On 29 April 1900 the engineer John Luther “Casey” Jones died in the wreck of the Illinois Central’s Cannonball, the fast passenger express from Chicago to New Orleans. No one else was killed or even seriously injured in the accident, a fact generally ascribed to Jones’s skillful but self-sacrificing actions.
The myriad versions of the song commemorating this incident—formally known as The ballad of Casey Jones—stand at the crossroads of the African American and Anglo-American ballad traditions.
Nine years after Jones’s death, Casey Jones (The brave engineer), a vaudeville song by T.L. Seibert and E. Newton, became widely popular. It is generally accepted that Seibert and Newton based it on a song that they had heard among African Americans in New Orleans, which had been composed by Wallace Saunders—a Black roundhouse man who knew Jones personally. “Wallace had a gift for improvising ballads as he labored at wiping engines or shoveling coal” one source reported. “He would sing in rhythm with his muscular activity; and one of his creations, as innumerable witnesses agreed, was the original version of Casey Jones.”
Turning a song deeply rooted in African American traditions into a popular hit involved merging its attributes with those of Anglo-American broadside ballads, which were more characterized by a semi-journalistic recounting of events than by verses extemporaneously arranged around an underlying narrative. Over time, the traditional and popular versions naturally influenced each other, resulting in an uncommonly rich demonstration of pop and folk interactions.
This according to “Casey Jones: At the crossroads of two ballad traditions” by Norm Cohen (Western folklore XXXII/2 [April 1973] 77–103; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1973-2351).
Today is Casey Jones’s 160th birthday! Above, CaseyJonesPortrait (public domain); below, a performance by Furry Lewis, who first recorded the song in 1928, followed by Johnny Cash’s classic recording.
Cassandre Balosso-Bardin Associate Professor, University of Lincoln Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Museum of Art
In 1888 Mary Elizabeth Brown sent out copies of her new catalogue, Musical instruments and their homes, to her many missionary friends across the world; they had helped her to collect instruments from around the globe, leading to an impressive collection of approximately 270 instruments, which she donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1889 (Brown 2014).
The subtitle of the catalogue reads: With two hundred and seventy illustrations in pen and ink by Wm. Adams Brown, the whole forming a complete catalogue of the collection of musical instruments now in the possession of Mrs. J. Crosby Brown of New York. As suggested in this lengthy description, the catalogue was beautifully illustrated by Brown’s son, William Adams Brown, with line drawings for each instrument, alongside short descriptions with minimal measurements. W.A. Brown’s contribution is significant: It gives unique pictorial insight into the breadth of the collection, and it adds myriad details that are usually forgotten or glossed over in textual descriptions. His drawings give us a much better understanding of the instruments collected, and may point to unwitting mistakes that, in turn, give us insights into the collecting world of the late 19th century.
As an ethnomusicologist with a specialty in bagpipes, I was particularly fascinated to identify the five examples of this instrument in the catalogue, and to unravel the stories they told. Their wide geographical spread demonstrates the breadth of contacts Mary Elizabeth Brown had, as well as her interest in collecting instruments from around the world, no matter how obscure they might have seemed. The five instruments hail from Scotland, India, Russia, Turkey, and Sclavonia, the latter possibly referring to a region now found in North Eastern Croatia or a former region in the Hungarian territory, or even just Slavic countries in general. If we detail each instrument alongside their illustrations, some discrepancies become clear, and an understanding of the 19th-century collector’s challenges starts to emerge.
The Scottish highland bagpipe listed in the catalogue (p. 335) was obviously well-known enough to not warrant any kind of description beyond its origin (“Scotch”), the fact that it was “modern”’, and the measurement of its bag (1 foot, 3 inches) and longest pipe (3 feet). This instrument (acquisition number 89.4.863) was made by Robert MacKinnon, a Scottish maker active in Glasgow between 1875 and 1902 (a detail omitted by the Browns in the catalogue, possibly because of its contemporary association). This might have made the instrument slightly less attractive than other items hailing from further afield and of rarer provenance.
