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Shenandoah - Sheet Music for Native American Flute

Earliest Appearance of Shenandoah Sheet Music

Earliest Appearance of
Shenandoah More information

 

Shenandoah (also called “Oh Shenandoah” and “Across the Wide Missouri”) is a traditional American folk song of unknown origin.

The melody first appeared in print in 1882 in an article by William L. Alden ([Alden 1882] - shown on the right). This article notes that the song is “clearly of negro origin”.

The Lyrics

Many versions of lyrics appear in various sources. One version of the lyrics appearing in 1910 by W. B. Whall tells the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian chief ([Whall-WB 1910]). In this interpretation, the trader tells the chief of his intent to take the girl with him far to the West, across the Missouri River.

Here are the lyrics from the third edition of the book ([Whall-WB 1913]). The reference to “notions” in the second verse refers to “an old American trade-word signifying nick-nacks of all kinds”:

Missouri, she's a mighty riv-er.
  Away you rolling river.
The redskins' camp, lies on its borders.
  Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

The white man loved the Indian maiden,
  Away you rolling river.
With notions his canoe was laden.
  Ah-ha, I'm bound a-way, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

“O, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,
  Away you rolling river.
I'll take her 'cross yon rolling water.”
  Ah-ha, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

The chief disdained the trader's dollars:
  Away you rolling river.
“My daughter never you shall follow.”
  Ah-ha, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

At last there came a Yankee skipper.
  Away you rolling river.
He winked his eye, and he tipped his flipper.
  Ah-ha, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

He sold the chief that fire-water,
  Away you rolling river.
And 'cross the river he stole his daughter.
  Ah-ha, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

“O, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
  Away you rolling river.
Across that wide and rolling river.”
  Ah-ha, I'm bound away, 'Cross the wide, Missouri.

Transcription and Performance Notes

The source for the arrangement for Native American flute below is from Richard Runciman Terry's version published in 1921 ([Terry 1921]). However, several issues arise. If you begin the melody normally on the lowest note of the Native American flute, you get this melody for the beginning of the song:

Shenandoah Example 1 - Transposed too high

The problem is that the melody rises above the playable range of most Native American flutes. The ? for the high note can be played on a few Native American flutes, with a fingering such as Finger diagram half-closed closed closed closed open open or Finger diagram open closed closed closed open open or Finger diagram half-closed closed closed half-closed open open or Finger diagram half-closed closed closed open open open, but it us usually difficult and strident, if it is possible at all.

In cases where a note cannot be played on a Native American flute, it is possible many times to modify the melody in such a way that it still sounds reasonbly correct to listeners. This approach can be used, for example, in Amazing Grace. That's the approach used for Shenandoah by Robert Gatliff in the transcription he did for his on-line song book on Flutetree.com. He modified the first note of the melody, which results in the song beginning with:

Pentatonic Minor Scale written in Shenandoah Example 1 - Wrong first interval

However, if you play the above melody, you realize that the very first interval between the first two notes does not sound like the well-known melody. Since the interval between the first two notes is often critical for people's recognition of a melody, this subsitution of the very first note might sound unusual. Or maybe not … you decide!

Here is an excerpt from a recording of Shenandoah by John Oglesby (Winterwood), posted to Facebook on July 17, 2013 and used here by kind permission:

Audio Player disabled - visit Troubleshooting.

Interestingly, the first appearance of this song in 1882 (shown above) places the first note an octave higher, and that is a great way to approach this melody.

In the melody as transcribed below, at Citation A, I've arranged it to start on Finger diagram closed open closed open open open, with a suggestion simply to improvise down to the lowest note on the flute.

Sheet Music - Six-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Shenandoah - six-hole Pentatonic Minor

Shenandoah - Six-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image

Sheet Music - Five-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Shenandoah - five-hole Pentatonic Minor

Shenandoah -Five-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image

Other Arrangements

Here are links to some other arrangements and trascriptions available on the Web:

 
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