The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #158878   Message #3890829
Posted By: Pamela R
28-Nov-17 - 03:31 AM
Thread Name: folk process: tune evolution?
Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
Brian, interesting point regarding the selectivity of revival. Witness also the abundance of Robin Hood ballads collected vs. the scarcity of 20th century recordings of them. I confess I am highly partial to modal scales particularly pentatonic scales, which is probably the reason I was attracted to traditional folk in the first place. I'm sure my repertoire selections have a strong bias in that regard, possibly for the reason you mention or perhaps due to intrinsic qualities, it is very hard to know even of myself.

Do you think the earlier audio field recording collections, such as Voice of the People or US Library of Congress's archive (e.g., Lomax), are representative of the vernacular repertoire of the time, or also slanted to over-represent modal tunes and morbid themes?

In addition to any revivalists' or collector's bias, it is also possible the singers (and indeed the "folk" in general) were more influenced by scholarly analysis and/or commercial music by the time audio recordings were widely collected (after the invention of the phonograph, and most of them post-radio) compared with the singers Sharp, Baring-Gould etc collected from. And finally, perhaps the post-WWI popular sentiment was simply quite different from that of the 19th C. It would be hard to tease these apart though there are ways to try.

For the last three years I've been studying these early audio field collections (not as a scholar, just as a singer, for repertoire, alternative versions, and singing style). Although I haven't tabulated any statistics, I do still find morbid or violent themes seem to be conspicuously prevalent, particularly familial murder (e.g., The Cruel Mother; Dowy Dens of Yarrow; The Cruel Brother; Lord Abore; Little Musgrave; Two Sisters; Willie Taylor; Young Edmund in the Lowlands; Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender). As of yet I have only revivalists' versions of Sheath and Knife or Clerk Saunders in my collections, however.   It seems to me (without having done statistics) that pentatonic scales are more common from Appalachian sources than European ones. Anybody know of systematic analysis of that?

It has been more difficult to access the even earlier (wax cylinder) collected recordings but these are beginning to be digitized so I have hope.