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The Mudcat Cafesj



In the beginning....(back when strange beasts roamed the earth…)

Back in the Spring of 1988, two folk music enthusiasts, each clutching a weighty notebook, met and compared (what else?) notes. Since the two, Dennis Cook and Susan Friedman, were both using home computers as word processors to produce new notebook pages, a decision to pool resources was an obvious one. Dick Greenhaus inserted his two cents worth, and The Digital Tradition was born.

It soon became apparent that word processor files had severe limitations as a storage format for the words to a large number of songs --- even with the 400 or so songs that we started out with, the collection was space-consuming. Worse, it was almost impossible to find what you were looking for. Duplications kept popping up, and cataloging was a nightmare.

After a good deal of experimentation and researching --- we first tried archiving the songs to save space, but this didn't help us with any of the other problems --- we encountered a very fast, very powerful full-text search program called askSam that was the answer to our prayers. To make things even better, askSam's publisher (askSam Systems, Perry Florida) was interested in what we were doing, and graciously allowed us to distribute a read-only sub-set of their program at no charge. As a result, it's a simple matter to sift through our ever-growing collection (7800 or so songs as of April 1999) and extract any song with, say, the name Mary in it. Or all (or any) of the over 460 versions of Child ballads we have. Or songs by your favorite composer. Or, for that matter, any bawdy Scots parodies dealing with computers --- yes, we even have one of those.

The next major step was to find a way to share the melodies of the songs. We found an effective answer in a music-processing program called SongWright (Songwright, Leesburg VA). This program allowed us to enter songs in a reasonably compact format (so that they don't occupy an unreasonably large number of disks), and, among other things, allows them to be played on the computer's built-in beeper. The good folks at SongWright have also been gracious enough to allow us to distribute the play-only version of their program at no charge. Frankly, we're overwhelmed by the helpful attitudes of the people at both askSam and SongWright --- we hope that you'll be sufficiently impressed by what you see of their fine products to purchase your own copies of the complete systems. If you do buy SongWright, for example, you'll be able to print out the tunes to over 4000 of the songs --- in any key, yet --- as well as edit them and play them through a MIDI interface on a wide variety of electronic instruments.

Many, many thanks to...

All the people who have contributed songs to the Digital Tradition. These include Dennis Cook, Susan Friedman, Dick Greenhaus, Mark Cohen, Bob Reed, Bob Pfeffer, Harry Berkowitz, Dick Park, Diane Tankel, Alan Booth, Edith Lux, Peter Sailer, Bruce Gewirtz, Jonathon Young, Steve Shapiro, Spike Werner, Steve Gilette, Dave Green, Steve Putz, Martin Jonas, Dan Schatz, Anne Bredon, Abby Sale, Jerry Middaugh, Jon Bartlett, Barbara Shaw, Craig Cockburn, Alberto Marchesi, Ian Page, Peter Auber, Murray Shoolbraid, Gerry Myerson, Josh Newman, Mark Gregory, Bob Waltz, Gene Graham, Martin Ryan, Tom Norcott, Steve Suffett, Dave Pelletier, Bruce Olsen, Gene Graham, Joe Offer, Ezio, Tim Jacques, Conrad Bladey, Greg Furness, and another dozen or so whose names just don't come to mind at this moment.

Thanks too to Dennis Cook, Dick Greenhaus, Bob Lux, Hymie Snyder, Steve Putz, Mark Heiman, Alan Foster, Max Spiegel and those others who have provided invaluable programming assistance.

Special thanks to the Philadelphia Folksong Society, whose generous grants have allowed us to upgrade our computer equipment to keep pace with the ever-increasing demands made by the ever- increasing size of the ever-increasing Digital Tradition.

And the future...

We're not sure exactly where the Digital Tradition will wind up, except that it will always represent the best way we can come up with to disseminate folk songs. And it will also be supplied at no charge (or at cost, if you include postage and storage media) to anyone who wants it. We have a UNIX version and a Macintosh edition will be forthcoming (we had one, but Apple went and changed their operating system on us). Internet users can get copies directly over the net through the magic of FTP; World Wide Web can let those with access make their queries directly from the Internet at; mere mortals can mail us blank disks and we'll use the Post Office's snail mail. We've just come up with a CDROM edition to save disk and postage costs (and also lets you run searches without having to download to your-or your boss's-hard disk).

