Adventure to Windham

Woke up this morning, still sick. I sent out messages to my professors explaining I wouldn't be around today. Drove to the pharmacy to pick up cold medicine. It has been beautiful any snowy all morning.

Something possessed me to drive over the mountains to Dover, a small hill town in Windham. A few weeks ago I called the town clerk there, inquiring about public records which might pertain to Vermont folk song and balladry, the subject of my senior thesis. He told me the annual town reports, stored there in a vault, may have something interesting or relevant. So I went there today and he showed me the collection, which dated to the early 19th century.

The town records mostly consisted of municipal invoices for coal, wood, and school materials. I don't know what I was expecting -- perhaps something related to performance venues? The clerk showed me a few photographs of bands in the early 20th century, as well as one of a blackface mistrelsy group outside the West Dover Baptist Church. Something about seeing Vermonters all made up in greasepaint strikes me as odd, regardless of the era.

The vault is a small room. Alongside the fireproof storage cabinets were posters from various town sugaring events. Maple syrup is serious business.

The clerk pulled out two more books of interest: History of Dover Vermont (1961) and Songs and Verse from the Hills of Vermont (1919, 2010). Now these are interesting. I went to Dover expecting it to possess holdings related to James Atwood, a local songster who resided there into the late 1910s. I originally learned of James Atwood through the contributions of his son -- Fred Atwood -- in the Margaret MacArthur Collection in Middlebury. The songs James and his wife knew were transcribed and arranged for publication as sheet music in 1919, in a volume called Songs from the Hills of Vermont, now long out of print. He was "discovered", as it is often said in the music industry, by a woman named Edith Sturgis. The  town clerk informed me that Sturgis's granddaughter, Edith Mas, has compiled this new edition of the volume, which I did not know existed. The other book, History of Dover Vermont, covers various aspects of livelihood and town going-abouts spanning some three hundred years.

Both books are printed, at fairly low quality, by the Dover Historical society. Now I just have to get in touch with Edith Mas.

Murder Ballad: "Starlight Tragedy"

A song I discovered in the Vermont Folklife Center MacArthur collection, and of which I have found several variations online. Here are three takes on the song. The melody should be available via the VFC in coming days, but it can be fit to many traditional ballad melodies, including "Clementine".

"Starlight Tragedy", "A Maiden's Romance", or "The Rustic Young Damsel"

A long time ago, I remember it well
In a neat little village a maiden did dwell
She lived all alone with her parents serene
Her age it was red and her hair was sixteen

And in that neat village he lover did dwell
A bandy-back ruffian and hump-legged, as well
Said, "Ye fly with me, by the light of yon star,"
"For you are the eye of my apple, you are."

"I cannot fly with you," the maiden replied,
"My father would scratch out your nails with his eyes"
"If you love me, you will not lead me to disgrace"
Said she, then she buried her hands in her face.

And when she refused him, he knocked down the maid.
While he silently opened the knife of his blade,
He cutted the throat of that maiden so fair,
And dragged her along by the head of her hair.

Just then the maid's father came into the pier
And viewed the sad sight with his eyes in his tears
He knelt down beside her, and her fair face he kissed
Then he rushed with his nose at the murderer's fist.


'Twas a long time ago, I remember so well;
A poor little maid in a poor-house did well.
She dwelt with her parents; her life was serene,
Her age it was red and her hair was sixteen.

This maid had a lover who nearby did dwell,
A cross-legged villain, and bow-eyed as well,
Said he, "Let us fly by the light of yon star,
For you are the eye of my apple, you are."

"Oh, no!" said the maiden, "O, thou must be wise,
Or father will scratch out your nails with his eyes!"
And when he did hear it, the villain did swear,
And dragged her around by the head of her hair.

Just then the poor father appeared, it appears,
And gazed at the sad scene with eyes in his tears.
He knelt down beside her, her fair lips he kissed,
And he rushed with his nose at the arch villain's fist.

