Old Timey Tuesdays*! Long Time Traveller

It is once again Old Timey Tuesdays here with the She's Folks crew!  Today, Alex and Betsy share a Sacred Harp piece called, "Long Time Traveller."  Dating back to 1810, this song has been performed with many variations including instrumentation, arrangement, and even melody. Songs that are passed down for over two centuries have a way of developing differing melodies. In our version, we show you two of them. As is typical of Sacred Harp pieces, "Long Time Traveller" is traditionally performed a Capella.

This deceptively simple tune relies on the pentatonic scale as well as an odd prosody resulting in a haunting sound that evokes not only remote America in the early 19th century, but also its musical origins in Renaissance (and earlier) England, Scotland and Ireland.

The lyrics of old folk music are always indicative of one thing:  times used to be really tough.  Times are tough now, sure.  Scary even.  That's modern life.  In fact, we often look to folk music when we need to unify under a cause (see:  We Shall Overcome.)  However, global ancestors were people who had to scrape by subsisting off only what they could grow themselves.  They made do with what they had and that includes their art.  I will forever marvel at all the folk traditions arising out of poverty, oppression, grief and suffering because they took darkness and turned it into beauty.  Humans will self express no matter what.  For me, this is the heart of the Sacred Harp.

The Sacred Harp is an American tradition of choral singing based on a collection of pieces written in "fasola" (Fa So La, solfege) or "shape notes."  A true example of making do, the sacred harp uses a relative pitch system based on the pentatonic scale designed to be sung in (usually) four parts with no accompaniment.  Even today, you can attend a Sacred Harp "Sing" and sing the haunting tunes.

While "Long Time Traveller" is often performed as a duet or trio, most Sacred Harp pieces are performed as four-part harmony.  In our show, She's Folks!, we perform a full four-part harmony piece called "Wondrous Love" (in common vernacular), 159 in Sacred Harp or 5089 in the Roud System.  Most Sacred Harp pieces are known by their common title, a Sacred Harp title, and most likely are notated in several of the folk music catalogues (Roud being one example.)  "Long Time Traveller" is also referred to as "White" in the Sacred Harp or Roud 5732.

While Sacred Harp may sound strange to the unfamiliar ear, it is a treasure trove of very affecting tunes that I have grown to love.   Here is a classic example of Sacred Harp "sing" .  You will first hear someone offer a pitch, the four parts will tune, almost like an orchestra, then guided by a distinct arm movement, the chorus will begin in solfege or "fasola" for one verse.  The actual lyrics will follow.   For our purposes in She's Folks, we jump right into the lyrics.  

Thanks for watching! Stick around for the end of the video, when Alex meets his very own "Long Time Traveller".

Meanwhile, it's the month of the show, y'all! We are knee deep in rehearsals for our shows at Steppenwolf, August 25 & 26. It's time to buy your tickets! https://www.steppenwolf.org/tickets--e…/…/201516/shes-folks/ Only $15!

Do you have an Old Timey tune you love? Let us know! We might give it the She's Folks spin!

*On Old Timey Tuesdays we feature old North American folk, bluegrass, country, blues, ballads, and work songs we love. Some we grew up singin'. Some we've discovered along the way. These songs don't appear in our live shows. But we love them too much not to play them. We hope you love them too.

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