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Origins: Dona Dona

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DONA DONA


Related threads:
(origins) Help: Meaning of 'Donna donna' in Yiddish (63)
Lyr/Chords Req: Donna (Dona, Dona) (15)


Joe_F 12 Oct 19 - 09:18 PM
robomatic 06 Jan 18 - 03:01 AM
Big Al Whittle 05 Jan 18 - 02:21 AM
robomatic 04 Jan 18 - 08:15 PM
Cool Beans 04 Jan 18 - 06:02 PM
Jack Campin 04 Jan 18 - 05:53 PM
leeneia 04 Jan 18 - 12:08 PM
Big Al Whittle 03 Jan 18 - 04:04 AM
GUEST 01 Jan 18 - 12:53 PM
GUEST 01 Jan 18 - 12:50 PM
Jack Campin 06 Nov 13 - 10:29 AM
Joe Offer 24 Dec 11 - 03:50 PM
GUEST,Don Wise 24 Dec 11 - 08:25 AM
Joe Offer 23 Dec 11 - 09:29 PM
GUEST,Edna Garte 23 Dec 11 - 05:52 PM
Joe Offer 20 Sep 11 - 11:45 PM
A Listener 30 Apr 11 - 12:50 AM
GUEST,Alan Whittle 29 Apr 11 - 06:53 AM
A Listener 29 Apr 11 - 02:05 AM
GUEST,A Listener 29 Apr 11 - 01:26 AM
GUEST,A Listener 28 Apr 11 - 11:15 AM
Sooz 17 Apr 11 - 04:13 AM
GUEST,Alan Whittle 16 Apr 11 - 03:10 PM
Sooz 16 Apr 11 - 10:03 AM
Wilfried Schaum 15 Apr 11 - 02:27 PM
GUEST,Alan Whittle 15 Apr 11 - 01:51 PM
Crowhugger 14 Apr 11 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,A Listener 14 Apr 11 - 04:24 AM
Bob Bolton 11 Apr 11 - 11:55 PM
GUEST, A Listener 11 Apr 11 - 01:46 PM
Larry The Radio Guy 07 Sep 10 - 02:46 PM
GUEST,Pam 07 Sep 10 - 07:45 AM
GUEST,Dave MacKenzie 15 Sep 09 - 07:11 PM
GUEST,gerbyr 15 Sep 09 - 05:58 PM
John on the Sunset Coast 18 Jun 09 - 10:47 PM
GUEST,JonRappi 18 Jun 09 - 10:31 PM
Big Al Whittle 02 Sep 08 - 12:53 PM
Mr Happy 02 Sep 08 - 12:37 PM
C. Ham 13 May 07 - 03:00 PM
DADGBE 13 May 07 - 02:16 PM
Big Al Whittle 13 May 07 - 12:54 PM
Amos 13 May 07 - 11:16 AM
Big Al Whittle 13 May 07 - 04:41 AM
Lonesome EJ 13 May 07 - 12:52 AM
Little Robyn 12 May 07 - 08:54 PM
Joe_F 12 May 07 - 08:44 PM
Bob the Postman 12 May 07 - 07:44 PM
Jack Campin 12 May 07 - 07:24 PM
Bob the Postman 12 May 07 - 01:47 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 12 May 07 - 01:21 PM
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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Joe_F
Date: 12 Oct 19 - 09:18 PM

Cf. the Jewish joke in which a man berates his stubborn donkey: "If you did not want to be ridden, why did you become an ass?" One can imagine that being alluded to allegorically, or even sarcastically. %^)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: robomatic
Date: 06 Jan 18 - 03:01 AM

You're half right. It is too clever for you.

The song is not ironical. The song is allegorical. Like a parable.

Irony is when the result of one's efforts or intentions is counter to one's desires. Sort of like a Christmas story called "The Gift of the Magi".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 05 Jan 18 - 02:21 AM

too clever for me. and too clever for most folksingers I've heard tackle it.

Perhaps you have to be clever at interpreting Jewish folk song to reveal the irony.
irony is essentially saying one thing but meaning another.
most of the interpretations i have heard seem to be hymming a pretty girl called Donna with an excessively pretty song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: robomatic
Date: 04 Jan 18 - 08:15 PM

I remember this song from guitar class where we used the instructor's own book as a text. Her book attributed this song simply as "Russian" and the instructor didn't seem to register the distinction I made when I told her it was not Russian, it was Yiddish.