The other European bagpipe illustrated on the same page presents more of a mystery. It is presented as a bagpipe from Sclavonia: “a very old specimen. The pipes of wood, inlaid with lead. The bag of leather. L. of the longest pipe 45 in. of bag 24 in.” Upon inspection of the illustration, however, the instrument strongly resembles a bagpipe from Central France. This large type of bagpipe, inlaid with pewter, is known to be from the Nivernais region, and its dimensions correspond to one of the grandes cornemuses du Nivernais currently in the Museum’s collection (89.4.860). These types of instruments were older, often made in the 18th century or very early 19th century. Upon closer inspection, one notices that the inlaid pewter is not filed, and that the instrument has not been played, unlike its sister instrument in the collection. Bernard Blanc, a French bagpipe maker specializing in instruments from this region, speculated during his visit to the collection in 1987 that this instrument was probably a copy of an older instrument, made in the 19th century specifically for the collector’s market (Metropolitan Museum Musical Instrument Archives).
A stunning instrument collected by Brown is the bagpipe illustrated in the Russian section of the catalogue (p. 347). This instrument takes up a significant amount of textual space in the catalogue, with a lengthy description enveloping the drawing, speaking to its aesthetic value:
The bag made of white skin, undressed. Three pipes, one for the breath, and the other two furnished, one with six and the other with three fingerholes. The extremities of the two latter covered with a cap of wood bound with brass, which is held in place by a leather strap. The pipes and movable cap decorated with imitations of precious stones, and the latter with nineteen small hanging chains. Bag 18x13 in. L. of pipe and cap 17 in.
This instrument is currently in the collection (89.4.318) and it is just as beautiful as the description suggests. The blue, green, and red glass jewels inserted along the finely stamped metallic straps that wrap around the double pipes, along with the small paisley-shaped ornaments hanging from delicate chains at the end of the wooden horn, all contribute to the impression of a fine instrument. While Mary Elizabeth Brown named it simply “bagpipe”, it is currently described as a volynka, a generic Russian term that means “bagpipe”, giving little indication about its regional origin. The instrument’s file notes that in 1977 “a Georgian visitor recognized this instrument as Georgian”. Indeed, the instrument presents all the characteristics of a gudastviri, a Georgian bagpipe, as illustrated on a USSR stamp from 1990 (Figure 3). It is possible that this instrument arrived in the collection among many other Russian instruments, with little attention paid to its actual origin. Brown’s correspondence shows regular contact with a dealer based in Moscow, although this instrument isn’t specifically identified (Brown Correspondence, Metropolitan Museum Musical Instrument Archives).
The Turkish bagpipe in the catalogue (p. 209) also presents a few mysteries. The instrument illustrated resembles more a bagpipe that might have been found in Iran (ney-anbān) or the Gulf States rather than in Turkey. Turkey’s two main types of bagpipes in the 19th century were the gaida (or ghaida), a Balkan-type instrument close to the Bulgarian or Macedonian bagpipe, and the tulum, a Mediterranean-type instrument found in a specific region by the Black Sea. While this particular instrument was catalogued as a “ghaida”, it does not resemble either of these instruments. Still in the collection today (89.4.362), its provenance remains a mystery. Could it be that an instrument from a different part of the world made its way to Turkey and was collected as such by Brown’s missionary friends? Brown’s correspondent in Turkey recognized that she did not know much about musical instruments (Brown Correspondence, Metropolitan Museum Musical Instrument Archives), which may have contributed to such confusion.
The final bagpipe in Brown’s collection is a bagpipe from Madras (now Chennai), India (p. 87). While it is called a zitty (or titthi) in the catalogue, it is also known as a sruti upanga. This instrument is commonly depicted in nautch performances within a larger group of musicians (see below). Most likely bought in 1886 through Reverend Canklin, who sent a range of instruments from Madras (Metropolitan Museum Musical Instrument Archive), it is still part of the collection (89.4.264). It is material evidence of a bagpipe that was mainly used for accompaniment rather than melody. According to the instrument’s file and further iconographic evidence, the sruti panga was traditionally used to supply drone accompaniment; the fingerholes were not for playing melodies, but were stopped with wax to create different drone pitches.
