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folk process: tune evolution?

Pamela R 26 Dec 15 - 10:09 PM
Joe Offer 26 Dec 15 - 11:36 PM
Steve Shaw 27 Dec 15 - 06:20 AM
GUEST 27 Dec 15 - 06:34 AM
Will Fly 27 Dec 15 - 06:40 AM
Les in Chorlton 27 Dec 15 - 06:53 AM
gillymor 27 Dec 15 - 07:16 AM
Richard Mellish 27 Dec 15 - 11:37 AM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 15 - 11:57 AM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 15 - 12:05 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 27 Dec 15 - 12:47 PM
Brian Peters 27 Dec 15 - 12:54 PM
Pamela R 27 Dec 15 - 12:55 PM
The Sandman 27 Dec 15 - 01:05 PM
Brian Peters 27 Dec 15 - 01:06 PM
GUEST,John from Kemsing 27 Dec 15 - 01:07 PM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 15 - 02:22 PM
The Sandman 27 Dec 15 - 02:37 PM
Steve Shaw 27 Dec 15 - 02:58 PM
Pamela R 27 Dec 15 - 03:12 PM
GUEST,Ripov 27 Dec 15 - 03:18 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 27 Dec 15 - 03:26 PM
GUEST 27 Dec 15 - 03:30 PM
Steve Shaw 27 Dec 15 - 03:36 PM
Pamela R 27 Dec 15 - 04:03 PM
Pamela R 27 Dec 15 - 04:18 PM
Steve Shaw 27 Dec 15 - 04:43 PM
GUEST,leeneia 27 Dec 15 - 05:42 PM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 15 - 08:45 PM
Pamela R 27 Dec 15 - 11:30 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 28 Dec 15 - 02:11 AM
Tattie Bogle 28 Dec 15 - 05:47 AM
GUEST,Howard Jones 28 Dec 15 - 06:58 AM
Jack Campin 28 Dec 15 - 08:30 AM
Lighter 28 Dec 15 - 09:53 AM
Jack Campin 28 Dec 15 - 10:03 AM
GUEST,DrWord 28 Dec 15 - 11:28 AM
Lighter 28 Dec 15 - 01:28 PM
GUEST 28 Dec 15 - 01:44 PM
Jack Campin 28 Dec 15 - 02:19 PM
GUEST,Stim 28 Dec 15 - 06:05 PM
GUEST,Stim 28 Dec 15 - 06:33 PM
Jack Campin 28 Dec 15 - 07:52 PM
Pamela R 29 Dec 15 - 01:27 AM
Mr Red 29 Dec 15 - 04:42 AM
Brian Peters 29 Dec 15 - 04:48 AM
Jack Campin 29 Dec 15 - 05:04 AM
GUEST,Achy Pete 29 Dec 15 - 03:27 PM
Pamela R 02 Jan 16 - 01:05 PM
Steve Gardham 02 Jan 16 - 01:45 PM
toadfrog 02 Jan 16 - 02:21 PM
GUEST,Gibb Sahib 02 Jan 16 - 07:16 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 16 - 04:24 AM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 16 - 04:32 AM
Richard Mellish 03 Jan 16 - 08:22 AM
Jack Campin 03 Jan 16 - 08:54 AM
Mysha 03 Jan 16 - 01:07 PM
Jack Campin 03 Jan 16 - 01:51 PM
Lighter 03 Jan 16 - 02:40 PM
Mo the caller 03 Jan 16 - 03:19 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 16 - 04:06 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Jan 16 - 04:17 PM
Rumncoke 03 Jan 16 - 07:18 PM
GUEST,leeneia 03 Jan 16 - 09:53 PM
GUEST,Ted Crum (Steamchicken) 04 Jan 16 - 08:30 AM
Richard Mellish 04 Jan 16 - 01:35 PM
Lighter 04 Jan 16 - 01:59 PM
Steve Shaw 04 Jan 16 - 02:01 PM
Tattie Bogle 04 Jan 16 - 05:11 PM
Jack Campin 04 Jan 16 - 06:00 PM
Steve Shaw 04 Jan 16 - 06:47 PM
Jack Campin 04 Jan 16 - 08:13 PM
GUEST,leeneia 04 Jan 16 - 09:58 PM
GUEST,Stim 04 Jan 16 - 10:37 PM
Pamela R 05 Jan 16 - 09:24 PM
GUEST,Stim 06 Jan 16 - 01:01 AM
Jack Campin 06 Jan 16 - 06:13 AM
Lighter 06 Jan 16 - 08:53 AM
Pamela R 06 Jan 16 - 12:32 PM
Jack Campin 06 Jan 16 - 01:19 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 16 - 04:18 PM
Steve Gardham 06 Jan 16 - 04:23 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 06 Jan 16 - 04:36 PM
Lighter 06 Jan 16 - 05:44 PM
GUEST,Anne Neilson 06 Jan 16 - 06:04 PM
The Sandman 06 Jan 16 - 06:04 PM
Lighter 06 Jan 16 - 06:05 PM
Steve Shaw 06 Jan 16 - 06:48 PM
Pamela R 06 Jan 16 - 09:05 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 07 Jan 16 - 12:18 AM
GUEST,Howard Jones 07 Jan 16 - 04:53 AM
Jack Campin 07 Jan 16 - 05:03 AM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 06:37 AM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 07:15 AM
Steve Shaw 07 Jan 16 - 08:02 AM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 09:06 AM
The Sandman 07 Jan 16 - 09:13 AM
Jack Campin 07 Jan 16 - 10:03 AM
Jack Campin 07 Jan 16 - 10:08 AM
Steve Shaw 07 Jan 16 - 11:12 AM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 12:04 PM
Richard Mellish 07 Jan 16 - 02:20 PM
Brian Peters 07 Jan 16 - 02:49 PM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 03:52 PM
Brian Peters 07 Jan 16 - 05:41 PM
GUEST 07 Jan 16 - 06:50 PM
Jack Campin 07 Jan 16 - 08:45 PM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 04:51 AM
Lighter 08 Jan 16 - 06:50 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 06:57 AM
Lighter 08 Jan 16 - 07:05 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 07:42 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 11:13 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 11:18 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 12:41 PM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 03:25 PM
GUEST,Gibb Sahib 11 Jan 16 - 06:43 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 16 - 01:40 PM
GUEST,Stim 12 Jan 16 - 02:14 PM
Jack Campin 12 Jan 16 - 02:39 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 16 - 02:50 PM
Lighter 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
Gibb Sahib 24 Nov 17 - 05:00 AM
GUEST 24 Nov 17 - 12:11 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 02:17 PM
GUEST 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 PM
Jack Campin 24 Nov 17 - 04:12 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 04:15 PM
Steve Gardham 24 Nov 17 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 24 Nov 17 - 05:19 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 05:44 PM
leeneia 24 Nov 17 - 06:26 PM
Richard Mellish 25 Nov 17 - 12:55 AM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 25 Nov 17 - 05:16 AM
Lighter 25 Nov 17 - 08:45 AM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 25 Nov 17 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 11:04 AM
Jack Campin 25 Nov 17 - 11:28 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 11:37 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 12:13 PM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 08:46 AM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 08:50 AM
Lighter 26 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM
Jack Campin 26 Nov 17 - 09:55 AM
Steve Gardham 26 Nov 17 - 10:23 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 26 Nov 17 - 12:35 PM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 12:48 PM
Pamela R 26 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 26 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 26 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 02:57 PM
Steve Gardham 26 Nov 17 - 05:18 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 27 Nov 17 - 03:53 AM
Richard Mellish 27 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM
Lighter 27 Nov 17 - 09:58 AM
Brian Peters 27 Nov 17 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 27 Nov 17 - 12:12 PM
Pamela R 28 Nov 17 - 03:31 AM
Pamela R 28 Nov 17 - 04:11 AM
Brian Peters 28 Nov 17 - 07:38 AM
Lighter 28 Nov 17 - 09:21 AM
Jack Campin 28 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM
Jack Campin 28 Nov 17 - 10:42 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 28 Nov 17 - 01:11 PM
Brian Peters 28 Nov 17 - 01:22 PM
Brian Peters 28 Nov 17 - 01:52 PM
GUEST 28 Nov 17 - 04:30 PM
GUEST,ripov 28 Nov 17 - 08:35 PM
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Subject: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 26 Dec 15 - 10:09 PM

Hi all.
In the Spring I'll be teaching an Ethnomusicology class about how folk songs evolve through oral tradition. The students are asked to listen to and analyze a number of versions of the same song, as collected from far flung locations from sources believed to represent orally transmitted tradition. We'll look at the similarities and differences between the different versions to find evidence of common origin, evidence that songs gradually change when passed on by oral tradition, and observe how the interaction of culture and folk songs impacts this process. (Being a Biologist by training, I apply concepts from evolutionary theory: mutation, migration, isolation, drift, fixation, extinction, selective pressure, divergent vs. convergent evolution, etc.).

I have lots of great examples, but they are all text-based - songs that share a common origin of the text/story, while diverging greatly in tune and more or less in textual details.

Given that the course is being offered in the Music department, however, I feel I should have at least some examples in which we examine the evolution of *tunes* - where the same melody is used, but gradually morphed and mutated, resulting in local variants; or where other cultural factors such as dance traditions, religion, contact with other cultures, etc., systematically altered the tunes; and/or where the same tune is used to set entirely different texts. My knowledge is much weaker on this point, so I'd like to study up.

Can anyone suggest good examples, or a good reference work on this topic? Is there a melody equivalent of textual concepts like commonplaces and floating verses?

Since I am teaching in English, I'm restricting myself to English language folk traditions for the textual examples. But tunes that crossed language barriers would be of particular interest.

Many thanks,
Pamela


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 26 Dec 15 - 11:36 PM

Interesting question, Pamela. I'm a lyrics man myself, so I can't offer much expertise. I'm aware of many songs that use a variety of melodies to match the same set of lyrics Since we're in the Christmas season, maybe "Away in a Manger" would be a good example.

But for the most part, I haven't noticed evolution in melodies to any great extent. Every musician alters every tune in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, but the basic structure of the melody stays more-or-less the same and each artist builds on that basic structure.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 06:20 AM

Hmm. Try playing the tunes from O'Neill's, as written down, in a modern session and you'll quickly find out how much tunes can evolve over just a century and a bit.

Bad advice, actually - never try to play ANY tune as written down!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 06:34 AM

Try "Sources of Irish Traditional Music", by the Irish guy with the German name I'd have to google for.

    Aloys Fleischmann? -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Will Fly
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 06:40 AM

You could look at the medieval Scottish tune "Gilderoy" which, in twists and turns has formed the basis of later variations such as the tune used for "Dives and Lazarus" and "The Star of the County Down", etc. Just one example.

The other interesting fact (to me, at any rate) is the way in which comparatively modern tunes with known composers - such as Tom Anderson, Andy Cutting or John Kirkpatrick - can slip seamlessly into "traditional" music sessions.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 06:53 AM

I think the biggest problem you may have is determining how valuable or appropriate the advice you may get from people who play tunes.

Some are musicians who know, understand and can play from music, from memory and on one hearing of a tune and can draw on a vast collection of tunes and some can do almost none of this but offer extensive advice based upon almost no evidence at all.

Best of luck


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: gillymor
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 07:16 AM

If you're not aware of it already The Contemplator site might be of some interest to you, Pamela R, with histories, variants,and alternative names for numerous tunes and songs from the British Isles.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 11:37 AM

Pamela said
> Given that the course is being offered in the Music department, however, I feel I should have at least some examples in which we examine the evolution of *tunes

Do you want to do this for song tunes, dance tunes, "listening" tunes or all of those?

Julia Bishop has done some work on song tunes, including the tricky issue of how one might decide whether two specimens are different tunes or different versions of the same tune.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 11:57 AM

GUEST above was me.

For ballad tunes in the British tradition, the most extensive work in this area was by S.P. Bayard, who classified all the Child ballad tunes (those later anthologized by Bronson) into 56 "tune families" which he thought were genetically related. (References in Bronson, "The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads", which you will need for this sort of study and which you can buy from CAMSCO). He got the idea from Bartok and his associates in Hungarian musicology; if you listen to enough Hungarian songs it's fairly obvious that they don't really have an individual identity, they sort of blur into each other.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Preston_Bayard


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 12:05 PM

This is the guy I was thinking about when I posted as GUEST above:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloys_Fleischmann

That 2-volume book is ridiculously expensive, half the size of Bronson and several times the price. It would be great if CAMSCO would reprint it.

When I was researching this stuff, the most useful tool I had was Charles Gore's "Scottish Fiddle Music Index", which includes theme codes so you can see when the same tune has been given different names over the years. A similar index, covering English music as well but with a slightly smaller time scope, is the "National Tune Index" microfiche set. Its theme code system is different but they both work.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 12:47 PM

OP: "...how folk songs evolve through oral tradition... believed to represent orally transmitted tradition."

Curious:
What are the methods for validating an exclusively 'oral' tradition? eg: If reference sheet music and/or audio recordings do exist, how does one parse/quantify their influence on the evolution/transmission of the song under study?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 12:54 PM

Hi Pamela, good to hear you're busy with your research. This is the kind of thing I've always thought I should set time aside for, but never got round to. What I would do is to pick a song with a lot of variants, then try to correlate the range of melodic variation with their geographical spread. Often you will find that two variants from the same community are very similar (although sometimes they can be quite different), but the same song collected 20, or 100 miles away might show more variation. You might also be able to find a version of the same song collected in the same area say thirty years later and see how much it had changed.

An obvious place to start would be Cecil Sharp's collection from the Appalachians, all of which is available online. Within it you can find multiple variants of the same song, and could then compare (say) the variation between versions from NC, KY and TN, as against variations within a small area like Madison Co., NC., where Sharp really concentrated his early efforts.