GUEST,A Listener in his/her posts of 11,14,28 APR 11 has gotten as close to the meaning and existential angst of the song as I have ever heard. The song describes with simplicity some deep truths about the cruelty of the world. Ascribing that cruelty to the song is to miss the point.

When I obtained my pilot's license, my father made a comment about my ability to fly away in terms reminiscent of this song.

Wikipedia mentions that the song is also called "Dos Kelbl", Yiddish for "The Calf".


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Cool Beans
Date: 04 Jan 18 - 06:02 PM

My two cents: "Who told you to be a calf?" is a message intended for the listener, not the calf in the song. It's too late for the calf in the song, but not for people who hear the song (some of them, anyway). Be like the swallow, treasure freedom, fight for freedom. Even you fail you've learned to fly.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Jan 18 - 05:53 PM

I have just been reading Simon Winder's "Danubia", in which he mentions a song in German from about 1850 (presumably with no Jewish links) that uses the image of a calf in the same way.

I don't know "Esterke", but maybe the song was an interlude using familiar content with no relation to the storyline? (Like "Moon River" in "Breakfast at Tiffany's").


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: leeneia
Date: 04 Jan 18 - 12:08 PM

When discussing song origins, people frequently muddle the origin of the melody and the origin of the lyrics. Perhaps the melody was written in 1939 and the remarkably prescient lyrics came later.

I personally think these lyrics have too much of "blame the victim," and they belong in the great cultural wastebasket of worthless songs.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 03 Jan 18 - 04:04 AM

yup i'm still here.

thank you for your information about the genesis of this song.

I think most of the versions I've heard, it comes over as a celebration of the twitterers.

i can see that a different interpretation might be possible. not sure i'm the bloke to tackle it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jan 18 - 12:53 PM

my apologies, I don't know how the edit here. The last paragraph was mistakenly left from a cut and paste. But know what, that still has some ironic meaning


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Jan 18 - 12:50 PM

o my got!I happened upon something about a yiddish song about a calf and I almost jumped. In the 1970 B'nai Brith Youth Organization was an international group for Jewish teens. Among the many things we did, is sing this song after a meeting, a party, an event.....its symbolism to us kids at the time was real and powerful - the calf represnts the jews being led to slaughter, the farmer respresents the Nazis in the ironic - why don't you just change yourself you silly thing. The swallow is the rest of the world, flying, soaring, little caring about the suffering of others

So to find this thread - from 2000! Talking about its meaning and all the many ideas people have comes as a complete shock for me. I did not know that it was orginally written in 1939 later sung by Joan Baez and countless others. I never realized people could think the son anything but a song about the nazi determination to slauhter all Jews. But if this wwas written in 1939 few people knew this at the time. So it was writtten to respent all suffering peoples who from no fault of their own are being slaughted like cattle with the rest of the world just twittering and flying away.

but wait, then I read this : "Zeitlin wrote his play by 1939, when he came to NY for the World's Fair, and became stuck in the US due to the Holocaust. He later collaborated with the composer, Sholom Secunda, and the musical play version of Esterke, opened in NY City in October, 1940. Surely knowledge of the events happening in Europe against Jews was already somewhat known at that point, and that is the link this song has to the Holocaust. In any event, it certainly was prophetic about the events that occurred. Zeitlin's entire family was murdered in Europe." And here we come full circle.

Wow - I loved this song, hadn't heard it performed in ages. And I am speechless that first, this powerful song had such a different beginning, and second, that it could have different meaning to those who wrote it .

I so hope Im not just talking to a long ago abandoned blog(Like so many others) and that there is someone there who will understand this letter and what this all means to me.

Is anyone out there? if so, plese contact me at cindydavid4@gmail.com
with your reaction. If no one is, then may my words rise up to the ears of god, that he might cry, and laugh alittle at the irony of it a..

Cindy

Zeitlin wrote his play by 1939, when he came to NY for the World's Fair, and became stuck in the US due to the Holocaust. He later collaborated with the composer, Sholom Secunda, and the musical play version of Esterke, opened in NY City in October, 1940. Surely knowledge of the events happening in Europe against Jews was already somewhat known at that point, and that is the link this song has to the Holocaust. In any event, it certainly was prophetic about the events that occurred. Zeitlin's entire family was murdered in Europe.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Jack Campin
Date: 06 Nov 13 - 10:29 AM

"Kein schöner Land.." is the title of the song book. Here is a review of it that lists the contents (mostly Yiddish songs):

http://www.volksliederarchiv.de/reviews-25.html

That edition at least doesn't appear to contain "Dona, dona". (It doesn't appear to contain "Kein schöner Land..." either, despite the book being named after it). Maybe there was another one that did, and they removed it due to copyright issues? If so I can't find it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Joe Offer
Date: 24 Dec 11 - 03:50 PM

Don, you have me profoundly confused. Were you perhaps intending to post to another thread, about the song Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit? [recording of the song by Vienna Boys' Choir here (click)] Also see this page (click) on Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit.

Zupfgeigenhansel was a German folk duo, one of the most successful groups to emerge on the German folk scene in the 1970s. It consisted of Erich Schmeckenbecher and Thomas Friz. The group was named after the collection of folk songs of the same name, which was published in 1909.


Der Neue Zupfgeigenhansl, an entirely new book, was published by B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz, in 1983. The editor was Bertold Marohl. Song Number 82 is "Kein Schöner Land," with this attribution: Text und Musik mündlich überliefert (delivered orally).

So, I'm confused. Maybe what's you're saying is that Pläne Verlag published a songbook for the Zupfgeigenhansl folk duo in 1984, but what's "Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit" have to do with "Dona Dona"?

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Don Wise
Date: 24 Dec 11 - 08:25 AM

In the Zupfgeigenhansl(Thomas Friz & Erich Schmeckenbecher) songbook:"Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit" (Pläne Verlag 1984) it says text: Itzchak Katsenelson, music: Sch. Secunda.

Katsenelson was born 1886 and lived in the Warsaw Ghetto until he was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.
Thomas Friz has done a lot of research into the music of the east european jews so I think he will have had good reasons for crediting Itzchak Katsenelson with the text.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Dec 11 - 09:29 PM

Hmmm. Don't know about the play, but YIVO's description sounds of Esterke like the Book of Esther - a beautiful woman who becomes mistress of King Casimir of Poland.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Edna Garte
Date: 23 Dec 11 - 05:52 PM

Does anyone know where the song "Dana Dana" (Donna Donna) comes into Zeitlin's play, "Esterke"?

My grandparents used to sing it in Yiddish, and for them at least, it was a 'call to arms'. I think that idea predated the Holocaust.:) But it would be interesting to know how it fits into the story of the play.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Sep 11 - 11:45 PM

"Dona, Dona" was a song in the 1940 musical pay Esterke. You'll find interesting information about the historic character Esterke in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe:

    Esterke

    Heroine of a Polish and Jewish folk legend about a Jewish woman's relationship with Casimir the Great, King of Poland (r. 1310–1370). According to the chronicle of Jan Długosz (1415–1480), Esterke was Casimir's mistress who persuaded him to invite Jews to Poland; he also granted them extensive privileges. The story claims that the couple had four children, two boys raised as Christians and two girls raised as Jews. In 1334, Casimir did, in fact, extend privileges that had been first granted by Bolesław of Kalisz.

    The earliest written version of the Esterke legend by a Jewish author appears in David Gans's sixteenth-century chronicle, Tsemaḥ David. Ganz wrote that "Casimir, King of Poland, took as his concubine a Jewish girl named Esther, a maiden whose beauty was unparalleled in the entire country, and she was his wife for many years. The king performed great favors for the Jews for her sake, and she extracted from the king writs of kindness and liberty for the Jews." Oral versions also note that she lobbied on behalf of her people. Although marital relations between a Jew and a non-Jew are forbidden in Jewish law, they were considered justified here, as in the biblical story of Esther, as essential for the survival of the entire Jewish community. The heroine's conduct is interpreted as an act of self-sacrifice.

    The Esterke legend was transmitted orally, each community adding local color. In Radom, the tale was used to explain the name of the town: the king built a residential area around the house he erected for Esterke and the people there called the quarter rad-dam, "happy about this house." In Lublin, Esterke was said be buried in the community's old cemetery. In Kazimierz Dolny, the story claimed that the town's Great Synagogue itself was a gift from Casimir to Esterke. She was also supposed to have personally embroidered the synagogue's parokhet (ark curtain), the central motif of which was a fire-breathing monster. Jews in that town interpreted the creature as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and magical qualities were attributed to its rendering. Both the folk and the written versions are replete with associations from the biblical book of Esther; in addition, the purim-shpil that was customarily presented in Kazimierz related the Esterke story.

