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Fiddling a Work Song or Song About Work
Beyond shanties.
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (6 votes) 
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ELCBK
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February 15, 2024 - 2:34 pm
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I do like to play 'songs' on the fiddle, but lately I've gotten more interested in 'work' songs. 

My whole life I've associated some great melodies with lyrics - starting with lullabies, nursery rhymes & Christmas Carols. 

One of the 1st working songs I became familiar with was Disney's "Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs" (Whistle While You Work)! 

Of course sea shanties are work songs, but there were songs for milking (slow for soothing), rowing, gutting/preparing herring (fast work), waulking (fulling wool), weaving, washing, herding, chopping wood, etc... pretty much dependent on location.  Some claim 'lullabies' parenting 'work songs'! (lol)

There was a great early tradition of Puirt à beul in Scotland (like Waulking Songs) and Sean-nós in Ireland, or Lilting, also in Cape Breton - originally ALL vocal in gaelic, or Gàidhlig.  Folks had their hands too busy to play an instrument, but there was a renaissance of these songs started in the 50's-60's and continues up to present - with the important addition of instrumental music (like the fiddle)!

Rhythm & groove was most important, but lyrics (sad, light, nonsensical, or bawdy) made tunes easy to remember! 

There were also great songs about work. 

Anyway, this is my most recent favorite, "Mo Nighean Donn as Bòidhche", sung by Mary Jane Lamond - not sure who's playing the fiddle, but I know Wendy MacIsaac has played on another of Mary's albums.  It has definitely captured my heart & worth learning to play by ear! 

 

 

...pretty sure we've talked about 'wauking' songs elsewhere on the forum - first I saw was a wool-fulling scene on an 'Outlander' episodes.

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ELCBK
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February 15, 2024 - 5:00 pm
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...a little music history. 

 

 

 

It was nice to find out "Mairead Nan Cuiread" is a waulking song from the Isle of Lewis!  Performed here by the Nevis Ensemble. 

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ELCBK
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February 16, 2024 - 10:42 pm
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Cape Breton has a known milling tune (waulking song) that didn't originate in Scotland, "Ged A Sheòl Mi Air M’Aineol".  The link has info, another recording and SHEET MUSIC for this song, from Beaton Institute of Music! 

From Julie Fowlis. 

[Milling songs are] an example of culture shift. In the days of tweed-weaving when milling, or waulking as they call it in Scotland, was done by women it was women who sang the songs, both in Cape Breton and in Scotland. When milling songs began to be sung for entertainment rather than as work-songs, men took on the singing role in Cape Breton while the women continued to form the song-groups in Scotland.

Another interesting feature of some Cape Breton compositions is the conversion of old Gaelic songs to completely new lyrics. They retain the original melody and sometimes the original chorus but the theme and substance of the verses are different. 

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ELCBK
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February 17, 2024 - 5:39 pm
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According to the Beaton Institute of Music (Cape Breton), ‘Illean Bithibh Sunndach is a very well known milling (waulking) song. 

‘Illean Bithibh Sunndach - sheet music

 

Thought it was very cool to find a video you can learn to sing it in Scotts Gaidhlig!  From Ye Old Scott Channel. 

 

The 'Illean Bithibh Sunndach song used in the above translation is on Fiona J Mackenzie's "A Good Suit of Clothes" album.

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ELCBK
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February 17, 2024 - 7:56 pm
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Blazin' Fiddles has a set of tunes on their "Fire On" album, called

"Waulking Songs"

 

 

 

The 3 tunes are: "Ho Da Lo La Lo""Ghoid Iad Mo Bhean Uam An Raoir" (They Stole My Wife Last Night), and "Ugi ’s Na Mo Thriall Dhachaidh"The links are to sheet music & audio files at The Session.   

[Info from Trad Tune Archive] "GHOID IAD MO BHEAN UAM AN REIR" (They stole my wife last night).   Scottish, Air (4/4 time). A Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. This air was originally published in Patrick McDonald's A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs (1784, No. 13). The tune has also been rendered as a strathspey and a Highland fling.

