Pretty Saro

This is an online fiddle lesson for the old time tune "Pretty Saro."

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Genre: Old Time
Skill Level: Intermediate
Key of D

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Video #1: Here is a video of me playing the old time tune "Pretty Saro."

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 8.51.18 PMPretty Saro - Online Fiddle Lessons. Celtic, Bluegrass, Old-Time, Gospel, and Country Fiddle.

Pretty Saro - Online Fiddle Lessons. Celtic, Bluegrass, Old-Time, Gospel, and Country Fiddle.

 

Variations of "Pretty Saro" were collected by several folksong collectors in the early 1900s in the Appalachian mountains. The earliest publication was in Lomax's North Carolina Booklet (1911). A variation in Vance Randolph's Ozark Folksongs has the woman named Molly.

In Eighteen-Forty-Nine closely resembles Pretty Saro, several verses being nearly verbatim copies of verses here. However, some verses of In Eighteen-Forty-Nine resemble different folksongs, so that appears to be made up of remnants of several songs.

Dorothy Scarborough (A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains, American Folk Songs of British Ancestry), who collected a version in North Carolina in 1930, notes that her source said the appropriate date might be 1749, as that was a time of significant immigration from Scotland and Ireland, where the tune was probably from. She also says the term "freeholder" would indicate a British origin.*

Pretty Saro is also related to the Irish song Bunclody whose first lines of the first three verses correspond closely to these.* In addition to those songs, according to The Ballad Index, Pretty Saro is related to At the Foot of Yonder Mountain, where the woman is referred to as Mary rather than Saro or Sarah. Some scholars trace the origin of that song to "an ancient hymn to the Virgin Mary."

Pretty Saro/Sara was sung unaccompanied by Cas Wallin, Madison County, North Carolina (see: Version 5). It has been collected in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, the Ozarks, Indiana, and Iowa amongst other states.
The Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore suggests that that the odd line "banks of said brow" might be a corruption of the line of the another version which has "the mountain's sad brow."

The use of the word “freeholder” places the song’s origin in England as the term is not used in the United States. It appears that "Pretty Saro" and its doppelgaenger "At the Foot of Yonder Mountain" are mostly derived from "The Streams of Bunclody." The 1749 date looks good too. There is a local tradition that "The Streams of Bunclody" was written from America by an immigrant from County Wicklow and sent back to Ireland.

If this immigrant or a son or daughter or someone who had the song from him was among the early European settlers of the Appalachians, the American versions could easily have been adapted from the immigrant's song. 1749 could be the date of the immigrant's arrival in America, although the stanza with the date did not go back to Ireland or was dropped there. Of course, there are a lot of floating lyrics here, and John Moulden points out the dangers of taking such material as a basis for identifying oral texts as versions of the same song. What one must look for is distinctive stanzas; otherwise there would be just one song of which "Pretty Saro," "On Top of Old Smokey," "It was in the Month of January," "The Wagoner's Lad," and countless others would be examples. But these do have distinctive content and it seems that "Streams of Bunclody" begat "Pretty Saro."

This piece seems to break up into two families, "Pretty Saro" (which appears to be more popular) and "At the Foot of Yonder Mountain." In the latter, the woman is "Mary," not "Saro." Broadwood and Gilchrist argued that all this is based on an ancient hymn to the Virgin Mary. If so, that would argue that the "Yonder Mountain" form is older. But we all know how active some folklorists' imaginations are. (Ballad Index)

Randolph separates "In Eighteen-forty-nine" as a song made up of scraps and fragments, including "Pretty Saro," with echoes from "Jack O'Diamonds," "Farewell, Sweet Mary" and "Rabble Soldier."

252 PRETTY SARO- [The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore; the folklore of North Carolina, collected by Dr. Frank C. Brown during the years 1912 to 1943, in collaboration with the North Carolina Folklore Society]

A favorite song in the South, and carried thence to the Midwest. It is reported as traditional song from Virginia (SharpK 11 12, SCSM 327-8, FSV 89-90), Kentucky (Shearin 22), North Carolina (SharpK 11 10, 11, SCSM 327, JAFL xiv i 12-13, FSSH 283),
Georgia (SharpK 11 11-12), Mississippi (FSM 164-5), the Ozarks (OFS IV 222-4), Indiana (BSI 362), and Iowa (MAFLS .x.xix 106-7). Mrs. Steely found it in the Ebenezer community in Wake county. The author — if it had one — has not been discovered.

source: bluegrassmessengers.com

Pretty Saro

When I came to this country, in 1829, 
I saw many lovers, but I didn't see mine.
I looked all around me and saw I was alone, 
And me a poor stranger, a long way from home.

It's not this long journey I'm dreading to go, 
Nor leaving my country, nor the debts that I owe.
There's nothing to pester, nor trouble my mind, 
Like leaving pretty Sarah, my darling, behind.

