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The Great Silkie "earthly norris..."

DigiTrad:
GREAT SILKIE
HIROSHIMA
LADY ODIVERE (GREY SILKIE 3)
THE GREY SILKIE OF SULE SKERRY
WOMAN BY THE BAY


Related threads:
(origins) Origins: The Great Silkie (60)
(origins) Origin: I Come and Stand at Every Door (P Seeger) (22)
Folklore: Selkie/Selchie? & pronunciation (39)
Lyr Add: Silkie (as sung by Anne Lister) (12)
Tune Req: The Great Silkie (26)
Lyr Req: The silkie of skule skerry (closed) (9) (closed)


Alice 25 Feb 98 - 08:46 PM
Alice 25 Feb 98 - 09:05 PM
Animaterra 25 Feb 98 - 09:12 PM
Alice 25 Feb 98 - 09:13 PM
Helen 26 Feb 98 - 02:29 AM
Alice 26 Feb 98 - 09:55 AM
Bruce O. 26 Feb 98 - 11:47 AM
Bruce O. 26 Feb 98 - 12:07 PM
Moira Cameron 26 Feb 98 - 02:21 PM
Alice 26 Feb 98 - 03:03 PM
Helen 26 Feb 98 - 05:30 PM
Alice 26 Feb 98 - 06:16 PM
Susan of DT 26 Feb 98 - 06:23 PM
Bruce O. 26 Feb 98 - 07:40 PM
Bruce O. 27 Feb 98 - 04:19 PM
Susan of DT 27 Feb 98 - 09:26 PM
Joe Offer 27 Feb 98 - 10:17 PM
Angela Fay 12 Nov 98 - 05:47 PM
12 Nov 98 - 06:57 PM
Pete Peterson 12 Nov 98 - 09:21 PM
Cuilionn 12 Nov 98 - 09:28 PM
Alice 12 Nov 98 - 10:48 PM
Art Thieme 13 Nov 98 - 03:59 AM
DonMeixner 13 Nov 98 - 09:02 AM
dick greenhaus 13 Nov 98 - 10:34 AM
AndyG 13 Nov 98 - 10:42 AM
Frank in the swamps 13 Nov 98 - 05:41 PM
Ewan McV 14 Nov 98 - 02:45 AM
John Nolan 14 Nov 98 - 11:43 AM
Big Mick 14 Nov 98 - 06:19 PM
Susan-Marie 21 Jun 99 - 01:48 PM
danl 21 Jun 99 - 02:10 PM
dick greenhaus 21 Jun 99 - 04:13 PM
Susan-Marie 21 Jun 99 - 04:41 PM
Sandy Paton 21 Jun 99 - 10:33 PM
alison 21 Jun 99 - 11:59 PM
Steve Parkes 22 Jun 99 - 04:45 AM
Art Thieme 22 Jun 99 - 09:40 AM
danl 22 Jun 99 - 02:15 PM
Murray on Saltspring 23 Jun 99 - 02:57 AM
Sandy Paton 23 Jun 99 - 03:41 AM
Ohio Weaver 23 Jun 99 - 12:05 PM
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Subject: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 25 Feb 98 - 08:46 PM

Pardon my friend Norris's question on the Carrickfergus thread, but he was referring to a song that I found on the "new" folk web site posted by Bill D. I went to the web site last night, and in wandering around the Scottish folk song lyrics, I found "The Great Silkie", with the first line..."An earthly norris sits and sings, and aye she sings ba lilly wean..." Does anyone know what the word "norris" refers to exactly in this song?

Alice, mt


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 25 Feb 98 - 09:05 PM

Just found another set of lyrics for The Great Silkie, and the words are "earthly nurse". Does anyone know if "norris" is a word used for nurse in Scotland, or was that just a typo in the first lyrics that I found? alice


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Animaterra
Date: 25 Feb 98 - 09:12 PM

I have also seen "norris" spelled "nouris" and I believe it refers to one who nurses. The verse as I know it begins: An earthly nouris sits and sings, "bye loo my baby" she begins, "Little know I my child's father, or if land or sea he's living in". She's just had a baby, and she's nursing it, so that makes her a "nouris". I can't remember my source but have been fascinated with the song and the many selkie legends. Had to rely on memory alone this time.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 25 Feb 98 - 09:13 PM

thanks much


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Helen
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 02:29 AM

I think that "nurse" refers to the fact that she is at the stage of breastfeeding the baby, i.e. a "nursing mother". Also the movie The Secret of Roan Inish is based on a similar song, about a woman who is really a seal who has shed her seal's skin and become human. (In the Great Silkie it is the man who is a seal.) I'm not sure if the song about the seal woman is the one called The Water Kelpie. I tried to find it in the DT database but no luck. I don't know any of the words either.

