365 DotU, Day 91 is NOT a Zeppelin cover

Sad, I know. I’m sure that you will eventually be able to smile again, though, when your sorrow is done. Buck up there, Li’l Skippy!

Today’s offering is, however, a tune with the same name as a Zep song: Over the Hills and Far Away. The tune itself is traditional, and has a host of different lyrics and settings. I have to admit that while I had heard it before, it really only caught my attention when I heard the version the marvelous British folk musician John Tams recorded for one of my favorite television series, the Sharpe films (based on Bernard Cornwell’s series of novels). Tams also played Rifleman Daniel Hagman in those films, and did a lovely job of it. The song is the major theme for the series, and it gets used to excellent effect as march, romantic theme, dirge, whatever you need. It’s a brilliant bit of music as Tams does it, and I adore it. (Here’s a slightly different version from the film soundtrack (I think), and here’s the march proper from a different performer.)

I really like the song, but it’s not really a song I can sing. It’s the sort of song that needs a voice like Tams’ or the chorus of a whole rifle regiment singing, and that has a place and time that belong to it (a place and time that couldn’t possibly be further away from my experience). A lot of old songs can be that way — they make the most sense when sung in a certain context (marching, sitting ’round the campfire, sitting in the pub, hanging around the house at the end of the day, working, celebrating something, having a party, whatever), and when divorced from that context become sort of…strange. There’s a reason why, I think, that authentic sit-around-and-jam playing of a song comes off as more powerful sometimes than formally arranged playing-for-an-audience, especially when it comes to folk forms and traditional tunes. These songs are a part of a form of life (to pull out some Wittgenstein for y’all, in a fashion), and when the assumption is made that music is music and can be played and arranged any which way one pleases, something important is changed or lost.

Naturally, I have done here just the sort of thing I think I shouldn’t — I’ve pulled a traditional song (a rifle brigade’s march, in fact, before Tams got hold of it) out of its proper context and made something else of it. ;) In this case, I did a simple instrumental recording, using an octave mandolin and 3 violin tracks to create some Variations on Over The Hills and Far Away. Actually, it occurred to me while I was recording it that I could layer the whole tune even further, but I decided to leave it as-is and try something clever with it some other time.

I’m not much of a composer or arranger, so the violin bits get fussy; this is what happens when one part is entirely improvised. Ultimately, I tried to keep this one pretty simple. I recorded a guitar bit and a sort of descant on a fourth violin track, but in the end I decided that they were just too much more noise. The song itself is plaintive and sweet in its simplest form.

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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