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The Sounds of Spring

April 27, 2016

By Andrea Parmentier

Despite April’s snowy start, warmth has settled in Wisconsin at last. The sun is shining, flowers blooming, birds singing, and every other springtime cliché you can think of. In honor of the season, I looked into what our Wisconsin elders had to say about spring. To find out, I turned to the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, 1937-1946. It is composed of two collections of song recordings, notes, and photographs – one created by UW Madison faculty member Helene Stratman-Thomas and one by Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Resettlement Administration. The collection’s music can be listened to online or in person in the Mills Music Library. I listened online to a host of interesting songs.

My favorite song I found — “One morning, one morning, one morning in spring” — is an aptly named song about marriage and spring mornings, sung to us by Mrs. Ollie Jacobs. Mrs. Jacobs lived in Pearson, WI and sang a number of ballads from Kentucky for the collection. Listen to the song here. Mrs. Jacobs can be seen in the image to the left, which can also be found here in our digital collections.

Jacobs sings of a young woman of 14 who wishes to get married (one morning in spring). She is cautioned to wait 7 years before she ties the knot to be sure she is truly in love and avoid a sticky end. But she rejects those cautions, and plans for her wedding next Sunday. I love the rolling quality of the tune and the hope and assurance of the young woman looking forward to her wedding.

Tyrolean zither player Albert Mueller, his mother, and recording technician Robert Draves
Tyrolean zither player Albert Mueller, his mother, and recording technician Robert Draves

Another hopeful tune is “Fruhlingslied” (or, “Spring came to the mountains and took the snow away”), performed on the stringed instrument the zither by Albert Mueller. Listen to the song here.

The gentle tune has a rolling, repeating quality that reminds me of carousels and music boxes. Mueller and his family are from Tyrol, an Austrian state in the Alps. One can imagine the green slopes of the Alps in spring, freed from their burden of snow, as one listens to this short tune. (For you Sound of Music fans, there is also a recording of Mueller performing “Edelweiss” worth checking out.)

There are many other interesting and fun songs in the collection. Explore more of Jacobs’, Mueller’s, and others’ recordings here.