    In the modern period, the legend inspired many literary works in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew; examples include Shemu'el Yosef Agnon's "Esterkes Haus," in German and in a Hebrew version. Today, a house in Kazimierz Dolny, supposed to be that of Esterke, remains a tourist attraction.



Also in the Jewish Virtual Library

ESTERKE, Jewish woman from the village of Opoczno, Poland, said to have been a mistress of the Polish King *Casimir the Great (1310–1370). Reports claim that her outstanding beauty caught the king's eye while he was passing through her town. Her two sons, Pelka and Niemera, were given grants of land from their father and were raised as Christians. The names of her daughter (or daughters) were never recorded, but with the king's approval, they supposedly remained Jewish. Alternate endings to Esterke's story include the king's severing his relationship with her; Esterke's death while they are still together; and Esterke's suicide either immediately after the king's death or several years later. Although a house in Opoczno was designated as her family home, and her grave was believed to be in Lobzow Park, near Cracow, there is no historical basis for any of the Esterke legends, and there is no mention of her either in court documents or in Jewish sources. Written mention of Esterke appears in the late 15th century in a history by Polish cleric Jan Dlugosz (1415–1480). The first Jewish source to mention Esterke is Ẓemaḥ David by David Gans, written in 1595. Gans believed in the historicity of the report and gave a Christian source for it. The relationship of Esterke and Casimir, with its obvious parallel to the Book of Esther, was appealing; the theme was used by Jewish writers as late as the 19th century. Versions of Esterke's story in Polish antisemitic literature attempted to undermine customary Jewish privileges granted to Jews by King *Boleslav V (1221–1279) and continued by King Casimir, suggesting that they were promulgated to please a lover rather than for the good of the nation. A 16th-century priest alluded to Esterke in his book Jewish Cruelties, claiming that her "gentle words induced him [Casimir] to devise by scheme this loathsome law under the name of the Prince Boleslav.…" Such negative allusions to Esterke continued in Christian writings until the 19th century; the belief that this Jewish woman actively interceded for her people gave Casimir the nickname "the Polish Ahasuarus." Despite confirmations by modern historians that Esterke is best regarded as an example of a literary trope of the seductive Jewish woman, popular from the early Middle Ages, and despite the fact that her name was used to further antisemitic claims, her sentimental appeal persists among Jews.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

E. Aizenberg, "Una Judia Muy Fermosa: The Jewess as Sex Object in Medieval Spanish Literature and Lore," in: La Corónica, 12 (Spring 1984), 187–94; Ch. Shmeruk, The Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature (1985); E. Taitz, S. Henry, and C.I. Tallan (eds.), The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 B.C.E.–1900 C.E. (2003), 84.

[Emily Taitz (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia

Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: A Listener
Date: 30 Apr 11 - 12:50 AM

"Impassive acceptance of suffering"
Again, I think this is a matter of interpretation. The fact that this song has served as an anthem to freedom movements shows that not all read it that way...
This has been an interesting discussion and I feel the voices of the song have been merging with the voices of the listeners, and I am hearing an ever richer message.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Alan Whittle
Date: 29 Apr 11 - 06:53 AM

Thankyou for your input listener.

I suppose it comes down to what you feel you can get away with onstage. I don't mind any amount of mucky innuendo laced with cruel fun.

But somehow I can't pull that one off - the one you speak of. Impassive acceptance of suffering. Of course like everybody - I've experienced it, at times of bereavement and at times when my wife has been ill.

I just don't feel I've got that card in my pack - to actually counsel it.

best wishes

al


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: A Listener
Date: 29 Apr 11 - 02:05 AM

I am responding to Crowhugger's post (I hope I'm doing this right - I'm new here).
I agree with the additional layers you find.
Since the farmer is portrayed as the voice of self-justification and blaming-the-victim, it is criticism, and perhaps a suggestion that what is taken for granted - calves being led to slaugher - should not be taken for granted.
At the same time, the song deals with the opposing forces of fate, on the one hand, and striving to change it, striving to fly, on the other. Because there will always be some "farmer" out there, nor can you hope for help from the wind, which will only laugh...
I absolutely agree with the idea of the vicarious pleasure in the crow's flight, but it is also envy, and perhaps hope...

