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15 June 2017

22. Sourcing nostalgia

In his brilliant volume The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook, which comprises all of the music mentioned in the Little House novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), Dale Cockrell allows that
As object, no such songbook ever existed.  As a representation of the common musical experience of a given era and region, however, this heretofore hypothetical songbook might well have informed the musical understandings of more Americans than many a real bindings-and-paper edition. [p. xiv]
SOURCE:  A-R Editions
So Cockrell (with the editors of the distinguished Music of the United States of America series) gives us a bindings-and-paper volume manifesting this imagined collectionand a hefty tome it is. This is an anthology of disparate materials.  It is a fascinating read, even for one relatively unfamiliar with the Ingalls Wilder novels.  (I need to borrow them from my kids.  Ill do that.  Eventually.)

Cockrell’s sequencing of the items is sensible and does exactly what he says he wants it too:  it exhibits the broad range of repertory that formed such an integral part of family life in the Dakota Territory.  The first section, encompassing music that Wilder would have known from the oral tradition, has sections for Children’s Songs, Fiddle Tunes, and Folk Songs (although of course all of Cockrells sources for this are published, some from much later in the twentieth century)  The second section comes from music that would have been disseminated in print in Wilder’s time. It is an interesting list, which he amply justifies in his preface.
Concert/Theater Songs   [Cockrell parses this as music originally intended for public entertainment]
Hymns/Sunday School Songs
Parlor Songs    [for domestic entertainment]
Scottish/Irish Songs
Singing School Music
For this conglomeration of disparate repetoire, Cockrell has had to devise criteria for selecting his primary source for each item.  He describes three ideal critieria:
1)  If there is physical evidence that Wilder was actually referencing a specific titled publication or a title from a published collection, then that, ipso facto, would be chosen for editing. [p. xlii] 
This is true of seven items in his repertory, all from the 1871 songbook Pure Gold for the Sunday School.  Sometimes Wilder herself even cites the page number in this collection.
SOURCE:  screenshot of title page from archive.org scan of Pure Gold for the Sunday School (1871)
2)  If there is compelling circumstantial evidence that Wilder was actually referencing a specific titled publication or a title from a published collection, then that would be chosen for editing.  [Ibid.]
For example, Cockrell argues persuasively that The Conqueror (1880) was the singing school book purchased by Almanzo Wilder at the singing school in De Smet in the fall of 1884, when he became engaged to Laura Ingalls (as recounted in These Happy Golden Years).  Thus The Conqueror becomes his primary source, trumping a different collection that remains to this day in the Wilder estate.  (For the full compelling argument you must read Cockrell, p. xliii.)  Incidentally, The Conqueror contains the most exciting advertisement I’ve ever seen in such publications.

Cockrell's third criterion proved to be too idealistic:
3) For titles without such evidence, the musical source most consistent chronologically and geographically with Wilder’s narrative of the Ingalls family would be chosen for editing.  Ideally, this would mean an imprint or collection from the 1870s or early 1880s out of Chicago or the upper Midwest.  [p. xlii]
As Cockrell explains,
It quickly became clear that the madness in these few words far outstripped the method.  Few of the titles referenced in the Little House books were published in Chicago or the upper Midwest during the books chronological period, and some earlier published numbers were no longer in print at all during the 1869-1885 period.  A rigorous application of the selection criteria left many exceptions to justify, ultimately an affront to the faith in order in logic that underlies the scholars craft.  It was time to rethink the rationale behind the criterion.  [p. xlv]
I am less troubled by these chronological problems than he is.  When I remember the printed music of my childhood, I think of the contents of piano benches in my grandparents homes, and there nothing was more recent than three decades before my birth, and quite a few things were then forty or fifty years oldtattered, torn, taped, and clearly family favorites.  I can only imagine that in Wilders youthwhen printed music was even harder to come bysuch publications would be retained for decades after purchase too.  In any case, his more practical revision to criterion #3 fixes the problem, even if to my mind it goes to an extreme:
3 [rev.])   For all other titles, the first publication or collection in the United States would be chosen for editing.  [p. xlvi]
Admirable a project as this is, however, I am disappointed because the product is not what it might have been.  Although it is part of MUSA (Music of the United States of America), a series of scholarly editions that has featured a range of creative editorial approaches, I wonder if the forethought of the offprint series Laura's Musicthe considerably cheaper and more practical issues aimed at an educational markethad any consequences on the production of this parent volume.  The main consequence that concerns me is how neat and tidy it all is.  This volume preserves the look of the MUSA series, in that every item has been newly computer-set.  Standard as this practice is in music publishing, in this instance I think it would have been better to leave some (if not indeed the majority) of these as digital scans of the source material.  Although of course some expense would be associated with acquiring the high-resolution scans needed, a considerable expense was already used in the new setting of the music, and the multiple stages of proofreading it.  In the spirit of teach a man to fish..., I believe this would be considerably more useful volume if it were to instruct the user how to read the nineteenth-century sources (in all of their notational variety) than to present polished twenty-first-century standardized versions of the texts.  (In a sense this complaint follows from the end of my previous post, quoting Peter Williams about editors willfully misrepresenting sources in order to present them in a standardized new edition.)

