An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section H3)


High Level Ranters traditional band from Newcastle, England, who took their name from that city’s High Level Bridge (which isn’t far from the High Level Folk Club). They specialise in songs and tunes from the north of England. One of the members is Alistair Anderson, concertina and Northumbrian pipe player extraordinaire (see bagpipes).

high lonesome the "high lonesome sound" is a vocal styling in Appalachian music - a high-pitched solo or harmony. It would be impossible to notate, and has to be learned from its practitioners. Holcomb, Roscoe is a good example of the solo style.

high string guitar (also "high strung") a guitar strung with the lighter six strings of a 12-string, or a 12-string from which the heavier gauge strings have been removed. The tone is light but penetrating and ideally suited to lead.

high strung see high string guitar.

Highwaymen another of the fresh-scrubbed folk groups that sprang up in the 60s folk revival. They had a number-one hit with "Michael" in the fall of 1961, and popularized "Cottonfields" and "Gypsy Rover". At present (1994) there is another group called the Highwaymen, no relation to the above - see Kristofferson, Kris.

Hill, Joe a songwriter for the IWW (see also union songs). He was executed for a murder in 1915, although the circumstances were in doubt. His suspicious death resulted in the song "Joe Hill" ("I never died, said he"). It has become a marching song advising perseverance to union members.

hillbilly these days, the word is seen as disparaging and displays the naivete of the speaker. It was used quite a lot in past years, usually referring to country or old-timey music.

hind (UK, also "hend", "heynd", "hynd", "hyn") noble, fine-looking, or a fine young fellow, as in the famous ship "The Golden Hind". It was used as either noun or adjective.

hinny (northern Eng., also "hinnie") friend, buddy, mate, lover. General-purpose term of affection.

Hinton, Sam (1917- ) a marine biologist and self-taught folksong expert, greatly knowledgable about every aspect of folklore. He began performing folk music in 1936 with guitar, vocal and harmonica. He has given many concerts at major festivals and has four albums on Folkways plus others on other labels.

HIP Historically Informed Performance - see period.

historical accuracy on the one hand, the collections show that a song can travel for 300 years or more with barely a change in the lyrics (but see communal origin, last paragraph). On the other, no balladmaker ever let facts get in the way of good drama. A.L. Lloyd noted that Jane Seymour, one of the wives of Henry VIII, gave birth naturally but died a few weeks later. The balladmakers thought that the story would be improved by having her die in the midst of a Caesarian section ("Do open my right side and find my baby"), and that’s how "The Death of Queen Jane" ( Child 170) goes. A good example of the balladmaker’s polishing is the beautifully-written "Lord Maxwell’s Last Goodnight" (Child 195). In 1608, Lord John Maxwell murdered the laird Sir James Johnstone, the culmination of a family feud. He knew he would have to flee the country to avoid prosecution. The song begins with his wife’s pleading: "Good my lord, will you stay here, about my father’s house?Walk into these gardens green, in my arms I’ll thee embrace.Ten thousand times I’ll kiss your mouth -Make sport and let’s be merry." Maxwell declines: "I have killed the laird Johnstone - I care not for the feud.My loyal heart did still incline, he was my father’s death.By day and night, I did pursue, all on him revenged to be,I thank you, Lady, for your kindness, but I may not stay with thee." He bids a sorrowful goodbye to his properties in Scotland, and then gives her a ring: "Now he has ta’en a good gold ring, where at hang signets three,Says ‘Take you this, my own dear love, and, aye, have mind of me.’" Maxwell’s friends meet to see him off into exile: "The wind was fair, the ship was clear, the good lord went away,The best part of his friends were there, to bid him fair convoy.They ate the meat and drank the wine, presenting in that good lord’s sight,Then he is over the flood so gray,Lord Maxwell’s ta’en his last goodnight." The power and beauty of the lyrics and the accompanying melodies have ensured that this song has lasted almost 400 years. It seems a shame to bring reality into it. Maxwell shot Johnstone in the back, according to contemporaneous accounts quoted by Child. The touching pleas of his wife are sheer invention: Maxwell started divorce proceedings against her, and she died before he left the country in 1608. In 1612 he returned to Scotland, where he was tried and beheaded (he was turned in by a member of his family). Perhaps the balladmaker was right in tampering with the story. Incidentally, the best version of "Lord Maxwell" you’ll ever hear is the June Tabor version on her "Ashes and Diamonds" album, with the ballad’s new tune composed and played by John Gillaspie. The story of "The Gypsy Laddies" (also discussed in folk process and variant) provides a case in which a ballad, while largely fiction, has a foundation of truth. For centuries, the ballad was seen as a songmaker’s concoction, but recent evidence unearthed by musicologist Sigrid Rieuwerts of the University of Kent in 1991 shows that it contains quite a few kernels of truth. A quick recap of the song and all its many cousins: a band of Gypsies comes to the castle when the Earl is away. They lure his wife away (with hallucinogenic drugs - nutmeg, no less!) and are long gone when he gets home. He rides after them and has all the Gypsies hanged. In some variants, he doesn’t do anything, and the lady and her Gypsies live happily ever after. Child said that this was all a figment of someone’s imagination, and that the connection to the Earl of Cassilis (which he is in most of the earliest versions) is accidental, no doubt a confusion between "castle" and the Scottish pronunciation of "Cassilis", which is sometimes spelled "Cassilles". Ms Rieuwerts’ evidence goes like this: in 1609, the Scottish Parliament declared that Gypsies were to leave the country or face execution. A few years later, constituents of the Earl of Cassilis took him to task for not enforcing the law - Gypsies were living nearby and lowering the tone of the neighborhood. He complied by rounding up seven of them and having them hanged. One of them was named Johnny Faa, and sure enough, early versions of the ballad are called "Johnny Faa", and the number of Gypsies hanged is seven. However, there is no evidence one way or the other that the Earl’s wife was kidnapped. That part may or may not be dramatic embellishment. The name of the Earl varies. After about 1740, when Allan Ramsay published a version of the ballad in his "Tea-Table Miscellany", he became, variously, "Duglass", "Fyvie" and others. This, says Ms Rieuwerts, was to avoid giving a bad reputation to the Casillis family, who were still around at the time.

hobo songs the Depression of the 30s forced many people to live on the road, with trains being the prime transport. "Riding the rods" turns up in hobo songs all the time, and refers to clinging to the reinforcing rods under a freight car, a very hazardous means of travel (also known as "riding the blinds" - blinds were freight cars). Railroad "bulls" (police) are mentioned a great deal, usually in the context of throwing people off the freights. "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a classic hobo song in which the hobo dreams of the ideal land where the booze and food is free and "the railroad bulls are blind." Many of the hobo songs show brilliant turns of phrase, as in the black humor of "Jay Gould’s Daughter" (Jay Gould was an extremely wealthy financier): "Jay Gould’s daughter is a friend of mine,and that’s why I ride on his railroad line." Since so many people were out of work and homeless, there was a general tolerance for the hobo. Woody Guthrie’s "Hobo’s Lullaby" is a gentle, compassionate look at people at the mercy of economic conditions.

hocket (prob. from Fr. "hoquet") alternating rests and notes, staggered in the parts of medieval plainsong for dramatic effect (which didn’t always go over with management - see moldy figs).

hoddin (Scot.) coarse.

hoedown a community dance, usually featuring folk or squaredancing.

Hogmanay (Scot.) New Year’s Eve.

hog-rubber (UK) a wonderful term - someone employed to rub down hogs, or someone fit only for such employment.

Hoherlegung. (Schenker) see Coupling.

hokum blues today, the word "hokum" implies something that’s nonsensical, or insincere and superficial, but to blues musicians of the 20s and 30s, it meant a lighthearted, humorous approach to blues playing, with up-tempo instrumentals and light lyrics. Perhaps the musicians who took the blues seriously would have preferred the modern definition - compare with the been-down-so-long style of lyrics often found in the blues. See also Tampa Red.

hokum see hokum blues.

Holcomb, Roscoe (1913- ) traditionalist singer, guitarist and banjo player, Roscoe absorbed the folk music of western Kentucky where he was born. In 1959, John Cohen (see New Lost City Ramblers) discovered him and arranged for a Folkways recording. Since then, Roscoe has toured most major festivals, playing his folk and old-timey music. He has three solo albums on Folkways, plus two others with other artists. His vocal style has been called the high lonesome sound - a sound that’s intense, minimalist, and very powerful in its effect. It takes some getting used to for those unfamiliar with the tradition.

Hole in the Wall see Purcell, Henry.

Holiday, Billie (1915-1959) (Eleanora Fagan) "Lady Day" was one of the very best jazz singers of her time or any other. Songs of hers that ended up in the folk blues tradition include "God Bless the Child" and "Strange Fruit" (which was popularized by White, Josh). "Strange Fruit" (a song about lynching) was recorded in 1939 for Commodore Records, which must have taken a great deal of bravery in those days. Her autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues", was filmed in 1972 and starred Diana Ross as Billie.

hollers worksongs from the black agricultural workers, trackworkers, etc., of the US south (aka "field hollers", "arhoolies"). The workers were poorly paid, or convict labour - hardly more than slaves. The hollers are simple in structure and often have inventive imagery together with references to the difficulties of the life. An example is "Go Down, Old Hannah" (Hannah was a name for the sun): "Go down, old Hannah, and don’t you rise no more, (2x)And if you rise up in the morning,Won’t you set the world on fire." The songs are similar to the blues, but were sung unaccompanied. See also lining track.

Holy Ground an Irish sailor song and expression. According to O Lochlainn, Colm, the Holy Ground was the waterfront district of various cities, including New York.

Holy Modal Rounders originally an old-timey group, they moved to a more contemporary approach in the late 60s. The original members were Steve Weber (who had studied to enter the clergy - thus the group name) and Peter Stampfel, who is also the author of the lunatic songs "Random Canyon" and "Romping Through the Swamp". The group’s most famous work would be "If You Wanna Be a Bird" from the soundtrack of the 1969 film "Easy Rider".

Homer and Jethro a duo consisting of Ken ("Jethro") Burns (1923-1989) and Henry ("Homer") Haynes (1917-1971). They produced parodies of pop songs, such as "Battle of Kookamunga" (1959) and "Sink the Bismarck" (1960). Their hilarious parodies obscured the fact that Jethro Burns was one of the best mandolin players anywhere - he has been called the "Django Reinhardt of the mandolin".


homo-. (prefix) moving together.

homophonic a style of music, vocal and/or instrumental, that consists of a melody line supported by harmony lines; compare with polyphonic, of which it’s a subset. See also antiphonal, monophonic. Most folksongs are homophonic (or monophonic).

homophony. a type of polyphony with a predominate melody accompanied by chords.

homorhythm. all voice parts moving together in the same rhythm.

homorhythmic characterizing a tune with simple rhythms throughout. Also called isometric and chordal style. Most folksongs have simple rhythm (but see rubato).

honkytonk (also "honky-tonk") 1. A roadhouse or bar featuring entertainment. The term seems to have come from C&W (Webster’s says that it’s "of uncertain origin"). 2. A style of piano playing deriving from sense 1. Like the similar barrelhouse, it’s a term with a loose definition, but generally refers to the loud, vigorous approach you’d expect in a roadhouse atmosphere. In some instances, thumb tacks are inserted into the hammers to produce a loud, metallic sound ("tack piano"). 3. An all-purpose word used in lyrics: "Quit your honkytonkin’ ways."

hook (also "flag") in notation, the tail on the stem of a note to denote the time value.

Hooker, John Lee (191?- ) Mississippi and Detroit blues singer and guitarist. During the 50s, he made recordings that influenced many other blues and rhythm-and-blues musicians. He sometimes recorded as "Texas Slim". His 60s recordings and Newport Folk Festival appearances brought him a great deal of exposure to folk and pop fans (the Rolling Stones have recorded his material).

hoot a hootenanny.

hoot night used fairly often in the 60s and 70s to mean open stage.

hootenanny 1. An informal gathering of singers and musicians, similar to a jam or singaround; the word was popular in the 40s, 50s and 60s and was said to have been popularized by the Almanac Singers. The origin of the word is obscure. It predates its folk usage with the meaning of "gadget" or "thingmajig". Now rarely used, if at all. Sometimes spelled "hootnanny" or shortened to "hoot". 2. An ABC TV show in the early 60s, which caused a fuss among folkies by banning Pete Seeger (see blacklist).

Hopkins, Lightnin’ (1912- ) (Sam Hopkins) Texas blues singer and guitarist, widely influential on other blues pickers during the folk revival. He began recording in the late 40s and was quite successful, making hundreds of recordings through the 60s.

hornpipe a tune, generally used for dancing and generally played on the fiddle. Most are in 2/4 or 4/4 time, although the rhythmic grouping is what defines it, rather than just the time signature. The rhythm goes "diddle-diddle-diddle". See also reel, strathspey, and jig.

Hornpipe-The hornpipe is a rapid British dance that exists in various metres, triple, duple and quadruple. In its earlier English form it is found in the keyboard suites and stage music of the English composer Henry Purcell, and in keyboard and orchestral movements by Handel. It later came to be popularly associated particularly with sailors in the so-called Sailors' Hornpipe derived from a fiddle-tune.

Horn-The horn takes its name from the horn of an animal, the original form of this wind instrument in ancient times. The instrument was long associated with hunting and as a means of military signalling. The instrument now generally known as the French horn developed in France in its familiar helical form, but in one form or another the horn had come to be a frequent instrument in music for the church, the theatre and the chamber by the early 18th century. The natural horn was able to play the notes of the harmonic series, modified by the use of the right hand in the bell of the instrument, and in different keys by the use of different crooks that changed the length of the tube and hence the length of the air column. The valve horn was developed in the first quarter of the 19th century, its two and later three valves making variations possible in the length of tube and hence in the pitch of the fundamental and harmonic series stemming from it, but the natural horn continued in use at the same time. The double horn was developed in the late 19th century and is now in common use. Concertos for the French horn include the four concertos by Mozart. In the classical orchestra the two horns played a largely sustaining part. The modern orchestra normally has four French horns. The hunting associations of the horn led to its evocative use in Romantic music, as in Weber's opera Der Freischütz, and in the same composer's opera Oberon, in which the horn has a magic rôle to play.

horse a sailor’s debt - see Poor Old Horse.

hot licks see licks.

hotlist see Internet folk.

house concert a concert by a fairly well-known performer held in someone’s private home. The advantage is that you don’t have to book a formal stage; the disadvantage is that you can only get so many people in a house, so many have to miss out. The house concert is fairly common in folk music, where musicians might not have enough public draw to support the rental of a theater. See also kitchen music.

House, Son (1902-?) (Eddie James House) a country blues artist who first recorded for Paramount in 1930. Songs of his included "Dry Spell Blues" and "Preachin’ the Blues". Johnson, Robert said that he learned the blues by listening to Son House.

Houston, Cisco (1918-1961) (Gilbert Houston) a sidekick of Guthrie, Woody. He recorded a wide variety of American traditional songs, both for Asch, Moses and Vanguard Records. He travelled widely during the Depression years, working at various jobs and performing where he could, including clubs and radio stations. Before WWII, he teamed with Woody, and again after the war, with Leadbelly and Elliott, Jack. He was fairly successful in the folk revival, playing many venues in the US, India, and the UK, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1961.

How to Play the 5-string Banjo an instructional booklet and record produced by Seeger, Pete for Folkways in the 50s and still available from music stores. It influenced just about every 5-string banjo player in folk music.

Howlin’ Wolf (1910-1976) born Chester Burnett in Mississippi, Howlin’ Wolf played delta blues in the 30s and 40s. He moved to Chicago and began adapting the delta blues to electric instrumentation. Widely influential on blues players of today.

H-The letter H is used in German to denote the English note B, while B in German signifies the English B flat. In the use of the letters of a word to form a musical motif, the presence of H allows a complete musical version of the name BACH (B flat - A - C - B = German: B - A - C - H), used by various composers, including Liszt. The Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich uses a musical cryptogram derived from the first letters of his name in German, DSCH, which becomes D - Es (= E flat) - C - H. This occurs in a number of his works as a kind of musical signature.

