UK Autoharps have invented a new
tradition, the Autoharp Advent Calendar...
1. During the winter lockdown of 2021-2022 our collective organised our first long distance Autoharp Advent Calendar - a number of us sent in a songs, with video, for display, one a day, on the run-up to
I was then in a struggle with health,
but was determined to contribute. My video from
Christmas 2021 is still there - you can see me, lashed to my horse, like
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, defending Valencia...
...singing Stephen Foster 'Hard
2. It helped that I knew the song. I knew the song from Cathy Britell's 2012,
lovely long distance, project... I
participated in that project in 2012, alongside Jan Brodie and Stephanie
Hladowski, and the autoharp world...
Cathy Brittell wrote... 'In the winter of 2012, a group of
friends (many of whom have never met) who share membership on an international
autoharp mailing list, cyberpluckers, decided to reach across cyberspace and
play and sing a song together. There is
nothing quite as wonderful as making music with others, whether in person or in
And her 2012 video is still visible...
Hard Times Come Again No More - The
3. My thanks to Danny Yates, who propped me
up, and pointed a camera in 2021
This year Danny has helped me get
another Stephen Foster number ready.
Back on the horse.
I suppose that there is here the makings
of a further tradition. There is a
relationship between the autoharp communities and the work of Stephen Foster -
I won't go into all the detail here, but it can be a problematic
Foster's work is autoharp friendly - and
the autoharp and Stephen Foster, at one time, shared an ecological niche, the
nineteenth century parlour...
In our own time, studying and playing
the works of Stephen Foster has become just...
First, there is the Stephen Foster
Collection at the University of Pittsburgh, much of it digitised and free to
'Sheet music, broadsides, songsters,
music manuscripts, correspondence, business records, photographs, newspaper
clippings, maps, iconography, Foster’s sketchbook, and other ephemera related
to Stephen Foster and his family...'
There is also the Library of Congress - again
much material is free to download...
Stephen Collins Foster: A Guide to
'Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was
the most famous American song composer of the 19th century. This guide provides
links to resources at the Library of Congress, including a large collection of
published first editions.'
The availability of the sheet music at
Pittsburgh and LOC means that you can check other online versions of Foster's works, and correct the texts, if need be...
4. For the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar
2022 I have offered, from the Stephen Foster archives, the justly
neglected 'When the bowl goes round'.
The Lyric is by George Cooper, Stephen
Foster's collaborator - Cooper is not as good a lyricist as Stephen Foster. Melody is by Stephen Foster.
The song is Christmassy, I think - the
bowl must be the Wassail bowl. Cooper
and Foster wrote drinking songs and temperance songs, as the market
demanded. In this song they seem to have
confused the two categories - as a drinking song it demands, from the singer,
extreme sobriety. The lyric is chewy,
and full of the archaisms that nineteenth century lyricists and audiences loved
- it describes itself as 'the jocund song'.
I had a few goes at singing it - then Danny Yates and I decided that,
try as I might, my version was never going to be more than adequate...
As for correcting the text... You can see that the title page has 'When the
bowl goes round' - while the verses as published have 'While the bowl goes
I think that 'When' is better than
'While', and that is what I sing throughout.
(There is the oddity that in some regional varieties of English the word
'While' can mean 'Until'. Which...
'...reminds me of the possibly
apocryphal tale about the first automatic level crossings in the Midlands -
where the sign "Wait here while the lights are flashing" supposedly
caused a string of near-fatalities...'
But I digress...)
So, here is, 'When the Bowl goes round',
Stephen Foster and George Cooper
My contribution to the UK Autoharps Advent
Further Note January 2023
Thinking further about this song, Foster & Cooper, 'When the Bowl goes round...' And that strange phrase 'jolly fellows' in the chorus... I have come across a book by Richard Stott...
Stott, R. (2009) Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America. Johns Hopkins University Press (Gender Relations in the America).
...which is a study, page 1, of 'a distinctive male comportment that consisted of not just ﬁghting but also heavy drinking, gambling and playing pranks. Men who engaged in such behavior were called “jolly fellows.” Although the jolly fellows were a subset of the male population, whenever men, especially young men, gathered in milieus that were all male or where women were rare, such conduct could occur. Such behavior was tolerated, even condoned, by men who were not themselves drinkers, ﬁghters, or gamblers...'
It is worth searching for Richard Stott's book - because I found it Open Access. It is readily available.
Richard Stott does not seem to have been aware of this particular Stephen Foster song when he wrote his book, and picked its title. It seems that Stephen Foster and George Cooper, writing in the 1860s, found that phrase still there in the ether. And maybe by then - Richard Stott, the cultural historian, suggests - the age of the 'jolly fellows' was over...
I find myself putting the, 'jolly fellows', from this Foster song, alongside the 'boon companions' of 'Comrades, fill no glass...', the second Foster song I prepared for Christmas 2022. See my note on 'Comrades', further up/later in this blog.