Old joe clark

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A History-Music Lesson for Classroom Teachers

Diane Whitney

July 17, 2008

The Research:

Old Joe Clark is an easy-to-play, well-known fiddle tune that is included in repertoires of both Bluegrass & Old-Time players in many different places. Researchers have found a variety of origins of this tune, all of which are based on the lives of some real Joe Clarks in Virginia, Kentucky & Maryland. Old Joe Clark may even have started out as a ballad which then later became a popular fiddle tune, instead of the lyrics being added to an already existing fiddle tune. Recordings in 1924 by Fiddlin' Powers Family and in 1926 by the Skillet Lickers were the 3rd & 4th best selling country recordings during those years. http://melbay.com/mandolinsessions/feb07/Anthony.html
Mike Seeger is quoted as saying that the story comes from Rockbridge Co, Va. Joe Clark’s father settled around Irish Creek in the early 1800s. He had a daughter, and a jilted beau is said to have written the song. Other sources claim Joe was a preacher, a bully, a mean old man, etc. http://web.ukonline.co.uk/pdcmusic/old-joe-clark.html#Song
The Rationale:

This song can be used with children as young as 18 months of age, and as old as any adult. It is an important link to the music of the mountains and the pioneers of the nineteenth century, as well as an opportunity for improvisation with lyrics and movement.

I use this set of lessons for our fifth grade students who travel each year to the Great Smoky Mountain Tremont Institute near Townsend, TN, to learn about the regional culture and caring for the earth. I integrate literature, music and history for these students to prepare them for this experience. However, this activity could be used with students K-12. Older students bring more to the improvisational aspect.

The Lesson Sequence:

1. Discuss: What do the students know about the Smoky Mountain region?

2. Listen to and sing the song. A search will result in many versions and many verses.
3. Body percussion: add clapping, snapping, patting knees, stamping) on the Refrain

4. Accompaniment: add small instruments (tambourines, shakers, scrapers on the Refrain.

You can also use found” sound, i.e., anything you can tap, scrape, shake.

5. Drone: add the open fifth, C and G, or D and A, playing both notes simultaneously

on xylophones/banjo/guitar; or play the whole chord, (C or D), strummed.

6. Movement: here is a basic binary (two part) idea:

Form a circle; stand and clap while singing the Verses; join hands and circle left for first half of Refrain; turn and go in the opposite direction for the second half.

Creative extension: choose leaders to create motions for the Verses; Refrain moves are the same.

7.. More creative extension: Divide into groups of 4. Students create 2 motions, one for the Verses,

one for the Refrain. Share: have the groups perform one at a time, then all together!

8. Final performance: half the class dances, other half plays instruments. Then switch!

9. Literary Connection: Read some of the JACK TALES or GRANDATHER TALES (collected by Richard Chase, and adapted by Donald Davis).to the class. Fun to discuss!


10. The rest is up to you!


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