Brown’s illustrated catalogue is a remarkable document that gives fascinating insights into the collecting world of the late 19th century. William Adam Brown’s drawings allow us to understand both the wide range of instruments collected and the limitations of knowledge at the time, when individuals relied on third-party information to collate instrument files. Often bought and sent by individuals who had little knowledge about instruments, they regularly fell victim to misidentification, at times remaining unidentified for decades until visitors with specific regional knowledge were able to set the records straight.
The catalogue images also reveal the inconsistencies of the 19th-century market, and how collectors might have been taken advantage of by dealers misrepresenting instruments, passing them off as ancient when they were contemporary, most likely to fetch a better price as they played into the collectors’ fascination for antiques.
This unique document shows Brown’s strong will to collect all manner of instruments, no matter how humble or unassuming, providing us with a real global snapshot of the instruments played in the second half of the 19th century. It also highlights the value of accurate illustrations alongside the catalogue entries: Not only do they bring the objects to life, they also enable a much more detailed and in-depth analysis of them, allowing us to re-evaluate the textual descriptions passed down through the years, correcting discrepancies, and providing insights into the work undertaken by 19th-century collectors.
This article was written and published to mark International Bagpipe Day, which is celebrated on 10 March every year. International Bagpipe Day was co-founded by Cassandre Balosso-Bardin in 2012 and is now celebrated across the world. Dr. Balosso-Bardin is the founding director of the International Bagpipe Organisation and is an Associate Professor in Music at University of Lincoln, where she lectures in ethnomusicology. This research was made possible thanks to a Chester Dale Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2022–23).
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InsomeScandinavianregions,cows,sheep, andgoats are taken uptomountainandforestpasturesforsummergrazing. Since the Middle Ages, such seasonal settlements have beenvitally important inthesebarren regions, wherethecultivatedlandaroundthevillagesisfartoolimitedtofeedeventhehumanpopulation.
The herding is women’s work. The music associated with herding is multifunctional, serving to call, lead, or keep the livestock together, as well as driving away predators and communicating with other herders; it may involve playing traditional horns or singing.
The grazing areas are vast, so the music must travel long distances—up to three or four kilometers, sometimes through deep forests. The singing style, known as kulning, has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at unusually high pitches—an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.
The structure of the vocal music is very flexible, combining parlando-like speech-song with improvised words, sharp calls, and real song phrases, all in free rhythm and richly decorated with melismas. While it is efficient, it is much more elaborate than its practical functions require, and aesthetic qualities are deemed important to both the singers and their distant listeners.
This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI  42–66); RILM Abstrcts of Music Literature 1984-4375).
In “A tropical meditation on comparison in ethnomusicology: A metaphoric knife, a real banana, and an edible demonstration” Anthony Seeger applies the Brazilian term recorte teórico (theoretical cut) to a banana, showing the various approaches to cutting one—ways of slicing the fruit itself, pieces of the stem or skin, and the air above it—and discusses the different perceptions that would result from considering only one of them as providing a definitive representation (Yearbook for traditional music XXXIV  187–192; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-4425).
Seeger further notes that our definition of a banana fails to take into account the entire plant and its means of reproduction, nor does it involve its nonphysical features, such as its aroma and the feelings and associations that it evokes. He concludes that “Comparison in ethnomusicology requires a very careful examination of the results of all theoretical approaches, a cautious approach to a definition of what constitutes music, and an awareness of the implications of a common banana.”
In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.
The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.
The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.
