The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #143708 Message #3338344
Posted By: Jim Carroll
14-Apr-12 - 04:19 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 2
Subject: RE: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 2
"Only academic types pay much attention to just which forebear sang a song."
Sorry to interrupt here - but that is not necessarily the case - I wonder if there is any documented evidence to back up this statement?
I hate repeating this as often as I do, but one of the greatest voids in our understanding of the song traditions is the fact that, with a tiny number of exceptions we have no idea of what our traditional singers knew or thought about their songs simply because hardly anybody bothered to ask them, assuming that all they had to offer was the songs.
Phillips Barry summed up perfectly the contemptuous attitude to the knowledge carried by our tradititionl singers when he wrote:
"Memory, not invention is the function of the folk".
The question of print and oral/aural learning is a complex one.
Because singers were able to read didn't necessarily mean that they learned songs from print - some of them certainly didn't, with the possible exception of adding verses to what they already had - reading was quite often regarded as "only for the schoolroom".
In Ireland, one of the greatest sources for ballads over the last half century or so has been from the Travellers who, while they sold the ballad sheets, never learned any of their songs from print. They didn't read themselves and their mainly pariah status meant they had virtually no access to the printed word whatsoever - end result - The Maid and the Palmer, Lamkin, Young Hunting, Lord Randall, Devil and the Farmer's Wife, Lord Thomas and The Brown Girl, Famous Flower of Serving Men, Fair Margeret and Sweet William (Ch 253)...... and a whole host of others. In many cases, particularly the first and the last on this list, Traveller versions are the only Irish versions of many of these. 30/40 years ago, before the idea of reading was even broached with the Travelling community, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a Traveller singer who sang The Outlandish Knight or Captain Wedderburn's Courtship.
Please do not jump to any conclusions about literacy without examining all the evidence and don't adapt shaky or non-existant evidence to fit conceptions that may have no basis in fact.
Travellers we met and interviewed made it quite clear that their grasp of literacy was virtually non-existant. One in particular summed up their relationship with reading by describing how he and his mother went to local printers to get their ballads printed by having to recite the words (mainly remembered from the family repertoire) over the counter to the printer. He told us that the oldest song in his repertoire was The Blind Beggar (of Bethnal Green) - he was almost certainly right.
As far as settled singers were concerned, Norfolk singer Walter Pardon filled tapes with information of who sang what in his family - certainly back as far as great grandparents.