On the question of tunes that carry several songs, Will Fly has already pointed out that 'Dives and Lazarus' has done service for a whole number of textually unrelated songs from the British Isles (Cecil Sharp found it in Virginia, come to that). The tune often referred to as 'Villikins and his Dinah' is another common one, and in 'The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs' you can find three songs sharing the tune best known from 'Flash Company'.

As far as I know, no-one has yet invented software that will analyse points of similarity and difference between melodies. Now that would be a handy thing.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 12:55 PM

thanks everyone, this is great information to get me started!

to answer someone's question, I am confining myself to songs for this class. but some (carols?) may have dance origins that affected the allowable rhythms.

regarding the input of trained expert musicians vs impressions of untrained practitioners, I'm happy to listen to both and sort it out. I'm just asking for leads.

(which prompts the idea: to the extent that notation is adequate it should be possible to analyze tune relatedness computationally -- might be a good student project! but surely it has been done before).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: The Sandman
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 01:05 PM

Perhaps a good place to start might be the tramps and hawkers tune, this tune has been used over and over by songwriters for different lyrics, but gets altered slightly for different sets of words, take a look at the following songs that use this tune some with variation and some without, homes of donegal, rocks of bawn.
now try the dick darby the cobbler and its variants.
then we have lakes of pontchertrain , blarney rose.
Sweet thames flow softly,and trad tune used for recruited collier.
my opinion is that the tune gets altered slightly by the songwriter[ who is using a trad tune to fit the mood of the song and the lyrics


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 01:06 PM

What are the methods for validating an exclusively 'oral' tradition? eg: If reference sheet music and/or audio recordings do exist, how does one parse/quantify their influence on the evolution/transmission of the song under study?

It's wise to be very wary before describing any musical tradition as exclusively oral, but the main reason for that is the existence (in huge numbers) of printed copies of the texts from at least as far back as the 17th century. However, these were scarcely ever provided with sheet music, and there's no evidence that singers (as opposed to instrumentalists) would have been able to read it anyway. It's also wise to be aware of the possible effects of broadcast or recorded music on singing tradition, but Sharp's collection and others of the period predated that development.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,John from Kemsing
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 01:07 PM

Pamela,
       Try this for an immediate example of evolution. Ask your students to listen to a particular song a number of times, them not having the written score at their disposal. Then record them individually singing the song. Compare their versions to the original and note any differences - I reckon you would have a fine example of how tunes change with the listener.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 02:22 PM

I am confining myself to songs for this class. but some (carols?) may have dance origins

That's a relatively recent phenomenon (e.g. Burns's "Frae a' the airts", using William Marshall's "Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey"). Dance tunes predating Burns's time are much more often derived from songs than the other way round.

that affected the allowable rhythms.

No. Rhythms can be varied enormously while still keeping the tune recognizably the same.

I have a zillion examples of this sort of process in my "Embro, Embro" pages.

One angle I find fascinating is the contrast between deliberate and accidental re-use of tunes (this is in situations of punctual change rather than imperfect attempts at faithful transmission). If you parody or bowdlerize a song, you will know exactly what tune you're using: there is no point in a parody or allusion if the listener can't identify the original. But there are quite a few examples of unconscious adaptation where the composer clearly didn't realize what they were half-remembering - two examples: Phil Cunningham's tune "Sarah's Song" (recycled from the music-hall song "She was poor but she was honest") and Dick Gaughan's "Both Sides the Tweed" (a slowed-down modal variant of "Rosin the Beau"). I haven't asked Cunningham about the first (maybe you could?) but I did ask Gaughan about the second, and the resemblance hadn't occurred to him.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: The Sandman
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 02:37 PM

"No. Rhythms can be varied enormously while still keeping the tune recognizably the same."
examples are lakes of ponchartrain and blarney roses.
then we have trad tunes like the musical priest, and the strathspey the north edinburgh bridge.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 02:58 PM

"(which prompts the idea: to the extent that notation is adequate it should be possible to analyse tune relatedness computationally -- might be a good student project! but surely it has been done before)."

Unfortunately, notation, at least of traditional tunes, is far from adequate. The rhythms employed by traditional musicians rarely lend themselves to the mathematical requirements of notation. Not only that, there is ornamentation and variation, so hard to pin down even when played by the same musician or bunch of musicians on more then one occasion, but which are the main drivers of the evolution of tunes. Give it a whirl, but I wouldn't be optimistic.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 03:12 PM

Regarding Phil's question:
> What are the methods for validating an exclusively 'oral' tradition?

That's the rub. In the English language printed broadside ballads go back to the 1500s so we can never exclude that the orally transmitted versions passed through print versions from time to time. But that's ok.

The premise would be that orality exists on a spectrum, and the more oral the transmission has been the more the song would evolve. With respect to evolutionary change of songs, if it is the ephemeral nature of oral events that is important, then perhaps the more ephemeral a written version is (e.g. broadsides more ephemeral than books or recordings) the more fluid the song remains.

Although there were broadsides in the 1500s, only 15% of the population of Great Britain was literate*, and those would be mainly in urban populations and upper classes. Generally literacy is much lower in rural populations, the poor, and disenfranchised populations (such as women and blacks in 19th c America); but these gaps have closed with time. The implication would be that songs collected from the rural poor before widespread literacy and before the dissemination of recordings and broadcasting, are the most likely to have been transmitted primarily orally.

Even with the likely involvement of written versions along the way, however, it is not at all difficult to find evidence of song evolution among versions of the same song collected as late as the 1950s from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, United States, and Australia, and from different regions within those countries. So "pure" sources are not required to make the point. Clearly Barbara Allen has diverged far more than, say, a Bach Oratorio, over the same time period.

Pamela


*interesting literacy data


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Ripov
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 03:18 PM


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 03:26 PM

In Bronson's great work 'The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads', he found that 'Barbara Allan' was the ballad with the greatest number of tunes -- but I have a wee notion that many of them are close, based on no evidence other than my own ear and the several times that I've heard a version from a distance so that I couldn't detect the words; the giveaway is always the phrasing of the final line with the words 'hard-hearted Barbara Allan'.

If you can find it, a great example is Dolly Parton's version -- starts with someone else singing a verse a cappella in Irish Gaelic and segues into Dolly singing a full, traditional American version with accompaniment.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=087p-Wpkyog


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 03:30 PM

I'm not convinced that ornamentation does have much to do with evolution of tunes, at not in European traditions.

I doubt if the influence of songs on tunes has been adequately investigated yet. I play a number of instrumental tunes that were used for songs by Hamish Henderson. I annoy the heck out of piping purists because the way I play those tunes mixes in the adaptations Henderson made to make them fit his words. This isn't because I belong to a purely oral culture - I know the originals, I've got them in books and could play them if I wanted to, but I don't. I am far from alone in doing that.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 03:36 PM

I did say ornamentation and variation.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 04:03 PM

regarding the problem of ornamentation, variation, and notation:

If I were to attempt a computational classification I'd probably start with an impoverished representation that omits ornaments but preserves variability within singer (from verse to verse and from singing to singing) as well as across singers. So I'd have to rely on an expert musician to decide which notes are ornaments, and extract the pitches and durations that should be considered the underlying 'melody'. A theory of ornamentation could be layered on later. Other than note bending (which could be considered an ornament), mathematically it's no problem to define both pitch and duration of each note on an analog scale without reference to any theory of tuning or time signature. But again expert judgement might be valuable, for example in discerning whether variations in the pitch of a note in the melody in different verses or repetitions or persons is attributable to pitch inaccuracy ("noise") or drift in the singer's implicit key ("nonstationarity"), versus a meaningful modulation ("signal"). I suppose one could postulate that any drift is accidental, and impose a global correction so that the tonic note remains stable for the duration of the song; and then compare the pitch of the same note in the tune from singing to singing to determine what the "intended" pitch is for that singer, and whether any deviations from verse to verse are systematic or random. My guess is that variations in the note duration are usually either text-driven or expressive and therefore more likely to be consistent from singing to singing.... but this is turning into more of a PhD thesis, and I don't have a PhD student just a bunch of Freshman undergraduates.

I suppose the advent of digital recording, pitch analysis software, music editing software and computer science/artificial intelligence make possible today an analysis that would've been impossible for S.P. Bayard et. al. So maybe it hasn't been done.   Interesting.

Pamela


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 04:18 PM

regarding contemporary songwriters using traditional tunes, knowingly or not, a few more examples (without formal analysis, just by ear):

Guy Clark's recent "Death of Sis Draper' melody resembles Matty Groves/Shady Grove.

the tune of Cyril Tawney's "Gray Funnel Line" bears a striking resemblance to the tune of "William Taylor" (as per Brian Peters & Jeff Davis)

Steve Goodman's 'Penny Evans' melody resembles the tune of "The Flying Cloud' (as per Louis Killen)

Don't know if any of those writers acknowledged a traditional source for the tune.

P.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 04:43 PM

I don't want to talk at cross purposes, as you are referring to songs rather than tunes much of the time. I would just say that ornaments and variations are not add-ons to tunes. They are the tunes. A traditional tune can't be defined as an entity which is designed to yield to crude representation as notes on a page. Chicken and egg and all that. The "bare notes of the tune on the page" are no more the tune than my skeleton is my body.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 05:42 PM

Pamela, I think you don't realize that you have selected a topic (the evolution of tunes) which will be quite a challenge to research and to teach. For one thing, there are many sets of lyrics with no tune. (say on broadside sheets). For another thing, when someone collected a tune, it was hard to say whether the tune had been around five years or two hundred.

I think you should get confident with the lyrics part of your class first, then move on to tunes after you have done a lot of reading and learning.

And unless all your students can read music and know basic music theory, it will be impossible for them to discuss tunes intelligently. In college, I planned to take a music history class before I had ever had a music lesson. I found it so opaque (What does he mean by anticipating the 10th?) that I dropped out immediately.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 08:45 PM

There is no need to go into a PhD level of detail to teach the students something that might be new and interesting to them. If their background is in popular music, jazz and art music, it may be news to them that:

- texts can have multiple tunes, which may be similar or very different

- the reasons for that are sometimes deliberate acts of creation and sometimes not

- it doesn't make sense to think of this process of variation as either corruption or evolution

- the process is not significantly a result of market forces

- it may be the result of variations in extra-musical human culture and human need rather than simple musical preference

- it largely disregards the ethic of intellectual property.

These large issues can all be illustrated by specific musical and historical facts, but don't bury the big picture in technicalities.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 11:30 PM

Thanks for all the advice. Above all I hope I've conveyed that I consider myself ignorant on the subject of tunes much less tune evolution, and my purpose here is to learn something, not to propound anything!

So with all due humility, to respond to just a few points --

Regarding Steve Shaw's point on ornaments:
I am not sure we disagree, perhaps only semantically. Your analogy is apt. If we wanted to determine the relationships among (vertebrate) species, a great place to start would be to compare their skeletons. Obviously a skeleton is not a whole living creature, but by simplifying the problem to just comparing skeletons, we're likely to find some broad and fundamental relationships right away. Then we could look at pigmentation and behaviour and other factors that skeletons fail to capture, and learn even more. Occasionally the skeletons will totally fool us, and then we'll find that out. The idea of successive approximation isn't guaranteed to work, but it's often very productive. Following that analogy, I wasn't suggesting that such a stripped down melodic structure (let's call it a skeleton) would be a song. I was just speculating that it might be one fundamental aspect that could be isolated conceptually for purposes of analysis. There must be a reason ornaments are called "ornaments", to distinguish them from other aspects of the melodic structure. I concede that it might be the case that removing ornamentation is impossible, or that it's impossible to trace the divergence of variants without considering ornaments. My hunch was that tune-skeletons would be instructive to analyze, but you may well know more than I do about that.

Regarding Leenia and Jack's teaching advice:
Rest assured, the digression into "computational ethnomusicology" is meant to be a discussion among us here, not a topic for my class! I am an experienced university professor, I have taught this class before (analyzing lyric variants), and I would never get into all this theory with Freshman. It is indeed sufficiently interesting and new to them to learn what traditional folk songs are like, and to think about the fact that things like writing, recording, broadcasting, global communication, copyrighting, etc, are relatively new and have had an impact on what songs are like and how songs exist within a culture.

I'm pretty solid on the text-based content of the class at this point, so I thought it might be a good time to expand my own knowledge and think about generalizing the concept (of change through oral transmission) to the tunes as well. Most of the students have no knowledge of music theory and no ability to read or write music or play any instrument, so clearly any treatment of tunes within the class would have to be in such broad strokes as to be obvious to the untrained ear. In fact I consider my own ability to read music and my knowledge of music theory to be rudimentary at best. The point of my original question was to learn more about what scholars have said on the matter, and see if I can find any examples that are sufficiently clear and accessible that they are worth touching on in perhaps one lecture in the class. Beyond that I wouldn't be qualified nor would the students be prepared. But I like to read/think significantly deeper than I teach.

As I said, the full blown theory problem I brought up would not be at all appropriate for Freshmen, but more appropriate to a student doing a PhD in the field, precisely because of all the complexities you mention, and at least as many subtleties on the computational side. Neither my Freshman students, nor I, intend to do a PhD on the subject, so I'm well aware that I'm not going to solve this problem through armchair philosophy. I just thought I might learn something by trying to think about it, and it might be interesting to discuss how someone might approach it from the tools of my own field (which you could call computational biology). Apologies, sincerely, if I've stepped on toes by treading outside my professional boundaries by speculating on the idea.

Anyway, you've all given me a lot of leads that will keep me busy between now and when my class begins in April, and if I don't get anywhere with it by then, I'll just stick with the text-based material as usual.