Hudson Dusters a short-lived electric group that backed Van Ronk, Dave in the late 60s.

Hugill, Stan (1906-1992) English sailor, "the last real shantyman from the golden age of sail". He was an expert on songs of the sea and his books are an authoritative reference source for information on shanties. His books include "Shanties from the Seven Seas" and "Sailortown, Songs of the Sea". He was also a performer at British folk clubs and international festivals.

Humoresque-Schumann was the first composer to use the title Humoreske for a relatively long work for piano, the humour of the title used rather in the sense of a mood of one sort or another. The word later came to indicate very much shorter pieces, such as the well known G flat Humoresque by Dvorák, one of a set of eight.

humour no folk jokes for you, but in the Irish tradition, a humour is an instrumental tune that can be a jig, reel, hornpipe, etc. Typical usage is "The Humours of Ballyconnell". The name is used in much the same way as air. See also fiddle tunes. Sorry about the lack of jokes. There’s a good story about how classical music can go through the folk process, though. There’s a well-known Bach piece called, these days, "Sheep May Safely Graze". Because of the word association (sheep - safely - shepherd - the Lord is my shepherd, etc), and because Bach was known for sacred music, it usually ends up in "inspirational" or Christmas collections. In fact, it’s from the "Birthday" Cantata (BWV 208), which Bach wrote for the birthday of the Duke of Weimar in honor of his hunting ability! The original "Was mir behagt" goes on to say "My only delight is the merry chase." The English version is certainly accurate - it might well have said "He won’t shoot any cows".

hurdie (Scot.) buttocks.

hurdy gurdy an ancient instrument, held in the lap or suspended from a neckstrap. Looking something like a model of an old sailing ship without masts, it has a handle at one end that turns an internal wheel that is covered in rosin. Keys operated by the player’s left hand depress various strings onto this wheel; there is another string that drones permanently (some models have sympathetic strings). The sound is best described as a cross between the fiddle and the bagpipes. It’s a favorite of street musicians, although in the 17th and 18th centuries it was taken quite seriously - Haydn wrote for it. It’s occasionally confused with the portable barrel organ, which is more like a player piano in that it requires no skill. The origin of the term may annoy its fans and delight its detractors: it appears to be from the Scots term "hirdy-girdy", meaning an "uproar". Occasionally you might hear players who take it a bit too seriously calling it a "vielle a roue", which has a rather high cringe factor, even if it is the French for "wheel fiddle". 2.Hurdy-Gurdy-A boxed, lute-like instrunment used by street musicians which is played by turning a crank attached to resined wheel which scrapes the strings producing sound. The hurdy gurdy has a drone string that is sounded continuously by the rotating wheel, but might have four other strings that sound through sympathetic resonance.

Hurt, John (1892-1966) Mississippi John Hurt made some race records of vocal and guitar in the 30s and then retired from active playing. He was rediscovered in the early 60s and was an instant hit at folk festivals, charming everyone with his warmth and humor. His fingerpicking guitar style directly or indirectly influenced every guitar player in folk music. His nickname, "Uncle John", is apt, but might sound condescending to some (it’s not meant to be). There probably isn’t a picker or singer from the time who doesn’t know at least one of his songs ("Creole Belle", "Richland Women", "Coffee Blues", "Louis Collins", "Candyman Blues" and many others).

Hutchings, Ashley one of the founding members of British electric folk. He was in the original Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and left to form the Albion Band. He can be found as a bass player on just about every folk-rock recording of the 70s.

Hymn-A hymn is a song of praise, whether to a god, saint or hero. The plainchant hymn has a place in the Divine Office. In Protestant Christian worship, where the hymn assumed considerable importance, after the chorales of Martin Luther and his followers, the metrical homophonic form dominated.

hyper said of a performer who is over-enthusiastic and altogether much too fast and loud. This is usually due to stage fright or the bar band effect. Its opposite number can be quite funny. Performers who make a living singing for schoolchildren will often launch into a first set for adults as if they were still in a classroom. Spoken slowly and clearly: "Let’s all sing this together and clap our hands!" It takes a few songs or a visit to the beer tent before they gear up again.

Hz. Abbreviation for Hertz