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'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter


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Lighter 30 Apr 21 - 08:10 PM
Steve Gardham 30 Apr 21 - 05:57 PM
GUEST,Wm 30 Apr 21 - 04:05 PM
Gibb Sahib 30 Apr 21 - 03:38 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 30 Apr 21 - 01:38 PM
Lighter 30 Apr 21 - 11:08 AM
Steve Gardham 30 Apr 21 - 10:56 AM
Lighter 30 Apr 21 - 07:54 AM
Howard Jones 30 Apr 21 - 06:09 AM
GerryM 30 Apr 21 - 06:01 AM
Gibb Sahib 30 Apr 21 - 01:03 AM
BTMP 29 Apr 21 - 09:43 PM
Gibb Sahib 29 Apr 21 - 08:51 PM
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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 08:10 PM

Steve, I've had the same thought since I first read that the rhythm was "irregular."

Which seafaring collectors other than Hugill have actually connected "Shenandoah" with the windlass anyway? (He could have uncritically accepted someone else's erroneous information.)

But, as he used to say: "Different ships, different long splices." If somebody felt like using it at the windlass, he could probably have found a way to do it.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 05:57 PM

I've never used a chanty as a worksong so anything I have to say is pure conjecture, but could the heaves/hauls be just in the second and fourth lines:

Solo (no pulls) Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you
a-a-WAY you rolling RIver
Solo..Oh, Shenandoah, I'll not deceive you,
a-WAY, I'm bound to GO, cross the WIDE Missouri.

It doesn't matter if the pulls are irregular in number as long as the crew all know when the pulls come and are working in unison. The metre of the solos wouldn't be that important.

I imagine it as a chanty for some strenuous work that doesn't need doing quickly, so a long drag.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Wm
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 04:05 PM

Gibb, ya need to commission your university's machine shop to build you a one-man demonstration windlass!

W. Roy Mackenzie transcribes "Rolling River" in 4/4 in Ballads and Sea Songs of Nova Scotia, 1928. The singer is Ephraim Langille; I could not find any evidence that Langille had ever been to sea himself, but Mackenzie presents it as a chantey used for windlass and capstan. So perhaps a semi-useful data point at best.

Thread derail: Langille sang two verses; the first is "O if I had a dog, I'd call him Hunter," doubled. In a local 1907 periodical, a man of his name is identified as an outspoken opponent of a wildly popular dog taxation bill intended to compensate sheep owners against losses incurred by the "ravages of dogs." Apparently this was a theme near his heart!

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 03:38 PM

Gentleman, Ladies:

Humbly: Not focusing on song "origin" here. That is elsewhere. I merely evoke those points to satisfy the reader that I've scratched one of his itches before isolating the subject by cleaving the other bits away.

My focus: The meter and timing of "Shenandoah" as a sailor chanty sung at the windlass.

I tend to doubt Hugill having much to say about the song thay he didn't absorb from books. If it was "most popular of them all," and he was supposed to be the great Last Shantyman bringing his authentic shantyman wisdom to practice in the world, where are his performances of "Shenandoah"? Show us how it worked at the windlass, Stan.

This is the thing. Nobody uses "Shenandoah" in demonstrations of shipboard work. They steer far from it when invoking their old saw about "chanties providing the rhythm" because they have no clue about the rhythm. As a rubato, mixed meter or fermata-filled "ballad" (in the modern sense!), no one can envision it as a chanty and we basically have to pound people on the head with historical reference to try to persuade them it was (a chanty).

I've always felt the initial stress should come on "SHEN" after a lead-in "Ohhh!" But then, I've never worked a windlass.
Possibly due to RR Terry's printing being the ultimate source (I guess) of popular/literate versions.

With so many noting DOAH on the downbeat -- and thus saving the first measure from having an "extra" beat -- it can't be ruled out. Maybe we have the whole "Shenandoah" thing wrong (*discussions from elsewhere!), and our getting stuck on imagining it the river/valley/etc name got us disposed to that stress emphasis on the first syllable.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 01:38 PM

Second time in a week for this one. Seán Dagher's (Assassin's Creed score &c) recent Shanty of the Week.

BTMP: A cappella renditions of songs sometime do not fall into strict meter.

'Fiddler on the capstan' is a tired old pop cliche. No lyrics required. Excepting, of course, one is compiling a book of shanty lyrics.

IIRC the the 'crew' on the capstan in the wiki image were paying passengers. The task is then already converted to a form of popular entertainment, at the very beginning of the 'classic' shanty era.

Every generation has its own brand of TikTok.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 11:08 AM

Hi, Steve.

As usual we can come to no conclusion whatever.

But so much song collecting was done in the Midwest and West that the absence of landsmen's versions of "Shenandoah" outside of Sandburg and Lomax is notable.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 10:56 AM

There is much in chanties that has no relevance to the sea. To look for any where it doesn't exist is futile. We are well aware that seamen utilised all sorts of material to use as chanties, and one with an easy, catchy, popular tune would soon be adopted/adapted. Surely a chantyman, and indeed the crew, would experiment with any new material and adapt as necessary, hence the different usages and metres. As many of the chanties obviously came aboard via the river trade into the Gulf, there's no reason to believe this one wasn't among them.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 07:54 AM

Hi, Gibb. I've seen no contemporaneous evidence that "Shenandoah" began as a cavalry song or a soldier song or a "Civil War song." (The latter seems to be a favorite folkie idea recently - there really was a Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, so obviously....),

The only "army connection" seems to be the verse that says, "He must have been a [number]th cavalry soldier after the line about the baby.

