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The Boatmen’s Dance

February 22, 2015 — 55 Comments

When I found out that I needed to select and perform four folk songs this year as part of my course I knew that I wanted to tackle something new and different. I decided as you know to perform songs from Aaron Copland’s series of American Folk Songs which he composed in the early 1950s.

One of the hardest parts was choosing which four songs to sing, “The Boatmen’s Dance” became the third of my selections and one that I thoroughly enjoyed performing.

Bingham-Jolly-Boatmen

The Jolly Boatmen – George Caleb Bingham. Circa 1877.

 

The original version was credited to Dan Emmett in 1843 and was considered to be a celebration of the lives and exploits of the Ohio River boatmen. As immigration from Europe to the USA soared in the early 1800s the Ohio / Mississippi rivers became busier and busier as one of the primary routes for safe and secure travel for the Europeans searching for a new and better life for their families.

As people travelled down the river they often kept diaries or journals and there are many references to the jovial nature of the boatmen and their expertise on the fiddle.

flatboat

Boatmen On The River

 

In an issue of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, called “Folk Music on the Midwestern Frontier 1788-1825’, by Harry R. Stevens, Duke University one traveller (Timothy Flint, 1826) wrote “almost every boat, while it lies in the harbour, has one or more fiddlers scraping continually aboard, to which you often see the boatmen dancing.”

Another observed: “As the boats were laid to for the night in an eddy, a part of the crew could give them headway on starting in the morning, while the others struck up a tune on their fiddles…The boatmen, as a class, were masters of the fiddle, and the music, heard through the distance from these boats, was more sweet and animating than any I have ever heard since. When the boats stopped for the night at or near a settlement, a dance was got up, if possible, which all the boatmen would attend. ”

Ohio_River

The Ohio River

 

The Boatmen’s Dance

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

The boatmen dance, the boatmen sing,
The boatmen up to ev’rything,
And when the boatman gets on shore
He spends his cash and works for more.
Then dance the boatmen dance,
O dance the boatmen dance.
O dance all night ’til broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin’.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

I went on board the other day
To see what the boatmen had to say.
There I let my passion loose
An’ they cram me in the callaboose.
O dance the boatmen dance,
O dance the boatmen dance.
O dance all night ’til broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin’.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

The boatman is a thrifty man,
There’s none can do as the boatman can.
I never see a pretty gal in my life
But that she was a boatman’s wife.
O dance the boatmen dance,
O dance the boatmen dance.
O dance all night ’til broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin’.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

I hope that you are all singing along with me on these songs

Charlotte-and-Jessica

Jessica Hurst and Me

 

I have been asked along with my best friend Jessica Hurst to perform our folk songs during the judging interval at this year’s Bruce Millar Gulliver singing competition. There will be a surprise for those that can make it, Jess and I will be also be performing a duet but I wonder if you can guess which one ? I will reveal all next week after the event. I am posting a bit earlier than usual tonight because I am going to try and get an early night and a get a good long sleep.