Just out of interest, I play the 2 tunes one after the other as a mini-medley on the harp - they sound very haunting and work very well together musically. If I were a singer they would work well together with their similar themes, too.

Helen


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 09:55 AM

Helen, the context showed that it was a mother with a baby, I just had never seen the word "norris" used that way before, and the "norris" version of the lyrics was the first one I saw. Actually, the word "nurse" for a woman nursing a baby used to be used to describe a woman other than the mother, breastfeeding a baby not her own. The song reminded me of The Secret of Roan Inish, also.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Bruce O.
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 11:47 AM

I can't find some xerox pages I made, so here is what is probably a very faulty recollection. The usual tune for "The Great Silkie" comes from that collected by some professor in the Orkney Islands in the late 1940's or early 50's. I think this text and tune were first published by Francis Collinson in (the English) 'Country Magazine'. I think Collinson also reprinted it in his book, which I don't have, and whose exact title I can't remember at the moment. It was probably book this that my missing xerox pages were from. A few other versions of the song and tune have been collected subsequently, and I think I remember that not all are from the Orkneys.

At any rate for 'norris', we may need some testimoney from the Orkneys to make sure we have it 'perfectly' correct.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Bruce O.
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 12:07 PM

What with wauking song on the SCOTS-L list and seal legends on another, I'm having a difficult time figuring out what goes where. At any rate yesterday there was a post on another list in connection with "The Great Silkie" recommending a book 'The People of the Sea' by David Thompson (folklorist) on the subject of seal legends and beliefs.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Moira Cameron
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 02:21 PM

If the word "norris" were spelled "nouris", which is how I've seen it spelled in this song, then you would be able to see that it is related to the word "nourish".


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 03:03 PM

I'm beginning to think the "norris" spelling was an error on the part of the person who typed the lyrics. Animaterra, did your message mean that you HAVE seen it spelled as "norris", or only as nouris or nurse?

alice


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Helen
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 05:30 PM

Moira,

According to my etymological dictionary (a dictionary which looks at related words, it's really fascinating - for me anyway - following the words through the dictionary and finding common origins among wrods which seem completely different) the words nurse and nutrition and nourishment are all related and all come from the same root word.

So it looks like you are right about "nurse", "nouris", and nourishment.

Helen

P.S. I can type in the specific info if anyone is interested.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 06:16 PM

Yes, Helen, nurse is Middle English from the Old French nurice, from the Latin nutricia (and the roots for nourishment, nutrition, etc.). That is NOT my question. My question is, in the lyrics I found from the other website referred by Bill D. is "norris" really a word used in Scotland, or is it probably an error, when it should have been spelled nouris.

As Bruce O. suggested, I think we need to find out from the Orkneys if the language includes "norris" as an alternative for "nouris". (My friend Norris spent an hour looking through the library stacks and internet dictionaries yesterday. I'm inclined to think now that the norris spelling is a mistake.)
alice


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Susan of DT
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 06:23 PM

Search for "#113" or "silkie" to find two versions of the Grey (or Great) Silkie (or Selchie).

There are tunes on both, which I think of as the Baez tune and the Redpath tune.

BRUCE - which one was the one you referenced?

I have seen "norris" on silkie more than once.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Bruce O.
Date: 26 Feb 98 - 07:40 PM

Susan, I found my old notes, but they're pretty skimpy.
If I didn't mess up on these then the tune below is that collected by Otto Anderson and originally published in 'Ballad Hunting in the Orkney Islands', 1956. The tune, Great Selchie" was collected on Flotta Island in 1938. This from reprint in Francis Collinson's 'The Traditional and National Music of Sctoland, Vanderbilt U. Press, 1966. I didn't copy the song text there, my memory being this it was quite similar to that in Child. My notes aren't clear as to what text[s?] or tune[?] was published in 'Songs from Country Magazine'. That below seems to be the earliest traditional tune for the song.