Best,
Pamela


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 02:11 AM

Brian: "It's also wise to be aware of the possible effects of broadcast ..."
I wasn't even sure how to frame shortwave radio. Is 'oral tradition' exclusively 'unplugged?'


"However, these were scarcely ever provided with sheet music, and there's no evidence that singers (as opposed to instrumentalists) would have been able to read it anyway"

Pam: "The implication would be that songs collected from the rural poor before widespread literacy and before the dissemination of recordings and broadcasting, are the most likely to have been transmitted primarily orally."

The 18-19th century American circus industry had the design intent of mass distribution. In terms of raw headcount and surface area it probably beat print and oral combined. A nice interview with circus bandleader John Robinson:
http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18860709.2.36&srpos=7&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN-robinson+music-------1

Anywho... best of luck to you!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 05:47 AM

More examples of possibly unknown copying:

The first five notes of Flower of Scotland are identical to the start of Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. (We have played both back-to-back in a session!)

Someone started singing the Burns song John Anderson, my Jo: he continued, and knowing smiles and stifled sniggers went round as he unwittingly morphed the tune into Ghost Riders in the Sky!

A songwriting friend launched a "new" song on us the other week. It had pretty much the same tune as Devonshire Carol by John Tams: he said he had never heard the latter. (I told him privately later that I thought there was a resemblance, and he went away and "discovered" John Tams, admitted the uncanny likeness in tunes, and changed his own).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 06:58 AM

Whilst it is a dance tune rather than a song tune, "Hardcore English" by the late Barry Callaghan (published by EFDSS) compares 6 different versions of "Stoney Steps" from different dates and different parts of the country. To quote Barry, "This is one of the 'big'tunes of the English tradition, and it is wonderful to see how generations of musicians have shaped it to their style and taste".


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 08:30 AM

John Anderson My Jo -> When Johnny Came Marching Home. It might be that Ghost Riders in the Sky derives from the latter, hence the resemblance.

Hymnody was way more important in 18th/19th century Anglo-America than all other musical or verbal artforms put together. But hymn tunes didn't change very fast, and texts hardly at all (except by omission). The congregation mostly couldn't read music, but there was always somebody around who could and would keep the others straight. The same went for tunes: rural musicians kept their own tunebooks (see the Village Music Project for some) and their copies of tunes rarely varied much from the printed books they came from.

On the other hand, the way hymns were sung did change a lot, and so did the style of performance of instrumental dance tunes. Two groups of people can perform from the exact same written notes and diverge so far in their interpretation as to make the identity completely inaudible.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 09:53 AM

I second Will's suggestion of the "Star of the County Down" family.

Many, many variations.

The one popular today is essentially that of an American minstrel song of the 1850s, "The Boy with the Auburn Hair" - but that had totally ridiculous lyrics.

Not to say the tune started there(it seems utterly out of place), only that it's very close to the one internationally recognized as carrying a very different song.

A Confederate officer named C. W. Alexander wrote "The Southern Soldier Boy" to the "Auburn Hair" tune in 1863. It's become a standard among Civil War aficionados.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 10:03 AM

I occasionally try to morph tunes I really detest into something else. Haven't yet managed to turn "Ashokan Farewell" into a jig so as to get it over with faster, but I recently noticed what happens if you drastically speed up John Denver's "Annie's Song" - it becomes almost indistinguishable from the late 19th century 9/8 pipe march "The Hills of Dargai".


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,DrWord
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 11:28 AM

As you have learned, Pamela, you've come to the right place. I hope you revive this thread [if it moves into the archive] with news of your course and students. Even folk on the forum who don't post much (or often) come out of the woodwork when the topic stirs them, and the collective scholarship is pretty amazing. Thanks for the thread & best of luck with your ethnomusicological adventures.
keep on pickin'
dennis


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 01:28 PM

Jack, if someone could make "The Unfortunate Rake" into a jig, you should have little trouble with "Ashokan."

Whose sole fault, as I see it, is that it's been played to destruction. Thanks to Ken Burns, it's always assumed to stem from the American Civil War.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 01:44 PM

On the subject of Star of The County Down etc, you'd be surprised how many tunes you can sing Pinball Wizard to.

Evolution is a wonderful thing. I was fascinated watching James May on the telly a couple of years ago, showing how giving a particular computer programme lots of Bach to consider, it "composed" a set of tunes (for piano but you could substitute any key instrument I suppose) that were in the genre, using the cadences typical of Bach.

That principle could more than easily lend itself to jigs reels etc and for that matter, the stanza differences of lyrics that necessitate subtle tune evolution.

A fascinating subject.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 02:19 PM

I was well and truly pissed off with Ashokan Farewell long before that Civil War series was made. (It's not associated with it in Scotland). It sounds like something that crawled out of a Hammond organ.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 06:05 PM

A couple not necessarily related thoughts.

Worth remembering that in distant times, those who could read customarily read aloud to those who could not. For that reason, written texts have always been a possible vehicle for dissemination.

Also worth noting that hymns have often been sung to whatever familiar melody lent itself to the meter and was agreeable to the celebrants. A New York City gossip columnist once called out a well known Salvation Army leader for singing "Champagne Charlie" in Central Park, and the gentleman was forced to respond that he was singing a temperance song that had been written to what was then a very popular melody.

Finally, folk melodies are a very good vehicle for teaching music simply because they are familiar.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 06:33 PM

Also, Pamela, there is an analytical system called Shenkerian Analysis that allows for the sort of comparisons that you're talking about. Here is the Wikipedia Article which explains it--at least sort of. Granted, it is a bit controversial(Among music theorists, it is a "Drink the Kool Aid" sort of thing) but he basically looked at the underlying direction and structure of a melody and the the smaller journeys that it made from each step, I find it very helpful both in writing and performing. It could be said that he took the obvious and made it arcane, though.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Dec 15 - 07:52 PM

Schenkerian analysis is intended to explain the large-scale structure of art music. It isn't really intended to do micro-comparisons between lots of small pieces.

Phil Taylor (author of the ABC application BarFly) tried adapting the DNA comparison software used by geneticists to work on tunes. It seemed like the right direction but there were oo many differences in the problems for it to work without a lot of tinkering. (DNA codes are exact - melodies often sound the same when you shift a note by a third or a fifth, so the matching rules have be more elastic).

This is a bit of an email exchange between me and Phil (me first) about "The Rocky Road to Dublin" and "Ay Waukin O":

Anent a discussion on ballad-l. These tunes seem to me to be variants of the same thing ("Ay Waukin O" has a longer documented history and is probably older in fact) but I don't see how to prove it. What does your gene-comparison method say?
Well, for two tunes all you would get would be a number representing a degree of similarity. It's difficult to interpret that without reference to a whole lot of other tunes. A small list of tunes could be arranged in a tree to show which ones are the most similar to each other. Otherwise you would have to test a large number of pairs so you could say that the probability of finding a similarity of x is low compared with that of two tunes chosen at random.
Even in the DNA field where people have been doing this for years it's very hard to prove relationships other than very close ones. So, for example you can say if a particular DNA sample belongs to the immediate family of another one, but if they are further apart than first cousins it becomes difficult to determine even if they belong to the same race. (and the forensic people would _really_ love to be able to do that unambiguously.)


Some time before that, I'd given Phil a bunch of tunes which seemed to me to be clearly related, and he got a sensible-looking tree out of them. I can't find the ABC file I sent him just now (it was around 2001), but the tunes included:

  1. three versions of the late 17th century Scottish song tune "Mary Scott", in 3/4
  2. an unnamed reel from the Gairdyn MS of the early 18th century
  3. Carrick's Rant from a late 18th century source
  4. the 19th century song and strathspey "The Smith's a Gallant Fireman"


Theme coding also gives you comparisons, but since it only looks at the start of a tune it will miss a lot.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 29 Dec 15 - 01:27 AM

(now that the holidays are over, I'm back to full time work and I can only check in occasionally, so if I don't respond quickly that is why.)
---

RE circus: interesting, I'll read up.

RE hymnody: offhand I would think church music would be part of the "scholarly" tradition as opposed to oral/folk tradition, yet clearly many "folk" would be exposed to hymns aurally so it's relevant to consider. Vaguely related to this point, I'm told that in hymnals texts are codified by their syllabic structure (8:6:8:6, etc) and tunes likewise, such that any text of a given pattern can be sung to any tune of the like pattern. Which seems a very interesting case to examine regarding the fluidity of tunes being adapted to disparate texts.

RE algorithms trained on Bach to produce "generative models": yes this is one kind of A.I. that is well developed in my scientific discipline, and is considered a strong test of a model (kind of a Turing Test: can the algorithm make a tune that you would mistake for a real traditional tune?).

RE "those who could read customarily read aloud to those who could not.": good point. which reminds me, it's noted that until fairly recently silent reading was rare, and when reading meant reading aloud there was a greater focus on the auditory quality of the text (cadence, alliteration, rhyme, etc).

RE Shenkerian Analysis: I had not heard of that. Sounds very relevant, I'll read up.

RE DNA analysis: this is exactly the type of algorithm I have some expertise in, and was imagining in my speculative fancy; it is true that one needs a substantial data set to get any traction. But large data sets may be available. And the fewer constraints imposed on the tune (e.g., if you don't demand a tempered scale or a strict time signature), the more data you'll need to adequately sample the larger space of possibilities.

Glad to have access to so many well-informed and thoughtful minds!

P.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Mr Red
Date: 29 Dec 15 - 04:42 AM

Modern examples of evolution, folk process, etc

1) John Tams' "(When we go) Rolling Home" these lines exist in the wild:

The rich man in his finery
the rich man in his fine array
The gentry in their fine array etc etc

2) Mondegreens.

And is there not a case for many songs to be preserved as lyrics? Handed on orally or on paper, taught as poems, which musicians then recognise there is a meter and attach to a new tune? Hard to prove but good fodder for speculation.

And half remembered lyrics often get morphed by the singer to suit their diction.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 29 Dec 15 - 04:48 AM

Going back to the idea I floated earlier of comparing variants from different locations, here's a good example from England: You Seamen Bold

What you have there are four tunes for the same song, sometimes known (courtesy of the Penguin Book) as 'The Ship in Distress'. #2 and #3 are from the same village in Sussex, #1 from a village 20 miles away, and #4 from 200 miles away. They are all clearly variants of the same tune, although they are set in different musical modes: Mixolydian,Dorian and Ionian (incidentally a bit of digging in the Full English should get you midi sound files of all four). As you might expect, the two from Pulborough are almost identical, and share the characteristic of the flattened third and sixth notes of the scale (Dorian), which to our ears imparts a darker tone to the melody. But the other two have a major third and a sunnier temperament - despite the sombre theme of shipwreck, cannibalistic inclinations etc.

However, Percy Grainger believed (and I understand Julia Bishop is of the same mind) that the other song collectors of his day were mistaken in their identification of and fascination with medieval church modes in folk song melodies. According to him, precisely the intervals that determine the four commonest modes - the 3rd, 6th and 7th of the scale - were precisely those likely to be varied or sung ambiguously by traditional singers (think of the Blues as well). There's plenty of evidence of that if you listen to enough recordings. So it may be that those modal variations of 'You Seamen Bold' had a lot less significance for the singers who sang them than they do for scholars or modern revivalists.

It's worth mentioning that this particular song wasn't collected very often, but all the versions I can find had a very similar tune. A song like 'John Barleycorn', which was older and much more widespread, had a whole number of quite different tunes, in every shape, mode and time signature you could wish for.

I think Jack Campin had it right in his post of 27 Dec 15 @ 08:45 PM: there was not some linear evolutionary process going on, even thought tunes clearly changed. Cecil Sharp's metaphor of the pebble shaped by the waves of the sea is pretty, but not necessarily apt - in fact he gave the impression that songs could be refined to some high artistic level at the same time they were becoming degenerate.

Regarding the other point about commercial music before the days of broadcasting, etc: there were constant inputs over centuries from pleasure garden performance, glee club repertoire, the church, music hall, minstrel shows and quite possibly circus music as alluded to above. How much all of that contributed to or impinged on what we think of as the folk song repertoire is something I don't think we know yet. However, you wouldn't mistake 'You Seamen Bold' for a music hall song.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 29 Dec 15 - 05:04 AM

RE DNA analysis: this is exactly the type of algorithm I have some expertise in, and was imagining in my speculative fancy; it is true that one needs a substantial data set to get any traction. But large data sets may be available. And the fewer constraints imposed on the tune (e.g., if you don't demand a tempered scale or a strict time signature), the more data you'll need to adequately sample the larger space of possibilities.

There are large data sets - look at the ABC corpus (you could easily harvest all of it). But there aren't large datasets of usable quality for this kind of music. ABC versions of tunes have been coded to wildly varying standards, and no algorithmic comparison could make sense of them all. You would have to edit your own and proofread every bar.

the fewer constraints imposed on the tune (e.g., if you don't demand a tempered scale or a strict time signature), the more data you'll need to adequately sample the larger space of possibilities

ABC (like most other computer coding systems) says nothing about microtonal variations in the scale. I doubt time signature would be much of a problem (see the examples I gave just above, where a tune has a clear identity despite having variants in slow 3/4, medium-pace duple time and fast duple time). But trying to be over-consistent about it may be a problem - the transcriptions on TheSession.org (one of the largest ABC corpora) will be useless, because the site admin enforces loopy restrictions on the metres you can submit, and you can't tell when that policy has corrupted something.