I find an interesting similarity between this motif and that of another famous musical-piece, of the same period:
"Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly,
Birds fly over the rainbow,
Why, then, oh why can't I?"

"Over the Rainbow", of course, by Arlen and Harburg, published in 1939, the exact year when Dona Dona was written (though not yet performed). It may or not be a coincidence that "Over the Rainbow" was also written by two American Jews well immersed in East-European Jewish culture.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,A Listener
Date: 29 Apr 11 - 01:26 AM

I want to correct myself.
In tranlating the Yiddish, I think I was not using the correct source.
In verse 2, it is apparently "schreit dos kelbl", which means, the calf cries, and not "cry, you calf".
That makes a difference...
The farmer is responding to the calf's moaning by self-justification, philosophising, blaming the victim... Basically the same, but not as harsh as I made it to be.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,A Listener
Date: 28 Apr 11 - 11:15 AM

Hi People,
I'm not sure I'm following the delicate insider communication, but a few comments nevertheless...
Wee Little Drummer of the past: When I was little, I found this song hard, because of the harsh imagery, and because of the farmer's crassness/cruelty. At the same time, I listened and took it in, feeling intuitively that people, peoples who are in cruel situations, and undergoing extreme suffering, sometimes DO derive comfort from songs and stories that tell such tales and deal with such situations.
Specifically, as I said before, I hear the farmer's voice as distinctly different from the voice of the song, the farmer's voice is presented and mocked - although of course it is very, very real - the self justification, the gloating at his own better situation.

I think the original Yiddish makes this much much clearer, so I will try to translate:

On a wagon there lies a little calf, lies bound with a strap.
High in the sky flies a swallow, joyfully circling back and forth.
The wind laughs in the cornfield, laughs and laughs and laughs,
It laughs for a whole day, and half of the night.
Dona dona...
"Cry, you little calf", says the farmer, "Whoever told you to be a calf?
You could have been a bird, you could have been a swallow..."
{Hah! (my insertion)}
The wind laughs in the cornfield, laughs and laughs and laughs,
It laughs for a whole day, and half of the night.
Dona dona...
Poor calves - one binds them, carries them off and slaughters them.
Whoever has wings flies high up, and is a slave to no-one.
The wind laughs in the cornfield, laughs and laughs and laughs,
It laughs for a whole day, and half of the night.
Dona dona...

The farmer addresses the calf directly. His, "cry, little calf..." can be rephrased as "go ahead and cry", or "cry all you want". It is not a command but an expression taken directly from a culture that says "crying isn't going to help you".

Because in the end, the calf, the swallow, the farmer, the wind and the narrator - all are the voices of the song. Doesn't Jewish culture, like other folk traditions, have this voice inside it: "Don't complain, stop whining, it won't help". And at the same time - poor calf, he doesn't have wings, what can a poor calf do? Such is the fate of the calf. Should we cry, like the calf? Laugh, like the wind, because we can't change fate? Or soar like the swallow, in spirit if not in body, even when we are bound and led to slaughter - always looking upwards at the sky?

Next week is Holocaust Day in Israel. This is why I have been looking into this song. And the more I look, the more I feel it is such a deep, ironic rendition of the spirit of an oppressed people - of all opressed peoples, but in this case, tinged with Jewish irony and humor - such as, the wind laughs all day through, but half the night... Precisely half the night, right? To joke and tell tales even in the face of harsh fate, that is strengh of spirit... Maybe that is the soaring up of the swallow?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Sooz
Date: 17 Apr 11 - 04:13 AM

You must be after something!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Alan Whittle
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 03:10 PM

And Sooz, you're still prettier than Joan Baez.......(much!)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Sooz
Date: 16 Apr 11 - 10:03 AM

Hey Al - that was me! It was the first song I ever sang in a folk club. I hope I got to the deeper meaning of it all. I still sing it occasionally for old times sake.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 15 Apr 11 - 02:27 PM

How right you are, Alan. I've seen those young girls so emphathic, not yet hitting the bodhran then. " Oh, the poor calf!" What had they to do with this song? They handn't the slightest notion of its meaning.
   ...the song is horribly callous as it stands. I can think of few who would derive comfort from its message you wrote five years ago. And how right you were then, too.
   See also my note of Jan 19, 2006.

Such is life, hard and very strong, isn't it?

greetings
Wilfried


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Alan Whittle
Date: 15 Apr 11 - 01:51 PM

I confess to being the weelittlr drummer who started all the soul searching on this thread.

I suppose my dislike of the song goes back to 1960's folk clubs when young girls used to sing it, looking a bit like Joan Baez, only prettier. I still feel about the song, a bit like some people feel about

How can you tell me that you're lonely
And say for you the sun don't shine

How dare you dismiss another person's agony - just becauise you're lucky enough to be not standing in their shoes? However playing Streets of London has helped put the food on the table some weeks, so fair play! Well done ralph!


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Subject: Another layer to Dona Dona
From: Crowhugger
Date: 14 Apr 11 - 02:14 PM

I've understood the song as the broad metaphor described in great detail by A Listener. Perhaps that's partly because my upbringing included a fair bit of poetry and perhaps partly that my ancestors include a different oft-enslaved race, with a similarly picturesque way of explaining life's conundrums.

As well, being neither cow nor swallow, I always felt part of the meaning was humans, such as the farmer, can make choices, or can feel railroaded into choices for personal survival. Calves may be easily bound and slaughtered and swallows may dip and rise on the laughing wind, but people can choose not to bind and slaughter (sometimes at a personal cost). People can choose to take vicarious pleasure from the swallow's flight. This is an additional layer I've found in the song since I was old enough to try to figure out its meaning.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,A Listener
Date: 14 Apr 11 - 04:24 AM

Hello Bob,
I am spending some time with this song and I too have found this thread intriguing.
It is a song of depth - again, whether "invented" or a more aged folk-song, I think it draws on folk-song traditions and on folk traditions in general. Deep waters as you say.
We each have our personal response and a good piece of literature (any art) will do that. There is something in it for everyone.
AND YET... Knowledge, understanding of the cultural background, of similar traditions... These can enrich our understanding of the song, and also prevent misunderstanding. Such is my view of literary analysis. I like to try and figure out what is in the song and not just what is in my mind.
Having thought about it some more after writing, I had the following further insights...
The song does end with a message, and even though it is partly ironic, with the wind laughing itself away in the background, it is also true: Whoever has wings can soar up, and be nobody's slave. But a calf is always subject to binding and slaughtering. Does that blame the calf? That would be callous indeed, and it is the farmer's voice who bluntly says that. But at the same time - the song is saying, we need to strive to be free, to be a swallow and not a calf. This is not "blame" but a message, a truth to be heeded. These paradoxes are part of life and that is why the song is enigmatic about it, as a good song should be.
A somewhat similar sentiment is expressed in the song "El Condor Pasa" (I don't know if Paul Simon's lyrics are based on a folk song or not, I know the music is based on folk songs): "I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail / Yes I would / If I only could / etc. and, "A man gets tied up to the ground / he gives the world / it's saddest sound".
In probing the song (Dona Dona), it is important not to be mislead by the English translation. The English says, "but whoever treasures freedom / Like the swallow has learned to fly". The original Yiddish does not say that - it only says, "Whoever has wings flies upwards / (and) is nobody's slave." Nothing about treasuring, nothing about learning... It's just a plain fact, but a fact that needs to be noted. The translation to English turns the song from a philosophical statement, albeit an important and inspiring one, to a "didactic" and more moralistic statement.
And re the winds laughing, I am reminded also of a Hebrew expression, "the laughter of fate", which I imagine exists in some form of another in many languages and cultures.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 11:55 PM

G'day,

It's quite intriguing to look back at his thread - almost 12 years after it was my early 'toe in the water' of the Mudcat's realm!

It is quite striking how many things can be seen in the one set of lyrics ... and how much the text reflects the face of each person who has commented over the years. It is still a song with mysterious depths - of deep waters that run dark ... and reflect more of the viewer than the subject!

Regards,

Bob


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST, A Listener
Date: 11 Apr 11 - 01:46 PM

