The music heard in early New England included hymns, ballads, instrumental tunes, and music from the British Isles and the Continent, both “classical” and traditional. In our program tonight we bring you a combination of hymnody, ballads, and tunes. The instruments we are using include “historical” instruments like the viola da gamba and the transverse flute (whose modern cousins are still used in various folk music traditions; and instruments that are essentially modern but had close seventeenth- and eighteenth century antecedents (guitar, Irish bouzouki, autoharp, accordion, organ).

 The Hymns

William Billings, Justin Morgan, and Daniel Read were all eighteenth-century hymn composers. Among them, the best-known is William Billings, a snuff-sniffing, one-eyed Bostonian character who trained as a tanner, became a Singing School Master, and wrote some of early America’s most glorious hymn settings. Singing Schools were an early American phenomenon that involved organized instruction for non-professionals in the art of singing. Many of the Singing Schools utilized a kind of notation now referred to as “shape-note,” in which particular shapes represented the notes mi, fa, sol, and la. At the very beginning of the concert you will hear us sing the “fasola” version of Daniel Read’s “Sherburne,” followed by the hymn itself. (Hymns were often identified by a nickname given to the tune itself, which in the vast majority of cases has no relation to the lyrics). Read lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and published a number of tunebooks; many of his works remain mainstays of the shape-note or “Sacred Harp” repertoire. Justin Morgan was also a Singing School master, born in West Springfield, Massachusetts (a stone’s throw away from my own birthplace). Musically, Morgan is best known for the hymn known as “Amanda,” a setting of lyrics by hymnodist Isaac Watts—but in other circles, he is best known as a horse-breeder, and one of his stallions was responsible for the entire Morgan horse breed.   

 The Ballads and Tunes

“Stingo, or Oyle of Barley” was a popular tune that shows up in the first edition (1651) of John Playford’s “The English Dancing Master,” a collection published in various editions continuously until 1728 and well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. The tune’s name starts showing up after the 1690 edition as “Cold and Raw,” referring to a ballad sung to the same tune that shows up in many sources, sometimes described as a “Scottish tune.” There are also a number of alternate texts to “Cold and Raw,” and the ballad is sometimes called “The Farmer’s Daughter,” which may give you hint as to its usual content. “Juice of Barley” is yet another version of “Stingo,” in this case a raucous drinking song. The real “Stingo” was a type of ale, and in fact is still procurable now as Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo, a bottle of which just might make an appearance—as a prop, of course. “Childgrove,” “Newcastle,” and “Daphne” are also tunes that appeared in the popular “Dancing Master” publications.

“The Trees They Grow High” and “Pretty Polly” are both very well-known traditional ballads. There are many versions of “Trees,” but they all have in common a female narrator who tells the story of being betrothed to a much younger (meaning “teen-aged”) boy, and after being initially appalled by this arranged marriage, comes to love the young man, who does not live past sixteen. The story is a bit alarming to modern sensibilities, but these arranged marriages, often made for political or social reasons, were commonplace in medieval times and into the modern era (and still take place in various locations around the globe). “Pretty Polly” is one of the most famous in the genre of Anglo-Celtic murder ballads; it is known by several names, and there are numerous versions of the words. If you look it up on Wikipedia you will find a list of no fewer than 33 artists who have covered this ballad or borrowed the tune for one of their songs.  In our version, which owes a debt to Jean Ritchie, it’s not clear why Willie kills Polly in cold blood, or what happens to Willie, except to tell us that “a debt to the Devil Willie must pay/ for killing Pretty Polly and running away.” In different versions of the tune, Polly is pregnant; in some cases her ghost comes back and drives Willie mad, which seems only fair.

“The World Turned Upside Down” has a subversive history, appearing first as a protest ballad against Cromwell’s decree to abolish the celebration of Christmas (an actual historical event famously parodied in the “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” film when Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham character yells “And cancel Christmas!”) According to legend, the British military band played this tune when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in 1781 at Yorktown, which is why we use it to preface our Revolutionary War set.