Schenkerian analysis is a black hole of complexity quite irrelevant to this sort of investigation.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Achy Pete
Date: 29 Dec 15 - 03:27 PM

I would refer you to a website called "Remembering the Old Songs," which I think may have some very useful information for you on the musical evolution of many songs:

http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/OldSongs.html

Another suggestion I might make is to touch upon how two musicians can interpret the same song and come up with drastically different treatments. Case in point, the song "Fell in Love With a Girl" by The White Stripes was also recorded by Joss Stone as "Fell in Love With a Boy."

They are so stylistically different that upon initial listenings very few people would ever conclude this was the same song.

Good luck with your class,


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 02 Jan 16 - 01:05 PM

Achy Pete wrote:
>I would refer you to a website called "Remembering the Old Songs,"

This is a terrific resource, thanks! It's written at the perfect level for my students. For the songs I already teach in detail (such as Barbara Allen and Twa Sisters), I think the articles do a good job. For other songs for which I don't have quite enough examples, these articles may help me identify variants that I hadn't run across. And some of these songs I didn't know at all, so it's fun to read about them.

Good stuff.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 02 Jan 16 - 01:45 PM

Pamela,
I'm surprised no-one has mentioned keeping things quite simple to start with considering your level of audience. There are lots of simple universal tunes amongst the nursery repertoire. One of the simplest 'Baa Baa Black Sheep/Twinkle Twinkle Little Star et al' could be a good starting point. There are probably still people about who haven't even realised these tunes are really the same.

'Ach Du Liebe Augustin' is a simple universally used tune, 'So Early in the Morning'. There are lots of examples.

having introduced these you could then move on to something like the ubiquitous 'Villikins and Dinah' tune before venturing into 'Dives and Lazarus' and on the last one Vaughan Williams put together a brilliant piece using 6 different versions of the tune I believe.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: toadfrog
Date: 02 Jan 16 - 02:21 PM

Bronson has v. interesting things to say on evolution of tunes.
Readings
Bronson, Bertrand. "Folk-Song and the Modes," "Habits of the Ballad as Song," and "Words and Music in Child Ballads." In The Ballad as Song. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 79-132.

1. General theory about tunes shifting as they slip from one mode to another.
2. Comparison of "Captain Kidd," "Sam Hall," and "Admiral Benbow," all ballads written to the "same tune" (according to Bronson) from around 1700. But the tune does change, at least based on the way these are sung today.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Gibb Sahib
Date: 02 Jan 16 - 07:16 PM

Why is the starting assumption that tunes evolve? Not everything "evolves" as such.

Without Darwin, perhaps, there would have been none of the academic folklore or comparative musicology of the late nineteenth - early twentieth century. The concept of natural selection was an inspiration to them, even if its application to culture wasn't necessarily sound. But scholarship moved beyond those models. "Folk" aficionados of today, especially of an English leaning, might still be enamored by the Anglocentric gentleman/lady folklorists of that early era, yes. But this is hardly "ethnomusicology"—the founding of which field was in large part a statement of opposition to evolutionary models.

In that light, I'm puzzled why this is "an Ethnomusicology class" or why, by the same token, reference material by ethnomusicologists on musical change has not (evidently) been sought. (I'll say that it doesn't have to be an ethnomusicology course; it could be an English Literature course, Folkloristics, etc. - to each discipline its own methods. But to call it an ethnomusicology course sets up certain expectations.)

One will find that ethnomusicology hasn't been waiting around for people in the hard sciences to come and bring the answers to music through application of superior scientific reasoning :-) (If one doesn't see current ethnomusicologists discussing evolutionary theory, it's not because they haven't found it yet, but because they left it long in the past.) It's probably your responsibility, Pamela, to figure out WHY this is if you're presenting such a course.

Yes - What might be more interesting, assuming this is a course is the humanities, is to ask more "why?" questions. Such as my opening question: "Why the starting assumption that tunes evolve?" Most students have probably never considered how people with different worldviews—including a group of people roughly characterized as "Western atheist scientists"—think differently about how music works. I think such discussion can ultimately be more transformative for students than studying someone's theory of how tunes evolve. Indeed, there is no set canon to be imparted on "How Music Changes," so it might be better rather to explore the topic of musical change while leaving it open to different approaches—wherein evolutionary theory would be just one. I appreciate that it's your preferred way of thinking about the topic, but I don't think it's appropriate (at least not typically) for this type of humanities course (ethnomusicology particularly) to say, "OK, everybody, here's how this phenomenon [probably] works." Show different sides.

As a guide to further reading:
I'd say this topic generally ceased to be discussed in ethnomusicology by the 1960s, so look before that for literature. 1930s-50s is probably your best bet. You might see what the different approaches were as represented by European comparative musicology (Erik von Hornbostel as a representative scholar), Continental musical folklore (Bela Bartók as a representative), and post-Boas, Euro-American early ethnomusicology of the likes of George Herzog and M. Kolinski. Bruno Nettl, who was around during the founding of the Society for Ethnomusicology in the 1950s, would remember these trends and one or more of his retrospective books (_31 Issues in Ethnomusicology_ or something like that) would somewhere survey "musical change" in an accessible way. See also the entry for Ethnomusicology in the 2001 edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Good luck.

Dr. Gibb Schreffler (Music Dept.)
Director of Ethnomusicology Program
Pomona College


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 04:24 AM

Happy New Year, Gibb

If indeed ethnomusicology scholars have left behind evolutionary theory I would say (IMHO) this is a great shame. Folklore studies were blighted for a number of years by the arguments between the comparative approach and the contextual approach to folk literature but around about the 60s they began to appreciate that both approaches were equally valid and indeed complementary, which I believe is still the case.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 04:32 AM

Pamela,
It might not be immediately obvious to your students that the most drastic changes in both tunes and texts occur when particularly creative and relatively sophisticated redactors become involved. Obvious examples are broadside rewriters, ballad editors, ballad chaunters, composers like Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Britten, Butterworth.

Many folksong scholars are not always aware of the extent that these sophisticated people can take a folk item, seriously alter it and then that item can come back into oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 08:22 AM

I'm perplexed by Gibb Sahib's dismissal of the notion of evolution. There are countless instances of what is evidently the "same" tune existing in different versions, which must have come into existence through a process of some sort. If you don't call that process "evolution" why does that term not fit, and what do you call it?

Is the objection to that concept based on an understanding that "evolution" implies "improvement" in some respect? In the case of biological species it typically does imply improvement in their fitness for their particular niches, but not necessarily in any wider sense.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 08:54 AM

He may be implying that tune evolution only covers a minuscule fraction of what ethnomusicologists want to look at, and hence it doesn't make sense to present it as a central problem requiring a massive investment of intellectual energy.

On the other hand, ethnomusicology is mostly conducted by raiding operations. A PhD student isn't likely be around long enough to study diachronic phenomena.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Mysha
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 01:07 PM

Hi,

I can't really contribute much to the original question, but I find it fascinating. Obviously, a song would be on the level of species, whereas the specimen would be representations, on paper or in performance. Hm, but what about the tunes versus the lyrics? Are they separate domains, with the songs being symbioses between species of the two? Apart from the literal meaning of the word, it would allow for lyrics without tune and v.v., and the song does display how a symbiosis may cause differences in the species, then subspecies, and maybe eventually new species. Does this approach work?


I find the approach of Dr. Schreffler interesting as well, even if to me it seems the first question ought to be:
Is this "Ethnomusicology class about how folk songs evolve through oral tradition" intended as an introduction to Ethnomusicology in general, or is it specifically an Ethnomusicology class that focuses on evolution?

I'm not sure his mention of Darwin is relevant here, as I've yet to encounter any concept in the evolution theory that was actually contributed by Darwin. Still, "How Music Changes" would be the definition of evolution for music. Someone in this thread mentioned the linearity of the evolution theory, but it's good to realise that that is only temporal: The evolution theory is, after all, as much a theory of history as it is of biology (maybe even more so), and the linearity lies only in the way that an earlier form has changed to reach the current form. Nothing in this study of changes says that any factor governing those changes has to remain constant or linear over time (or place).

But regardless, I find his application of the evolution theory to the evolution theory interesting: What changed that caused Ethnomusicology to no longer consider the evolution theory very relevant? Or to use the natural selection abbreviation: Why is the evolution theory no longer the fittest in that environment? Of course, as always the easiest assumption is the change in the environment: Maybe the specimen of discussions on musical evolution became rare when Ethnomusicology was no longer looking for the answers they provided. E.g. if Ethnomusicology is now looking into the reasons for making music in the first place, then evolution theory telling how pieces changed afterwards isn't currently much help. Anyway, it's an interesting approach, and if the premise is true, I hope those with meta-knowledge of Ethnomusicology will be able to fill in the factors that contributed to it.

Bye,
                                                                Mysha


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 01:51 PM

The "evolution" of songs doesn't include anything like Darwinian selection. If it did, The Star-Spangled Banner and Flower of Scotland would be disarticulated bones in a layer of mud.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 02:40 PM

Part of the problem - if it is one - is that "evolution" usually implies an increasing complexity or sophistication over time.

Do traditional tunes and songs really exhibit this? A few songs do generate new stanzas over time, but these rarely get combined into a single version. (Think, for example, of "The Frog and the Mouse" and/or "Three German Officers," both unusually popular for decades or centuries.

Tune "evolution" is even more problematical. Chronologically "The Three Ravens" and "John Anderson" come long before "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." But has a single tune actually "evolved"? Has the "Ravens" tune somehow "improved"? And how do we know that these recognizably distinct tunes, despite their similarities, are genetically related? They may be, but then again they may be the result of independent, or nearly independent, inspiration. Would that count as "evolution"?

Look at the various tunes related to "Captain Kidd" and "Wondrous Love." They're certainly related in form, and "Ye Jacobites by Name" was even said in the 18th century to go to a (lost, perhaps) version of "Captain Kidd." Some - or even all- of these tunes may have resulted from preconscious influences (i.e., not "unconscious" but just under complete awareness). Others may have been intentional improvements. Do these dynamics count as "evolution"?

Folk song "evolution" - even if clearly defined, as it usually isn't - is rarely an obvious or straightforward process. Did "Wrap Me Up in my Tarpaulin Jacket" really derive or evolve in any meaningful way from the Unfortunate Rake"? Or are they simply quite different songs on broadly similar subjects?

Folk songs and tunes are certainly subject to individual and collective variations, alterations, omissions, intentional deletions, additions, distortions, rewriting, parodies, etc, etc. But do these "folk processes" count as "evolution"?

BTW, one of the attractions of folk song to beginning students is the idea that these songs were so widely known among "the folk" that they represents some sort of communal view of things, or at least communal taste. But what percentage of the population really sang, or even cared much about, any given piece?

That question seems to be unanswerable. All we can say for sure, think, is that traditional songs/tunes in general were in wide circulation for centuries, and some (like "Barbara Allen" and "The Unfortunate Rake") were very popular indeed.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Mo the caller
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 03:19 PM

Not what you want perhaps, but a very good example of the what the thread title suggested to me are the tunes for Cotswold Morris Dances. Each village seemed it's own version of the tunes as well as differing dances to go with them.Lots of them here


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 04:06 PM

The simple meaning I understand to 'evolution' is 'gradual change over a period of time'. Whether any change is for the better or worse is simply a matter of opinion surely and subject to fashion. Gibb is referring specifically to Darwin's theory and the spin-offs from it. Whilst some aspects in the methodology of studying biological evolution can be applied to folk music there have to be obvious differences. Scientists have tried to use the disciplines of evolution theory to study ballad evolution and some have been shot down and shown not to work. However, some very clever scholars have had a significant degree of success when applying the theory to a range of literature including ballads.

The way I see it, the evolution of any given folk song could include all of the processes, oral, print, scribal, editing, forgery etc.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 04:17 PM

I might add that part of the problem with folk song scholarship is that some very influential scholars have in the past tried to deny/hide/downplay the influence of some of the processes I have just listed.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Rumncoke
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 07:18 PM

I tried playing baa baa black sheep and twinkle twinkle to the tunes I know, and although similar they are not the same and just the first ten notes allowed them to be distinguished by a three year old.

Maybe you have to get old to fail to notice the differences?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 03 Jan 16 - 09:53 PM

Tunes don't evolve, but sometimes people change them. Take a tune.

Musician #1 is a beginner, and he makes it easier to play - skips ornaments, makes big jumps smaller, ignores dotted timings, drops accidentals, omits pick-up notes, plays slow.

Musician #2 is in a polka band, and he makes it hop up and down more.

Musician #3 wants a tune for a class of six-year-olds, so he moves it from minor to major.

Musician #4 wants authenticity, so he revives Version 1. (He is lucky to find an old version in a published book.)

Musician #5 wants a barbershop sound, so he throws in new sharps and flats.

Musician #6 wants to impress music critics, so he plays it fast with lots of ornaments.
==========
Let this go on for 100 or 200 years, and chances are nobody will know what the original tune was like.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Ted Crum (Steamchicken)
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 08:30 AM

Just read down this thread, and am surprised no-one has brought up the effect of playing the same tune on different instruments can have. I am best known as a harmonica player, but if I am playing melodeon, I will sometimes vary timing and sometimes melody to suit the nature of the instrument. Probably not very PC, but it works for me.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 01:35 PM

Lighter said
> Part of the problem - if it is one - is that "evolution" usually implies an increasing complexity or sophistication over time.

Not at all! Biological evolution can go in that direction, or in the opposite direction to greater simplicity, but changes are often to new forms that are significantly different but much about the same in complexity.

Tunes can likewise evolve in various ways, as vividly illustrated by leeneia, 03 Jan 16 - 09:53 PM.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 01:59 PM

Correct. That's why I said "evolution" instead of "biological evolution."

When people talk about of "evolution," what they usually seem to have in mind is the evolution of complex organisms like themselves from ancient amoeba thingies.