My love, she won't have me, as I do understand, 
She wants a freeholder, and I have no land.
But I can maintain her with silver and gold, 
And it's many pretty fine things my love's house can hold.

I wish I was a poet, and could write a fine hand, 
I'd write my love a letter that she could understand. 
I'd send it by the waters when the water overflows, 
I think of pretty Sarah wherever she goes.

I wish I was a dove, and had wings and could fly, 
About my love's dwelling this night I'd draw nigh. 
And in her lily white arms all night I would lay, 
And watch some little window for the dawning of day.

As pretty Sarah, pretty Sarah, pretty Sarah, I know, 
How much I love you, I never can show. 
At the foot of old Coey, on the mountain's sad brow, 
I used to love you dearly--and I don't hate you now.
Posted in Intermediate, OldTime Tagged with:

This topic contains 25 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by cricket cricket 5 months ago.

Viewing 26 posts - 1 through 26 (of 26 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #36046

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    This is a really nice old time tune that was originally collected by John Avery Lomax in Madison County, NC.  The tune has been collected throughout the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozarks.  It is truly a bit of American heritage.

    Pretty Saro

    #35934

    Hakan Lindholm
    Participant

    I just found an entry for Pretty Saro – A  in the TABs section (have been looking for this for some time after I have seen the songcatcher video on YT), but the link does not seem to work. I wonder if this tab is available.

    #35983

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Hi Hakan, please try again, I fixed the link. Lesson for this coming shortly. The fiddle music you hear in the movie was played by my friend Roger Howell, a legit old time fiddler from the Madison County. Here is his bio:

    http://www.blueridgeheritage.com/traditional-artist-directory/roger-howell

    I was interviewed for a documentary that just came out about Roger called “A Mighty Fine Memory.” Here is some news about that:

    https://bascomlunsfordfestival.wordpress.com/rogerhowell/

    The music I tabbed is his fiddle part, which is as authentic as any I have heard. Hope you enjoy it!

    #36030

    Hakan Lindholm
    Participant

    Thanks John, this was a very good music tab, I really like it, very authentic. (I have earlier tried some other versions found on the web but they all seem so very different from the version played in the film).

     

    #36052

    Hakan Lindholm
    Participant

    Great lesson and song, many thanks.

    #36064
    Tbird
    Tbird
    Participant

    Nice tune, has that “haunting” sound to it  Reminds me a lot of Anna Lee. Seems to have a “crooked” aspect to it. I never do well with crooked tunes and always find myself trying to straighten them out. 🙂

    #36070

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    It sounds a LOT like Anna Lee! And yes, it’s crooked, and kind of weird to tab out. This one would be hard to play with a band without straightening out some of those kinks. 🙂

    #36076

    Bruce
    Participant

    I scrolled down to comment on how much is it reminded me of Anna Lee, John beat me to the punch. Very nice old song.  I love learning the real old Appalachian songs and I will surely learn this one as my late mom was named Sarah.  I’ll have to get to work to learn it before Sunday.

    #36084

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    I have an aunt named Sarah. I’m not sure when this was changed to Saro, but it does make the title more unique.

    #36088
    Tbird
    Tbird
    Participant

    Here’s another nice version from one of my favorite female fiddle players Tatiana Hargreaves when she was just a kid.
    –https://www.youtube.com/embed/H6VxG8v4PnA

    #36096
    Tbird
    Tbird
    Participant

    There’s also a long thread over on mudcat cafe discussing this song and it’s many versions. Jean Ritchie’s reflections are especially interesting. She went by “kytrad” over there. http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=15862

    #36101

    Kaeleigh
    Participant

    Ohhhh! I’m so excited to see a lesson for this song!!!!!! I’ve been wanting to learn it for a very long time, and I just couldn’t pick it out on my own. Yay! I’m so glad about this lesson!

    I was really impressed with your ability to sing along with the fiddle! That gives the song such a genuine, lonely sound.

    #36106

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Thanks Kaeleigh!

    Mike, thanks for posting the Hargreaves version. It is my favorite. She also has a version of “Blackest Crow” that makes me cry every time I hear it.

    Plus, how cool is it that Jean Ritchie contributed at Mudcat? That is very awesome.

    The song was already well-spread by the time it was collected. I like the John Lomax lyrics because they were collected first, >1911 right here in Madison County. Plus, the fiddle break is a learned break by a Madison County old-timer, so I hope what I have recorded is a fairly authentic Western NC version of the song.

    #36156

    Joe
    Participant

    Great job John. Never heard it before. Love that song and will have to add it to my to do list.

    #36162
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    I love it too.  Kids…why can’t they be like we were…ha ha…how do they gets SO GOOD so young??? Really inspiring! I’m thinking I won’t ever grow up to be like some of these kids that get it down so great before they can even think about learning to drive!!!

    #36181

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    You know, watching these kids, it can either get you down or get you going, lol. While it’s sad that I could fiddle my whole life and never be as good as some of these 12 year olds, it really makes me excited for the future of bluegrass and old time music.

