Click to enlargeOld Folks at Home (brass quintet)

The more one learns about Stephen Foster, the more interesting and sad the story becomes. For nearly twenty years around the time of the Civil War, he wrote most of the popular songs published in the United States, yet died flat broke at the age of 37. He sold most of his songs to publishers for lump sums. Some he did not sell at all. Copyright and royalty laws being what they were at the time, up to five or more publishers would have competing editions of his songs in print, and other than whatever he could get up front, he rarely saw any money.

It was first published in 1851, and still today nearly every American knows at least the first line of this song. Foster came from the black-face minstrel show tradition, and the original lyric was written in the slave dialect of that genre.

The immediate popularity of the song initiated the Florida tourist trade to go and see the "Swanee River" Foster wrote about, yet he never visited the Suannee River, nor did he ever set foot in Florida. He simply needed a two-syllable name of a Southern river, and thought "Swanee" to be a better fit than Mississippi's Yazoo or South Carolina's Pee Dee (thankfully).

One stanza is played slowly in a rich chromatic harmonic style, followed by by two that bounce along "played in rag-time."

The lyric has been changed to avoid offending modern ears.

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Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away,
That's where my heart is turning ever,
That's where the old folks stay.
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for the old plantation,
And for the old folks at home.

Chorus: All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam.
Oh people, how my heart grows weary
Far from the old folks at home.

All 'round the little farm I wandered,
When I was young.
Then many happy days I squandered,
Many the songs I've sung.
When I was playing with my brother,
Happy was I!
Oh, take me to my kind old mother,
There let me live and die!

Repeat Chorus

One little hut among the bushes,
One that I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove.
When shall I see the bees a humming,
All 'round the comb?
When shall I hear the banjo strumming,
Down by my good old home?

Repeat Chorus

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MP3 sound sample: entire piece (synthesizer/midi).



OLD FOLKS AT HOME, by Stephen Foster, arranged by Tom Kirkland for brass quintet consisting of two trumpets, french horn, trombone, and tuba, comes in a pdf file of 669K, with a seven-page score, five two-page parts, and a license page, eighteen pages in all. Performance time should be about 3:20.


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Last update: 5 June 2017