Another common context is to talk about the "evolution" of technologies. There's no doubt that today's cars are more complicated and sophisticated than Henry Ford's.

It is clearer to speak about "change" in folk music rather than "evolution."

Leeneia's helpful lists omits simple forgetting, confusion, and rationalization, two further important sources of change.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 02:01 PM

Even when you move from blues harp to tremolo to chrom, Ted, though I'll leave the latter to you! ;-) Happy New Year from Steve!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 05:11 PM

Spot on, Ted Crum: even played from the same score (if you use one) any tune will sound different on different instruments. A set of guitar chords might work fine with a particular song or tune, and sound awful with piano or box, and vice versa. As for ornamentation, that can be very instrument-specific: partly, being within the capabilities of a particular instrument, and partly what actually sounds both natural and credible.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 06:00 PM

Against the idea of the capabilities of instruments affecting what happens to tunes: in many traditions, vocal music is considered primary, and instruments simply approximate what the voice can do. So anybody playing the traditional corpus on whatever instrument will always have the vocal model in mind. This is true of Indian classical music, Arabic and Turkish art music, and, if Allan MacDonald is to be believed, piobaireachd. (His thesis is beyond me, but I have reason to believe he knows what he's talking about).

The more familiar a tune, the more likely that is to happen. People playing Scottish singalong tunes on the accordion are not going to leave out notes beyond the pipe scale just because they once heard a piper playing those tunes without them - they'll go back to the way they're sung. And people singing along with a piper will just ignore the funny intonation and octave shifts a piper might have to do; they know how the song goes. (Who would ever sing "Scotland the Brave" the way it goes on the pipes?).

In critical theory, this is the "emic"/"etic" distinction. Comparing sound files with frequency analyzers, or comparing the notated forms of tunes, is research at the etic level; figuring out why people perform them that way is the emic bit.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 06:47 PM

Dunno about that, Jack. I've been listening to music all my life, and playing some of it for a good bit. I don't understand music at all (I'm not alone: I once heard Vladimir Ashkenazy saying the same thing), but I have a feeling that every bit of it boils down to song and to dance, and that neither has dominion over the other.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 08:13 PM

I was describing situations where song definitely does provide a norm. Obviously it doesn't always - but where it does, chasing after variant instrumental forms of tunes is missing the point; those different forms all radiate from a common original, maybe one too well known to be written down. This makes obsessing over oral transmission of instrumental tunes beside the point - what is being transmitted is not the tune itself, or an instrumental tradition of playing it, but rather a vocal original and a tradition of ways of rendering songs on instruments. (I'd guess that if you asked any competent Scottish danceband musician to use "Coulter's Candy" for a strathspey followed by a reel, they could do it on the fly, even though there is no tradition of it being used for either).

In a lot of traditions, the words of dance tunes survive as vocalizations done by the caller or the dancers. These may not be the original words (particularly in American old-time) but they do continue a tradition of having words for the tune.

You get a similar situation with bawdy songs. You can often detect the presence of a widely known but unprintable version, where different features of it emerge in different bowdlerizations over a couple of centuries. The bowdlerizers were all working from more or less the same original, though their results looked very different.

The bottom line is that what looks like evolution on the surface may not be when you dig a bit deeper into what's going on.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 09:58 PM

Re: my list of six things that could happen to a tune. They can happen in any order, they can happen over and over, and any number of them can be happening at the same time. That's just not what we mean by evolution.

Those are good points about tunes being different on different instruments and about forgetting, confusing, and rationalizing.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 04 Jan 16 - 10:37 PM

The obvious question here would be, what do you mean by "evolution"?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 05 Jan 16 - 09:24 PM

(this forum moves faster than I can. this post is in response to Dr. Gibb Schreffler from Jan 2:)

Thank you for the references; I'd like to be better informed on the topic, which is why I am here seeking reference materials from ethnomusicologists. I've often heard that Darwinian theories were popular in ethnomusicology long ago, fell out of favor, and are not taken seriously now. But I was lacking a concise summary of why, and will be glad to consult references that a professional in the field considers reputable.

To clear up a few things:
Maybe I shouldn't have said "ethnomusicology class". My class does not claim to be an introduction to, or summary of, the field of ethnomusicology nor of its history; the word "ethnomusicology" does not appear in the course title or description. I only used the term here because I believe the topic I cover is considered a part of that field -- but only a very small part of that field.

This is a one unit (one class-hour per week), pass-fail seminar for Freshman titled "Folk Songs Change Through Oral Transmission". I had originally proposed to teach it in one of the non-academic series, but the Music department claimed it and reviewed and approved its curriculum. So that's how a Biology professor comes to be teaching a class in the Music department.

It's an extremely simple, basic class. Most of the time is spent listening to examples from which the students discover first-hand that when people collected folk songs in the English language from around the world, they found the same songs cropping up all over the place, but the versions varied quite a lot. For most students, this is the first time they encounter this observation, and like me, they think it's fascinating.

Regarding teaching I think we are on the same page. I would think the primary goal of any teacher in any discipline -- even the hard sciences -- is to engage student's critical thinking, rather than to pass down any dogmas.

In my first class I play them a lot of versions of "Barbara Allen" (as many field recordings as possible, as well as early revival recordings). I ask the students to listen and decide if they think these are unrelated independent songs that just coincidentally bear similarities, or if they derived from some common source. Generally they think the similarities are not coincidental so I ask them why. I hand out the transcribed texts of the ones they heard and several more collected versions. Then the students come back to the next class with their observations or evidence -- what names, plot events, etc seem to recur in nearly every version, which ones crop up in many yet are completely absent in many others; what seems completely unique to single versions and/or generic to any song.

Then I share the fact that this song has been around for hundreds of years and was largely transmitted orally over that time, and that it has been argued that oral transmission could explain the fluidity of folk songs: renditions purely from memory may change from telling to telling, from person to person and generation to generation, whether intentionally or accidentally (by analogy to a game of Telephone or Chinese Whispers). I go out on a limb and suggest that the presence of this song in remote rural Appalachia was probably due to its being passed down from immigrants from the British Isles (by which I mean England Ireland and/or Scotland). Is any of this so far inaccurate/controversial?   

We do the same thing for a new song every class, starting with ones that to me are more obviously related (Barbara Allen, Twa Sisters, Cruel Mother) to others I find much less obvious (Broomfield Wager/Maid on the Shore; Unfortunate Rake/Streets of Loredo/St James Infirmary). Along the way, things like commonplaces, cliches and floating verses are noticed and discussed; the question eventually arises whether there are universal themes (c.f. Jungian archetypes) that might make remarkably similar stories re-appear independently without being from any common descent; etc; and in light of these points we may revisit our evidence and conclusions about the earlier songs, and consider whether "same song" should even mean "of common origin" or just "common theme". It's pointed out that even oral traditions have been influenced/punctuated by written versions (broadsides) scholarly interpretations (classical composers) and later on, influential recordings; what impact might that have had? How could we look into that?

I don't think I'm making any assumption about folk songs evolving that I am bent on proving. I find that many of the phenomena that are observed and questions that arise in collected folk songs are analogous to phenomena and questions also studied in biological evolution (or really, population genetics). I'll stand by that statement, but that's clearly another long conversation in which I'm not sure you are interested. For now I'll just clarify that the theory of evolution (as used in biology today) does not make any assumptions about anything improving, approaching a goal, or becoming more complex with time.

By the way, the other main theoretical thread that I introduce throughout my class is one I take away from Walter J Ong's theory of Orality and its implications for culture. Most students have never considered the fact that things like writing, widespread literacy, recording, broadcasting, copyrighting, urbanization, rapid travel, and global communication are relatively new to the human race, and that these developments might have had a qualitative impact on the structure or content of songs, or culture in general. I personally found Ong's ideas quite interesting when I learned them; I would be grateful to know whether the ethnomusicology field is sympathetic to, divided on, or uniformly opposed to, Ong's theoretical constructs?

I've also considered reading or handing out excerpts of the writings of song collectors about their observations of the communities from which they collected and the role of singing in their community life (as well as critiques by some that the early collectors were motivated by nationalism and ideology and failed to show interest in or concern for the people from whom they collected). Is there a classic essay we could read about what are the responsibilities of a collector, or whether the act of observing (collecting, recording) changes that which is being observed? This might be beyond the scope of what I can get in to my class, but at least it could go on a list of 'further readings'.

IN SUMMARY
I can well imagine it would be irritating if people from the hard sciences thought they could waltz in and solve your problems. That's not my intention. I come to this topic because I love and sing traditional folk ballads, and for that reason I have read, attended workshops, and spoken with music scholars to learn more about their origins. I know that I'm not an ethnomusicologist, nor do I think I can solve problems in ethnomusicology better than ethnomusicologists, nor that I can solve them at all. I am an outsider fascinated by what I have learned from ethnomusicologists so far and interested in learning more, as well as sharing what I have learned. I am naturally inclined to relate what I learn to my own fields of academic research, and I personally find the analogies rich and thought provoking, even if ethnomusicologists are not interested. Given that biology has seen many revolutions in the past hundred years, however, there exists a possibility that the discussion could be different now than it was previously.

My class is narrowly focused on one observation: that folk songs vary with location and change with time. The curriculum sticks largely to the primary data (collected songs). I bring to the discussion the two theoretical frameworks that I personally know best. I hope this class stimulates curiosity and invites students to ask more questions and to think for themselves rather than buying (or rejecting) any theory based on the current fashion of any academic field.

Respectfully,
Pamela


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 01:01 AM

Well spoken, Pamela. Your question stimulated a real Mudcat discussion, and that is much appreciated. That said, I think Gibb Sahib came down a little heavy. I understand his points,but from now on, I will remember that that he is "Dr. Schreffler";-)


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 06:13 AM

I read one of Ong's books long ago and have entirely forgotten it. Might give it another go. But as some of us have been pointing out, the relationship between oral and written traditions is more complicated than you seem to be suggesting. All the songs in Child were created in a literate culture, most of them probably entered the tradition on paper, and paper versions of them have been part of the chain of transmission everywhere. Someone creating a broadside for sale, or making a copy in a commonplace book, is just as likely to introduce changes as somebody reproducing a song from memory, and the changes they introduce are likely to be more drastic. And many of the stories in British folksong have been preserved in writing from millennia before the English language existed - anybody writing a song about a frog courting a mouse could read Aesop.

I would run a mile from anybody proposing to talk about Jung in this context. There are theories of how stories work that employ archetypes of some sort - Child uses them in his classification scheme, Propp developed the idea extensively, they are a commonplace in structuralism - but they don't require the bizarre mixtures of New Age religion and Theosophical racism that Jung was committed to, or his grandiloquent pseudo-messianic pretentiousness.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 08:53 AM

> Is any of this so far inaccurate/controversial?

Pamela, no.

> Broomfield Wager/Maid on the Shore; Unfortunate Rake/Streets of Loredo/St James Infirmary

The members within these groups aren't related in the same way. "Broomfield" and The Maid" address similar (though not identical situations) without being textually (or melodically, AFAIK) related. "The Maid" was conceivably inspired by "Broomfield," but it is probably more likely that both, perhaps coincidentally, reflect a much older motif of a young woman (presumably a virgin) magically outwitting a rapist or seducer. One might also compare "The Twa Magicians." (And "Lovely Joan," if you don't care for magic.)

"Streets of Laredo/ Tom Sherman's Barroom" clearly descends from "The Unfortunate Rake." What makes it especially significant is that there are no broadsides of the cowboy song: the changes were entirely via oral tradition. The alteration of the cause of death from syphilis (shocking) to a bullet (less so) is also interesting as a reflection of the tastes of singers and audiences.

"St. James Infirmary" is only a very distant relative. The situation is barely comparable and the tune is entirely different. The main point of commonality may be the appearance of "St. James" in the name of the hospital.

Best of luck with your course! Your description would certainly lead me to approve it in our English Department!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 12:32 PM

"Lighter":   thanks for the comments re the "tricky" cases; your take on Broomfield is how I was seeing it; which is why it adds to the class to compare it.

I did not know the detail abt streets of loredo never existing in print. I've seen it argued (perhaps in the liner notes of the Smithsonian/Folkways album on UR variants?) that St James Infirmary is included as a descendant not only for the hospital name but also that the speaker is visiting a dead/dying lover, and then giving instructions for his funeral; and vaguely blaming a dissolute lifestyle for his downfall ("I've got those gambler's blues".) But to me it's hard to tell if all that is "convergent" (independently arising song on a universal theme). The hospital name seems like the smoking gun.

Point taken that changes made intentionally by broadside writers would have very different motives or causes or constraints.

Which gets around to an idea that folk texts could be more or less descended from one or more earlier text(s) that has/have been transmitted through more or less oral channels. Despite the lack of any purely oral case, it seems that characteristics of folk song texts are distinctive and related to their greater degree of oral transmission.

Getting back to my OP, however, on tunes I'm still pretty unclear what we can say. what the students notice most is
- that they are modal (i.e. they notice the funny sound and we track it down to that); but I don't know why this is more common in old/folk songs than later/elsewhere.

- that they are strophic (or as the kids say "boring" -- they've never heard a song without a bridge). this structural simplicity seems consistent with aiding memorization.

- I think they'll hear that different versions of one song like Barbara Allen have similar but not identical tunes; while other versions have seemingly unrelated tunes. That part seems analogous to the text topic but as we've seen, difficult to pin down.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 01:19 PM

The reference to St James suggests convergence rather than clade. There are a heck of a lot of hospitals, all over, named after him. This is intriguing:

http://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/health/StJames%27-hospital.html

as it suggests a specific link with leper hospitals. Syphilis and leprosy were always distinguished in popular culture, but they may well have been seen as related. (OK, what traditional songs about leprosy are there?) Though the patron saint of both syphilis and leprosy is St George.