This is a folk song, whether written originally for a theater play or "borrowed" for it from a more ancient tradition. It is in the genre of a folk song.
Many folk songs are protest songs. They supposedly tell a tale, a mere story, but there is a message in them.
In "Dona Dona", the message is within the context of Jewish culture. This is a culture of humor and irony, for various reasons... Because its people are well educated and knowledgeable in their literary tradition, which makes allusions and and subtlety possible. Also, because the life of hardship and persecution in foreign lands made subtle, ironic communication necessary, and humor - essential.
My interpretation of the song: The song shows the cruelty and callousness of the farmer - the farmer is the slayer of the calf, note this! But he blames the calf. Of course the calf can't help being a calf, but this is exactly what the song is out to show. And in the background is the wind, or fate, or maybe even God - laughing in the field. The calf, destined to be slaughtered, supposedly sees the swallow and envies it, and hears the rustling of the corn in the field, and it sounds like the wind laughing... As if Fate, or God, or the wind, laughs instead of intervening on his behalf.
The song portrays the cruel fate of all who are bound and destined for slaughter. It is symbolic of the Holocaust and of the persecution of the Jewish people, but can apply to all persecuted people.
In noting the irony of the song, we can think of a famous Jewish proverb: "Man tracht, Got lacht". Man plans, God laughs - we are small and helpless in the face of Fate, or God, who turns our plans upside down for amusement. Fate, or God, has the last word - or laugh - and the same happens in Dona Dona. The poor calf is lead to slaughter, and the wind only laughs in response...
Isn't this what happened in reality?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Larry The Radio Guy
Date: 07 Sep 10 - 02:46 PM

I always find it mystifying how difficult it is for many of us to pick up irony in a song--I know I've missed it in various songs, then had to be "educated" by someone--and it's totally changed my frame of reference and attitude toward the song. I'm wondering if wee little drummer and Bonnie Shaljean, through looking at the very bitter and ironic sentiment expressed (i.e. "Stop complaining said the farmer, who told you a calf to be") and realizing how this reflects so much the "blame the victim" state of our society can now appreciate the brilliance and the sadness of this song.

It's hard to portray complexities in popular songs, I realize. I love to perform songs where the audience is encouraged to observe the narrator's (or a character in the song's) point of view without feeling that this is what the song is preaching. For example, Randy Newman is a most obvious exponent of that.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Pam
Date: 07 Sep 10 - 07:45 AM

The original version by the composer was Dana Dana, which might explain the subsequent Donna spelling. Dona is the most recent incarnation. Not the most hopeful of songs, but powerful.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Dave MacKenzie
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 07:11 PM

I don't know where I originally heard it, but I've always thought that Dona was a Yiddish variant of "Adonai" (God). Some of the Dona's in the Yiddish version are pronounced as donai.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,gerbyr
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 05:58 PM

I have only recently heard this song 'Dona Dona' for the first time, I thought it was a strangley moving song. I came across this page when I was looking for some information about the song. Several people seem to think it's about a woman, my feeling is that it is about a child.
A calf on a wagon bound for market, a child on a train bound for a camp,ect. There are many similarities along these lines through-out the song.
I guess some of the writers on this page will have something to say about that.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: John on the Sunset Coast
Date: 18 Jun 09 - 10:47 PM

GUEST,JonRappi--
Thank you for that post. I have 4 or 5 versions of Dona, Dona. One, I believe it is a Martha Schlamme version, uses the pronunciation you discuss. It also, I think, antedates Joan B.'s. I'll have to check this out in the next few days.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,JonRappi
Date: 18 Jun 09 - 10:31 PM

The lyricist of the song, Aaron Zeitlin (or Ahron Tzeitlin) was born in Russia but lived in Poland. The story of the play, Esterke, is about a Polish legend of a Polish King who falls in love with a Jewish woman about 600 years ago (it is unclear if the story is true). The original Yiddish words of the song are "Dana, dana, dana" (pronounced approximately like the female name "Donna" in English). it is believed that this word comes from the Polish language, and it is the equivalent of musical nonsense words meaning "tra-la-la-la." I have seen the original Yiddish words (using Hebrew letters) and the vowels confirm this pronunciation. Joan Baez mispronounced these words (there are several theories why this happened) and the "Dona" pronunciation has stuck ever since, but is, nevertheless, incorrect.

Zeitlin wrote his play by 1939, when he came to NY for the World's Fair, and became stuck in the US due to the Holocaust. He later collaborated with the composer, Sholom Secunda, and the musical play version of Esterke, opened in NY City in October, 1940. Surely knowledge of the events happening in Europe against Jews was already somewhat known at that point, and that is the link this song has to the Holocaust. In any event, it certainly was prophetic about the events that occurred. Zeitlin's entire family was murdered in Europe.

