Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pa's Fiddle Project Based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Books

  The Little House on the Prairie books are a favorite of all who've read them. They're certainly a favorite at our house. I was introduced to them through my first grade teacher reading Little House in the Big Woods aloud to the class. A few years later, I read the whole series myself. Twice. In a row. A year (or so) ago, I introduced them to my own girls and they love them, too. One of the things I love about them is the way music plays such an integral role in their family life. In reading through the series with my girls -we just finished By the Shores of Silver Lake- we have often lamented the fact that we can't sing some of the songs that we come across. And we have discussed how wonderful it would be if someone compiled all those songs and made a CD, so we could hear what they sound like.
  A month ago, I was browsing on Amazon, contemplating getting the audio book versions of the series. They are fabulously read by Cherry Jones. (We have borrowed them quite a few times from the Library, but some of the library versions are so damaged they don't play properly.) Anyway, I was browsing the Little House audio books on Amazon -I put "Laura Ingalls Wilder" in the search engine- and was scrolling down when I came across this:

Happy Land - Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder

  I was beside myself with delight, ordered it on the spot, and eagerly awaited the CD. I am beyond thrilled, and it has become the new listening favorite. The song versions are such a treat to listen to; all the performances were amazing. The songs include (with the artist in parentheses):
  • The Girl I left Behind Me (Jep Bisbee)
  • The Girl I Left Behind Me (Pat Enright)
  • Sweet By and By (Andrea Zohn)
  • The Blue Juniata (Riders In The Sky)
  • Oh! Susanna (Keith Little)
  • Roll the Old Chariot Along (The Princely Players)
  • Highland Mary (Deborah Packard)
  • Arkansas Traveler/Devil's Dream (Pa's Fiddle Band)
  • Captain Jinks (Riders In The Sky)
  • Oft in the Stilly Night (Deborah Packard & John Mock)
  • The Big Sunflower (Douglas B. Green)
  • Happy Land (Peggy Duncan Singers & Pa's Fiddle Band)
  • Barbara Allen (Deborah Packard)
  • Nelly Was a Lady (Dave Olney)
  • Uncle Sam's Farm (Douglas B. Green)
  • Promised Land (Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers)
  • On Jordan's Stormy Banks (Walnut Grove Church)
  • Bonus Track: The Devil's Dream (Jep Bisbee)

Inside the CD cover is a touching tribute. It reads:
This recording pays tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) for her efforts to illuminate, explain, and capture the place that music-making once occupied in the family life of ordinary Americans. Embedded in her classic series of eight Little House books are references to 126 songs and tunes. There are parlor songs, stage songs, minstrel show songs, patriotic songs, Scottish and Irish songs, hymns, spirituals, fiddle tunes, singing school songs, play party songs, folk songs, a Child ballad, broadside ballads, Christmas songs, catches and rounds, and references to "cowboy songs" and "Osage war dances." Throughout, the guiding musical spirit is Wilder's father, Charles Ingalls (1835-1902), who missed few opportunities to sing and play his fiddle. And it's "Pa's fiddle," carefully wrapped, stowed in its fiddle-box, and cushioned by pillows, that accompanies the Ingalls family through all its adventures and comes to symbolize the endurance of the family unit in an often wild and threatening frontier world. Indeed, Wilder wrote to her publisher that "(t)here is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura's days on the prairie, and that is Pa's fiddle."
  There may be no books in American literature of comparable standing and popularity where America's music is so central to the themes, assumes such a narrative role, and is found in such rich abundance. If Laura Ingalls Wilder penned what have become the books that best express "The Great American family," then the music she referred to in those books has become an important part of that mythology too. This recording is an effort to give new voice and sound to music that has lain silent on the page for far too long. For as Wilder herself wrote, "if you want the spirit of these times, you should [hear] these old songs."
  My family and I want to express our gratitude to Dale Cockrell, professor of Musicology at Vanderbilt University for his wonderful "Pa's Fiddle Project", for bringing these songs back to life, and giving such added depth to our experience of reading the Little House series. A big thanks to the artists (and producers, too), for the outstanding performances on the CDs. 

 Please go here to learn more about Pa's Fiddle project, and to order all three of CDs that have been produced thus far. 


  1. Cool! That is really interesting! I remember some of those songs, but not all.

  2. Some other things I forgot to mention are that there are extensive liner notes in this CD, giving a snippet of the history of the song, and the producers tell in which Little House books each song appears.

  3. I was excited to read your comment on my blog. Then, I got more excited when I saw that you are a fellow homeschooler!! My kids are grown, but we all have fond memories of our days learning together. We read ALL of the Little House books the evenings and on trips. When we got done, they asked if we could start over. I think the kids still remember seeing their dad cry through some parts! Such a timeless experience.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Kathy. I'm loving your blogs; they're right up my alley.
    I've been surprised by how much my husband listens when we read, too. And the conversations it has led to as a family are such fun.

  5. I came across this post while doing a google search for Laura Ingalls Wilder. I'm not sure if you knew, but recently Dale Cockrell and Dean Butler got together to produce Pa's Fiddle Music as a performance to be aired nationally on PBS during their June pledge drives. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in the audience for the taping! What an experience!
    Also, did you know that there's a Laura Ingalls Wilder conference that will be held this July? I was at the first LauraPalooza (as it's called) in 2010 and it was fantastic. This year, there will be an alternate program exclusively for children. Please spread the word! :) You can find all of the information that you want at There is a tab for LauraPalooza 2012 with a pull-down menu.

    1. Laura, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing that information! I would have loved to be in that audience. I'll be looking for it on PBS. And I'll go check out the LauraPalooza.