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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW February 8, 2013: Bells March

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

mgoers - Posted - 02/07/2013:  20:32:16

Not too long after I started playing banjo, I took a particular liking to banjo tunes in mountain minor or modal tuning.  Consequently, I found myself drawn to those tunes.  I first heard this week's tune of the week, Bells March, on a fine collection of banjo tunes called Banjo Gathering, a CD produced as a fundraiser for the Swannanoa Gathering.  It's available through Elderly & other sources for those interested

The version on this album was played by Tom Sauber.   Tom states in the liner notes that he learned the tune from Peter Tomlinson Bell of Carrizo Springs, Texas, whose father (Mace Bell) learned it during the Civil War.  Tom played it in gDGCD tuning on the album.  Sorry, I couldn't find a link to this version.  But, I recommend it to those who still buy CD's.

Upon further research, I found that Tom's source for this tune was actually P.T. (Peter Tumlinson) Bell, who is one of the fiddle players featured in the 'Field Recorders' Collective (FRC).  (I suspect whoever proofed the liner notes for Banjo Gathering missed the spelling mistake on his middle name).  So, the tune originates as a fiddle tune that P.T. referred to as "Mace Bell’s Civil War March" on his FRC recording (FRC 410).

One source of an on-line banjo version of the tune properly identifies the tune as Mace Bell's Civil War March, suggesting also that the tune is a variation on Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine.  (I believe this is Joe Node?   First time I've been to this site...)

Banjo Hangout member, Tim Rowell (clawhammertim) has posted a YouTube version of the song

And, Tim's site, 'Be the Banjo', has tablature posted for the tune.  (Thanks, Tim!)

One of the things I really like about this tune is that it is a fertile tune for a variations on the basic melody.   (ie, you can work in slides, drop thumbing, & string plucks at various points to add variety to the arrangement.)   I tried to demonstrate by posting my own version on my Banjo Hangout page.  (Thanks to my wife Lucy for adding some guitar).

As the tune originated as a fiddle tune, I suppose it is yet another example of a tune that can be a great banjo tune as well.  Hope you all will enjoy playing it as much as I have! 





Edited by - mgoers on 02/08/2013 18:36:17

Tatersoup - Posted - 02/08/2013:  04:43:52

Great tune! Thanks for sharing.

What seems an oddity to me (and which has nothing to do with your TOTW) is that clawhammertim's youtube video seems to be a mirror image.

EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 02/08/2013:  16:09:27

A great TOTW choice.  Bell's March was one of the tunes that really caught my ear when I first listened to that Banjo Gathering CD - which is saying something, since it is full of wonderful recordings.  I wasn't really aware of the history behind the tune, so thanks for the information.  I also was not aware of the Field Recorders Collective P.T. Bell CD, and I browse their site fairly often.  It looks like a very interesting disc, one that I will have to add to my "buy it a the FRC booth at Clifftop" list.  (The FRC site has an interesting "additional notes" page which provides more biographical information on P.T. Bell and describes how his 1941 field recording were rediscovered and preserved:


Jay K - Posted - 02/08/2013:  18:53:40

Great tune, very dramatic! Looking forward to giving it a try.

Tamarack - Posted - 02/08/2013:  19:17:06

A wonderful tune with a great history and fascinating details!  I had heard the tune a few times but never listened closely until today.  As well as the similarity  to Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine I am also hearing some elements of Goin' to Boston (aka Goin' to Cairo) in the B part.

camcumberland - Posted - 02/10/2013:  10:03:52

Ah Sunday, fast becoming my "tune of the week" day. The b part was a little tricky for me on this one, but 50 or so takes later, good enough!

VIDEO: Bell's March
(click to view)


Don Borchelt - Posted - 02/11/2013:  07:44:15

This is a fine tune, a good choice for tune of the week, and well played by Marshall and Cam.  The Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine tune that it is similar to is not the march in D major that most of us learned from the Fuzzy Mountain Stringband, but rather the A modal tune more often called Bonaparte Crossing the Alps, or Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountains (as one old time fiddler said, historians differ).  While similar, the melodic structure of Bonaparte Crossing Wherever I think has some significant differences from that of Bell's March.  There is another tune, however, called Bonaparte's March, from fiddler Harvey "Pappy" Taylor (1894-1987), of Effingham, Illinois, which is essentially identical to Bell's March.  Taylor's recording can be heard on Gary Harrison's "Dear Old Illinois" three CD project. You can hear a sample from that recording, by left clicking on Taylor's picture, below.   The only real difference- Bell's March is in Dorian Mode all the way through, while Bonaparte's March switches to Mixolydian (substituting the major third for the minor) for just the first half of the B part, or fine part of the tune, a characteristic it shares with Bonaparte Crossing Somewhere.   Of course, in old time music, just when a tune ceases to be a variation and becomes a different tune is not a bright line, but I don't think it is crossed in this instance. 

I first heard Bonaparte's March from an MP3 file posted on the Banjo Hangout by member Sean Barth (mojo_monk) a couple of years ago.  Searching around, I found another fine version posted on the Fiddle Hangout, by  Mary Pat Kleven (mpkleven).  The two Hangouts have become a fine source for learning new tunes.  I have attached a practice tape I made of the tune back in 2011.  I am playing the tune in A, playing my 1964 Ode Model 42 in a G variant tuning (gDGAD), capoed on the 2nd fret; Taylor originally fiddled the tune in G.  I have a tablature of Bonaparte's March posted on my webpage.

- Don Borchelt


Edited by - Don Borchelt on 02/11/2013 07:59:06

Bonaparte's March


JanetB - Posted - 02/11/2013:  16:34:22

These are great listening posts for an excellent choice, Marshall.  Tom Sauber is teaching banjo at this summer's music camp near me (Grass Valley).  I've heard him play, along with his son, Patrick.  What a treat!  It's interesting that Don has another name for this tune, but not altogether surprising.

Here's another recording of this emotionally moving modal tune. 

Bell's March


mgoers - Posted - 02/12/2013:  17:22:14

Hey Don: Thanks for your information. I appreciate the insights.

mojo_monk - Posted - 02/12/2013:  19:52:21

Thanks for the the shout out, Don.

I actually did Bonaparte's March as tune of the week back in September of 2010. Bell's March is close enough in my ears to be called the same tune! Here's the link to the TOTW for Bonaparte's March which has some additional research and a link to a sung version known as Sinclair's (St. Clair's) Defeat.

As an aside, I was once told that the basic melody for this tune/song goes back many centuries. It certainly has a very archaic vibe. I don't know squat about music theory - but it doesn't take a musicologist to recognize that it just sounds old.



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