BTW there is a version of the "Lovely Joan" story in Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne" - easily accessible if you're already including that one, and makes the point that the stories told by songs are no nation's property.

La pastoura als camps

(The text and translation are in the sleeve notes of the Netania Davrath recording; Monique here will know more about it).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 04:18 PM

It looks to me as if you already have your finger on the pulse, Pamela. The best way we can probably be of help is in trying to answer any of your students' questions you don't feel confident answering. As most people have already said tune evolution is much more problematical than text. Far more variant texts survive than variant song tunes.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 04:23 PM

Also be aware that although Barbara Allen is the most widespread of English ballads it has been constantly in print for about three and a half centuries, broadsides, popular anthologies, sheet music etc.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 04:36 PM

Don't know if it's of any help, but I was told of a 'reverse' musical journey back in the 1960s, when the great Scottish ballad singer Jeannie Robertson changed her tune for Musgrave/Mattie Groves to one she learned from the American singer Sandy Paton when he was at a festival in Aberdeen. (I used to think it was Jean Ritchie from which she 'borrowed' it, but have been corrected since.)
If you can access a version from Sandy Paton, you can compare it with several versions from Jeannie on the Kist o Riches site (archive of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh) -- just search either song title or singer.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 05:44 PM

"St. James Hospital" also occurs in a dramatic, minor-key African-American version of "Streets of Laredo" collected by the Lomaxes in the '30s.


The U.S. law journal Northeastern Reporter (1932, Vol. 181, p. 58) acknowledges a 1930 copyright suit concerning "St. James Infirmary."

The court decision notes: "In March, 1929, the plaintiffs revived the old song under the title 'St. James' Infirmary.' *The infirmary heretofore unidentified was given a name* [my emphasis - L]. They put forward an advertising and publicity campaign to sell the old composition under the new name."

The song in question was credited to "Joe Primrose" (actually Irving Mills) of Gotham Music Service. A year later a rival publisher put out a similar song with the same title. Hence the lawsuit.

See also this thread:

http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=46310#2696632.

I've just updated in with new information about the cowboy song.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Anne Neilson
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 06:04 PM

Re. post at 4.36pm -- try searching for Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, or enter Jeannie Robertson in search and look for track 379 of 741.

i heard Jeannie sing this around 1962 and when she reached the point in the story when the lord offers Musgrove his choice of two swords, she looked round the room till she saw the host and said, "Well, you see, he wis aye a fair man." and then picked up the song through to its conclusion...


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: The Sandman
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 06:04 PM

here is an example, The JENNY LIND POLKA,circa approx 1850,has evolved and is played as a slide in a valley north of Bantry Cork, it is known as the jenny slide.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 06:05 PM

And here is a tune for "The Bad Girl's Lament" (here called "Annie Franklin") collected in Newfoundland in 1959, which is precisely the familiar "Streets of Laredo" / "Bard of Armagh" tune.

http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/15/annie.htm

Pamela, be ready to answer the question of why certain aspects of the "folk process" are held to differ from simple "plagiarism."


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 06:48 PM

"The JENNY LIND POLKA,circa approx 1850,has evolved and is played as a slide in a valley north of Bantry Cork, it is known as the jenny slide."

Well slap me face wi' two pound o' thick seam 'til it looks like a well-smacked bum, but I'd never thought of trying it that way. Tomorrow!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 06 Jan 16 - 09:05 PM

Wow, this is a goldmine! I have been researching song origins on digitrad for years but I didn't realize how much more valuable this forum would be for my class when I became a participant.

re St James Hospital/Infirmary (name): if it's indeed a common hospital name (for such ailments anyway), more so than St George or St Paul etc, then that would make the link rather weak. Hmm, are hospitals referred to by name in any ballads that clearly do not have "Unfortunate Rake" related themes? For example any hospitals mentioned in war/wounded soldier ballads?

re "OK, what traditional songs about leprosy are there?"
Sir Aldingar comes to mind. Not exactly about leprosy, but a leper is important in the plot.

re distinguishing folk process vs plagiarism:
Perhaps there's a subtlety I'm not seeing. I would think that "plagiarism" is claiming something to be one's own original work that is in fact identical to, or derived from, someone else's work (even if that someone else is anonymous). "Folk process" would seem the applicable term whenever a person credits their source(s).

I suppose the tricky cases are when someone is unconsciously influenced by a source they once heard, and honestly believes to have originated it; vs. genuinely independently writing something that turns out to be very similar to something that was pre-existing; vs. knowingly copying something and lying about it. Not being schooled in law, my first inclination would be that moral culpability of the person for plagiarism should be according to their intentions and actual past exposure to the earlier work (which may not be knowable to others); legal culpability according to their documentable past exposure and/or intentions; and copyright ownership according to the objective similarity of the new work to the pre-existing one (i.e., even if copied accidentally or written independently). Thoughts?

re copyrights: a similar question has bothered me about songs that are now attr. to Albert E Brumley such as I'll Fly Away. Is it the general opinion that he wrote them, or merely transcribed/arranged existing folk spirituals?

on a related note -- I routinely get hit with YouTube copyright infringement claims that block my videos of trad songs because some pop/country singer sang a version once, and now their agents are claiming the copyright. Happily YouTube invariably rules in my favor and quickly releases the video if I send them a scholarly reference to a source more than 100 years old. (But sadly, when someone falsely claims the copyright to someone else's copyrighted song there is no such recourse to protect the true songwriter).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 12:18 AM

Pam: "Perhaps there's a subtlety I'm not seeing. I would think that "plagiarism" is claiming something to be one's own original work that is in fact identical to, or derived from, someone else's work (even if that someone else is anonymous). "Folk process" would seem the applicable term whenever a person credits their source(s)."

It seems the answer would be very different for song-v-process. If one can document with reasonable certainly a song originating from the commercial/pop/art process, one can say the "folk process" itself is adulterated even without assigning a root cause.

Too, if widespread literacy, art, commerical print, &c are a criteria (absence thereof) the internet's modern folk process, if you will, is hard to wrap one's head around even without the legal issues.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 04:53 AM

My interpretation of "folk process" is the unconscious or largely unintentional changes a singer may make to words or tune as a result of misremembering or misunderstanding the original. Where someone sits down and consciously reworks a song, whether it is pulling together a number of different traditional sources to make it more complete, or by adding bits of their own, that is something different. Whether or not it is plagiarism depends on whether or not they acknowledge their sources or claim it as their own.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 05:03 AM

re St James Hospital/Infirmary (name): if it's indeed a common hospital name (for such ailments anyway), more so than St George or St Paul etc, then that would make the link rather weak. Hmm, are hospitals referred to by name in any ballads that clearly do not have "Unfortunate Rake" related themes?

Well, there is a workhouse:

A boy to me was bound apprentice
Because his parents they were poor
So I took him from St James's Workhouse
All for to sail on the Greenland shore.


(The Cruel Ship's Captain aka The Captain's Apprentice - originally from East Anglia; the workhouse by that name was in Norwich in the early 19th century, I think).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 06:37 AM

> are hospitals referred to by name in any ballads that clearly do not have "Unfortunate Rake" related themes? For example any hospitals mentioned in war/wounded soldier ballads?

Great question. And the answer is No. At least none that's ever had any currency.

> Not exactly about leprosy, but a leper is important in the plot.

It isn't "about" leprosy in anything like the same way that the "Rake"/ "Bad Girl" is "about" syphilis. The "Rake"/ "Bad Girl" is almost explicitly a warning - as is, to a lesser degree, "The Streets of Laredo."

My point about plagiarism is more theoretical than legal. Students are warned against taking even a single sentence from somebody else's work without acknowledgment. (And taking too much even with it!) A student once asked me how altering a just a few lyrics or musical notes in a song in "the folk process" is ethically any different from plagiarism. Not a big question, obviously, but interesting in its own right for reflecting different views of artistic "ownership."


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 07:15 AM

Two "Barbara Allen" tunes were adopted for two Civil War songs, "Brother Green" and "The Battle of Stone River."

You can download each of them for about a dollar. Oscar Parks of Kentucky delivers "Stone River" in unforgettable high pitch.

Not very musical, but pretty emotive.

One reason that hospitals aren't named in war songs is because soldiers in war songs don't die in hospitals. They die on the battlefield, usually in the arms of a comrade.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 08:02 AM

Er, yes, actually, there's Lock Hospital, sung by Christy Moore on his album Prosperous (the song's on YouTube). Definitely a fallen soldier song.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 09:06 AM

It's a version of "The Unfortunate Rake," tune and all.

And the culprit's not the enemy but "the girls of the city."


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: The Sandman
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 09:13 AM

st patricks day, set dance tune appears to have evolved from a morris dance tune,or maybe it is the other way round


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 10:03 AM

"Lock Hospital" is a generic term, not a name. Many cities in the UK and Ireland had one. They were homes for "fallen women", and so-called because they were locked in. Not hospitals in the sense of places to take sick people. "Magdalene" homes were the same thing, but that name was used a bit later.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 10:08 AM

I've seen "St Patricks Day" in Scottish tunebooks of the late 18th century, labelled as an Irish tune. The Morris dance use must have come later.

Aloys Fleischmann's book (which I don't have, wish I did) will probably trace its history in detail.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 11:12 AM

Ah, dammit, Lighter, you got me there! :-(


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 12:04 PM

Heh.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 02:20 PM

I'm not entirely convinced about the difference between plagiarism and the folk process being whether the change is deliberate and conscious or unconscious. I'm not even convinced that there was/is much difference at all in the absence of copyright law. Shakespeare took many (most? all?) of his plots from existing literature. His work is respected because he picked stories that were good ones and because he told them very well.

The evolution (yes, I do think it's a perfectly appropriate term) of Barbara Allen into umpteen versions surely involved many instances of broadside writers or printers making changes (deliberately for good or bad reasons or inadvertently) and many instances of singers misremembering, misunderstanding or deliberately making changes that they regarded as improvements.

I do think that inadvertent changes tend to be for the worse and deliberate ones for the better, but those are merely tendencies and there are plenty of exceptions.

And the making of new versions has not stopped. In recent times participants in the folk song revival have quite deliberately made completely new versions of some of the classic ballads; e.g. Leslie Haworth's rewrite of The Frog and the Mouse, Bob Coltman's "Son of Child" series and Brian Peters' version of Our Goodman.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 02:49 PM

Going back for a moment to 'The Unfortunate Rake'...

Lighter wrote: "St. James Infirmary" is only a very distant relative. The situation is barely comparable and the tune is entirely different. The main point of commonality may be the appearance of "St. James" in the name of the hospital.

Pamela has already partly answered this, but to me the most significant feature is in the funeral arrangements that she mentioned. Compare:

"Get six jolly fellows to carry my coffin
And six pretty maidens to bear up my pall"

with:

"Get six gamblers to carry my coffin
Six chorus girls to sing me a song"

That sequence of six men (carrying a coffin, in both) followed by six women has to be more than convergence.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 03:52 PM

> has to be more than convergence.

It may just as easily be borrowing, either from "The Streets of Laredo" branch (brought to public attention in America by Lomax in 1910) or else from "The Unfortunate Lad/ Rake and a Rambling Boy" song; which, of course, may have borrowed the idea from the "Rake." Or vice versa?

As I say, the "Blues" is an "offshoot," not a lineal descendant, and surely it's the result of almost total recomposition.

I believe that mainly a past generation folklorists would insist that the jazz song and the rake song, with their differing scenarios and melodies, are somehow "the same song."

Most everyone else would only say, "Yeah, there *is* a resemblance. I wonder why. Unless it was like plagiarism."


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 05:41 PM

It may just as easily be borrowing, either from "The Streets of Laredo" branch (brought to public attention in America by Lomax in 1910) or else from "The Unfortunate Lad/ Rake and a Rambling Boy" song

'Rake and a Rambling Boy' is a different song ('Flash Lad' etc) but, yes, I agree it looks like a borrowing (and 'Streets of Laredo' is a good candidate) - but isn't borrowing one of the processes we're talking about here? If it is a recomposition it adheres to the original template quite closely.

As I say, the "Blues" is an "offshoot," not a lineal descendant, and surely it's the result of almost total recomposition.

If recomposition means it's not a 'lineal descendent', where does that leave the 'Elfin Knight / Cambric Shirt / Acre of Land' family, for example?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 06:50 PM

Hi Brian,
A lineal descent can easily be traced between members of the Elfin Knight family albeit some of the links are quite scarce. I suppose it could be argued that 'Acre of Land' is a separate song because it only utilises half the original and has changed the purpose of the song completely. But with the 'St James Infirmary the odd isolated bits only make up a small part of the new song, almost commonplaces or motifs.

We have toyed with the idea of giving the various oikotypes of the 'Unfortunate Rake' family separate numbers or some sort of separate designation but it's not really feasible at the moment.

We have done this with the even more difficult and ancient 'Died for Love' family, i.e., given them separate numbers.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 08:45 PM

Something that might be relevant for analyzing tune relationships. Look at the display here:

http://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/420691/tune-a-day/0433

The graph at the right shows relationships with other tunes known to the ABC corpus. I haven't really used it but it might be worth trying to understand what it does. (Probably not enough - maybe Pamela can improve it?)


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 04:51 AM

A lineal descent can easily be traced between members of the Elfin Knight family albeit some of the links are quite scarce. I suppose it could be argued that 'Acre of Land' is a separate song because it only utilises half the original and has changed the purpose of the song completely. But with the 'St James Infirmary the odd isolated bits only make up a small part of the new song, almost commonplaces or motifs.

