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Old Family Songs

December 24th, 2011
music, xmas, songs, family  [html]

I learned many songs from my parents. Most of them sounded pretty similar [1], but there were always a few my mother's family would sing that sounded different: these were Hemingway [2] family songs. I don't know the histories of all of them, but some of them have been in the family a very long time. In 1939 a pair of folklorists collected "Old Bangham" from my great aunt Adelaide Hemingway. They wrote down her introduction to it:
My grandmother [3] learned to sing 'Old Bangham' from her mother, who had traveled out to the Sioux Indian country from her girlhood home in western Massachusetts. She was a Longley, and the song must have been brought from England when the family came to Massachusetts in the early 1630's. In 1866 my grandmother sailed round the Cape of Good Hope in one of the last clipper ships to come to the Far East. She brought the song to the dry plains of North China, to her new home at Kalgan, the gateway to Mongolia, where she sang it to her six children, lulling them to sleep many a time as the swung along in a mule litter or jolted over the rough roads in a Peking cart.

As a little girl I also was sung to sleep by the minor tones of 'Old Bangham' as our cart went bump, bump over even rougher Shansi roads which brought us gradually nearer to supper and bed in a willow-shaded Chinese inn or at home in our mission compound

image

The structure is:
verse1
Derram, derram derram,
verse1
Kimmy quoa,
verse1
verse2
Derrum kimmy quo quoa.
The verses are:
  1. Old Bangham did a hunting ride,
    A sword and pistol by his side.
  2. He rode unto the riverside,
    And there a pretty maid he spied.
  3. "Fair Maid," said he, "will you marry me?"
    "Oh, no," said she, "for we can't agree."
  4. "There lives a bear in yonder wood,
    He'll grind your bones and drink your blood."
  5. He rode unto the wild bear's den,
    Where lay the bones of a hundred men.
  6. Old Bangham and the wild bear fought,
    By set of sun the bear was naught.
  7. He rode unto the riverside,
    And there a pretty maid he spied.
  8. "Fair Maid," said he, "will you marry me?"
    "Oh, yes!" said she, "for now we agree."
  9. Old Bangham and the maid were wed,
    And lived very happily, so it is said.
image
recording. [4]

Update 2011-12-31: The people singing were Suzie, Anne, Claire, Mary, Alice, Julia, and me.


[1] I now know that the reason most of them sounded similar is that the bulk are 60s-80s folk songs, primarily written by singer-songwriters. I often react badly to recordings of songs ("Give Yourself to Love", most recently), complaining that I don't like this version and the singer is doing it wrong, only to learn that this is actually the original. I can't hold it against the songwriter that I like the version I learned from my parents better.

[2] Labeling the family with a surname is silly, because the songs have been passed down matrilinially. So I think of them as Thomforde songs, my mother thinks of them as Hemingway songs, her mother probably thought of the as Williams songs, etc.

[3] My great-great grandmother

[4] My family is together this Christmas at my parents' house in Boston. I got some of them into a room and asked if we could sing some of the older songs. I left my laptop out, and we sang:

There's also one large unedited recording

Update 2015-01-03: My mother remembers a 1966 recording where her grandmother, Mary Hemmingway, recalls singing The Miller as a small child in China.

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