It's wonderful to create something that has legs. It's humbling, and food for thought, when one's most enduring work (to date, please heaven) is something that began life as a throw-away.
My dear friend Rob recently sent me a happy and excited email informing me that a song I wrote years (oh, dear--decades!) ago--a little catch, actually, or more accurately a rebus--had, after considerable metamorphosis, appeared in yet recognizable form on an album recorded by Christine Lavin
Rob thought this was wonderful. I, being a person who relies on my intellectual property for my income, had rather more mixed feelings about it.
Friends of Ms Lavin, fear not. I'm not coming after her with lawyers. This is not the first time this song has been co-opted. In fact, it's been recorded before (once that I know of) and published in a songbook (once that I know of). Neither of the perpetrators asked my permission, but then, they probably didn't know how to find me. The song travels by the ancient and honorable oral tradition, in which attribution is at best an afterthought.
But, for the record, here is the actual origin and history of "The Merrie Dwarves!" which appears on Ms Lavin's The Runaway Christmas Tree
album as "Elves." (By the way, a rebus is a musical joke, so if you can't stand to have jokes spoiled for you, go and listen to Ms Lavin's version here
- scroll down to the samples and click on "Elves.")
A tiny bit of background. I wrote the song to make playful fun of an SCA household made up of very large, burly men who found it amusing to call themselves Dwarves and play games like "Rock" and so on. I'm not going to explain the SCA
- go look at their website if you want to know more. If you want to know about the Dwarves, Google on "dwarves of atenveldt". I don't play SCA any more, but in my carefree youth I did, and my name in that group was Elinor Aurora of Rosewood.
Here is an image of my original manuscript, extracted from my musty files at an early hour of the morning. (Sealed bids for this valuable original may be submitted by email.) It's written in pencil, and judging by the hand I guessed it had been written about the time I was in high school, which would be 1976-1978.
Also in the musty files I found my copy of The Dwarven Hymnary, put together by Mistress Irminsul the Improbable, also undated, in which my song appeared in this form:
Note that I was at least given credit for creating the song (thank you, Mistress Irminsul), though the attribution is, very appropriately, to my SCA name. The Dwarven Hymnary, and indeed, my song, are referenced in this history of the First Dwarven Invitational Tournament
, held near Shadowskeep (Española, New Mexico) on 29-30 July A.S. XIII (1978). So the song had been borrowed once already (by dear Mistress Irminsul) by that date.
In case these images are difficult to read, here are the original lyrics:
Hi ho, cry the merry Dwarves!
It's off to war we are
To strike our foes both blind and dum
The rebus, or joke, comes when all three parts of the catch are sung together, with appropriate rests, to form the line, "Dwarves are dum."
Mistress Aelflaed of Duckford (my dear friend Sandra Dodd) recalls the night I first taught the song to a group of SCA folk. Her guess on the date is close--probably a year late. With her kind permission, here are her reminiscences:
I think it was 1978, July. I remember VIVIDLY the night you taught it to us, though. It was a dark night in the Jemez mountains and we were around a beautiful, big campfire. All eyes were on you as you taught us the new song you'd written. I remember how it sounded, and how you first went through without the rests, and we sang it through a couple of times and at the last moment you said that there was one more little thing, that the second line had a rest and the third line had two rests. (Don't remember the words exactly but I remember the explanation and thinking "got it" but not predicting what the trick would be.)
It was perfect. One of my best memories. It was fun, and I'm glad I was there.
Some years later I learned (possibly through another alert friend, I don't recall) that my rebus had been recorded, without attribution, on a home-produced cassette of filk music titled Not Necesarily Medieval Songs, We'd all like to sing
, perpetrated by one Yonatan Von Schwartzüberflek (Google on "Yonatan Von Schwartzuberflek" if you want to know about him, or if you just like typing "Schwartzuberflek").
Actually, there was an attribution, sort of. It said, "I have no idea, but thank you whoever you are."
Herr Von Schwartzüberflek didn't put a date on his cassette, either. (Really, what a sorry lot we all are! You'd think none of us had ever heard of defending copyright!) I tracked him down and informed him that I had written the song he called "Dwarves," that it was in fact "The Merrie Dwarves!" and that I would like to be properly credited in future. He gave me a copy of his tape for free, and promised to be good, and that's the last I heard of him.
Decades pass and now the web turns up Ms Lavin's "Elves."
Same tune, same joke, but made nicer and transplanted to Santa's workshop. That's OK, it's cute and fun, and it still makes people light up and laugh which is the best I can expect, since I didn't grind Herr Von Schwartzüberflek into the ground in the first place. However, Ms Lavin's attribution, "Traditional German, learned from Kathy Miller, New words by Jan Maier, Evy Mayer, and Randi Spiegel," seems rather lame to me. I am not, nor have I ever been, a German, traditional or otherwise. (I have nothing against them, mind, except that they misspell Nagle. I'm even married to one, who spells it right.)
Who knows where else this song has been, or where it'll turn up next? I don't intend to comb the web, though I see that it has made it onto the Swarthmore Round List
. That's ironic, in a way, because one of the first people I taught it to, Lady Io Andriane, was a Swarthmore grad.
So, my little catch is alive and well and bringing laughter to people who don't know and couldn't care less who I am. That's fine. Gives me a warm feeling it does.
Now to go write something and sell it. Warm feelings don't pay the bills.