The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #169754   Message #4104027
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
30-Apr-21 - 01:03 AM
Thread Name: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
I agree, BTMP.

For what it's worth, I have surveyed a most of the printings of "Shenandoah" as folk material and found practically no consensus.

Adams 1876 - 6/8, but really screwed up
Alden 1882 - 6/8 and 12/8 meter (which I've re-interpreted as 3/4, but maybe need to reconsider!)
LA Smith 1888 - 12/8 - but copied from Alden
Davis and Tozer 1887 - 3/4
Bradford 1904 - 3/4
Bullen 1914 - 3/4
Robinson 1917 - 4/4
Terry 1921 - mixed (3/4 and 4/4)
Sandburg 1927 - 3/4
Doerflinger 1951 - 3/4
Harlow (2004) - mixed 4/4 and 3/4

And though it might look like there is some consistency from this reduction, within these meters authors start the melody in different places, or add fermata to extend notes indefinitely. Some begin the first measure with SHEN-an-doah, while some others have the first two syllabus as pick up beats to "DOAH" on the downbeat: shen-an-/DOAH! To my mind, there'd a HUGE difference between these two things. If one knows a song, one will certainly know if the strong beat is on "shen" or "doah." This tells me that half these people didn't know the song, like a german audience trying to clap the beat of reggae ;) But which half?

If "Shenandoah" were only known generically as a "folk song" or perhaps as a ballad, etc. then I would probably not ponder the meter too deeply! It's the fact that *usually* a windlass chanty must be in regular meter that raises this issue: Where should one push/pull in the song?

(I do find it often ironic that (today's) singers of chanties will give us an earful of introduction about what chanties were, making sure to emphasize how "they helped sailors keep time." And then they'll go on to sing a chanty without any concept of its timing ;) )

One more historical contextualization bit I want to add:

All of the early references to "Shenandoah" that we have put it in the sailing ship chanty context.

If I'm remembering correctly, it's only the rather puzzling attribution of a "Civil War cavalry man" (sic) mediated by Alan Lomax in the 1930s that points to another context for a traditional source.

In terms of the song's historiography then, we see it again and again in sailing ships in the 19th century sources ... until we see concert performers of the 20th century --based on published chanties-- take it up as a stage item. We then seem to see it filter back "down" (?) in the folk revival.

I am not arguing that the song originated in sailing ships. That I don't know. The common assertion that it started on river boats is completely plausible, in my opinion, yet I know of no direct evidence for it.

By this all I mean to say: An earlier or "original" form of "Shenandoah," depending on context, may have been 1) unmetered or 2) in mixed meter (3+4). Whether or not that was the case and it had to be adapted to shipboard labor, it was a part of shipboard labor that probably required a regular meter.

More later...