As I was clearing out a bookshelf, I ran across a long-forgotten brochure called “The Dulcimer.” It wasn’t about the dulcimer at all, but was a complication of hymns collected for the bi-centennial celebration of Shenandoah County in Virginia. The hymns were old ones, sung for many years in this area by descendants of German settlers. The songs were originally compiled by music publishers in the 1800’s and many were written in German and in shape note form. One Christmas carol caught my attention, “Joseph, Dearest Joseph.” This less familiar tune is melodic, rhythmic and fits the cradle theme. It’s a beautiful soothing carol for the holidays.
Shenandoah County is over the mountains from Eastern Virginia — with the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west. Shenandoah County was officially established in 1772 and was originally named Dunmore County after Virginia Governor John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. He was the last royal governor of Virginia — forced out of office during the American Revolution. The county was subsequently renamed “Shenandoah County.”
The Shenandoah Valley was settled in the early 1720’s and 1730’s by German and Scotch-Irish coming from Pennsylvania as the population expanded and they searched for better land. They traveled south into the valley along the “Great Wagon Trail.” This included many Quakers and Mennonites. So valley is heavily influenced by Germans. Here’s a photo of fog coming off the Massanutten Mountain in the Shenandoah County one summer day as we traveled along the same road that these early settlers took.
Music was a strong part of these people’s lives. Zithers and other variants of dulcimers have been collected from the area. Several music publishers thrived in the 1800’s and 1900’s in this area publishing a variety of shape note hymnals. As this county reach it’s 200th year, various memorabilia were collected for the celebration, including this brochure.
This is what the author of “The Dulcimer” brochure said about the music which was included.
Joseph, Dearest Joseph
This Christmas lullaby has a beautiful rhythmic melody — it dates to the 14th century according to the hymnal. It is a “rocking carol” which refers to the Medieval custom where the Mother Mary rocked the cradle during Christmas church services. The song was part of a “mystery pageant.” These were plays telling a simple story based on a passage of the bible and set to music. These were enacted in churches. According to the Oxford Book of Carols:
‘Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, Hilf mir wiegen mein Kindelein’ occurs in a MS. at Leipzig University, (Germany) c. 1500, as part of a mystery play acted in a church around the crib. It would make today a beautiful little Christmas play for children, Mary and Joseph singing vv 1 and 2, and then the children singing the chorus. In the old arrangement, the chorus was not sung after very verse; the remaining verses can be sung by one or more men and women (servants of the inn), each verse (or the alternate verses) being followed by the chorus.
Here are the lyrics: 1. "Joseph, Dearest Joseph mine, Help me cradle the Child divine. God reward thee and all that’s thine, In paradise," so prays the mother Mary. Chorus He came among us at Christmas time At Christmas time in Bethlehem Men shall bring him from far and wide, Love’s diadem Jesus, Jesus; Lo, he comes and loves and saves and frees us.  2. "Gladly dear one, Lady mine Help I cradle this Child of thine." "God’s own light on us both shall shine, In paradise," as prays the mother Mary. Chorus 3. Servant 1: Peace to all that have goodwill! God, who heaven and earth doth fill, Comes to turn us away from ill, As all may see In Jesus, Son of Mary.  Chorus 4. Servant 2: All shall come and bow the knee, Wise and happy their souls shall be. Loving such a divinity as all may see In Jesus Son of Mary. Chorus 5. Servant 3: Now is born Emmanual, Prophesied once by Ezekiel, Promised Mary by Gabriel, Ah, who can tell Thy praises, Son of Mary. Chorus 6. Servant 4: Thou my lazy heart hast stirred, Thou, The Father's eternal Word, Greater than aught that ear hath heard, Thou tiny bird of love, Thou Son of Mary. Chorus 7. Servant 1: Sweet and lovely little one, Thou princely, beautiful, God's own Son, Without Thee all of us were undone; Our love is won by Thine, O Son of Mary. Chorus 8. Servant 2: Little man, and God indeed, Little and poor, Thou art all we need; We will follow where Thou dost lead, And we will heed our brother, born of Mary. Chorus 1. Some versions omit the chorus. Return 2. Some versions have And lies so still within the crib of Mary. Return
Playing the song on the dulcimer:
On the dulcimer, the song is easily played in DAD tuning. Even the one accidental note in the chorus can be found on the “6+” fret on the middle string. I left the drone on the bass string for much of the song to give a soothing element to the song. A beautiful harmony can be improvised playing accompanying chords on either a bass dulcimer tuned to DAD or baritone dulcimer tuned to GDG (equivalent tab to DGD). These could emphasize the rocking nature of the song. (The PDF files are shown at the end of the blog post.)
and page 2:
Here’s the tab in PDF format:
Enjoy this rocking carol during the holiday season! And a view of the scenic Shenandoah Valley.