He drew a horse pistol he'd raised from a Colt,
Drew bead on the villain, and said to him, "Bolt!"
So he said, "I will die if I stay, it is true."
He decided to fly, up he flew up the flue.


For a long time to come, I'll remember quite well,
Alone in a poorhouse a maiden did dwell.
She dwelt with her mother and father serene,
Her age it was red, and her hair it was sixteen.

Not far from this maiden her lover did dwell;
He was knock-kneed in both legs, and humpbacked as well.
He said, "Let us fly by the light of your hair,
For you are the eye of my apple, so fair."

She said to this young man, "Now you just get wise,
Or the old man will scratch out you nails with his eyes.
If you love me, don't leave me; it will be a disgrace!"
Cried the maid as she buried both mitts in her face.

But when she refused him, he rushed at this maid,
And swiftly he opened the knife of his blade;
And he cut the sweet throat of his maiden so fair,
And he drug her around by the head of her hair.

And just at this moment the old man arrives,
And he gazed at this trouble with tears full of eyes;
He knelt by the side of his daughter and kiss't,
Then he rushed a the youth with both arms full of fist.

Said he to the young man, "Now, you'd better bolt."
And he drew a horse pistol he'd raised from a colt;
The young man took flight up the chimney, 'tis true;
Said he, "I must fly;" so he flew up the flue.

The Impossible Science of the Unique Being

A quote of Roland Barthes, reflecting upon a photograph of his late mother as a child, which he refers to as the "Winter Garden Photograph" per its depiction:
In this little girl's image I saw the kindness which had formed her being immediately and forever,without her having inherited it from anyone; how could this kindness have proceeded from the imperfect parents who had loved her so badly--in short, from a family? Her kindness was specifically out-of-play, it belonged to no system, or at least it was located at the limits of a morality (evangelical, for instance); I could not define it better than by this feature (among others): that during the whole of our life together, she never made a single "observation." This extreme and particular circumstance, so abstract in relation to an image, was nonetheless present in the face revealed in the photograph I had just discovered. "Not a just image, just an image," Godard says. But my grief wanted a just image, an image which would be both justice and accuracy--justesse: just an image, but a just image. Such, for me, was the Winter Garden Photograph.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. Hill and Wang (New York, 1981). 69-70.

Sitting Posture for Folk Harp

Note Sitting Posture
Sit in your chair, with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Sit upright, with your shoulders comfortably open and supported by the muscles of your back.

Check Thigh Position
For a large floor harp, your thighs are perpendicular to the ground. For a smaller floor harp (less than 33 strings perhaps, but this will vary based on the size of your body), you might want to raise your knees a bit. Whatever the case, find a chair of appropriate height.

Your body should be comfortable and relaxed.

Adjust Level of Harp
First, you will measure the height of your harp with respect to your body. Place the harp as if you were playing it, but don't worry about details yet. Sitting in the good posture established above -- and keeping your head straight -- slowly tilt the harp  back toward your face. The kneeblock should bonk you you directly on the nose. If it does not, raise the harp up with a small platform (a stack of atlases, perhaps?). You might also find a chair with a better height. Whatever the case, take the level of you knees and thighs into consideration.

Position the Harp
Lean the harp on your right shoulder. Turn the harp to the left, so that it is diagonal, and you can better see the strings. Find a diagonal position that is both suitable and comfortable. Do not change your own body's position to accommodate the harp, this might put unnecessary tension on your torso, arms, or head.

Find a good sitting posture and position the harp to accommodate it. Changing your sitting position is probably inadvisable.

References for this post:
Core Fluidity: How to Sit at the Harp,
Anatomy of Harp Technique...,
Harp: How to sit at the Lever / Folk Harp,

Found Demo Tape

Found a random demo tape in my basement today while cleaning out old video game stuff (long since used, unfortunately). Not really sure what to do with the audio, so I digitized it and here it is.