Saturday, June 7, 2008

Going Home -- a case of the boomerang tune

We play "Going Home" in the same set as the Black Bear --- which was discussed earlier in this Blog, and again this is a tune with an interesting story since despite what many might think it's really one of the rare cases of a Pipe Tune that left us, and then came back. But let's trace the history.

"Going Home" is really the name of a song that's commonly accepted as an American Negro Spiritual Song ... and its words are (in part)

Goin' home, goin' home, I'm a goin' home;
Quiet-like, some still day, I'm jes' goin' home.

It's not far, jes' close by,
Through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by,
Goin' to fear no more.

Mother's there 'spectin' me,
Father's waitin' too;
Lots o' folks gather'd there,
All the friends I knew,
All the friends I knew.
Home, I'm goin' home!

The full words can be found here

There are lots of great versions of this song around, but Paul Robeson probably sings it better than any of the others. If you don't know his voice, you can hear an extract by hitting the relevant link from here It's a slow sad tune often used to say farewell, and in particular in particular is a common lament at funerals

As for the song, well it was written in 1922 by William Arms Fisher, who was a student of the great Czech composer Dvorak.

But the tune is a little older --- since Fisher actually took the tune from the opening movement of Dvorak's 9th Symphony, generally known as the New World Symphony, or "From the new world" which he wrote in early 1893 while he was in New York.

However the important point here though is that Dvorak calls this a symphony of tunes he heard in the new world, and though he is a bit vague on which theme is which, it seems that that this particular theme may be the one he called an Old Scottish Folk Tune that he heard a piper play. A good clue is that the composers notes describe the closing chords with the French Horns sounding like the drones on bagpipes ... but is there any real evidence that this is the Scottish folk tune?

Well, let's slip back about another 50 years (to 1840) when Angus McKay (Queen Victoria's piper) wrote out a manuscript of pibroch that we still have --- and in particular we find that one of the tunes he sketched out is "The Old Womans Lullaby" Yes, the tune doesn't flow quite as well, but it's certainly the same tune and that gets us back to where we started ---- meaning that it was a pipe tune at least 50 years before Dvorak borrowed it :>

The basic idea of a Pibroch is that you start with a theme, develop it and eventually return to the start again.

In this case the tune itself has morphed slowly over time but has kept true to its form. We don't really know its start, but in 1840 Angus McKay wrote down the Pibroch as the Old Woman's Lullaby, and in the early 1890s it seems that a piper was heard playing it in America where a Czech composer put it into a symphony that he was writing. An American student of his added words and then one of the best Negro singers made it his own. But pipers liked the tune and took it back .. restoring the theme in time and harmony.


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