I copied the first verse as below, with | indicating the position in the measures :
I| am a man up-| on the land, I| am a selchie| in the sea, And| when I'm far from| ev ry strand, my| dwelling is in| Sule Sher ry|

Note: I had to do what I seems pretty bad in order to get ABC2WIN to display correctly. The problem is the 2/4 measure won't display correctly. After modification as below my ABC2WIN now displays correctly, but if your display for it is impossible then for that 2/4 measure you should try to change to the correct - Gdotted/8E/16 (space) D/8(slur)E/16F/16(unslur) for the measure.

X:1
T:The Great Selchie of Sule [sic] Skerry
N:Collinson's 'Trad. and Nat. Mus. of Scotland'
L:1/4
M:3/4
K:D mixolydian
A|G3/4E/4 D3/2 B,/|\
M:4/4
B,3/4D/4E2A|\
M:2/4
G3E D2(EF)|\
M:4/4
G3/4A/4B2d|\
M:3/4
d/c/B3/2A/|\
M:4/4
G/D/E2E/A/|\
M:3/4
A/A/B3A|G/E/D2|]


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Bruce O.
Date: 27 Feb 98 - 04:19 PM

I just found out from a bibliography that there's another traditional tune (or a variant of that above) that was collected and published by Allan Bruford of the School of Scottish Studies, Univ. of Edinburgh, about 1972, but I don't have it.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Susan of DT
Date: 27 Feb 98 - 09:26 PM

BRUCE Neither of your replies tell which of the current tunes (if any) are traditional. I don't read the notation you included. While the play function does not seem to be working here on the web (MAX!!!) you have a copy on disk. Can you listen to the two tunes and determine whether these are the ones you found as historical? Thanx.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Feb 98 - 10:17 PM

Here's Silkie 1, which I think is what Susan calls the Baez version.

Here's Silkie 2, the Redpath version. I think they're the same basic tune, with a different key and a slightly different tempo.

Bruce's tune sounds very different to me, though.

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Angela Fay
Date: 12 Nov 98 - 05:47 PM

Is it possible to obtain the lyrics of the ballad 'The great Selkie of Shule Skerrie" Please reply to trinityc@GSAT.edu.au Thank yoy.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From:
Date: 12 Nov 98 - 06:57 PM

if you read the notes above, you will notice that there are versions in the database. Have you tried looking there? Do you know how to look there? (Please note- emailing is not a general service. It requires someone to go copy someething that YOU could have found, and make a special effort to use their email to do you a favor.

I hope you have found what you want and will enjoy looking through the database.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Pete Peterson
Date: 12 Nov 98 - 09:21 PM

I remember reading that the tune which you refer to as the Baez version was written by "a young student, James Waters" some time in the mid 50s. Somebody who has a Baez Songbook will be able to refresh my memory. . . Pete


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Cuilionn
Date: 12 Nov 98 - 09:28 PM

I luikit intae th' glossary o' my Braid Scots translation o' th' New Testament, producit by William Wye Smith aroond th' turn o' th' century. Th' listin shaws th' waird "nourice" an' th' entry reads as follows: "Nourice, verb. nurse: cherish".

Ye micht kythe, e'en wi' sic kennin as this bit, that spellin' wisnae standardized o'ermuckle for Braid Scots, sae th' discovery o' differin' spellins isnae sumpit tae fesh yersel' ower. Burns, for example, wis kenspeckle for resairtin' tae a' manner o' spellins, an' his ain preferences varied widely ower th' coorse o' his wairk. "Norris" micht therefore be jist as legitimate a spellin as ony ither. Noo, wi' a' that, I dinnae ken if I've helpit oor hindrit ye, but if ye need translations o' MY screevin', weel...ye ken whaur tae post tae!

