With Town Meeting Day upon us, sugaring season is bound to start soon.
Or at least I hope so. Here’s to the weather warming up. Eventually.
Anyway, here at the Vermont Folklife Center we like to mark the start of sugaring time by asking old (and sometimes new) friends to record themselves singing a version of the Vermont folk song, Maple Sweet (also known as the Vermont Sugar-Maker's Song) that we can share.
This time around we reached out to a pair of Brattleboro-based singers who also happen to be a master and apprentice in our Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program: Tony Barrand and Amanda Witman. Both Tony and Amanda are central players in the Brattleboro Pub Sing, and we encourage you to join them at McNeil’s Brewery in Brattleboro, VT on the third Saturday of every month!
So, thank you, Tony and Amanda for sharing your version of Maple Sweet with us!
About the Song
The Reverend Perrin B. Fiske (born 1834 in Waitsfield, VT) composed the Vermont Sugar Maker's Song - also known as Maple Sweet - in 1858, and it has long been a staple in the Vermont folk song repertoire.
Documented both by Helen Flanders and George Brown in Vermont Folk-Songs & Ballads (1932) and Eloise Hubbard Linscott in Folk Songs of Old New England (1939), Margaret MacArthur recorded a version of it on her 1982 album, An Almanac of New England Farm Songs.
The version Tony and Amanda performed is based on the one collected by Helen Hartness Flanders, and published in Vermont Folk-Songs & Ballads. In the book, Flanders notes that the version she printed was, "contributed by Anna H. Dole of Danville, Vermont" and that "a portion of this song was sent by Addie J. Morse of Cambridge, Vermont."
Tony and Amanda both shared with me how they each first encountered the song. According to Tony, “I learned the song years ago when Tony Saletan and Irene Kossoy and I had driven by a ‘Maple Museum’ in Marlboro, VT and we thought they’d be interested to hear it. They weren’t. They were classical music fans, and were so pleased to have finally gotten a signal to be able to listen to Vermont Public Radio they told us to get lost.” As for Amanda, "I first heard this song led by Andy Davis years ago at the Brattleboro Pub Sing, where it has become an annual favorite and an opportunity to toast the sugarmakers in gratitude for their delicious work. I love the timelessness of this song; the joys of sugaring season have long been tasted by generations of Vermonters. It's a tradition well worth keeping alive in our singing!"
Many thanks to you both!
Transcribed lyrics from the version performed by Tony and Amanda.
When you see the vapor pillars lick the forest and the sky,
You may know the days of sugar making then are drawing nigh;
Frosty night and sunny day make the maple pulses play,
Till congested with their sweetness, they delight to bleed away
Oh! Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble goes the pan,
Furnish better music for the season if you can,
See the golden billows, watch their ebb and flow.
Sweetest joys indeed, we sugar makers know.
When you see the farmer trudging with his dripping buckets home,
You may know the days of sugar making then have fairly come.
While the fragrant odors pour through the open kitchen door,
How the eager children rally, ever loudly calling: "More!"
If you say you don't believe it, take a saucer and a spoon,
Though you're sourer than a lemon, you'll be sweeter very soon!
For the greenest leaves you see, on the spreading maple tree,
Though they sip and sip all summer, will the autumn beauties be.
And for home, or love, or any kind of sickness, 'tis the thing.
Take in allopathic doses and repeat it every spring.
Until everyone you meet, if at home or on the street,
Will have half a mind to bite you, you will look so very sweet!
Cohen, Norman (ed.). 2008. American Folk Songs: A Regional Encyclopedia.
Flanders, Helen Hartness and George Brown. 1932. Vermont Folk-Songs & Ballads.
Linscott, Eloise Hubbard. 1939. Folk Songs of Old New England.
MacArthur, Margaret. 1982. An Almanac of New England Farm Songs.
MacArthur, Margaret and Gregory Sharrow. 1994. The Vermont Heritage Songbook.
Always helpful online folk song resources
Keefer, Jane. 2013. Folk Music Index. Last accessed 2018-03-08.
Waltz, Robert B. and David G. Engle. 2016. Traditional Ballad Index. Last accessed 2018-03-08.
Mudcat Cafe/Digital Tradition Folk Song Database. Last accessed 2018-03-08.