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The <Amazing > Digital Tradition

Some while back I wrote about folk music on the World Wide Web, and one of the resources I mentioned was The Digital Tradition, a song book that allows you to type in the title or some words from a song and then delivers to your computer screen the words of the song and quite often the tune.

Since then I have quizzed this song book a number of times mostly with great success. Recently I received an email request from someone in New York for the name of a song that was "about a cripple and mentions Waltzing Matilda" and to my amazement (and his) was able to reply with not only the name but the words of the song and notes about it, simply by typing "the band played" into The Digital Tradition search box.

When you do a search usually a number of titles appear for you to choose from. If there is a dot besides the title then you get music as well as words.

Of course Eric Bogle is known internationally so maybe I shouldn't have been so impressed. However when I typed "Tritton" I got the words and music of "Shearing in a Bar". So that's what they mean by global village! Next I tried some collectors, "Meredith" I typed:

Sure enough in the notes to the third song there is mention of Australian collectors John Meredith and Hugh Anderson:

Recorded by Ed Trickett 

on "The Telling Takes Me Home", FSI-46.

"I learned this lullaby of warning from Mike Cohen in 1963. He mentionedthat the song, or one similar to it, could be heard in the 1930's movie "Captains Courageous," which starred Spencer Tracy. I could not find the words from the movie version, but it was called "Manuel's love song" in the film and was written by Gus Kahn and Franz Waxman. The words I song are, I believe, a combination of traditional and written ones, with the tune and the chorus being very similar to that found in Meredith and Anderson's "Folksongs of Australia" in their song "The Little Fish." They report the song to be Portuguese in origin, but fairly widely known in North Queensland, Australia."

After that I tried song writers. I chose Harry Robertson who died earlier this year (May 15th 1995)

This place is a gold mine, I thought, and spent a deal of time testing The Digital Tradition against my own knowledge and interest in songs.

Each search filled me with surprise and admiration. So far The Digital Tradition has over 5000 songs and it grows at a rate of some 300 a month. It's a formidable library of songs and music. So far as I can make out it's entirely free and you can down load the whole collection onto your own computer (DOS, Unix or Macintosh) if you have 10 MB of hard disk to spare.

One thing I forgot to mention, this massive song book will play the tunes for you. It uses a notation program called SongWright and you can alter the tempo and volume , as well as choose the instrument you want to hear. It will even play MIDI versions of the tunes. As you play a tune the words of the song follow the notes playing like that bouncing ball on the TV. You can print the words and music too.

Among the folklore I discovered the full text of "Come be a soldier for Marlboro and Me" one of the contenders for precursors of "Waltzing Matilda". It has the chorus:

Who'll be a soldier for Marlboro and me? Who'll 

be a soldier, who'll be a soldier Who'll be a soldier for Marlboro and me And 

he sang as he marched through the crowded streets of Rochester Who'll be a soldier 

for Marlboro and me

Also a song I'd not come across before "Strike The Bell Second Mate" which like "Click Go The Shears" uses the tune of "Ring The Bell Watchman". Or is it the other way round? In any case it has a number of verses with familiar rings to them like this one:

Aft at the wheelhouse 

old Anderson stands, Graspin' at the helm with his frostbitten hands, Lookin' 

at the compass through the course is clear as hell And he's wishin' that the second 

mate would strike, strike the bell.

The Digital Tradition encourages people to become more than "mere users" and is eager for you to send them more songs

If I had to choose my favourite songbook it would be Digital Tradition


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory