Clear as Folk

Notes on Matewan Music

More Choral Music | Text for Matewan Music

These were meant to be simple arrangements of three Appalachian folk songs, but they turned out to be rather intricate: simpler isn’t always clearer. Certainly one could have merely embedded “Copper Kettle,” a deliciously comic moonshiner’s manifesto, in these or those idiomatic chords: but why stop there, if the chorus can themselves become the burbling still, the stealthy loggers, the drunken townsfolk in the pale moonlight? “Wildwood Flower,” a lament so unguarded it stops the breath, needed only the plainest triads, only a sustained A-natural wandering ceaselessly from voice to voice as if in search of the abandoning lover, to frame it; but “Long Black Veil,” a deadpan confession from beyond the grave of a how his married lover, by keeping silent, sent a man wrongly to the gallows—and promptly went mad with grief—well, how can you set that without including the vengeful prosecutors, the whistling winds, and the deranged vocalise of the guilty woman? Or all of them at once?

Mark Adamo
New York, NY, March 1995



Text for Matewan Music

I. Copper Kettle

Get you a copper kettle,
Get you a copper coil.
Cover with new-made corn mash,
And never more you’ll toil.
You’ll just lay there by the juniper,
While the moon is bright,
Watch them jugs a-fillin’,
In the pale moonlight.
Build you a fire with hick’ry,
Hick’ry, and ash and oak.
Don’t use no green or rotten wood,
They’ll catch you by the smoke.
You’ll just lay there by the juniper, &c.
My daddy, he made whiskey,
My granddaddy, he did, too.
We ain’t paid no whiskey tax
Since seventeen-ninety-two.
You’ll just lay there by the juniper, &c.

II. Wildwood Flower

I’ll entwine and I’ll mingle my raven-black hair,
With the roses so red and the lilies so fair,
And my eyes will outshine even stars in the blue,
Said I, knowing not that my love was untrue.
Oh, he promised to love me; he called me his flower,
He said I was the blossom to cheer ev’ry hour.
But I woke from my dream, and my idol was clay;
This poor wildflower weeps through the night, through the day.
But I’ll laugh, and I’ll sing, and my heart will be gay,
No more tears, no more sighs, no more weeping away.
I’ll be ‘round when I see him regret this dark hour,
When he threw away this poor frail wildwood flower.

III. Long Black Veil

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night,
Someone was killed ‘neath the town hall light.
The people who saw, they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.
Judge said, “Son, what is your alibi?”
If you were somewhere else, you don’t have to die.”
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life:
I’d been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.
Gallows is high, eternity’s near,
She stands in the crowd; she sheds not a tear.
But sometimes at night, when the cold wind moans.
In a long black veil, she cries (o’er my bones.)
I walk these hills in a long black veil,
Visit his grave when the night winds wail.


Matewan Music was commissioned and introduced by The Congressional Chorus of the United States under the direction of Michael Patterson in March 1995. The New York Virtuoso Singers under the direction of Harold Rosenbaum made the first recording of the revised version of Matewan Music (Naxos xxxx) in autumn 2010.