The Mountain King, Song # 2: A Note in the Woods

 

This is blog no. 2 about our album The Mountain King. Recorded at Wall of Sound Studio in Albuquerque. A Note in the Woods is performed by Scott Darsee, guitar; Johanna Hongell-Darsee, vocals and bamboo flute; and Chris Carlson, violin.

 

This song consists of a few verses from the Child Ballad no. 41 Hind Etin, and a Scottish melody.  As with all ballads there are a few different versions but in essence the ballad narrates a story of a young girl who wanders out into the woods and meets a strange man. He takes her away to his lair in the woods, under the roots of a tree. She bears him many children, but eventually she starts to long to go back to her home. It is both similar and different from the Scandinavian ballad of the Mountain King. First of all, it is all about a forest rather than a mountain and there are some sidelines that differ. But I find that the core of the story is very similar and might have a common origin.

 

In our performance, and on the album, I have chosen a few of the very first verses to describe the moment when the young girl is lured away into the woods (I have simplified the lyrics in places and use the name "May" throughout the story to make it less confusing).

 

May stood in her bower door sewing at her silken seem.
She heard a note in the woods and she wished she there had been.

 

She dropped the seem from her hand and the needle to her toe.
And she is off into the woods as fast as she could go.


May stood in her bower door combing down her yellow hair.
She heard a note in the woods and she wished that she was there.

 

She plaited her yellow locks a little above her brow.
And she is off into the woods as fast as she could go.


May stood in her bower door combing down her yellow hair.
She heard a note in the woods and she wished that she was there.

 

She lifted her petty coat a little above her knees.
And she is off into the woods as fast as she could be.

 

This theme can also be found in the Scandinavian variants, where she feels drawn to the big unknown and leaves for the forests and mountains.

 

The imagery in this song reminds me of a translation job I once did. I was asked to translate a few letters that a woman here in the States had inherited from her grandmother. There were three letters all written to her great grandmother who had left Sweden to go to America.

 

The first letter was from her friend telling her she had made a mistake leaving as she was having such a great time back at the farm with all their friends and especially the good looking farmhands. The second was from her sister who was complaining over that she had stopped answering letters and still owed her money borrowed for the ticket to America. The third was from her niece who told her about her everyday life, going to school in a very overcrowded school building with only one teacher for over fifty kids and not being able to afford shoes. She also told her aunt in America about her favorite thing to do. On Saturday nights there was often a dance held down in the village. She was not allowed to go, but she would stand by her gate and listen to the music that, if she stood very still and closed her eyes, she could hear softly wafting through the woods. And she would imagine dancing there, at the dance hall.

 

I found it very poignant reading about this young girl in a time long long before every kid had a music device to listen to, who still wanted to hear the latest tunes, and dream. 

 

In the ballad the girl hears a "note in the woods" and is irresistibly drawn out there, into the unknown, the scary but exciting places she is not yet allowed to visit ...

 

I think every young person, and also not so very young ones, are sometimes drawn into the unknown by a haunting melody coming from the dark and mysterious woods.

 

 

 

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