Oh Dear Mother What Shall I Do?

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O DEAR MOTHER/MINNIE WHAT SHALL I DO? AKA - "O dear Minnie, what shall I do?" Scottish, Slow Air (3/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The melody appears in Allan Ramsay's ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd (1725), Theophilus Cibber's Scotch ballad opera Patie and Peggy (1730, Air V), and in James Oswald's Curious Collection of Scots Tunes (c. 1739) {as the first air in a sonata, each movement of which is based on a Scots traditional tune}, and his Caledonian Pocket Companion (1760), vols. i, iii (in an air-jig-reel setting) and viii (1756), and in McGibbon (Scots Tunes, Book 1, 1746, p. 11). Sir Walter Scott's song "March, March, Ettrick and Teviotdale" was, according to J. Farquhar Graham, taken from this song. Bayard (1981) dates the tune to "at least" the first decade of the 18th century. From this tune derived (c. 1740's) "Blue Bonnets Over the Border (1)," a jig, and later in the century, the reel "Braes of Auchtertyre (1)." From this later tune the American old-time breakdown "Billie/Billy in the Lowground (1)" developed.

There is some difference of opinion on the origins of this tune. Gow (Complete Repository, vol. 1, p. 20) believes that this tune was derived from the duple time "Braes of Auchtertyre [1]," while Johnson-Stenhouse (2 Vols.--The Scots Musical Museum and Stenhouse's Illustrations of the Lyric Poetry and Music of Scotland, 1853 {reprint 1962}, p. 233) asserts it is the other-way-round, and that the 4/4 tune evolved out of the 3/4 one. Bayard (1981) agrees with Stenhouse. In his article "A Miscellany of Tune Notes" (Studies in Folklore, pp. 166-168), Samuel Bayard, discusses the melody and its history of derivatives. He cites Oswald's Pocket Companion (c. 1760), vol. III, for its printing of "Oh dear mother what shall I do" with variations, the last of which Bayard identifies as 'essentially' the jig-time (6/8) "Blue Bonnets" tune. He credits Oswald with recomposing the older air and giving it new life as a brisk 6/8 time tune. A variant of Oswald's recomposed tune was printed by the Gows in 1818 in Beauties of Niel Gow, Part First), p. 12) with the title "Blue Bonnets Over the Border (1)," although the tempo specified was again slowed down (it is marked "Slow with exprn."). R.A. Smith (The Scottish Minstrel, 1820-24, V, 10) printed another close variant of the Oswald tune, again under the "Blue Bonnet" title (as the vehicle for Scott's song "March, March, Ettrick and Teviotdale"), marked to be played "With spirit". This latter tune Graham called the 'modern air'. Bayard concludes that the 'folk process' was at work, with Oswald's quick-time re-composition of an older air becoming itself traditional. The original title was lost, to be replaced by a familiar floating title (which goes to at least two other melodies).

Another branch of the old "Oh dear mother" tune, according to Bayard, stems from another tune in a Gow publication, a reel entitled "Braes of Auchtertyre (1)" in Complete Repository of Original Scots Slow Strathspey and Dances, vol. 1 (1799). See note for "Braes of Auchtertyre (1)" for more.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes, vol. 2), 2005; p. 96. Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; No. 78, p. 157. McGibbon (Scots Tunes, Book 1), 1746; p. 11. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion Book 1), 1760; p. 9. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion Book 3), 1760; p. 10.

Recorded sources:




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