2.3.2020 – Lomax and Lomax

Lomax and Lomax
Ruth Crawford Seeger, Copeland
Bonaparte’s Hoedown

Trivia is dangerously close to trivial in the dictionary.

I look at trivia through its roots of tri and via.

Tri means “three” and via means “road” or “path”.

By combining these two roots we discover that the word Trivia actually means “Three Paths”.

The word Trivia itself goes back to the latin, trivium, a place where three roads meet.

I thoroughly enjoy a good tale of Trivia.

A story of how random unknown paths came together to result in something familiar.

The World Wide Web has made it easier to stitch these stories together.

There is so much online.

Maybe all information has just 7 degrees of separation but that is for another time.

Few things I do online make me happier than a navigating the information super highway to find and put together pieces of a puzzle.

Even when there wasn’t a puzzle just five minutes earlier.

An odd fact presented that needs to the next odd fact that leads to the next that results in a fascinating (to me anyway) piece of trivia.

This happened last weekend.

And it happened by accident.

Few pieces of modern American Classical Music have as wide spread recognition as Aaron Copland’s HOEDOWN from the Ballet Rodeo.

I have been familiar with the piece since about as long as I can remember.

While Copland is famous for adapting American Folk Song (Simple Gifts : Appalachian Spring) in my mind I assumed that the music of Hoe Down was all Copland.

It was, for me, his musical signature, if you will.

If you don’t know Copland’s name, you do know this piece of music.

Saturday night I was goofing off online, surfing the world wide web in a stream of conscious random search as new thoughts and questions were presented by whatever I happened to read.

I wanted to hear a piece of music and I opened up YouTube and found the piece and was able to listen to it.

This is a reoccurring theme in this blog that whatever bit of music or song you want to hear, it is just clicks away.

No King or Emperor of Industry Titan ever had command of such resources at their beck and call.

Neither here nor there, but I was thinking of the theme to HBO’s John Adams.

I looked at the YouTube screen as I listened and as YouTube does, several other pieces of music were recommended based on my search.

One fiddle piece caught my eye and I clicked on it.

A trio of two fiddle players and a guitar player were standing around a microphone.

Before any music started, the leader of the trio had to give the life history of the piece they were about to play.

Oh brother.

My attention was called away and I let this video play on as this feller went on and on about this piece called Bonaparte’s Retreat.

The feller related how it had been recorded by Alan Lomax in 1937.

Big Deal.

Who?

The feller related that the sheet music had been transcribed from the recording by Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Big Deal.

Who?

And the feller went on that it was this sheet music that Aaron Copland used when he composed the section, Hoe Down, of his ballet score, Rodeo.

Wait.

What?

The feller went on to say that this original recording was available on YouTube.

Really.

In seconds I am listening to Bonaparte’s Retreat recorded in 1937.

A little bit shocked but for some reason pleased and excited.

Where was this recording from?

Being the smart guy that I am I knew this had to be a part of the WPA’s depression era writer’s or theater project.

WRONG.

It was due to the work of a the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

And mostly due to the work of just three people, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Alan Lomax and his father, John Lomax.

I had never heard of any of these people before.

Ruth Crawford Seeger (July 3, 1901 – November 18, 1953) according to wikipedia, was an American modernist composer active primarily during the 1920s and 1930s and an American folk music specialist from the late 1930s until her death.

Now Ruth Crawford married Charles Seeger and Charles had a step-son named Pete.

Pete Seeger came to be quite a name by himself in the folk music scene but that is another story.

Crawford Seeger worked closely with John and Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress to preserve and teach American folk music.

Alan Lomax comes into the picture through the work of his father John.

Alan Lomax (January 31, 1915 – July 19, 2002) according to Wikipedia, was an American ethnomusicologist, best known for his numerous field recordings of folk music of the 20th century. He was also a musician himself, as well as a folklorist, archivist, writer, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker.

Few words better than ethnomusicologist to have on your resume.

Alan got his start traveling around with his Dad, John Lomax, helping with the field recording of music and folksongs.

They used a state-of-the-art (for 1933), 315 pound phonograph uncoated-aluminum disk recorder in the trunk of their Ford sedan.

And John Lomax?

According to Wikipedia, John Avery Lomax (September 23, 1867 – January 26, 1948) was an American teacher, a pioneering musicologist, and a folklorist who did much for the preservation of American folk music.

And why did John Lomax get into all this in the first place?

As a kid, John Lomax enjoyed singing … cowboy songs.

I had never heard of these three people.

Pete Seeger of course.

And Mr. Copland.

I Ruth Crawford Seeger and Alan and John Lomax now.

By a chance hearing of a story recorded who knows where and loaded to YouTube who knows when, I was able to find a digital copy of the recording and see a copy of the transcription.

In my era, this would have been grad school level research and resulted in an scholarly article.

Today, in seconds, at the clicks of my fingers, it all came together.

A chance hearing and a new window into an old world is opened up.

I shouldn’t get so much satisfaction out of this, but I do.

An odd but real pleasure.

Sometimes, it all fits together.

Technology CAN BE a wonderful thing and I can still be wowed by it.

Call me Larry Lightbulb, but I think it is marvelously cool.

As a final footnote, the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress lost Congressional funding in 1942.

Legislation was introduced To provide for the establishment of an American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress, and for other purposes and was signed into law on January 2, 1976, the year of our Bicentennial by then President Gerald R. Ford.

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