Best o' luck tae ye,

--Cuilionn


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Alice
Date: 12 Nov 98 - 10:48 PM

Cuilionn, ye've helpit.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 98 - 03:59 AM

The tune, by James Waters that Baez used, is copywritten by him. It is administered by Sandy Paton
and Folk Legacy Records
85 Sharon Mountain Road
or P.O.Box 1148
Sharon, CT 06069


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: DonMeixner
Date: 13 Nov 98 - 09:02 AM

The Great Silkie of Shule Skerry was beautifully recorded on a Corries record sometime back. I think on Strings and Things and sung against the playing of their Combolins. A haunting version of a haunting tune.

Aside: Dr. Nazim Hikmet's song " I Come And Stand At Every Door" share the melody. an equally powerful and haunting tune.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 13 Nov 98 - 10:34 AM

That particular tune, definitely powerful and haunting, is NOT trad. It was composed by Dr. James Waters of Columbia University. Oddly enough (I don't know which came first) it's a modal variant of Scarlet Ribbons.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: AndyG
Date: 13 Nov 98 - 10:42 AM

From my limited reading of documents in the scots language I've often found that the spellings are phonetic. Given that the Scots roll their R's (no jokes please), "norris" seems to be a simply the scottish pronouciation of "nurse", (just as in Whereas and Quereas). I've found it's best to read the text out and listen to the words whilst trying to imagine the scots accent.

This commonly works, honest.

AndyG


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 13 Nov 98 - 05:41 PM

Questions about Scots come up pretty frequently, I just added a site to the links page "Wir Ain Leid" (Our own Language) which is a good introduction, it also has links to other good Scots "Wabsteids".

Frank in the bonnie, bonnie Swoamps.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Ewan McV
Date: 14 Nov 98 - 02:45 AM

The Concise Scots Dictionary gives the following

Nourice, nuris, nurisch, noris, neerice, &c, a child’s nurse, esp a wet-nurse or foster-mother

Noris is stated to be 16th Century usage.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: John Nolan
Date: 14 Nov 98 - 11:43 AM

Scots Concise Dictionary entry suggests usage from late 14th to 20th century "latterly chief literary, ballad and Mudcat cafe".


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Big Mick
Date: 14 Nov 98 - 06:19 PM

Hi folks,

I found the following in "The Collected Reprints from Sing Out! The Folk Song Magazine, Volumes 1-6 ~ 1959-1964". It gives it's version of the term "nourris".

This hauntingly beautiful ballad has its origin in folklore of the "supernatural" of the Hebrides and Orkneys Islands in Great Britain. It is one of the ballads collected by Professor Francis James Child and appears as #113 in that scholar's venerated collection. Albert B. Freidman, editor of "The Viking Book of Folk Ballads of the English-Speaking World," says of the song: "The folklore of the Hebrides and Orkneys - Sule or Shule Skerry is a Western Orkney islet - is rich in tales of the silkies or seal-folk. Enchanted creatures, they dwell in the depth of the sea, but they occasionally come upon land, after doffing their sealskins, and pass as ordinary men, like the silkie of the ballad, who has begat a child upon an 'earthly nourris,' a mortal woman. Many families in the Scottish islands trace their ancestry to sealmen, and because of a totemic taboo, will not taste seal meat. Though the denouement of this ballad may seem a contrived literary device, the Orkney islanders would consider the prophecy in keeping, because the silkies are noted for their power of foretelling the future."

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 01:48 PM

Something that's alway's bothered me about this song - why would the mother/nurse go ahead and marry a "gunner good" after being told that if she did so he would kill her son? In some versions the text indicates that she marries the gunner reluctantly, but I'm still curious if there's a story somewhere that tells why she ignored the silkie's warning? Did she not believe it, or was she so in love with the gunner that she ignored the warning? I'm way over budget in the book buying category right now but someday I will get a copy of "The People of the Sea" Bruce mentions - meanwhile any thoughts to satisfy my curiosity?