All 3 tunes in this Blazin' Fiddles set are listed as strathspeys at The Session, but like the note above, they ALL may have been sung more as an Air.

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ELCBK
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February 17, 2024 - 8:48 pm
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So, part of the reason I'm interested in working songs is their mesmerizing rhythms... AND they usually have a catchy chorus - unlike most fiddle tunes! 

BUT, that doesn't mean they were all originally in this song form!!! 

Some lyrics are added to old tunes & some poetry has music composed to match - so I don't think it's something new to take a traditional fiddle tune and add a chorus, or repeat part of the tune for a chorus... it's just a new way of thinking 'for me', with endless possibilities! 

O Nighean Donn nan Gobhar 

"O Brown-haired Maiden of The Goats" (thesession.org)

I found THREE, very different approaches in performances of this tune - I LOVE THEM ALL!

Which one do YOU feel makes a perfect working tune? 

 

 

 

 

Mary Jane Lamond left a few thoughts on this, plus translation at her site

This is a love song that I got from Peter MacLean of Rear Christmas Island.  In this song the young man says that although he is among fine and elegant company he would much prefer to be with his sweetheart, making merry while tending the goats.  The words of this song are published in An t-Òranaiche but without the chorus.  A song with a very similar chorus is well known in Scotland.

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ABitRusty
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February 17, 2024 - 9:02 pm
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ELCBK said
So, part of the reason I'm interested in working songs is their mesmerizing rhythms... AND they usually have a catchy chorus - unlike most fiddle tunes! 

BUT, that doesn't mean they were all originally in this song form!!! 

Some lyrics are added to old tunes & some poetry has music composed to match - so I don't think it's something new to take a traditional fiddle tune and add a chorus, or repeat part of the tune for a chorus... it's just a new way of thinking 'for me', with endless possibilities! 

O Nighean Donn nan Gobhar 

"O Brown-haired Maiden of The Goats" (thesession.org)

I found THREE, very different approaches in performances of this tune - I LOVE THEM ALL!

Which one do YOU feel makes a perfect working tune? 

 

 

 

 

Mary Jane Lamond left a few thoughts on this, plus translation at her site

This is a love song that I got from Peter MacLean of Rear Christmas Island.  In this song the young man says that although he is among fine and elegant company he would much prefer to be with his sweetheart, making merry while tending the goats.  The words of this song are published in An t-Òranaiche but without the chorus.  A song with a very similar chorus is well known in Scotland.

  

so I think the original song form...the top video just has a more work.. or manual type labor feel to it.

the middle would be something to enjoy afterwards

the last is something more along the lines of something Id listen before falling asleep.  not that its boring but just has that kind of feel.

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ABitRusty
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February 17, 2024 - 9:18 pm
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to be honest when I think about work songs my mind would go to chain gang type recordings so anything you find more celtic is interesting.   I think the first post gets closer to what I have in mind.  i know yore tring to keep this in that realm.

this is as close as i can get to that without veering off into sea shanties, military tunes, or irish pub songs like the big strong man or wild rover. 🙂.   so picking up some new songs from the topic.  what about more Nordic wrong word? walking tunes like we had a party about?

anyway... a wayfarin stranger.   i think its roots trace back to your topic

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ELCBK
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February 17, 2024 - 10:59 pm
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@ABitRusty -

I haven't heard that from The Longest Johns... I like it. 

Did you like their Diggy Diggy Hole Community Project? 🤣  Actually, I read that early miners weren't much for singing because their lungs were shot... not sure if that applies to digging for treasure, though. (lol)

Thought about Nordic... but to me there is a pretty big difference between a 'walking' tune and a 'waulking' tune - kinda like 'leisure' vs 'working'. 

I actually love some trad Japanese work songs - more upbeat & energizing than some Scottish ones. 

