Friday, July 15, 2011

Over The Hills and Far Away

“Over the Hills and Far Away” is a traditional English song, dating back to the early 1700s. There is reason to believe it could be related to even earlier Scottish airs - “Jockey’s Lamentation” and “The Wind Has Blawn My Plaid Away.” Some of the lyrics associated with the tune involve romance as in Thomas D’Urfey’s adaptation and in John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera.” Army recruitment is the subject in a version used in George Farquhar’s play “The Recruiting Officer” from 1706. This version became a very popular song for British troops to sing while leaving their encampments and going into battle with Spain and France initially in Europe and then in colonial America.

Between the years of 1754 and 1763, Britain and France were at war on American soil. Each nation wanted supremacy over the American colonies. The French and the British recruited American Indians to join their ranks, although a greater number allied with France relishing the chance to fight against the British colonists. This conflict became known as the French and Indian War. Among the young colonial officers fighting on behalf of the British effort was George Washington, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Virginia militia. In command of 200 troops in 1755, Washington, at age 23, was not just a fiddler and a lover of fiddle music, but was the most experienced military officer in Virginia.

As Washington’s militia of citizen troops joined with the British regular army, they began to march to the song “Over the Hills and Far Away.” A lyric from this version reads: “Over the rocks and over the steep, over the waters, wide and deep. We’ll drive the French without delay, over the hills and far away.”

Washington helped win the American colonies for the British with this rally cry. However, in a most unusual and ironic twist of fate, just a few years later would find Washington fighting for American independence against the greatest army in the world and his former British comrades with the French now at his side. As the British army fell to the American rebels commanded by Washington and laid down their arms at Saratoga, they saw for the first time the face of their conquerors. Row upon row of plainly dressed citizen soldiers. Old men and young boys. People of all colors. Ordinary Americans. A British officer would write that he felt he was “looking at a new race of men.” “Over the Hills and Far Away” was played and sung as a victory song in early American life everywhere.

Purchase this tune and more from Mark O'Connor's album, Liberty!

From Book II of the O'Connor Method.

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