Monday, March 10, 2008

Song of the Week: Erie Canal


It's understandable to think that "Erie Canal" is a folk song, as it is a solid fixture in American music. In his Spinning Wheel interview, Robert Resnik said it was the song that never got old. Some websites that have lyrics to this song will say that it's "traditional," and provide no author. However, one person did indeed write this song, and his name is Thomas S. Allen. Allen wrote "Erie Canal," also known as "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," in 1905, after mules were replaced by motors to move the barges. The song is about the mule-barges that hauled goods to different towns in the state of New York during the 1800's. Allen wrote four verses to the song, but today, we usually just sing the first two.

Here's a MIDI for the song. Lots of musicians have covered "Erie Canal" and provided their own harmonic flourishes. So far, my favorite is Susanne Vega's version off of Dan Zanes' Rocket Ship Beach. The most easily found chords on the internet are in E minor. I give them to you in A minor. If it's a challenge for you to get from A minor to D minor in that first line, then feel free to leave out the C chord. I added it because I thought it sounded good. (Think of C major and A minor as "cousins." This also goes for G major and E minor.) Note also that the chords for the word "Buffalo" are sung/played "[E] Buffa- [Am] lo [G] -o."


Click on the image to enlarge it

11 comments:

Minh Le said...

Hey, last month we named our trusty Honda Civic Sal, after this song! (After all the moving and hauling stuff up and down the coast, she definitely proved to be a good old worker and a good old pal.)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Minh: Cool! We named our car "Pandora," as finally getting a car after all these years of not having one opened up a box of woes we'd endeavored to keep shut.;) By the way, I hope you appreciate that chording this song in Am instead of Em means you get to avoid the B7.

Lone Star Ma said...

I got a mule, her name is Sal...I remember that song from my elementary school music class!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

LSM: That's where I learned it, too. We had weekly music classes.

Lone Star Ma said...

I think we did, too, but we mostly only ever sang. We learned lots of cool songs, though!

adrienne said...

I love, love, love this song and will now be singing it for the rest of the day. (I will sing it LOUDER when I drive over the Erie Canal on my way home.)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Adrienne: You actually drive over the Erie Canal! Sing it loud, Sister.:)

Library Lady said...

I grew up in New York City in the late 60s and "The Erie Canal" was a song we sang in school. I think my mom sang it too--she was a "red diaper baby" sort. And whenever we go to visit friends in the Mohawk Valley and cross the canal, I sing it for my kids.

I like Pete Seeger's version best, but then he's one of my music touchstones. And Peter Spier did a wonderful picture book of the song, though i fear it's out of print.

Chris said...

I had that book as a kid. I recently got back all my old books for my kids, so I'll check if it's there.

psyco said...

I just ran across this looking for lyrics. I used to also sing this song in my elementary school-niagara on the erie barge canal. 4th-5th and 6th grades all looked out over the canal in the school.

Saints and Spinners said...

Hi Psyco, Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on this post! I hope that the post was helpful to you. How lovely to look out over a canal in school (or so I imagine).

--Farida/Alkelda