Play the Traditional Song "Down in the Willow Garden"
â€śDown in the Willow Gardenâ€ť is a double murder balladâ€”only one person is murdered but sheâ€™s murdered twice, first with poison wine and then with a saber. William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, speaks about hearing an old woman in Ballisodare singing the song â€śDown in the Sally Gardens,â€ť and he based a poem on that. â€śSallyâ€ť is just another name for â€świllow.â€ť The only real clue in this American version to its Irish origins is the girlâ€™s name, which is Rose Connelly.
This excerpt of â€śDown in the Willow Gardenâ€ť is arranged to be played with a plectrum. When I play the melody, I play it on the low strings and the accompaniment on the high strings. I keep it pretty simple, with a lot of force and a lot of rattle and clang, which helps this song.
The melody is in a pentatonic mode; itâ€™s a scale that leaves out the four and the seven (1, 2, 3, 5, 6) and the sixth note is very strong. When you hear different people accompany themselves, thereâ€™s always a difference in what theyâ€™re going to do on that note. Some people will play an Em (in the key of G). A lot of the mountain folk who sang this song didnâ€™t know an Em chord. They knew an E major chord so they played that. It does break the mode, but it sounds really good.
Excerpted from Traditional Songs with Jody Stecher
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