This strikes me as an obvious addition. Presumably one's own unit was specified, so as to humorously implicate (and flatter) oneself and fellow singers.

I've always felt the initial stress should come on "SHEN" after a lead-in "Ohhh!" But then, I've never worked a windlass.

I agree that it seems odd for sailors to sing about the "wild Missouri," which rises in Montana and flows into the Mississippi at St. Louis, far from the sea.

But "voyageurs" seem to me to be anachronistic.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Howard Jones
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 06:09 AM

Hugill described it as "one of the most popular of all capstan and windlass shanties". I can only conclude that it was sung in a way which suited that work.

The tune he said he used for all his versions (which is the "usual" tune) is marked "Rather slow with emphasis" and written in 3/4. Perhaps it was popular because it was slow!

He quotes Doerflinger who said it was an old cavalry song, Whall who attributed it to Canadian voyageurs, others say it came from the old mountain men, or from the river-boats. None of it very conclusive, but it was (and remains) such a well-known song that it is unsurprising that it ended up with deep-sea sailors and was put to use as a shanty.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GerryM
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 06:01 AM

"And I want to table #3."

In American English, to table something is to postpone discussing it, perhaps indefinitely.

In British English, it means the opposite; it means to bring it up for discussion.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 30 Apr 21 - 01:03 AM

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...

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: BTMP
Date: 29 Apr 21 - 09:43 PM

A cappella renditions of songs sometime do not fall into strict meter. I am not that familiar with chanties, but I can see where they could be sung without strict meter when performing work chores like the windlass. The YouTube reference presented excellent variations of the song.

The versions of Shenandoah I have heard all seem to be metered in 4/4 time, especially when accompanied by instruments. When multiple instruments are playing, it is almost imperative that a strict meter is followed.

There are many examples of songs, like ‘Barbara Allen’ that can be performed in either 3/4 or 4/4 meter. This is totally up to the performer.

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Subject: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 29 Apr 21 - 08:51 PM

Let me say up front that I dislike the name "Shenandoah" for this song, but I'm using it because it's commonly recognized.

The curious-minded might have noticed that the METER of "Shenandoah" is mysterious, especially when considered in relation to the song's shipboard application, as a chanty.

Nearly every document of this song, in print representation, has a different meter. Often, it is a mixed meter, moving erratically between 3 beats and 4 beats.

This may be because 1) Singers in practice sang it with no consistent meter 2) Those who wrote it had trouble writing its irregular, yet consistent meter (I think we can rule this out at some leve) or 3) the song wasn't sung in strict meter at all.

I want to rule out #2 for now, having faith in at least a few authors' transcription abilities.

And I want to table #3. I speculate it likely WAS sung without strict meter at times. Recorded performances would give of evidence of this. Moreover, I know how to make songs without strict meter fit certain working tasks. Among these tasks are hauling halyards and rowing a boat. I have done both of these actions in real life while singing chanties without strict meter. Indeed, I have sung the St. Vincent/Grenadines "whalers" version of "Shenandoah" -- which I know from hearing the whalers sing it themselves -- while rowing a whaleboat.

The reason I want to table this #3 is because historical writers called 'Shenandoah" a windlass song. That doesn't mean it wasn't sung at other times (i.e. the Grenadine whalers rowed to their version) but that it was at least sung at the windlass. I'm assuming here the windlass means the lever windlass (which is pumped up and down) as opposed to the so-called windlass which is really a windlass connected to a capstan. At the moment, I don't have evidence organized to support that assumption-- I'm just going for it!

So, the windlass is an action that I believe (again, from my experience doing it on ships) requires a meter -- a regular beat. Beats fall in conjunction with actions of the workers continuously. Further, the operation of such windlasses entailed repeated cycles of 4 exertions. That is to say, a song verse would normally get chopped into four parts.

In an 8 measure song like "Sally Brown" (which was sung at the windlass, too). The first solo would cover one cycle of windlass action, the first chorus would cover another cycle, the second solo another cycle, and the second chorus another cycle.

SAL -ly BROWN was a CRE-ole LA-dy
SAL -ly BR-own was CRE-ole LA-dy

The capitalized parts show the timing of 4 exertions per section corresponding to the rhythm of the melody.

The issue is that "Shenandoah" does not "fall" against the windlass action like this... and like nearly all other "windlass" chanties clearly do. This is curious.

Now, it may just be a fact to live with that "Shenandoah" does not line up neatly. Yet again, as someone who has sung chanties at windlasses, I personally find it jarring. One's body -- at least as I experience it -- gets used to the lines of a chanty falling at consistent times against the windlass' pumping action. That coordination, indeed, keeps everything flowing smoothly. "Shenandoah" may be an outlier, and I'll just have to live with that. It might mean that there is (was) no consistent way of singing "Shenandoah" at the windlass. But I want to suppose that there WAS, and get closer to answering "How?"

I believe the first reliable document of the melody of 'Shenandoah" is in Alden's _Harper's_ article of 1882. He actually give 2 different forms. The second of these has the longer second chorus with which most are familiar. What is remarkable in this (almost the first) printing of the tune is its absolute metrical regularity—in groupings of 3 beats. Subsequent documentations would be in the mixed (irregular meter) or in 4 beat groupings that, while viable, seem to me to distort the timing of the song.

Here I've done an absolutely strict, metered rendering of Alden's two forms - comparing them to an irregular form (mixed meter) that is familiar to many (coming from Terry 1921) and to the un-strict form of the Grenadine whalers.

I will continue with theories, but I wonder what anyone thinks in the meantime.

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