I accept that 'St James' is a new creation, but not that it's just a 'very distant relative'. If Tom Sherman is part of the lineage then we can add 'Old Joe's barroom' to the list of common features that Pamela suggested above and to which I added the six plus six mourners. Apologies to Lighter, however, for dismissing 'Rake and a Rambling Boy', which in it's British antecedents does of course have similar funeral arrangements.

As for Child 2, you could argue just as well that the impossible tasks are 'commonplaces' (the riddles in Child 1 certainly are). Is a battle for a mortal's soul with a supernatural being an identical scenario to a bit of idle banter between lovers, mediated by a third party on the way to some fair or other?

We have done this with the even more difficult and ancient 'Died for Love' family, i.e., given them separate numbers

Well, good luck untangling one!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 06:50 AM

> Is a battle for a mortal's soul with a supernatural being an identical scenario to a bit of idle banter between lovers, mediated by a third party on the way to some fair or other?

Obviously not. It's been a long time since I examined this song family. Do we have enough texts to show a slow, continual evolution - or sudden leaps that could be explained by either "evolution," intentional recomposition, or independent development from a common folkloric (non-balladic) source?

It may be that such questions aren't fully answerable. Frustrating.

One more suggestion for Pamela: the tune of "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" is a major version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," which is also used for most "Three Crows" versions of "The Three Ravens." (Some people actually find the tunes hard to distinguish, which is surprising to me.)

Patrick S. Gilmore, composer of "Johnny," acknowledged that he'd picked up the unnamed tune from someone else. In other words, it was already a traditional tune, though of indeterminate age.

In shameless self-promotion, let me recommend "The Best Anti-War Song Ever Written," available from Dick Greenhaus at CAMSCO Music. It appears that the "Johnny" tune is a direct descendant of the original "Three Ravens" via "John Anderson, My Jo."


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 06:57 AM

"The Best Anti-War Song Ever Written," available from Dick Greenhaus at CAMSCO Music.

I can add my own recommendation to this fascinating piece of work.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 07:05 AM

Brian, you are too kind.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 07:42 AM

On a slightly different tack, here's an example of 'evolution' (or whatever we prefer to call it) in action.

The recently-released double CD 'Early Ballads in Ireland', which it's my pleasure and privilege to have in my review pile right now (spoiler alert: it's wonderful, and essential to any fan of the Child Ballads) includes two versions of the vanishingly rare Child 87. One of the singers learned the ballad directly from the other, yet there are several differences:

A melodic variation in the second line.
Substitution of vocabulary ('cask of wine' for 'bottle', etc).
Alteration of the text to achieve a rhyme.
Two verses (poetically powerful but tangential to the story) omitted.
An additional verse created using an existing verse as template.

And that's just at one remove down the chain of Chinese Whispers!

Thread here:
Early Ballads in Ireland


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 11:13 AM

Hi Brian,
I suspect you guessed that the 6.50 post was mine sans cookie.

Sorry, but you certainly could not argue that the riddles in Child 2 could be classed as commonplaces. In order to be such they would have to appear in other ballads and they certainly do not. The fact that the meaning of the ballad changes from period to period in Child 2 does not take anything away from the fact that they are all easily demonstrated points in an evolution. The biggest break in the continuum in my opinion is when a version of Scarborough Fair lost its first half and the riddles were deliberately changed into a very popular little country ditty some time in the 19thc. However there are sufficient elements in Acre of Land that are linked very closely to a few variants of Scarborough Fair to make the relationship close and obvious. The fact that these elements were afterwards added to is neither here nor there.

No luck needed. Already untangled. Check up-to-date Roud Index.

happy New Year, SteveG


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 11:18 AM

Regarding 87, I think it's a Scott concoction. Child very kindly described it as 'this very slender tale'. It's full of commonplaces and the language in all 4 versions is somewhat suspect. But I am a
a noted skeptic I do accept.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 12:41 PM

Happy New Year, Steve - yes, I had guessed.

"you certainly could not argue that the riddles in Child 2 could be classed as commonplaces. In order to be such they would have to appear in other ballads and they certainly do not."

My point was the slightly facetious one that they did appear - as a job lot - in three separate ballads, Elfin Knight, Cambric Shirt and Acre of Land. If there is a demonstrable lineage linking those three, presumably at some point a major recasting occurred that banished the Elfin Knight and brought in the herbal refrain? If so, I don't see why the jazz rewrite of 'Laredo' (which retained the basic scenario and three separate textual elements) is any different in principle.

"Regarding 87, I think it's a Scott concoction."

It's your field, not mine, and you may well be right. Although it does strike me as a lot of trouble for Motherwell to have gone to, to make two substantially different rewrites (87 B & C) and create fake sources for them. Anyway, whatever the origin, it doesn't alter my point about changes to the ballad occurring between the two Dublin singers.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 03:25 PM

Agreed. As I've said many times literary ballads often go into oral tradition pretty quickly. Good example is 'Bonny Lass of Fyvie'.

I'm not really qualified to comment on jazz pieces but I've never heard of anyone trying to separate Elfin Knight from Scarborough Fair before. The loss of the supernatural elements is a common occurrence at this period and the refrains jumped around from ballad to ballad willy-nilly. For instance there is cross-over between refrains of Child 277 Wife wrapt, and Robin-a-Thrash, but we now know these 2 ballads had separate origins and evolutions.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Gibb Sahib
Date: 11 Jan 16 - 06:43 PM

Quite simply, one can theoretically approach the study of something however one wishes. To reiterate and/or clarify, talking about "tune evolution" _under the rubric of ethnomusicology_ simply presents a problem because, historically, scholars in the field have taken issue with the application of ideas of evolution to musical forms.

One quick fix, as I'd mentioned is to simply disclaim ethnomusicology as the field of reference. Say it's Folklore or English Lit. or something (might work -- I can't speak to how those disciplines would react).

Once clear, however, of any claim that the topic is one covered by ethnomusicology, one might still be interested in the potential insights from ethnomusicology.

I don't have time to go over the history of ethnomusicology's position. It's in the references I gave. I will only mention that just mention of the word "evolution" is enough to raise the hackles of ethnomusicologists. Whether or not one thinks this is justified, it is helpful to know that this will be the case.

Does this mean that someone may not use the term "evolution" in an ethnomusicology-based course, or, more substantially, that one may not apply ideas from biological evolution to the study of musical forms? No, it does not. It means that if one chooses to do so, one is fairly obligated (by the "rules of academia," if you will!) to demonstrate knowledge of the past discourse on the issue and to explain why, despite common objection, one thinks this idea is worth reconsidering.

I happen to think that "old" ideas ARE worth reconsidering, and have faith that others, being people of good faith, will be open to hearing about it. To make a crude analogy, if you chose to refer to Black Americans as "colored people," the response would not be favorable. You could go on to explain why, for some thoughtful reason, you chose to say "colored people" and, hopefully, reasonable people would hear you out. But to remain oblivious to peoples historical objection to "colored people" would not be wise.

Ethnomusicology as we know it was a field configured in the wake of WWII, and its founders (who tended to come out of anthropology) were reacting to the way that ideas from biological evolution had been applied to culture. These were people who had either escaped or been exiled from Nazi Germany, or were the students of such people. It was thought that the misapplication of ideas of evolution to the study of culture was, broadly speaking, a forerunner of Nazi racialist ideology. One may make of that what one will, but the fact remains that the school of anthropology with which ethnomusicologist allied themselves was anti-evolutionism.

Leaving aside the politics and historical trends within the field, ethnomusicologists are disinclined to think about "tune evolution" (since the mid-20th c.) because they don't think about music as an object. As such, there is no "thing" to undergo evolution.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 01:40 PM

Wow!
Thanks for the explanation, Gibb.
Fortunately not all ethnomusicologists this side of the pond are so touchy about the way folk music evolves. We only come across them in academic circles but those I have met and talked to have been very helpful and interested in the ways we study folk music. Sheffield University Musicology Dept in the past have been very helpful in hosting Traditional Song forum meetings and their students have attended and taken part in our meetings.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:14 PM

Really, Dr. Gibb? Comparing her with Nazis and racists? I think you've lost your compass here.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:39 PM

There was an idea which you find in a lot of music-appreciation books that music evolves from primitive music to better music - perhaps this reached its fullest expression in Wagner's circle. This was associated with a whole lot of proto-fascist ideas, and it wasn't just academic ethnomusicologists in the US who had a problem with it. (Victor Zuckerkandl's "Sound and Symbol" - cheap paperback from Dover, if you're curious - argues an anti-evolutionist standpoint which he presumably formulated when living as a Jew under the Nazis. He's surprisingly quiet and moderate about it, considering).

The evolution of tunes (or temporal change, to be more neutral about it) doesn't carry anything like those associations. You don't need to see it as a progression from the primordial pentatonic slime to ripplingly muscular blonde beast sonata forms pulsing with Dynamic Tension and kicking sand in the faces of music from inferior cultures, and hardly anybody does.

What the categorization of tunes (and other musical elements) does sometimes help with is decoding their history. Bartok did that and wasn't anybody's idea of a Nazi. The conclusions you get from that sort of comparison, as with DNA sequencing of modern populations, don't help the nationalist case one little bit. Usually everything comes from somewhere else and you pinched it from the smelly gits you most despise.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:50 PM

I like that, Jack. Neat!


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

Folk process factoid:

A character in the movie "Hell or High Water" (2016) briefly sings the first stanza of "Get Along, Little Dogies" to the "Streets of Laredo" tune.

He keeps the original tune for the chorus, however.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:00 AM

How about the evolution of a Mudcat thread?

I have no idea how a couple of the last posters in this thread got the idea of talking about song researchers as "Nazis." I mentioned WWII and Nazism in my comment and then you just go free association with the term??

Bartok was not an ethnomusicologist.
There have been folklorists who deal with songs. They are not ethnomusicologists.
My posts explain how ethnomusicology developed after WW2.
None of this stuff is static; what people were doing in 1950s vs.today, and vs. anything before that that you might presume to call an antecedent to ethnomusicology, is vastly different. Likewise Biology.

I had only made the point that if one is using the language of "evolution," one is not speaking the language of ethnomusicology, which roundly banished the term in the 1950s.
In the 1960s-70s, some people found it glamorous, for some puzzling reason, to link themselves to the term "ethnomusicology" without actually practicing it, but rather presuming that if one did anything -- studying, playing, recording -- with any music outside Western art music and commercial popular music then somehow you were "ethno" (lol).

As I've mentioned many times on this forum as well, ethnomusicologists also tend to avoid the term "folk," except when referring specifically to a a cultural group may use that term.
Plenty o hucksters out there who hope some of the academic quality of the term "ethnomusicology" will rub off on them. Oh the irony—if they were actually ethnomusicologists, they'd probably be wanted to distance themselves from that term and from academic artifice.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 12:11 PM

Did ethnolmusicologists of the 1950's apply concepts from evolutionary theory, as mentioned in the first post, correctly ? Did any of them have the "ascent from the slime" misunderstanding that may have given it a bad name.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 02:17 PM

Gibb, that is the clearest description I've heard yet of what ethnomusicology is, and how it differs from what the folklore people do. Thanks.

Like Pamela I come from a biology background, and I do have some difficulty applying the Darwinian model to temporal change in folk songs. Of Cecil Sharp's three folk song characteristics, 'continuity' and 'variation' are easily observable, but 'selection', though obviously a factor in that some songs survived and others didn't, is rather distracting because it does suggest some analogy with Natural Selection which is much more difficult to demonstrate.

FWIW, Sharp was no great fan of Darwin anyway, according to a letter of his that I once read.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 PM

because it does suggest some analogy with Natural Selection which is much more difficult to demonstrate.

Does it have to be any more than that songs that people like most get sung more and spread and less popular ones don't and tend to fall by the wayside? That small changes that make the song work better for listeners tend to be kept? That verses that don't make sense because they have been mis-heard or include words that have fallen out of use are dropped or changed?

I know more about paleontology than folk songs so maybe there is something I don't 'get'.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 04:12 PM

Bartok was not an ethnomusicologist

Neither was Newton a physicist.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 04:15 PM

"That small changes that make the song work better for listeners tend to be kept? That verses that don't make sense because they have been mis-heard or include words that have fallen out of use are dropped or changed?"

That's what Sharp thought, with his 'pebble smoothed by the waves of the sea'. The problem is to demonstrate that there actually was a steady 'improvement' in the songs as they were passed on down generations. I think there is evidence that some of the awkward edges of broadside lyrics were smoothed away in oral tradition, but on the other hand lots of songs were collected that were garbled and contained nonsensical and/ or misheard words.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:08 PM

But then 'selection' was arguably the most important of the 3 descriptors. Both 'continuity' and 'variation' are also major factors in the print tradition.

'Continuity' in the sense that the most 'popular' continued to be printed in large numbers by the broadside presses.


'variation' I hope to demonstrate at tomorrow's conference was a major feature in the print tradition particularly with those ballads that later entered oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:19 PM

Why the need for 'improvement' in order to demonstrate the influence of something analogous to natural selection on the diversity of forms songs and tunes can take? It may have been Sharp's (and by the sound of it 1950's ethnomusicologist's) understanding of evolution but it's not the way Pamela R refers to it in the first post and, so far as I recall, it wasn't Darwin's either.

It's not really helpful to speculate about the pebbles crushed to sand in the waves or the offerings of broadside authors that a printer wouldn't waste ink on. But are there no examples of song variants being selected for survival and collection because of the way they fitted a particular cultural or linguistic niche?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:44 PM

"It's not really helpful to speculate about the pebbles crushed to sand in the waves"

I'm not speculating, and didn't mention pebbles being 'crushed'.

