The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #169754   Message #4104428
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
03-May-21 - 03:57 AM
Thread Name: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
One last note before I call it a night.

I had said that Alden's transcription(s) is/are the second (I know) in print but the first satisfactory. The first (that I know) in print is from RC Adams' 1876 article and his subsequent re-use of the material in 1879's _On Board the Rocket_.

Returning to Adams: Adams also uses 6/8 to represent the song. No other authors besides he and Alden do this. (Technically, LA Smith 1888 does, but she is just plagiarizing Alden.)

The problem with ALL of Adams' melody transcriptions is that he seems not to have understood what a "barline" is. The rhythm of all is out-of-synch. He drops and adds partial beats to accommodate. In most cases we can guess pretty well what he "meant" to write, based on the appearance of tunes elsewhere, but in a few spots it's hard to know exactly. That aside..

It's compelling that Adams (a sea captain of the 1860s whose very authoritative presentation of repertoire is among the earliest and best, in my opinion) would use 6/8. Why would he choose such a "weird" meter (weird only in relation to the total body of transcriptions that exist) unless it was very intentional? And I see no reason to suspect that Alden copied from Adams, so I think they represent independent evidence. Might we consider both these sources as closer to the "source" of mid-late 19th century chanty singing?

After them, we get Davis (1887), who was a sea captain but whose material is somehow mediated by a non-sailor musician, Tozer. Then we have the landlubber collection of Bradford (1904). Then Bullen (1914), who is an authoritative voice yet he is mediated by non-sailor musician Arnold. Then Robinson (1917), whose transcriptions are by who-knows and show some errors. Then RR Terry, who is mediating. Etcetera -- as time goes on, its people trying to write what they hear others sing (without themselves having experienced working to the song) or else the influence of popular non-sailor renditions is floating in the air.

To reiterate: Might it not be significant that the first two writers, both in my opinion excellent firsthand observers of chanties in practice, have 6/8 as the meter? Was it that later people were stumped to wrap their heads around this, especially without practical experience as a point of reference?