For example, why can the reader not be trusted to learn how to deal with a score layout for four-part harmony that puts the melody on the third stave?  At least Cockrell retains the open score (that is, a staff for each voice); but why must he move the melody to the top?
SOURCE:  detail of scan of p. 149 of The Conqueror as available at archive.org
SOURCE:  detail of scan of Cockrell edition, p. 318.
Not only would I say that the clean, new presentation does not offer any real advantage over the source text, it actually loses somethingnamely the notational conventions of the source.  This loss was of course intentional, but I feel it is a pity.

Cockrell also generally removes the mid-bar phrasing barlines characteristic of nineteenth-century hymnals, arguing that [r]etention of the now archaic barline-convention would, I believe, cause much more confusion than illumination [p. 343].  In heaven’s name why?  Does he expect the user of this volume to be too dense to understand such a basic practice?  (Omitting these extra barlines substantially simplifies the computer-setting (a subject of a prior post), of course, but thats no justification.)

Similarly, preserving more recent notation practice, in some instances Cockrell makes minute modifications to rests and repeat signs to accommodate all rhythmic contingencies [p. 349].  See the adjustment here to the last bar of each strain:
SOURCE:  detail of scan of p. 5 of Ryan’s Mammoth Collection  as available at violinsheetmusic.org

SOURCE:  detail of scan of Cockrell edition, p. 19.  (I was surprised to see no comment in the critical notes to indicate that many sources give the first sixteenth-note of b. 4 a tone higher, but as Ryan served as his sole source for this item, I guess there was no obligation to note this oddity.  Curiously, though, Cockrell's note does not record that he has omitted Ryan's D.C. indication )
In the fiddle tune Money Musk, Cockrell imposes repeats in order to make it conform with conventions observed in the fiddle tune tradition to yield a repeating AABBAABB... pattern.  By relying on one source only, he cant discuss whether other fiddle tunebooks have these repeats.

In his efforts to track down all of the music referenced by Wilder, he only once fails to locate anythingThe Red Heiferand his account of it is consequently one of the most interesting in the volume:
SOURCE:  cropped scan of Cockrell, p. 354.
Nonetheless, in other instances I had my doubts that he had settled on the right version of the tune.  His source selected for The Girl I Left Behind Me gives the tune more or less as I know it, but it doesn't match the scansion of the lyrics that Wilder quotes, which made me suspect that she had a different melody in mind.  (Let the toast pass is a similar situation.) The fiddle tune The Devils Dream is a stand-in for one Wilder more than once refers to as Devils Hornpipe, which according to Cockrell is otherwise undocumented.  He sagely notes it is not uncommon for autonomous tunes, especially ones with local dissemination, to escape collection.  I am not surprised that the vernacular fiddle-tunes seem to have the most slippery textual problems in this volume.

I shouldnt be complaining.  Cockrell set himself a Herculean task:  locating and evaluating the disparate sources of Wilders musical autobiography, starting essentially from scratch.  Even if he didnt fulfill this in the way I might want it, he nonetheless fulfilled the task very well.

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