notes on Sally’s instruments etc

Sally played a Mezon Grand Organ melodeon in A “tuned to about A=429 not A=440” and “near the end of its days” [Meredith]. In later years she played a Hohner one-row melodeon in G.

The mouth organ and fiddle also sound slightly ‘flat’ on Merro’s tapes, which might be an artifact of the old cassette tape recordings.

Sally learnt many of her fiddle tunes by following her mother’s singing: “She’d sing the notes and then I’d finger it”  source: Warren Fahey’s 1976 interview with Sally

“She got strings on her fiddle and she said she’d play some tunes for me. And that was rather remarkable ’cause she hadn’t played for several years and she just picked it up and rattled off a couple of lovely little jigs, hornpipes and things … and about the same time she played some mouth organ pieces”

source: John Meredith

“Sally’s moothie style is certainly one of the styles that you might have heard from a trad player in England or Scotland. She’s playing a tremolo instrument, and has a pronounced vamp that I think is probably achieved by tongue-blocking (though it’s possible to be mistaken about this.) She certainly knew what she was doing on the instrument (which was probably designed to be played in this way), since it’s a technique that requires a certain amount of practice to develop.”  source: email from Steve Harrison 2016

Further explanations regarding transcriptions

Sally sometimes intentionally extended a long note (perhaps as a pause?), which would then turn the usual 8 bar phrase into nine bars. In my transcriptions I’ve edited these held notes to conform to the standard 8 bar phrases, but she would’ve played as she did for a very good reason. These long notes never interfere with the strong rhythm of her playing.

I initially transcribed the tunes Sally played on melodeon as they sounded, in the key of [low] G. I then transposed the tunes into the keys of C or D  as one-row boxes in these keys are more common in bush music sessions nowadays.  The fingering used on a one-row melodeon in C or D would be the same as Sally used on her Mezon melodeon in A but the tune would play in a different key.

The pitch of a tune played by a traditional button box player would vary, depending on the instrument at hand. Fiddle players could retune their instruments to play along with a button box or concertina, while a good piano player could vary their chordal accompaniment as required.

When playing the fiddle, Sally tended to play song melodies at a lower pitch to better suit her singing voice while dance tunes were often played on the higher strings.

Introduction to Australian Folk Music

David de Santi has written a good overview of the context for Sally Sloane’s music and the ongoing tradition in Australia. I hope more musicians will gain insights and a better understanding of our traditional music through listening to the original recordings of these old musicians who are no longer with us.

Personal reflections

Now that we can easily listen to these original recordings of tunes and songs from the aural tradition played in NSW a century or more ago, I believe more musicians will be able to appreciate the vitality and rhythm of the old ‘bush’ players and hopefully be encouraged to learn and perform this music. Many of the tunes I’ve transcribed from Sally’s playing are rarely heard these days and some had been forgotten in England but were then rediscovered in tunebooks dating from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Other tunes she played were the “pop music” of her time but apparently much of this repertoire wasn’t noted or recorded by John Meredith.

Sally didn’t read written sheet music but she possessed a very retentive aural memory. Presumably this is the way she was taught songs and tunes in her youth, and would account for the accuracy of her performances when compared with historic published sources.

To quote Roger Covell (Professor of Music at the University of NSW) in the Introduction to Vol.2 of Meredith’s Folk Songs of Australia:

“The piece, in other words, is to some extent inseparable from the person who performed it at the time it was collected. … The long-term consequence of this is that its material and the field tapes from which it derives can never date or be superseded, though interpretation of that material may well change from generation to generation.”