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Shenandoah and free melodies

14 May 00 - 10:42 PM (#228040)
Subject: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: GUEST,Liz

I read somewhere (I think it was in a book called The Incomplete Folk Singer) that the song Shenandoah was a free melodie.(If I have my termonology right) this means that that there's no actual fixed rhythm. The book also said that because it was a free melodie, that it should only be sung/played as a solo and unaccompanied. To get to my question, what are peoples opinions on this?

15 May 00 - 09:46 AM (#228171)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: paddymac

Hi, Liz. What your source terms a "free melody" is a characterisic of Irish sean nos ("old style") singing. The habit of rhythmic "interpretation" most likely exists in many more folk traditions as well. Specifically to your question of accompaniment for such a song, the only criterion is that the singer(s) and accompanist(s) need to be in agreement on what they're doing. The mark of a good accompanist is his/her ability and willingness to follow the vocalist. The mark of an instrumental clod is his/her insistance on playing like a fokking metronome, irrespective of what the singer(s) is/are doing. Anyone so rigid as to say that "Shenendoah" should not be done with instrumental accompaniment is a clod of the other sort. Such people miss out on much beautiful music. There is a spectacularly beautiful barber shop arrangement of "Shenandoah" which doesn't really come to life unless the singers take "liberties" with the tempo at several places. But, that sort of interpretive device is a characteristic of the style, and likely drives strict classicists crazy. So, I would say do the song in whatever style appeals to you. Make it your own!

15 May 00 - 03:30 PM (#228335)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: Malcolm Douglas

You may find these past discussions interesting:  Song info: "Shenandoah" and  Sea Shanties: timing and tempo


15 May 00 - 03:49 PM (#228346)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: Kim C

We do Shenandoah as a regular song, with accompaniment and all, and a rhythm, BUT we have sort of come up with our own arrangement. I've heard it done all sorts of ways.

15 May 00 - 08:13 PM (#228466)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: pastorpest

I tried once from a Paul Robeson recording to figure out what the time was to Shenandoah. I failed. Then I saw the music written out with bars of 3/4, 4/4/ and 2/4. Looking at it, I thought the "free" meolody was more satisfying than forcing standard bars on the song. Robeson sang it this way. Leon Bibb's great CD "Shenandoah" from 1997 does the same thing. Lots of rennaisance madrigals, and earlier music like chant had no bars. Forcing bars on them makes them sound mechanical.

15 May 00 - 08:30 PM (#228472)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: McGrath of Harlow

To start with Shenandoah was a shanty, a work song, so there's a rhythym in it all right, reflecting the needs of the work it was helping with.

It was probably primarily a rowing song, so if you think of the rhythym of rowing you've got it. But the rhythym of rowing isn't like that of walking, left-right-left-right, it's more spasmodic, with pauses and all that. Write that down in conventional musical notation and I suppose it might get a bit complicated.

That doesn't mean that it's wrong to sing it other ways, if that's how your fancy takes you.

15 May 00 - 11:55 PM (#228558)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: GUEST,Elmore Jenkins

Just cruising through, hope you don't mind a thought--this song, and many other popular folk songs became familiar through performce by classical artists, like Paul Robeson, who performed classical arrangements, not folk arrangements. Always have been curious what the first collectors really heard, because a lot of evened melodies out and ironed them flat, too!

16 May 00 - 04:54 PM (#229000)
Subject: RE: Shenandoah and free melodies
From: paddymac

Amen to pastorpest's comment.