We're currently adding about 300 songs (mostly with tunes) every six months. We're looking at schemes to make searches faster and more flexible, and working on faster and friendlier interfaces. We've added virtually all of the Laws-numbered ballads, and instituted a new numbering scheme to make cross-indexing easier. We're investigating low-cost/no-cost software to play the tunes better using sound cards (for those that have 'em) and to print out the music. We're trying out some Windows-oriented versions of the DT. We're open to suggestions.

If you'd like to be part of the Digital Tradition, instead of a mere user, send us some songs. We can accept word files from just about any word processor (ASCII files are the easiest). If you can supply tunes (SongWright format is wonderful, but we'll take MIDI, Noteworthy, MusicEase, Xeroxes of music, WAV files, GIF files, hand-written music, ABC files, Qbasic files or audio tapes) that's great; if you can't send the tune, please include the source (book, record or whatever). We assume that anything we receive is public domain, unless you tell us otherwise---if you know the author and copyright holder, please let us know and we'll include that info.

The fact that a song appears in the Digital Tradition does NOT guarantee that it's not copyrighted: it doesn't confer any permission to anybody to use any of the material. If you know the source of any non-attributed song, please let us know and we'll add that information the next time round. We're not perfect, but we do our best.


The Digital Tradition (DOS version) is supplied on floppy disks, in various formats, to be read into a hard disk. It's now available on a CD-ROM: you can copy it onto a hard disk, or run it (with some restrictions) directly from the CD-ROM. No knowledge of programming is required --- it may even be a hindrance.

The Digital Tradition is BIG; it requires over 13 MB of disk space to run, and about 16MB free to install it. It's supplied as several self-extracting archived files (using PKZIP), and is supplied with an install program called GO that unarchives them, and then erases the intermediate files as they're no longer required. All programs required to work with the Digital Tradition are supplied.

The tunes are archived into a single file called TUNE.ZIP; the Digital Tradition software uses PKUNZIP to extract the particular tune you want to hear, plays it and then erases it to save space. If you have SongWright and wish to extract a tune from the archived file, just type: , where title is the tune's filename. You can see a list of available tune filenames by typing . We're working with several software publishers on making a cheap or free printing/playing/display program available to DT subscribers. DTPlayer and Noteworthy composer are downloadable shareware that work with SongWright, ABC and MIDI files.

There's an imperfect attempt on our part to list categories that a song may fit into: these are words preceded by a @, such as @love or @bawdy or @Irish. You can use these categories in combination with other words or phrases for searching. Child ballads are identified as: Child #1, etc. To list all the Child ballads, you would enter (at the prompt for a search specification) [Child #*]. (Francis J. Child only went up to 305--since there are ballads he didn't include, you may notice some numbers like DT #510 . Not to worry--it just helps locate variants.) We've also listed a bunch of ballads which were cataloged by Malcom Laws--these look like: Laws P3. Oh yes; wildcards work..

If you want a list of keywords that we've used, type from the DOS prompt. You have the choice of printing them out or displaying them.

There are two basic types of searches you can run: a very fast one that lets you ask for songs with a word or phrase in their titles, filenames or categories, or by Child or DT number if you happen to know what it is; AND a slower, but more versatile search that looks at the entire text of the song (including author, text and any notes that exist), and permits you to use multiple words or phrases as items to look for. AND, once you've produced a list of possible choices, you can return to that list as many times as you wish after examining the songs on that list. Run the HINT files for more information.

If you wish to give a copy to someone else, feel free. The Digital Tradition is copy-encouraged. The most universal format for copying is on 360K disks; the copies we've made on higher- density disks are divided into files that will fit onto a large number of disks using this stone-age format. We'd appreciate it, though, if you distributed copies of this printed material along with the disks. Experiment! You won't damage anything.

Dick Greenhaus * 28 Powell Street, Greenwich, CT 06831 * 203/531-7314