Probably the best-known ballad tune in the concert—to Americans, at least—is “To Anacreon in Heav’n,” the tune of which was borrowed to set Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” now known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Ironically, “Anacreon” was a rowdy drinking song which would have been very familiar to the early American colonists as well as to the English. It is full of goofy characterizations of mythological characters and denizens of Mount Olympus: Jove, Apollo, Bacchus, the god of wine, and assorted characters, including some companions of Bacchus described somewhat dubiously as the “nine fusty maids.” It was the official song of an eighteenth-century English gentlemen’s singing club known as “The Anacreontic Society; these clubs and “Catch Clubs” were a popular social pastime. The members of “The Comical Fellows,” a local group modeled on such a club, offer the 3-part rendition of Anacreon on our program this evening. Needless to say, it is not necessary to for the audience to stand during this stirring ditty, and might in fact be rather inappropriate, unless the thought of spending the evening with nine fusty maids moves you to remain poised to run.

 

The Readings

The readings in tonight’s program are taken from two works by William Billings: The Singing Master’s Assistant, published in 1778, and The Continental Harmony, published in 1794. Billings wrote long, eloquent introductions to his song and hymn collections, with an engaging mixture of pedagogy and opinion. The poem, “Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno 1632,” is the first known poem by Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan settler from England who was the first woman to become a published poet in the New England colonies. 

 

The Program

Sherburne (While Shepherds Watched )

Daniel Read (1757-1836)

Text:  Nahum Tate (1652-1715), Nicholas Brady (1659-1726)

Childgrove

from John Playford’s “Dancing Master”

Reading: from The Continental Harmony, 1794

William Billings (1746-1800)

Boston (Methinks I See a Heavn’ly Host)

William Billings

 

 

 

Newcastle

from John Playford’s “Dancing Master”

Reading: from Billings’ Continental Harmony, 1794

 

Creation (When I With Pleasing Wonder Stand)

William Billings; Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

 

 

 

Daphne

from John Playford’s “Dancing Master”

Reading:  from Billings’ Continental Harmony, 1794

 

Trees They Grow High  

Anonymous, traditional

Pretty Polly

Anonymous, traditional

Poem: “Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno 1632”

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

Amanda (Death Like An Overflowing Stream)

Justin Morgan (1747-1798) ; Text: Isaac Watts

 

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊  BRIEF INTERMISSION ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

 

Reading from The Singing Master’s Assistant, 1778

William Billings

“The World Turned Upside Down”

Anonymous, traditional

Hail, Columbia

Philip Phile (1734-93) Text: Joseph Hopkinson (1770-1842)

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Anonymous, traditional

Chester (Let Tyrants Shake Their Iron Rod)

William Billings

 

 

 

Reading from The Singing Master’s Assistant, 1778

William Billings

To Anacreon, in heav’n 

        Featuring members of “The Comical Fellows”

John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) Text: Ralph Tomlinson (1744-78)

 

“Sung to the tune of ‘Stingo’”

       Cold and Raw

       Stingo (the tune)

       Juice of Barley

 

 

Traditional ballad

Traditional, Playford’s “Dancing Master”

Traditional ballad

Africa (Now Shall My Inward Joy Arise)

William Billings; text: Isaac Watts

 

 

 

Rachel Anderson

John Clements

Stephanie Council

Rob DeVet

Cynthia Fletcher

Angela Mariani

 

 

Kevin McClarney

Robin Phillips

Chuck Piñeda

Benjamin Robinette

Stephanie Streseman

Ryan Sullivan

 

 

with special guests

Roger Landes

Jakob Reynolds

Steve Stallings

Ross Krueger

 

 

 

The Texas Tech Early Music Ensemble would like to extend our sincere thanks to:

Stephanie Council and St. John’s Methodist Church

Prof. Roger Landes

Dr. Susan Brumfield and Dr. Lisa Garner Santa

Candice Holley and the TTU Vernacular Music Center

Dr. Christopher Smith

William Ballenger, director of the TTU School of Music

TTU School of Music Recording Services