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Folklore: non peasant oral tradition did it exist

Stringsinger 04 Feb 12 - 09:21 AM
Jack Campin 04 Feb 12 - 09:34 AM
Marje 04 Feb 12 - 09:58 AM
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Subject: Folklore: non peasant oral tradition did it exist
From: Stringsinger
Date: 04 Feb 12 - 09:21 AM

This is interesting from Paul Stamler:

For the chapter in "The Ballad Collectors of North America" that included Carl Sandburg I did an informal study of the class sources of the 298.5 songs I counted in the American Songbag (the fraction is for a fragment). Here's what I found (the numbers denote songs, not percentages):

Folklorists and professional performers: 67.5

Middle-class sources (students, professionals, newspaper reporters, etc.): 67

Working-class or rural proletarian source performers: 43.5

Personal experience (learned while hoboing, etc.): 11.5

Printed non-folklore sources: 10

Source not given or cannot be determined: 99

That means that about 23% of the songs came from middle-class sources. Since one of Sandburg's prime collecting methods was to collect songs from people who attended his poetry readings, this isn't that surprising. Of course, social mobility suggests that people who were middle class when the song was collected may not have been born into that class. It's still an interesting bunch of numbers, though.

Paul (Stamler)

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Subject: RE: Folklore: non peasant oral tradition did it exist
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Feb 12 - 09:34 AM

The proportion of ABC1 sources would be much higher if you looked at orally transmitted bawdy songs - rugby and drinking songs, hash-house-harrier stuff and so on. For the kind of material Legman and Cray published, virtually all the singers had college degrees.

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Subject: RE: Folklore: non peasant oral tradition did it exist
From: Marje
Date: 04 Feb 12 - 09:58 AM

And you have to bear in mind that those "sources" were not original sources - they were just the people/settings from where the song was picked up at the time that collection was compiled (1927, I've just looked it up). Each of those in turn may have other sources - someone could learn a song at their grandma's knee, but Granny herself could have learned it from a printed broadsheet. And the middle-class contributors could have learned their songs in a number of ways - printed sources, oral sources such as other singers of various backgrounds, also radio, gramphone records, etc.

Any song collection is just a snapshot of what was known or being sung at a particular point in time. It would be quite interesting to do a study now of, say, the songs sung at a folk gathering such as a festival, and ask each singer where they got the song from. Some will have been acquired orally (many singers still don't read music) from other singers either in person or in recordings; some will have been learned from books; some from websites like this one; and some will be a compilation of several of these. Oh, and some self-penned.

Of course, nowadays the more scholarly folk singers will be meticulous about their attributions, and explain that they're singing a version collected from a certain singer by Cecil Sharp in 1908, but that only takes it back as far as the days of the early collectors - the origins of many of the songs will never be known.


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