Monday, 30 January 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--O, the Wind and Rain

Hello and welcome to part ten of Murder Ballad Monday.

This week we continue to explore versions of Child ballad 10 (The Twa Sisters) where the young girl’s bones are turned into a fiddle. Last week, I shared with you a version of The Wind and Rain by Paul and Kim Caudell. This week’s song is another variation of the Wind and Rain and is sung by Peggy Seeger, a well-known singer who hails from a family of folk musicians, most notably her half-brother the renowned Pete Singer.
 Image result for peggy seeger
Elisabeth Higgins Null says on Peggy’s Bandcamp page:

Peggy says she learned this American version of ancient ballad, The Two Sisters (Child #10) from her brother Mike Seeger.. Mike picked the song up from Kilby Snow, the Appalachian autoharp master.

Kilby Snow's song omits a key part of "The Two Sisters:" He eliminates the sororicide and [turns it into a] "murdered sweetheart" rendition. The miller fishes her out and makes a fiddle from portions of her body. The fiddle, as it always does when appearing in this ballad, plays just one tune, "Crying The Dreadful Wind and Rain." Snow says he learned the song from his grandfather, a Cherokee, when he was very little. He reconstructed what he heard from memory. This may help explain the atypical elimination of the sisters from the plot. (Editor’s note: I have yet to find a copy of Kilby’s version.) Mike Seeger restores the sororicide motif and has the oldest sister pushing the youngest into the river because a suitor gives the younger girl preferential treatment.

Peggy's version takes the tune of the other two versions and retains most of his story. The focus is on sibling rivalry and the descent of "two sweet sisters side by side" into jealousy and murder. After the fiddle is built and plays its woeful tune, we suddenly view life from the drowned woman's perspective: "Yonder is my sister sitting on a rock/tying my Johnny a true lover's knot." The fiddle has not specifically alerted others to the crime, ultimately bringing the murderer to justice. It rarely does so in American versions of "The Two Sisters." In a song where evil is unavenged, Peggy increases our discomfort by having the murdered girl witness her sister's amorous victory.

I chose this version because it is an American version of The Wind and Rain and because Peggy Seeger sings it. Personally, I don’t like this version. I am not that fond of a modal dirge, but that was not the point of this exercise. I wanted to expose myself (and other interested people) to as many variations of Child Ballad 10 as possible.

I have included the lyrics below if you would like to follow along. Listen to it here:

So here is how it breaks down compared to other versions:

Name of ballad: O The Wind and Rain
Performed by: Peggy Seeger
O, the wind and rain.
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain. 
Number of sisters: two
Where did they live:  doesn’t say
Appearance described as: n/a
Sweetheart:  Johnny
Excuse to go to the water: to go fishing
Body of water: river/brook
“Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam”: no
Miller and child: Yes
Mistaken for: n/a
Described in death: no
Who finds her on the bank: a fiddler man
Instrument she becomes: fiddle
Body parts used:  thirty strands of her long yellow hair, little finger bones, little breastbone
Would her song “melt a heart of stone”: yes
Do the strings sing individually: no
What does the instrument sing:
O, the wind and rain
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.
Is the sister punished:
No—the song just has the fiddle watching her sister while singing Yonder's my sister sittin' on a rock
Tyin' my Johnny a true-love's knot.

Here are the lyrics so you can follow along if you wish. I have eliminated the refrain so it won’t be so long.


Early one morning in the month of May
O, the wind and rain.
Two sisters went a-fishing on a hot summer's day
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Two sweet sisters, side by side
O, the wind and rain
Both of them want to be Johnny's bride
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Johnny gave the young one a gold ring,
Didn't give the older one anything

The sisters went a-walkin' by the water's brim
The older one shoved the younger one in

Shoved her in the river to drown
And watched her as she floated down

She floated on down to the miller's dam
Father, father, there swims a swan

The miller ran for his driftin' hook
And pulled that poor girl from the brook

He laid her on the bank to dry
A fiddler man came walkin' by

He saw that poor girl lyin' there
He took thirty strands of her long yellow hair

He made a fiddle bow of her long yellow hair,
He made fiddle-pegs of her little finger bones

He made a fiddle of her little breast bone
With a sound that could melt a heart of stone,

And the only tune that fiddle could play 
O, the wind and rain
The only tune that fiddle would play
Cryin' the dreadful wind and rain.

Yonder's my sister sittin' on a rock
Tyin' my Johnny a true-love's knot.

So, that’s it for version ten of The Twa Sisters. Stay tuned next Monday for version eleven. 

No comments:

Post a Comment