From Over There to Over Here

The title of the project I have been working on recently has several different meanings. „OVER THERE“ is not only a place but also a time period when I was much younger. As I have been very happy since I reached the time period and place of „OVER HERE“, I would like to share my thoughts (and songs) that accompanied me during my journey.DSC_8570 (640x549) Books were and still are the most important element when I am making music, especially song books.It all began in my early teens. We had just come back from the States. Father brought some folk song records including my favorite Burl Ives one, and books. Among them „The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs“ and „The Fireside Book of Folk Songs“. I learned to accompany myself on the guitar and sing some of the songs. Then I was intrigued by some songs that I could not hear because they were not on the records we had. There was a song entitled „Over There“ with a very interesting illustration. The lyrics were strange, beginning with „Oh, potatoes they grow small over THERE…“ describing a place where everything was small (candles, potatoes) and everyone was hungry except geese. The note under the title was: „The origin of this song is a mystery. It was published in 1844.“

DSC_8551 (640x423)„Over There“ was the first song I learned on basis of music notations. The pleasure in learning a song I had never heard before was great and it was very exciting, so I continued to do so.****** (This was of crucial importance when many years later I stumbled upon song-books containing forgotten or less known Croatian folk songs and began recording them. It was no problem for me to find inspiration in lyrics and music notations of songs I had never heard and it is still exciting and great fun learning forgotten songs and recording them). What was even more interesting and intriguing many years later when I recorded my album Da sam barem guska / Over There (2002) was that I could not find any information about „my“ song. It remained a mystery. My nephew who lives in the U.S.A. and was working at the time in Phoenix tried to find something about this mysterious song in the biggest American library there. Incredible – there was no information about the song or about anyone recording it except the note that it was published in 1844 and that its origin was a mystery.

A couple of years ago my sister visited her son and brought me a wonderful gift : „The Burl Ives Song Book“ published in 1953 (the year I came to the States with my family); a very beautiful book with 115 songs Ives had collected himself, some of them very well known traditional folk songs, some I had never heard before.

I did not recognize „my“ song at first. The title was totally different and the music was only familiar. And then a surprise : the mysterious song that had been part of my musical path since my childhood was no longer a mystery.

„The Praties They Grow Small“ is a song from Ireland and begins with the verse: „Oh, the praties (potatoes) they grow small over HERE…“. Ives’s note to the song explains it all: „Crop failure was the cause of the tremendous influx of Irishmen who came in such large numbers in the early nineteenth century. A popular song of 1844 told about the small potato crop and landlord trouble in Ireland“.DSC_8565 (640x421)There is another very precious thing for me that I found in Burl Ives’s songbook. In his „Introduction“ he writes: „When, as a student of singing, I discovered that there were many beautiful and exciting songs in the English language that nobody sang, that were looked down on as „folk“, I chose them for my own. They became my repertoire. I did not sing them because they were folk, but because I thought them musically beautiful and their content meaningful, either dramatically, lyrically, or humorously – always expressive of genuine human value“.

Those have been my exact words when trying to explain why I began singing at 47, how and why I succeeded in recording 12 albums since then, and why I am still singing in public at 68, working on new projects (In Ives’s first sentence „English“ should be substituted for „Croatian“).

And so, my path from „over there“ to „over here“ has been a great journey. I was always singing folk songs; in my teens I learned Indonesian folk songs living in Indonesia, and as a young woman I learned Russian folk songs living in Russia. I am ever so thankful to all the people who sing folk songs and those who collected folk songs and published them in songbooks.

Recording folk songs collected and sung by Burl Ives is one way of thanking others. Although he recorded hundreds of traditional folk songs in the English language, collected folk songs and wrote books on the subject, many know him only for his Christmas songs, children songs and several pop songs he reached the charts with. People and folk songs should not be forgotten.

The first album I recorded in the series FROM OVER THERE TO OVER HERE 1 contains traditional folk songs from England, Ireland, Scotland, and their versions sung in the U.S.A., as well as folk songs that were newly composed by folks in the States. All of them were sung and recorded many decades ago by Burl Ives.


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