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Must I, Then

This post is a recording of the composition Must I, Then? by W.L. Hayden, which was published in 1877.

MP3: Lucas Gonze — Must I, Then?

Ogg Vorbis: Lucas Gonze — Must I, Then?

The title of this song is my favorite part of it. There are about 100 silly questions you could make up for the request this person is responding to. “Ebenezer, please walk the cow to the auto show.” Etc. Fill in your own.

This song is a bit too pretty for me to be comfortable with, but then again that’s the 19th century for you. It’s just the esthetic of the time. Irony was far in the future, as relevant to them as 22nd century art is to us.

The source is an 1877 book entitled “Hayden’s Star Collection of Guitar Music.” The book was kindly digitized and hosted by a guy named David Allen Coester. Coester is an independent musician who just happens to be bringing primary historical materials on the internet.

There is no composer listed, and Hayden is credited as the arranger, not the composer. I gave him the composition credit by default.

I like the lines in this composition. The phrases aren’t broken up neatly, instead they stretch out into long run-on sentences. The result is that the song is really just two lines.

It’s surprisingly hard to play. This tiny bit of music took me a long time to master, and even now I make a lot of mistakes. There is an easy way to play it but it sounds cramped. To let the notes breathe I picked fingerings which use open strings rather than fretted ones whenever possible. This enables them to ring for longer and gives them a woody resonance. Using open strings rather than fretted ones is tricky when you’re up above the first position, because it effectively means that you’re playing in two positions at the same time. Another difficulty is that the note after an open note can’t be on an adjacent string, because then my finger on the adjacent string will accidentally lean over and stop the ringing note. The requirements aren’t hard to meet on a physical level, but there are mental gymnastics that I can only pull off when I’m in a state of deep concentration.

I have heard this style of fingering called “harp picking” because the overlap of ringing open strings gives a shimmering quality similar to a harp. I don’t really lay on the shimmering sound, though. It sounds like you’re trying too hard when you hit people over the head with it.

These recordings are released under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license per my boilerplate licensing statement.

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