Friday, July 16, 2010
Western Singalong - carrying on a tradition
We are preparing to lead the music for a Singalong at the annual Alaskan Klee Kai convention in Claremont, CA. When we heard that the theme was "Western," we offered our services, then quickly went to get a proper hat for our little Klee Kai, Klondike. After all, a singalong is just carrying on a tradition of the cowboys - singing around the campfire. Of course, the temps here are expected to be close to 100 degrees, so a campfire is hardly on the schedule (and, hopefully, wild fires also will not be part of the event), but a few songs certainly can create an atmosphere. As discussed in earlier blogs, we often use music to establish a sense of togetherness (consider hymn singing in church), so it wasn't hard to sell the conference planners on a a "group sing."
So today I have been working on creating some "songbooks" for the event (back in the old days, everyone knew all the words to the popular songs - well, I guess they do today, too, but the songs we'll be singing were popular in years past and are not likely to be found on today's "hit parade"). I went through some of my favorite collections to come up with the songs for this event and thought it would be appropriate to share some of those sources with my blog followers (hey, you never know when you might like to look up an old song). So here's something of a brief annotated bibliography for western music:
Lingenfelter, Richard E., Dwyer, Richard A., & Cohen, David (editors), Songs of the American West, Berkeley, CA: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1968.
One of the most comprehensive collections I have ever found. This book was recommended to me by my 1987 American Folklore & Ballad class professor, William Henry Koon (at Cal. State Fullerton) and has been a major resource for me since then. The songs are organized into categories: "To the West" (the great migration), "Coming around the Horn" (going West via water), "Crossing the Plains" (more migration songs), "The Pioneer Stage Drive" (the occupation of hauling passengers & freight), "The Railroad Cars are Coming" (songs of the construction & arrival of railroads), "Seeing the Elephant" (first songs of the Gold Rush), "When I Went off to Prospect" (second batch of songs of the Gold Rush), "Apex Boarding House" (more mining songs), "When I was a Miner, a Hard-Rock Miner" (more mining songs), "Stand by Your Union" (songs of organized labor), "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (Mormon migration songs), "The Handcarts" (songs of the second wave of Mormon emigrants), "Wish I was a Mormonite" (Mormon songs by non-Mormons), "The Mormon Question" (more Mormon pioneer songs by non-Mormons), "The Merry Mormons" (life in the Salt Lake Valley), "The Sioux Indians" (living with the Native Americans), "The Regular Army-o!" (the military in the West), "John Chinaman" (songs about life with the Chinese workforce . . . many not politically correct), "What was Your Name in the States" (songs of the outlaws), "The Texas Cowboy" (ballads of cowboys), "The Cowboy's Life" (songs about the lifestyle of the cowboy), "Git Along, Little Dogies" (songs of cattle-driving), "If Your Saddle is Good and Tight" (songs of horse-breaking), "The Campfire has Gone out" (songs of the end of the wild west), "The Kansas Emigrant" (songs of that plain state), "Starving to Death on a Government Claim" (songs about homesteading), "But the Mortgage Worked the Hardest" (farming songs), "Harvest Land" (more farming songs), "Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks" (songs of the lumber trade), "A Dollar a Day without Board" (songs of the hard life, trying to make ends meet), "Hallelujah, on the Bum" (songs of those who did not make ends meet), "Oh, You Wobblies" (uniting the unskilled laborers), and "The Old Settler" (songs of those who saw better days). This book has been around a long time, but is still the first I grab when I am looking for songs of the west.
Lomax, Alan, The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1960.
This was my texbook for my Folksong & Ballad class at CSUF. Besides providing a wealth of information on the back-stories of the songs, it contains most of my class notes from the course, reminding me of some of the nuances in the lyrics (sorry, my personal notes are not available in new copies of this book!). While the book addresses all sorts of geographic and cultural aspects of traditional music, there is one section on "The West" that is divided into seven categories: "Beyond the Mississippi," "Plainsmen and '49ers," "Soldiers and Renegades," "Cowboys," "Prairie Farmers," "Railroaders and Hoboes," and "The Last West."
Silber, Irwin (compiler, editor), Songs of the Great American West, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967, 1995.
Lots of Western songs, some repeats of those in the other two books, organized by category: "Ho! For California," "On the Plains of Mexico," "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (about the Mormon migration), "The Days of '49" (about the Calif. Gold Rush), "Ride Around Little Dogies," "The Farmer is the Man," "Come All You Bold Fellers," and "Roll on, Columbia" (about the Northwest).
Of course there are other books and recordings. One of my favorites is produced by Keith and Rusty McNeil, here in Riverside County. Their website lists their book of western songs, a companion to their CD on the same topic.
Whenever I put together a program of traditional music, one of my first resources is Google - if you are looking for a particular song, try Googling the title of the song and add the word "lyrics." If that doesn't get a hit, try using one line from the song. For example, if I have been trying to find "Home, Home on the Range," I might select "where the deer and the antelope" . . . sometimes we remember phrases or titles incorrectly, so use a phrase that you are certain is correct - note: if I added the word "roam" to the end of that phrase, the chances are I wouldn't get a hit, unless someone posted it with incorrect lyrics (the last word to the phrase is "play"). Again, if I don't get a hit, I'd try a different phrase. Don't forget to put the phrase or title in quotation marks, otherwise you will get hits for anything that has all the words, not necessarily in that order! (If you know the author of the song, include that as well; I usually use only the surname of a composer as sometimes the first name is given as initials or a common nickname - R.D. or "Bob" instead of "Robert").
Happy searching . . . adding the songs your ancestors sang to the "notes" section of your genealogy program can remind yourself about their humanness and their everyday life.