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: danl
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 02:10 PM

i dont think ive really got much to add to this but ive really enjoed reading this thread - this song was one of the first songs i learnt compleatly off by heart from my mum when i was little and we still sing it together and argue about it a lot (a good sign!). she learnt it from a record and taught it to me but recently i found a few different versions in a book somewhere which were slightly different from the version we sang and also explained a few confusions (for instance my mum had always thought it wa 'a gonner good' rather than 'gunner good' and not quite understood what it meant)

anyway, another thing i noticed thats different between the version on the database and the version ive always sang is firstly that id always sung it as ' i am a man not on the land/ i am a silkie apon the sea' and then that there is an extra verse between verse 3 and 4 which goes 'it was na' well quoth the maiden fair/ is was na' well indeed quoth she/ that the great silkie of sule skerri/should come and aught a bairn by me' which i suppose explains a bit more about whether or not she'd go ahead and marry the gunner. im being a bit perdantic really arnt i! but i suppose im aloud to seeing as its one of my favorate songs....!

love ivy b*


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 04:13 PM

Am I the only one who's noticed that the Waters tune (the one shared by the Hiroshima song) is "Scarlet Ribbons" in a different mode?


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Susan-Marie
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 04:41 PM

Well Dick, I don't know Scarlet Ribbons so I wouldn't notice any resemblance to this song, but I'll take your word for it. Ivy, thanks for your thoughts, you seem to be saying that the woman wasn't particularly happy about having a son by the silkie, which is why she might have married the gunner knowing he'd kill her son. That helps a little with understanding the song, although I still have a hard time reconciling my own feelings as a mother with the story in this song. Ah well, my friends tell me I should start learning to live with contradiction, so maybe I'll start with this song.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 10:33 PM

Only the first line of the melody, Dick, then it moves off on its own, ending the similarity.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: alison
Date: 21 Jun 99 - 11:59 PM

Hi,

I agree it sounds like (a minor)Scarlet ribbons.... well the first line anyway....

Saw "The Secret of Roan Inish " for the first time a few weeks back... a beautiful film.. lots of silkie and mermaid type stories through it... well worth renting if you're into that sort of thing....

slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 22 Jun 99 - 04:45 AM

Maybe in those less pc days she didn't have a choice about getting married, being a woman?

I've always wondered what they were doing to be killed by the gunner: gun means artillery piece or ship's cannon, not a small arm, as in the modern usage. Or maybe a shotgun, but "gunner" doesn't seem the right word ... not that I'm an expert!

Steve


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Art Thieme
Date: 22 Jun 99 - 09:40 AM

Somehow the version I picked up during the great folk scare included "In Norway land there lived a maid..." instead of "An earthly nource".

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: danl
Date: 22 Jun 99 - 02:15 PM

steve - i hadnt thought of that, 'gunner' is used to describe those working on cannons, in fact more than those with muskets or other similar smaller guns. at least it was in the 17th century im sure.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Murray on Saltspring
Date: 23 Jun 99 - 02:57 AM

The "earthly nourris", which is what it should be, is the version in Child, no. 113, written down from recitation of a "venerable lady" of Snarra Voe, Shetland [published 1852]. In Bronson's Trad Tunes (II.564) is the modern text, noted 1938, which has"In Norway land there lived a maid". The tune there is, as Bronson says, "an authentic Mixolydian variant" of a tune associated with "Hynd Horn". It sounds quite haunting, tho I agree that the "Scarlet Ribbons" avatar [you're right there, Dick!!] is a perfect accompaniment to the stark words.
And the Scottish National Dictionary gives "nourice", with various spelling [but NOT 'norris"], meaning "nurse" pure & simple.


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 23 Jun 99 - 03:41 AM

Pete Seeger wedded the James Waters melody to "I Come and Stand at Every Door," believing it to be a traditional tune. When he discovered it was actually newly written for the Great Silkie ballad, he made sure that proper credit was given to the tune's composer. Waters, by the way, was reading Child's compilation (I'm pretty sure it was while he was a student at MIT) and found the text very appealing and regretted that it had no accompanying tune. So he got out his banjo and made up the one that has been most often recorded (with minor variations due to human inaccuracies). I rarely prefer a newly written tune to one that hails from tradition, but, in this instance, I do. By the way, I think Jim's tune should be described as mixolydian, rather than minor (aeolian), and its resemblance to Scarlet Ribbons seems fairly superficial to me.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: The Great Silkie
From: Ohio Weaver
Date: 23 Jun 99 - 12:05 PM

Interesting discussion. what's a combolin?


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