Love that folks are keeping the memory of some old tunes/songs alive in different ways - whether a rhythm, a story, or a melody.

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February 17, 2024 - 11:22 pm
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Thought about Nordic... but to me there is a pretty big difference between a 'walking' tune and a 'waulking' tune - kinda like 'leisure' vs 'working'.

whats funny is that pun was lost to me when i suggested.facepalm.makes it funny now.  But I guess its the rhythm of the WALKing tunes that reminded me of a work tune.

havent seen the diggity diggity project yet

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stringy
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February 24, 2024 - 2:44 pm
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I found this work song, its an ancient dwarves going to work tune, tried to play it with the bow but was far to complicated, so just plucked it on the fiddle instead. Personally I think it would be a good tune for in a film or something.

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February 24, 2024 - 6:36 pm
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@stringy -

🤣 You're funny! 

...I probably shouldn't laugh, maybe there's folks who haven't seen it. 😳

"Heigh Ho", "Dig, Dig, Dig" & "Whistle While You Work" - Disney's Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937)! 

 

Back to Gaelic, "Òran na Cloiche" - performed here by Owen Kennedy & Sean Healy!  Sheet music at The Session for this one!!!  "Stone of Destiny"

 

Another waulking song, "Gaol isle gaol i" - sung by Kathleen MacInnes.  It's worth trying on the fiddle - best sheet music I can find.

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Thought you may be amused,  ;)

Seriously though, have to give this thread some thought, it's a good one.

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ELCBK
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February 25, 2024 - 11:49 pm
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It's amazing to me how many of these Songs are related to strathspeys - maybe accounts for why they can be heard played many ways.  I think many fiddle tunes are also songs - much more interesting (to me) to not think of them as separate, but as variations.

I learned "Cutting Bracken" (Tha Mi Sgìth + more names) from a Fiona Cuthill tutorial.  If you look at "Cutting Bracken" at The Session, you'll find versions of the sheet music & info on it still being a popular waulking song with really wonderful lyrics!  Here from Burning Bridget Cleary:

 

 

Including a PDF of the notation & lyrics from feisroisfoghlam.org! 

Also mp3 of fiddle & singing. 

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February 26, 2024 - 1:44 pm
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the mp3 above is my favorite so far.  also really like the 35 degrees south above.  to me these are sounding more appalachian-ish.   idk.. hear the similarities more than irish stuff.   making me want to listen to some more like this.

 

The first song on this sounds alot like the kind of songs youre finding.  Not wanting to veer off into any history song/tune research connections.. Just liking the sound.

 

Oh wow ...and the Kathleen MacInnes video abive.   very nice.  like that

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ELCBK
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February 27, 2024 - 12:53 am
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@ABitRusty -

Thanks for sharing that album!

Really LOVE some of them! 

 

It just makes sense to me that many tunes passed down, thru generations & with immigrations, survived because they WERE sung with lyrics - maybe even whistled with the lyrics in mind... as folks worked. 

AND, the rhythms differ depending on the task at hand. 

I'm definitely interested in how the violin can mimic speech/singing and how vocals can be interchanged with instruments in dance, work & listening music.  Been looking into Air (trad folk vs Classical) structure, Arias, Ballads & how musique mesurée was deliberately composed with notes to fit syllable length of lyrics. 

So many types of SONGS: Lullabies, Laments, Battle Hymns, Protest, Rebel, Work, Celebration & Love (did I miss any?) - all worth playing on the fiddle, but also consider making something of your own from these. 🥰 

 

Don't know why there seem to be more Scottish Gaelic working songs than Irish Gaelic ones.  So many great Irish songs - didn't Irish workers sing while working?

Óró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile is one of my favorite Irish Gaelic songs that has a old history of being used for quite a few different things & certainly has the makings of a working song, but I can't prove it actually ever was one. Suppose it goes for a lot of old songs.  Seo Linn is one group I like that modernized some trad Irish Gaelic Songs, including Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile (LOVE this tune)

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