Pop Goes the Weasel

Find traditional instrumental music
Jump to: navigation, search

X: 1 T:Pop Goes the Weasel S:R. Hughes MS, RHu.112, 1823, Whitchurch, Shrops. A:Whitchurch , Shropshire Z:Neil Brookes 2007 M:6/8 L:1/8 R:Jig B:Village Music project, Hughes, Richard F:http://www.village-music-project.org.uk/abc/HughesR.abc K:G G2B AcA|BdB AFD|G2B AcA|B3"cr in MS"G3:|! |:gfg efg|agf def|gfg efg|f3"cr in MS"d3|! gfg efg|afd d2B|G2B AcA|B3G3:|

POP GOES THE WEASEL. English, American, Canadian; Reel or Country Dance Tune (6/8 time). USA; Maine, New Hampshire, New York State, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Arizona. England, Shropshire. G Major (most versions): D Major (Burchenal). Standard tuning (fiddle). One part (Bronner, Burchenal, Shaw): AB (S. Johnson, Kennedy, Raven, Sweet): ABB (Jarman): AABB (Adam, Ashman, Karpeles, Pepper, Robbins, Ruth, Sharp). There are various theories regarding the meaning of the title, however, the 'weasel' was a metal tool used by hat makers in England. Originally the term popped meant 'pawned' in England; thus the title indicates a tradesman who was so down on his luck he would need to pawn his tools (Fuld, Randolph). Reginald Nettle, in his book Sing a Song of England (1954) deciphers one verse of the song that goes with the tune in this context:

Up and down the City Road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes;
Pop goes the weasel.

“There is no sham in the song,” writes Nettle, “vulgar though it may be. The Eagle in the City Road, London, was a music-hall, a centre for inebriation and popular song. Like so many satirical poems originally intended for adults, it now remains to us as a children’s song. Anyway, it did no harm” (p. 232). A version was included in the 1850 music manuscript collection of shoemaker and fiddler William Winters (West Bagborough, Somerset, southwest England), one of many in English musicians' ms. collections.

A version was included by Sliabh Luachra, Munster, Ireland, musician D. Curtin in his mid-19th century music manuscript collection (No. 19, p. 8 [1]). "Pop Goes the Weasel" is also contained in the music manuscript collection[1] of fiddler and piper Stephen Grier (c. 1824-1894), of County Leitrim.

In America, however, the implement meaning of ‘weasel’ was lost, and it was generally thought to refer to an animal. Linscott (1939) maintains the tune was once an accompaniment to a dance or old English singing game and was popular with children as far back as the early 17th century. He claims the origin is unknown, but that it was introduced in New England as a contra dance and "remains a great favorite." A dance called Pop Goes the Weasel appears in the Essex Manuscript, c. 1830 commonplace book with dance figures (housed at the Early Music Collection of the Essex Institute). In fact, although the melody is assumed to have some antiquity, it was possibly first published under the title "Pop Goes the Weasel" in London in March, 1853 (as an "old English dance"), though American versions have been found also published in 1853 (Fuld, 1971). Bayard (1981) identifies his unusual Pennsylvania collected versions as being derived from the 19th century English popular ditty, though he demurs in printing the standard sets he encountered saying "the printings of it must be innumerable." Burchenal prints the dance of the same name in her New England collection along with the tune. Page and Tolman state in their Country Dance Book that "The Devil hates holy water no less than the Yankees hate the thought of Pop Goes the Weasel done as anything but a contry (sic)" (p. 94). The melody has wide currency in America as a play-party song as well as a song and fiddle tune and was known to the minstrel stage.

“Pop” has often been mentioned in print and frequently recorded in American culture. It was a favorite piece of both armies in the American Civil War, and, for example, appeared in Boston publisher Elias Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor (1861). It was recorded for the Library of Congress by musicologist/folklorist Vance Randolph, from Ozarks Mountains fiddlers in the early 1940's. African-American fiddler Cuje Bertram (Cumberland Plateau region, Kentucky) recorded the tune on a home recording made in 1970 for his family; with interesting melodic variations. “Pop” was cited as having commonly been played for Orange County, New York, country dances in the 1930's (Lettie Osborn, New York Folklore Quarterly) and at Arizona dances at the turn of the century (Shumway, 1990). It was in the repertoire of Buffalo Valley, Pa., region dance fiddler Harry Daddario in the mid-20th century. The tune was listed in the Northwest Alabamian of August 29, 1929, as one of those likely to be played at an upcoming fiddlers' convention and by the Tuscaloosa News of March 28, 1971 as a specialty of "Monkey" Brown of that city, who competed at fiddlers' contests in the 1920's and 30's (Cauthen, 1990). The melody was listed as one in the repertoire of Maine fiddler Mellie Dunham (the elderly Dunham was Henry Ford's champion fiddler in the late 1920's), and it was in the repertoire of West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, in her popular children’s book Little House in the Big Woods, mentions the tune in a short passage:

For a special birthday treat, Pa played "Pop Goes the Weasel" for her. He sat with Laura and Mary close against his knees while he played. "Now watch," he said. "Watch, and maybe you can see the weasel pop out this time". . . Laura and Mary bent close, watching, for they knew now was the time. "Pop! (said Pa's finger on the string) Goes the weasel! (sang the fiddle, plain as plain.)" But Laura and Mary hadn't seen Pa's finger make the string pop. "Oh, please, please, do it again!" they begged him.

“Pop Goes the Weasel” was whistled during the practicing of the morris dance All the Winds, although the dance is done to the rattle of the bones (Raven, 1984, p. 92).

“Pop Goes the Weasel” was the vehicle for many virtuoso and comic fiddler’s to display their prowess on the instrument. The famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (1810–1880) is said to have performed a very flashy, gymnastic, virtuoso version of the melody as part of his act, which consisted mainly of his own compositions and Norwegian folk songs. He toured the United States in 1843, returning four more times, and became a very influential musician in areas where better musicians were seldom heard (see note for “Ole Bull Hornpipe”). American fiddlers also played the piece as a ‘trick’ fiddle showcase: "The tune was one that fiddlers across the South delighted in playing at contests. It was customary to begin with the violin held in a normal position, then, upon reaching the word 'Pop' in the song to pluck a string and shift the instrument to a radically different position, swiftly and smoothly, without losing a beat of the music. The more contorted the position and the smoother the transition, the louder the applause" (Cauthen, p. 137).

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Adam (Old Time Fiddlers Favorite Barn Dance Tunes), St. Louis, 1928; No. 1, p. 3. Ashman (Ironbridge Hornpipe), 1991; No. 37b, p. 12. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 631A–C, p. 553. A.S. Bowman (J.W. Pepper Collection of Five Hundred Reels, Jigs, etc.), Phila., 1908; No. 131, p. 28. Bronner (Old Time Music Makers of New York State), 1987; No. 16, p. 79. Burchenal (American Country Dances, vol. 1), 1918; p. 22. Cazden (Dances from Woodland), 1945; p. 5. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 24 (in 6/8 time). Ford (Traditional Music of America), 1940; p. 40. Elias Howe (Musician's Omnibus No. 1), Boston, 1863; p. 42. Jarman (The Cornhuskers Book of Square Dance Tunes), 1944; p. 17. S. Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 6: Jigs), 1982 (revised 1989, 2001); p. 1. Karpeles & Schofield (A Selection of 100 English Folk Dance Airs), 1951; p. 4. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book, vol. 1), 1951; No. 39, p. 20. J. Kenyon Lees (Balmoral Reel Book), Glasgow, 1910; p. 27. Linscott (Folk Songs of Old New England), 1939; p. 108. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 166. Robbins Music Corp. (The Robbins collection of 200 jigs, reels and country dances), New York, 1933; No. 54, p. 18. Ruth (Pioneer Western Folk Tunes), 1948; No. 3, p. 3. Sharp (Country Dance Tunes), 1890; p. 5. Shaw (Cowboy Dances), 1943; p. 393. Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 17. Thomas & Leeder (The Singin' Gatherin'), 1939; p. 88.

Recorded sources : - Maggie’s Music MMCD222, Bonnie Rideout – “Scottish Fire” (2000). Edden Hammons Collection, Disc 2. PearlMae Muisc 004-2, Jim Taylor – “The Civil War Collection” (1996. Converted into a 4/4 reel).

See also listing at :
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]

Back to Pop Goes the Weasel

(0 votes)

  1. Stephen Grier music manuscript collection, Book 3, c. 1883, No. 133, p. 46)