The Secunda archives are at the Fales Library of New York University. The original manuscript score for Esterke (including Dana, Dana) is located there. The information is as follows if anyone wants to do the research to look this up: Phone: (212) 998-2596 Email: fales.library@nyu.edu. Series I. Musical Theater
Esterke 40 undated General note bar code #: 3 1142 04061855 8


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:53 PM

It means life is cruel with many ironic twists....

let's cheer up and have a kebab!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Mr Happy
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 12:37 PM

A new twist here:http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=P6poDgI-rr0

Oh dear, that one cut short,

try herehttp://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=E9hFPPLWIRs


**************

I've read through all this thread, there's still no explanation've what Dona Dona means, anyone know?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: C. Ham
Date: 13 May 07 - 03:00 PM

The Chad Mitchell Trio with Roger McGuinn perform Dona, Dona, Dona on the Bell Telephone Hour circa 1959. Beautiful rendition.

That clip is definitly not from 1959. Roger's gig with the Chad Mitchell Trio dated from 1961. His first gig, backing the Limeliters, started in 1960.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: DADGBE
Date: 13 May 07 - 02:16 PM

My goodness, this thread has been around for a long time and this is the first time I've encountered it. Here's a personal recollection for what it's worth.

In 1957 I met and played music with Teddi Schwartz on numerous occasions. She was a difficult person with something of an attitude problem. On one hand, she demanded that everyone quit whining, accept their lot in life and make the best of it. When in that frame of mind, she was less than forgiving towards the 'calves' who couldn't change their fate.

On the other hand, she claimed to be solicitous of people who, through no fault of their own, were caught in impossible situations. This attitude came out when she spoke of her family lost in the holocaust.

I could never understood how she made the distinction between those who could help themselves and those who couldn't. Even then, when I was 11 years old, I could see the effects of her personal contradictions which are so apparent in the song. The translation fit perfectly into her 'quit whining' paradigm.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 13 May 07 - 12:54 PM

the situation of the creator of the song I can only guess at, or his ironical twist of mind.

the song is horribly callous as it stands. I can think of few who would derive comfort from its message.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Amos
Date: 13 May 07 - 11:16 AM

Indeed, it is, WLD. But that does not change the irony of the song about that situation.

One's own choices always have a great deal to do with where one ends up.


A


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 13 May 07 - 04:41 AM

irony my arse!

the world is full of assholes telling you to get on with it, and that your troubles are not worthy of consideration.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 13 May 07 - 12:52 AM

The Chad Mitchell Trio with Roger McGuinn perform Dona, Dona, Dona on the Bell Telephone Hour circa 1959. Beautiful rendition.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Little Robyn
Date: 12 May 07 - 08:54 PM

Maybe JB learnt it from Theodore himself. We learnt it from her record and we were singing it in 1963.
Robyn


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Joe_F
Date: 12 May 07 - 08:44 PM

Sometimes a show tune, unlike a calf, can escape. Other examples are Rozhenkes mit mandeln (Yiddish) and Hobellied (German).

Come to think, there is a horrific short story about a calf that escaped: "A Mother's Tale" by James Agee. But that was a fantasy, or rather nightmare.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 12 May 07 - 07:44 PM

Maybe Ms. Baez learned it off a Theodore Bikel record.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 May 07 - 07:24 PM

I first heard it in New Zealand in the 1960s. Nobody ever sang it with a long "o" - always "Donna, Donna". I assumed it was meant to be a woman's name, but couldn't work out what the song was saying about her. In a period that outdid the Eurovision Song Contest for meaningless lyrics (American Pie, MacArthur Park, the complete works of Bob Dylan) it didn't stand out as unusually incoherent, and the tune carried it.

I assume everybody there got it from Joan Baez's version - how was her Yiddish pronunciation? Where did *she* get it?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 12 May 07 - 01:47 PM

Blood and Patterson included "Dona Dona" in their "Rise Up Singing" song book with the following information:

Yiddish Lyrics: Aaron Zeitlin
English Lyrics: Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz
Music: Sholem Secunda
Copyright 1940, 1956 by Mills Music Inc. Copyright renewed. All rights reserved. Used by permission of CPP Belwin Inc.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Dona Dona
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 12 May 07 - 01:21 PM

I must have sung this song back in the mid-60s, because I have a recollection of singing it for my guitar teacher. He liked the song and asked me to write down the words as he felt it would suit his wife's voice. A few weeks later, I asked him if his wife had learnt the song. He said she hadn't because she couldn't sing a song about cattle getting slaughtered!


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