack of Barley-Jenny Won’t You Marry Me
T:-Some Say the Devil is Dead and Buried in Killarney
gf | efed B2dB | AGAB AcBA | GFGA B2(3Bcd | e2A2 A2gf|
efed B2dB | AGAB AcBA | GFGA BdAc | B2G2 G2 ::
GA | BGBd g2(3efg | agfg edBd | g2fg edBd | e2A2 A2(3efg |
aged g2fe | dBAG AcBA | GFGA BdAc | B2G2 G2 :|
zE |: D2DE GABA | GEE2 cEGE | D2DE GABc | dedB (3ABA G2 ::
d2dc Bcd2 | e2ed cdec | d2dc BcdB | GABG (3ABA G2 :|

Deirdre Ní Chonghaile
Guest at Fiddle Club of the World
Friday, March 23, 7:30p, Old Town School East

Tune of the Week for February 27, 2012

Minuet after Matti Haudanmaa

I was taught this tune by Patrik Wekman on my visit to Finland in 2009. Later that year, Arto Järvelä taught it a workshop on archaic Finnish tunes at the Old Town School. Two years later, we had a magical session with the tune in my Fiddle 4 class when Arto and Kaivama dropped in. You can hear it on this earlier post.

Matti Haudanmaa was a master fiddler from the Ostrobothnian district in western Finland. An early Finnish folklorist made field recordings of his playing in the first half of the 20th century, thus preserving this wonderful tune for us to play in the 21st.

T:Minuet after Matti Haudanmaa
S:Arto Järvelä
FE | D3G {Bd}B2G2 {Bd}B2G2 | F3A {cd}c2A2 {cd}c2A2 |
D3G {Bd}B2G2 B2d2 | d2AB AGFE DCB,C |
D3G {Bd}B2G2 {Bd}B2G2 | F3A {cd}c2A2 {cd}c2A2 |
ABce d2c2 B2A2 | ABcA G4 G2 ::
Bd | g3g g2g2 g2ga | a3a a2f2 d4 |
e3d c2B2 c2e2 | d2c2 BcdB G2AB |
cBAB c2d2 e2c2 | BdcA A4 G2 :|

From Joe Thompson: Tune of the Week for February 20, 2012

Joseph Aquilla Thompson
December 9, 1918 – February 20, 2012

Joe & Odell Thompson
From Mebane, North Carolina, Joe Thompson was a gentleman, a family man, a fiddler and a saint. He started playing for house dances with his brother before his legs were long enough to reach the floor from the chair in which he sat while he fiddled. In the late 1970s, he was convinced to start performing again, teaming up with his cousin Odell on banjo.

Twenty years ago, I got to see him perform in Philadelphia, many cultural miles away from his home district of small tobacco farmers. A dozen years ago I got to dance as he called an old-time frolic (ie, square dance) from the family and community tradition he grew up with. In 2005, I attended the Black Banjo Then and Now conference in Boone, North Carolina, where Joe was received as an honored elder (and where the Carolina Chocolate Drops got their start). A couple of times in the following years, I got to see him play in Chicago, once at the Old Town School in an afternoon program sponsored by the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College. Afterwards, I sat beside him at a jam session in the back room of the Grafton as he tried to teach us to play Georgia Buck.

Georgia Buck, Joe & Odell Thompson, 1987

The notes are simple. The rhythm and ornaments are complex. The form and variations are fluid. The tune has two parts (what we normally call ‘A’ and ‘B’), but they are played with a logic different from the regular progression of repeated alterations. The transcription that follows is roughly taken from the last three times through the performance recorded above. It is meant to give you an idea of some of the variations use. The slides are more important that the actual starting pitches indicated by the grace notes. The Bb is more bluesy and not a tempered Bb. Listen to the recording a lot, as you learn to play the tune.

T:Georgia Buck
S:Joe & Odell Thompson
“A” ^A-| B2dd G2AA | BAGG E2GG |”slide” {^A}B2dd G2B=A | G2GG E2GG |
“slide” {^A}B2dd G2B=A | D2EE DEGD | G2G4 G2 | G2DD E2G2 ||
“B slide” {^A}B2dd d2ee | =f2fA G2GG | “slide” {^A}B2dd d2B=A | G2GG E2G2 |
“slide” {^A}B2d4 e2 | =f2GG EGGE | G2G4 G2 | G2AG E2GA ||
“A” _B2dd B2AA | _BAAG E2GG | “slide” {A}_B2dd d2=BA | G2GG E2GG |
“slide” {A}_B2dd d2eA | G2AG EGGE | G2G4 G2 | G4 G2z ||

Tune of the Week for February 13, 2012

Some island fiddling from the Indian Ocean

From a record of field recordings from Seychelles Islands, Danses et Romances de l’Ancienne France, from the great series of field recordings on the Ocora label from Radio France. The inhabitants of the Seychelles are a Creole people, whose culture has roots in Europe, Africa and Madagascar. A map locating the Seychelles and a short description of the music and the band can be found by clicking this link to a pdf, testimony from England.

The tune given here is a tropical rendition of a 19th-century social dance in 3/4, the mazurka, that originated in Europe. The distinctive Kamtole band sound of the Seychelles was used for dances, especially to celebrate Christian weddings. In the word of one anonymous internet author: “There was a time when Seychellois married couples came out of the church with their guests and they all left in a procession with musicians- two fiddles, a guitarist, an accordion, a drummer and a triangle.”

Mazok by the Anse Boileau Kamtole Band

S:Anse Boileau Kamtole Band
z2 | FAcf af | gef2 f2 | A2c2 dA | cAB2 B2 |
G3A Bc | d2e2 cd | edcB GB | dcA2 A2 |
FAcf af | gef2 f2 | A2c2 dA | cAB2 B2 |
g3e fg | af c2d2 | edcB AG | F4 |:
fe | d2de fe | d2d2 fg | a3g fe | d3e fe |
d2de fe | d3c AB | cdcB AG | F4 :|