    #36275
    Tbird
    Tbird
    Participant

    [quote=36106]She also has a version of “Blackest Crow” that makes me cry every time I hear it. [/quote]

    John I HATE to ask this because I know you’ve been getting swamped with request here lately but when you get caught up I would love to learn this tune. It seems so simple but for the life of me I can’t seem to figure it out. I’ve got some of it but there’s a few parts that still mystify me. I can’t even come to a concensous of what tuning it’s in. I’ve been working on it in standard but now I’m thinking it might be gdgd. The Hargreaves version is awesome but I think my favorite is the one with Bruce Molsky and Julie Fowlis.

    https://youtu.be/d6jh1vqNvMs

    John I know you’re a very busy man so please put my request at the end of the line. Between raising a family, teaching school, your volunteer work, playing music, producing lessons and tending to this forum, I swear I don’t see how you do it all. You have one heck of a work ethic my friend and I really appreciate the personal attention you give everyone.

     

     

    #36280
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Oh yeah, that is a great tune.  I think I hear lots of people playing it with their G string tuned up to an A, if my ears are hearing it right.  Might be easier to play that way, in D.  I tend to play everything a million or so times slower than everybody else, and here these guys play The Blackest Crow at a snail’s pace, which to me sounds really beautiful.  I believe she might have her G string tuned up one, but she has the entire fiddle tuned up, apparently, in that same tuning to be able to produce it in E, instead of D.  The guy on guitar has his capo on and low string dropped to sound E, from a dropped D position because of he capo…if I’m seeing and hearing it right…I guess she tuned it for singing purposes and he tuned it because the minor chords would be out of the fun realm on guitar playing out of E…the dropped D tuning lets him get an E sound.
    –https://youtu.be/4wRnDa7GdzQ

    #36299
    Tbird
    Tbird
    Participant

    Yes that a very nice version too! I had tried learning from that awhile back but it confused me even more than the Molsky version because of the strange tuning. This topic came up on the fiddlehangout and there was much confusion there too. One of the members said that she received a response from “Red Tail Ring” and that the tuning was E,B,F#,C#….tuned down a step and a half and played out of the G position. No wonder I couldn’t figure it out. 🙂

    #36309
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Really nice, John.  I gotta learn this one…not sure I can sing and play at the same time, although I’ve about mastered walking and chewing gum!  This sounds really beautiful…I love the singing and fiddling together!

    #36325

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Somehow my reply to this got lost — I thought I had beat Mike to the punch in saying she was tuned standard, just three semitones below. These are all great versions!

    #48609
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Wow…I see a year ago I wanted to learn this…lol…behind a little, I guess, but I was very preoccupied by having an opera to struggle with and also having gotten my recording studio set up and kinda halfway figured out.  So I guess it’s now time to try to learn this…how in the world does anybody ever get coordinated enough to sing and fiddle at the same time?  Anyway…don’t inw if I’ll get to that point, but at least try to learn the beautiful fiddle part…I can always cheat and sing on a separate track thanks to that recording setup…but I’d really like to learn to do both!  I’m not too bad at juggling…wonder if that’s helpful?  Nah, probably not…I’m just gonna have to try and see if I can get it!

    #48639

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    This is a fun one! You should definitely learn it. 🙂

    #48650
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    I’ve been trying it here and there late in the evenings.  Having a little trouble with the rhythm…but I think I’ll get it ok…it’s actually a lot like the Purcell rhythms,..lol…every bit of experience helps.  I’m also working a little bit on another one I’ve liked a lot…it’s called, Davy, Come Back and Act like you Ought to.  Kinda modal…these both need to be played in GDAE, as far as I can tell, to get the full effect.  I tried to cheat right off the bat with Pretty Saro, but you know what I ran into…TWO, only two absolutely crucial notes…open Gs … ok, then…gotta strain that pinky and say, there’s no way outta this…gotta go with GDAE!

    #48669

    John Cockman
    Keymaster

    Haha it all goes back to Purcell — the father of Old Time music! 🙂 You’re right, Pretty Saro works best in standard tuning. Can’t wait to hear you play it!

    #48804
    cricket
    cricket
    Participant

    Ok, well, once I set my mind to doing something, the phone starts ringing and everybody in the whole wide world has me working to death to help them and then ignore all my own stuff, fall behind, get stressed out and never get time for music, because they all think if I have time for music that’s just stalling because I’m bored.  Little do they understand music is my breath…I feel like I can’t get far if they keep me from it too long.  So what I’m getting at is it’s been nearly impossible to get one minute to sit down, let alone one minute to myself.  So…I’m falling way behind…if I crash on Pretty Saro tonight…and I’m pretty exhausted, so that’s possible…then I’ll have to go to ADAD…and I’ll miss those two low G notes in the tab that give it such a rich sound…lol.  But…ya gotta do what you gotta do…we’ll see what happens…getting ready to get my fiddle out now and see what I can do…but…been working really hard all day and I’m beat.

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