Joseph Holbrooke’s The bells, op. 50(a), a “dramatic poem” scored for large orchestra and chorus and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poem by the same name, is highly onomatopoeic and describes the sound, function, and effect of four types of bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and funeral bells. A concertina is heard in two sections of the piece: the prelude (section 1) and Iron bells (section 5).
The composer, who had a “lifelong affection for concertinas”, recalled how the instrument was almost cut from the work’s 1906 premiere:
“While I was having my Poem for Orchestra and Chorus, The bells, performed in London under Hans Richter, the eminent conductor noticed that there was a part written for a concertina. ‘Concertina! Concertina!’ said Richter, ‘What is that?’ I explained to him that it was a peculiar instrument like a bellows, played by hand. ‘We cannot have that’ said Richter. ‘There is no instrument like that here.’ I found one, however, and Conductor Richter placed it away back where it could not possibly be heard. But at the concert I saw to it that the concertina player sat directly in front of the conductor.”
This according to “The concertina and The bells” by Eric Matusewitch (Concertina world 488 [December 2021] 17–24). Below, the work’s first movement.
Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.
Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.
When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.
This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).
Below, the original recordings.
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Soon after the Cinematograph Act came into force in 1909, small orchestras became more common in London cinemas than the lone pianist that some previous histories have identified.
Rather than responding moment-to-moment to the images on screen in the manner that an improvising pianist might, these orchestras played through a number of well-regarded musical pieces in their entirety, which might or might not have had a direct correspondence to some aspect of the film or its theme.
Despite exhortations in the trade press for a more logical relationship between music and film, this does not seem to have happened in practice regularly until at least the mid-1910s.
This according to “The art of not playing to pictures in British cinemas, 1906–1914” by Jon Burrows, an essay included in The sounds of the silents in Britain (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 111–125; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-482).
Below, we invite you to experiment with random film accompaniment using your own favorite recordings.
As Stravinsky circulates in the digital age, his work is valorized in the context of digital transformation—a phenomenon reflected in YouTube mashups.
The composer’s iconic Le sacre du printemps provides a rich basis for such tributes; examples include Beyonce in “Dance of the Single Young Girls” by Igor Stravinsky (posted by Stephen Rathjen on 29 March 2015), Stravinsky meets Steely Dan (FM/Rite of Spring mashup) (posted on 20 June 2021 by the English guitarist Howard Wright), and Adam Neely’s 31 March 2017 All Star, but its the rite of spring by igor stravinsky.
These mashups highlight the ways in which pre-existing content from two sources is amalgamated in the form of hybridization (the very idea of a mashup)—for example, in the crossing between Stravinsky and Beyoncé or Steely Dan or Smash Mouth, all unlikely encounters that show an interest in the flagship ballet of the musical avant-garde and the search for stylistic fusion. The originality of the gesture lies in the choice of Le sacre du printemps and the ensuing process of desacralization.
Above, a Cubist mashup portrait of Stravinsky by Albert Gleizes from 1914, the year after Le sacre’s premiere (WikiArt, public domain); below, the video mashups in question.
Each man was curious about the other’s culture, but the situation was unbalanced. The visitor was in a position to gain a fairly objective view of the world of his host, although the situation was far too restrictive to allow in-depth research.
On the other hand, while the shōgun could order his guests to perform for his entertainment—to dance, sing, and so on—he did not know whether or not the information that he gained thereby was reliable. For example, when Kaempfer complied with the order to sing a song and was subsequently asked for a translation of the text, he responded that it expressed his deep wish for the health and prosperity of the shōgun and his family.
This according to “Exoticism and multi-emics: Reflections upon an earliest record of culture contact between Japan and Europe” by Osamu Yamaguchi, an essay included in Music cultures in interaction: Cases between Asia and Europe (Tōkyō: Academia Music, 1994, pp. 243–248; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-35931).
Above, a version of the map that Kaempfer brought back from Japan in 1692 (click to enlarge); below, the opening movement of Manzai raku (Ten thousand years of music), an example of the bugaku genre that was flourishing in Japanese courts at the time.
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