Monday, December 07, 2015

Manly and me

I've been returning to the Little House on the Prairie books I loved when I was a girl, sharing them with my own children. The books contain so many references to the songs Pa played on the fiddle, including several stanzas of lyrics in nearly every chapter. There was one description of a song that made me excited to find it online. The song is "Gypsy King," and Laura describes how Pa's voice descends lower and lower on the main chorus until it's almost impossibly deep. I couldn't wait to hear what the song really sounded like.

My online searching brought me to a website where I could buy a CD with Pa's fiddle music. I ordered it right away and couldn't wait to listen. I emailed back and forth with the contact at this site and was bowled over when I opened the package to find this autographed photo inside. It turns out the person who is very humbly answering questions is Dean Butler himself! I was emailing with Manly!

My family laughed at my excited reaction when I figured it all out. You see, watching the Little House on the Prairie series was a big deal for my family when I was growing up. We loved the show. I loved seeing part of the set when I lived in Tucson. I have strong memories of being mystified by my mom crying at the episodes and now guess what...I cry myself.

It turns out Butler took a strong interest in his character and produced a documentary on the real-life Almanzo. Back in 2011, he was part of a PBS special that brought musicians together to play the fiddle songs from the books, and now that music is on CD (there are at least three to choose from). Best of all, the CD booklet has great liner notes about the songs' provenances by musicologist Dale Cockrell. It is sad that the rendition of Gypsy King on the CD titled Arkansas Traveler doesn't solve the mystery of how Pa performed it. From Cockrell's note:

"Wilder remembers Pa's voice doing 'deep, deep, deeper than the very oldest bullfrog.' No sheet music of this song captures that gesture, however, a theatrical moment that was probably improvised by Pa Ingalls, ever the showman it seems."

At any rate, my holiday gift recommendation is a CD from this site for the LHOP lover in your life! I hope to read through the whole series again, pausing to match the text to the music.

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