The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #169754   Message #4104616
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
04-May-21 - 02:13 AM
Thread Name: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter

Forgive me, I'm not sure what you mean by "after the capstan is down." Sounds like they are just using a capstan. It could be the anchor capstan at the bow (if there was one) or a smaller capstan in the middle of the ship which is there precisely for these non-anchor jobs. The action of walking around is the same.


What seems clear across all version's of "Shenandoah" is that certain notes in the melody are longer. If the line is "You Shanadoh, I long to hear you," then the long notes are on "-doh" and "you." Anyone hearing the song, no matter how they perceive (or fail to perceive) the "true" meter will grasp that these notes are meant to be longer, and to do otherwise is to destroy the melody. Other, quick bits can be shifted and crammed, but the melody must have those long parts.

If it was in 6/8 a la Alden, these long parts are what would have thrown transcribers (without practical experience) for a loop. The notes *begin* on the weak part of a beat and then are held out "across" the next beat. Some people would (I reason) assume that these long notes began on the string part of the bit. And/or they wouldn't know just *how long* to hold out these notes before following them with the quick notes. This could explain why so many transcriptions go off the rails after either "You Shenadoh" or "to hear you"; the meter shifts from 3/4 to 4/4 or vice versa.

To be honest though, if I hadn't been thinking about reconciling the windlass question, I'd offer a different explanation for why they go off the rails. I'd hypothesize that the song was earlier or often sung rubato or without strict meter, and that the uneven measures were just attempts to capture, in a metered transcription, the length.

This is why I think it's helpful to have a sense of the work actions.

Few people are aware, however, of how the windlass worked—or rather, of how sailors worked, at the windlass.

In a future year, I'm hoping to make some documentary film to demonstrate and test these hypotheses. A few years back I talked to folks associated with the _Gazela_ in Philadelphia, as it is the only existing vessel that I know of with a windlass that could be a candidate.