Monday, April 7, 2014

You never know....

This weekend, my husband and I went to see a film in the Dallas International Film Festival. (My husband was a cinematography major in college and went to film school with the director of this particular film.) The plot of "Flutter" centers around a mother and her imaginative young son who suffers from a medical condition. Each time the boy's condition worsens, she soothes him by giving him his medicine and then singing him a lullaby. The moment she started singing, I recognized the song from my Kodaly certification classes. Even though I learned a different variant, it was a version of "All the Pretty Little Horses," a beautiful, haunting melody dating back (possibly) to the time of slavery. Here is the variant that I learned:

Even though I haven't taught this song to my classes in years, I have taught it in the past and I can remember singing it to my son. (I tried any and all lullabies during his marathon crying sessions!) I've always liked it.

I don't know if there is a clip out there of the variant used in the movie, but my wonderful fine arts director (and folk song teacher from my Kodaly class) found this source and the words themselves seem to look a lot more like the ones used in the movie.

Anyway, after the movie was over, the director and all the actors came out for a Q&A. (They were all amazing in this film, and as a fan of Breaking Bad, I'll admit it was really cool to be just a few feet away from Jesse Plemons!) Someone from the audience asked the significance of the song and the director replied that he used it because it was a lullaby. Nothing much else to it besides that. The audience member then added something that I thought was interesting; he said, "One interpretation of that song is that it was about a mother trying to kill her child." This really caught my attention and I immediately felt like this wasn't quite right. I thought he either was trying to give meaning to the plot where there was none....or he was mixing it up with another song. The director didn't know anything about that either (and he did seem to know the history of the song). I remembered learning more along the lines of what the source above says.

I went to my phone and did a little bit of searching but didn't find much to support that idea. (And that's when I asked for some help and was given that previous source.) So that definitely makes me curious...I wish I had seen who asked that question! Where did that information come from? The history and meanings of folk songs can be very elusive, interesting and difficult to pin down. There is always conflicting information depending on the source.

This whole event (though certainly not a matter of life and death or $1M in prize money) reminded me of how valuable my music education has been to me. Who knew that the knowledge of folk music from my Kodaly certification would come in handy while attending DIFF? I felt so nerdy for knowing exactly what they were talking about when I thought I would be lost during an independent film discussion. :)

Do you know anything about the history of "All the Pretty Little Horses" that you can share? What folk song history/meanings do you enjoy sharing with your students?

1 comment :

  1. Allen Lomax found another verse that goes like this:

    Way down yonder
    In de medder
    There's a po' lil lambie,
    De bees an' de butterflies
    Peckin' out its eyes,
    De po' lil lambie cried, "Mammy!"

    The song is probably African/American and refers to a nanny taking care of her master's children at the expense of her own.

    source:Lomax, Alan. American Ballads and Folksongs. Mineola: Dover Publishing, 1994. (p. 304-305)

    In Konnie Saliba's book "Forgotten Treasures" the song appears as an Alabama folk song.