[Note: clicking on hyperlinked tune titles will activate pdf download of the music]
“You Married My Daughter But Yet You Didn’t.” The title of this old New England reel is an enigma. Is it a mis-print? Or is it a deliberate play on words, meant to be instructive or simply playfully puzzling? Andrew Kuntz, in his The Fiddler’s Companion website, includes the rather ominous interpretation that “you had relations with my daughter, but never married her.” On a lighter note, if the “you” is either a minister or priest then the riddle is solved.
Other tune titles evoke the actual sound of the tune. There is “The Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman” with the first half of this French-Canadian tune (played on the fiddle in the low register) sounding the man’s part and the second half (high register) bidding the part of the lady. A haunting Irish jig goes by the curious name, “I Buried My Wife and Danced on Her Grave.” Whether this is a caustic comment related to a doomed marriage or a way for the fellow to fondly recall his departed dancing partner will be left to the reader to decide. The title, when spoken in the cadence of a jig, does perfectly fit the opening two bars of the tune.
“Darling Nellie Gray” is a beloved singing square dance with a simple but danceable melody. “This used to be the last called dance of the evening at many New Hampshire dances, especially the dances of Ralph Page and Duke Miller in the Monadnock region of the state,” writes Peter Yarensky on his New Hampshire Old-Time Country Dance website. The song was composed by Benjamin Hanby while attending Otterbein College in Ohio in 1856, in response to the plight of a runaway slave named Joseph Selby. Benjamin Hanby’s father, William, who was active in the underground railroad, was attempting to raise money to free Selby’s beloved. Two of the seven verses of this heart-wrenching song, which gained national sympathy for the abolitionist movement, read:
One night I went to see her, but she’s gone the neighbors say,
And the white man had bound her with his chain.
They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.
Oh, my darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away–
I’ll never see my darling anymore.
They have taken you to Georgia for to work your life away
And you’re gone from that old Kentucky shore.
I’ve always been curious about the meaning of certain words or phrases in the titles of fiddle tunes. After a little research, here’s my list:
Gandydancer’s Reel. Slang term for a 19th-century railroad worker who used a special hand tool known as a gandy to lever rail tracks into position.
Rakes of Clonmel, Rakes of Kildare, Rakes of Mallow, etc. “Rake” is short for rakehell, defining a fellow of severely dubious character. In much earlier times, a rake was more admirable: he combined riotous living with intellectual and artistic pursuits.
Flowers of Edinburgh. Refers to the comely ladies of the town.
Glise a Sherbrooke Reel. This city, at the confluence of the Saint-François and Magog rivers, is located in southeastern Quebec. Glise probably derives from the French word glisse, meaning to slide or glide.
Dick’s Maggot, Miller’s Maggot, etc. Maggot, in addition to the grub, was in olden times a capricious idea or turn of mind as in whim.
The Moon and Seven Stars (jig). Perhaps a term from freemasonry, where the moon rules the night, and the seven stars signify the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster, as well as the seven-day division of time.
Quindaro Hornpipe. Quindaro Brown was the daughter of Adam Brown, a Chief of the Ohio Wyandot Tribe. In traditional Wyandot, “Quindaro” refers to the leadership role of a first born daughter; it is “also a word that some interpret by the adage ‘In union there is strength.’ ” * At the time of the Wyandot’s forced removal to Kansas in the 1840s, Abelard Guthrie, a U.S. Land Office agent, fell in love with Quindaro Brown and married her. In Kansas, Quindaro was able to convince her tribespeople to sell land to a company for a townsite in present-day Kansas City. The town of Quindaro was the first Free-State port on the Missouri River, an underground railroad site and a temperance town. At the time of its founding in 1856, it was a beacon of hope for anti-slavery advocates in a sea of pro-slavery adherents. The Quindaro townsite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The tune seems to commemorate the town and its namesake.
* Quindaro Chindowan, May 13, 1857.
Randy Miller is a fiddler, pianist, music teacher, and tunebook publisher active in contra dancing since the 1970s. His contradance band, Celticladda, was formed in 2006 and performs nationwide. Randy’s website is www.fiddlecasebooks.com.
Fiddle tunes reprinted from New England Fiddler’s Repertoire, Randy Miller, Jack Perron, Robert Bley-Vroman, eds. Fiddlecase Books, 2007, 3rd edition.
Darling Nellie Gray
Sheet music from the Otterbein College Library, image on Ohio Memory, An Online Scrapbook of Ohio History; http://www.ohiomemory.org/
Portrait of Quindaro Brown Guthrie from Kansas Collection at the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library, online at http://www.kckpl.lib.ks.us/kscoll/lochist/quindaro/images/QGUTHRIE.JPG