The actual quote from Cecil Sharp is:

"Many, perhaps all of [the folk song's] most characteristic qualities, have subsequently been acquired during its journey down the ages, and represent the achievements of many generations of singers. Individual angles and irregularities have been gradually rubbed off and smoothed away by communal effort, just as the pebble on the sea shore is rounded and polished by the action
of the waves."

Sharp was describing improvement in the songs. Darwin would have said 'better adapted to their environment'. Pamela has already made it clear she was describing only 'change'.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: leeneia
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 06:26 PM

More than once I have seen (I mean heard) the interesting, distinctive bits in an old piece of music be thrown out by people who play by ear. They change everything they hear to match the conventions of their own era.

I would call it the opposite of tune evolution.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 12:55 AM

Leeneia >I would call it the opposite of tune evolution.<
No, it's the opposite of "improvement"; but evolution (biological, musical or any other) can go in any direction. For example some breeds of dogs that have evolved by artifical selection can have serious anatomical problems. They have evolved to be best fitted for the show ring and ill fitted for an ordinary life.

Can Gibb please come back and explain
a) how the ethnomusicologists on the 50s understood and used "evolution" and
b) what the present generation use instead?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 05:16 AM

@Brian Peters. Misunderstanding. I wasn't that suggesting you were speculating. I was making the point that in an evolution analogy the pebbles that didn't survive are part of the story and anticipating an obvious criticism that we don't know what didn't leave a trace.

I am a visitor here following in interesting discussion by knowledgeable people. However, I can't resist sticking my oar in.

The discusion was started by a biologist who knows about evolution "as used in biology today" and who finds "that many of the phenomena that are observed and questions that arise in collected folk songs are analogous to phenomena and questions also studied in biological evolution (or really, population genetics). The context is teaching, not ethnomusicalogical research.

Pamela R gave a very clear response to Gibb Sahib's post, which may be have been a fair warning if she was writing an academic paper rather than teaching*, but it still reads very like 'get off our patch'. Despite Jack Campin's excellent post the discussion keeps coming back to a popular miss-representation of evolution and we don't know if Sharp (if he really was appealing to "Darwinian principles") or the 1950's ethnomusicologists were applying ideas from evolution in a way that biologists today would agree with (whos 'patch' is it anyway?).

* I own up to a hard(ish) scientists frustration with branches of academia that need to always go back to the literature of the first time a subject was ever mentioned in their discipline. If it's accepted enough to be in the textbooks or rejected enough to be in the books on the history of the subject why go over it again if nothing has changed?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 08:45 AM

Some participants in this thread may not realize that "evolution" has more than one accepted (and acceptable) meaning.

In addition to several other senses, including the Darwinian, Oxford gives:

"A process of gradual change occurring in a system, institution, subject, artefact, product, etc., esp. from a simpler to a more complex or advanced state. Also: a gradual and natural development as opposed to a sudden or instigated change (often in contrast with 'revolution')."

Printed examples go back to the early 18th century, long before Darwin.

According to this definition, folk tunes and songs commonly "evolve." It's one reason they're considered "folk."

Academics may want to avoid the words "evolution" and "evolve" because they could be misunderstood as meant to suggest "survival of the fittest" or "continual improvement or increased complexity," but those connotations are not essential to the meaning of these familiar words.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 10:55 AM

Academics may want to avoid the words "evolution" and "evolve" because they could be misunderstood as meant to suggest "survival of the fittest" or "continual improvement or increased complexity," but those connotations are not essential to the meaning of these familiar words.

Some academics might want to clarify their understanding of terms. Pamela R made clear what she, a biologist, meant. In the first post and then later. Rejecting a line of inquiry because some people don't understand, or other people in the past, may have mis-applied it, is akin throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There is also the possibility, though I think it's unlikely, that the 1950's ethnomusicologists attempts fell down because what then for almost a century had been a big "non-no" in biological evolution - the inheritance of acquired characteristics - clearly does happen in folk songs and tunes. However, within some constraints, it is back on the menu of concepts and might, I suppose, have something to offer in the way folk song changes in time are thought of.

It is, after all, only an analogy that might be an aid to critical thinking.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:04 AM

"I occasionally try to morph tunes I really detest into something else" (Jack C) - I've finally got sick of the never-ending demands to play "Stranger on the Shore", and have decided it's time to turn it into something I want to play (probably a hornpipe, which I shall call "Charlie Stewart's").

I have yet to actually do it, mind ...


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:28 AM

(Welcome back, Richard!)

The reason tune evolution is not of much interest to ethnomusicologists is probably because they have other fish to fry. They're mostly concerned with how music fits into social phenomena, and the social role of music is governed by dialectical rather than evolutionary processes. It doesn't take adaptation of a melody to suit it to becoming a football anthem or an "Oh Jeremy Corbyn" or a wedding request, it takes a certain kind of familiarity.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:37 AM

Re tune comparisons :- another possible approach is to use abc2midi, mftext (supplied with abc2midi) and a scripting language, to extract the bare pitch&duration from a (ABC) tune and then turn that into something that can be compared using fuzzy text matching (Levenshtein). It doesn't work spectacularly well, but nor does anything else. The quality of the input ABC is a major drawback, as someone already pointed out. Variant repeat structures are a particularly misleading PITA.

Pamela, thank you for a fascinating thread.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 12:13 PM

Hi, Jack, I'm only very occasional here. Has anybody made The Old Git's Lament For The Death Of Usenet yet ?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 08:46 AM

Misunderstanding now cleared up, 'Guest of 24'. I don't think there's any disagreement on the issue of selection in the sense of the body of material that never took hold on the public imagination. The archives are full of unsung broadsides, for one thing.

I felt that Gibb was quite reasonable in the flexibility of his personal position, and simply pointing out that a class described as 'Ethnomusicological' might attract criticism if it ran counter to the tenets of that discipline. I found the reasons for the evolutionary concept having been rejected in the 1950s very instructive, but of course that doesn't mean that we folksong people necessarily have to reject it as well.

So, to return to the original question:

Lighter: "A process of gradual change occurring in a system, institution, subject, artefact, product, etc., esp. from a simpler to a more complex or advanced state. Also: a gradual and natural development as opposed to a sudden or instigated change (often in contrast with 'revolution')."

The second of those is more likely to be applicable in the case of folk songs. Sharp and others of his era found modal tunes so aesthetically pleasing that they must have arrived at that state as the result of improvement through evolution. At the same time they were well aware that in the real world the old songs were dying out in the face of competition from the music hall and elsewhere. The asteroid had struck, and they were struggling to survive in the altered environment.

There are several problems with Sharp's analogy of the pebble being polished to perfection. First, the songs he collected were in many cases insufficiently old for gradual evolution to have occurred across many generations. Second, even he was well capable of identifying numerous variants they found in the field as 'degenerate' or 'corrupt'. As for demonstrating the process at all, it's difficult to find much hard evidence of change in tunes over the previous hundred years, simply because most of the collecting went on between the late 19th and early 20th century. I can think of a few examples of changes occurring between one singer's rendition and that of the person who learned it from them, but demonstrating the process over additional links in the chain would be very difficult with the data we have.

As it happens, the topic of change in folksong tunes came up at the Songs in Tradition and Print conference in Sheffield yesterday. You can certainly identify examples of clearly related, but interestingly different (in respect of mode, for example) tunes in the old collections, the degree of difference sometimes reflecting their geographical separation. What is not at all certain is whether the changes that did occur were voluntary or involuntary, whether individual singers were even aware of, say, the distinction between a sharp or flat seventh, and whether the collectors were able to notate accurately the sometimes ambiguous intervals they were hearing.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 08:50 AM

"Sharp and others of his era found modal tunes so aesthetically pleasing that they must have arrived at that state as the result of improvement through evolution."

At the same time, Sharp believed that modal scales were an ancient form that folksong had somehow preserved, so there's another contradiction there.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM

Brian, as I see it, in this context,

ALTERATION: voluntary

EVOLUTION (in either sense): involuntary

Or is this a distinction without a difference?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM

ALTERATION: voluntary

EVOLUTION (in either sense): involuntary

I wouldn't disagree with that. Voluntary vs involuntary is not critical in discussing whether songs evolved or not (Darwinian evolution is involuntary); it's just an additional complicating factor in determining how the songs might have changed.

'Involuntary' might cover mishearing of the source, misremembering it later, or inaccurately reproducing it in performance. I'm not one of those people who believe that traditional singers never sang a wrong note.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:55 AM

it seems an odd idea that a tune might float around the tradition for centuries before settling on a definitive mode (though it does occasionally happen). The way people think about mode in Middle Eastern music applies to a lot of Western tunes too: you create new tunes by assembling phrases characteristic of a particular mode (consciously or not). The mode comes first, and the modal system is fairly static. Tunes emerge from it like new plants budding off a cactus.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 10:23 AM

I spend a lot of time looking at the evolutions of particular songs and song families. I've never looked on using that word as any qualitative description as a researcher. I accept that one meaning of 'evolution' implies improvement, but 'improvement' is most often an opinion. One man's improvement can be another man's degeneration.

On a more personal aesthetic level generally I see the evolution in oral tradition as an improvement, if that's not a contradiction. The songs I choose to sing are generally those that have spent many generations in oral tradition and I wouldn't dream of adding to them from a broadside unless in extreme cases where a broadside version actually makes more sense.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 12:35 PM

"most of the collecting went on between the late 19th and early 20th century".

The advent of software, followed by the internet, has made it so much cheaper to publish tunes that there is now a lot of material available going back considerably earlier than that. Try the Village Music Project, for example, and Jack's website.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 12:48 PM

I was talking there about song collecting. Instrumental music is interesting in its own right, but the OP was asking about songs. There is source material pre-1880s, just not enough as far as I know now to make meaningful comparisons, e.g. between singers of several generations in the same family or village.

You could also argue that song collecting went on post 1920 as well, but the picture then gets complicated by records, radio and so forth.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

As a professor of biology who teaches in a science-focused university, I have found it instructive to use the analogy of Darwinian evolution (which my students in general know) to inform a discussion of folk process (which in general is a foreign concept to them). What I learned from my initial post here is that within the folk music community, understanding of the theory of evolution is so uneven that the analogy only causes confusion, at best.

However, as this thread continues, I feel obligated to clear up a very common but extremely mistaken view that seems to be persisting here. In Biology "evolution" does not in any way imply "improvement" nor progression towards any higher form. That is simply not part of the theory as presently understood.

For those who care to know what the basic theory actually is, I will give a brief and necessarily incomplete summary. It's really a simple logical inference. But to make all the points necessary to usefully compare AND CONTRAST folk process to biological evolution would require several lectures, which is too much to type here.

Proposition 1: Variation. Members of a species are not all identical.

Proposition 2: Heredity. Some of the characteristics that vary among individuals are heritable - obtained as some kind of "copy" from one or more previous copy, which we call its parent(s). Therefore an individual's trait is more likely to resemble its parents and also its closely related relatives (siblings, cousins, etc) than it resembles a randomly selected individual of the same species.

Proposition 3: Selection. Some of the characteristics that vary among individuals have consequences for the chance of the individual surviving long enough to leave behind copies (offspring), or affects the number of copies made, or chance of those copies surviving.

Logical inference: IF a trait varies, AND is heritable, AND has a consequence for the chance of survival, then those variants which increase the probability of survival will by definition tend to be more numerous in the next generation. Because this iterates, the population composition tends to change gradually over time.

That's the essence of it.

Some things to note:

"Evolution" only means "gradual change" - in any direction good or bad, by any process.

"Evolution by natural selection" means gradual change in the composition of a population due to the factors mentioned above.

The variants that increase in representation are not necessarily more complex or "better" in any way; they are merely the ones that increase in representation. Value judgments are a human construction that have nothing to do with this.

Evolution does not tend toward perfection and there is no top to any pyramid, no such thing as a higher life form. From bacteria to fruit flies to humans, everything surviving on earth today has evolved to an equal extent. Arguably the flies have evolved more, and bacteria the most, because they have had so many more generations than mammals.

So *to the extent that*
~not all versions of a folk song are identical (variation)
~one person's version is obtained as a copy of one or more previous versions (heredity)
~some versions have attributes that make them more likely to be sung or copied by others (selection)

It follows by analogous arguments that some versions in generation N will be more prevalent in generation N+1. Not necessarily *better* versions. But the influence of selection could help explain why prevalent versions share certain characteristics.

Of course that's not the really interesting part of the conversation. Many other issues that come up in folk process have also been intelligently grappled with by biologists -- are mutations random events, or are they directed toward a goal, and how can we know that? How do we assess this process when we have limited or no access to what the earlier variants were? what about traits that are not heritable, or that have no survival advantage? why does one variant sometimes take over completely? why are different variants found in different locations? what about the fact that the conditions for survival keep changing over time? how do some lines go extinct? how do new ones come into existence? How does "unnatural" selection (criteria imposed by human intervention) relate to, and interact with, natural selection?

The answers to these questions may be the same or different for folk process vs. biology, indeed the answers are different for different biological examples, and probably different for different folklore examples. The point of drawing on analogy is it allows us to leverage human learning - in both directions. Great ideas are hard to come by and it's likely each discipline has insights the other hasn't discovered yet. The transfer of knowledge doesn't come free, however. One must first truly understand an idea within its own field, and then critically evaluate whether or not and in what specific ways it applies to another field.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM

I think so far as 'voluntary' versus 'involuntary' change is concerned it depends how you want to apply a 'natural selection' analogy. I was thinking of it as the song that was undergoing selection and it wasn't doing anything voluntarily.(and they hate anthropomorphism :-))

For example, it has been suggested that organisms can retain apparantly useless features at times of 'low selection pressure'. If the environment changes there may be a competitive advantage in losing the features or they may turn out to be an advantage. So maybe corruptions in a song could persist for a long time if they didn't bother the audience or singer and there were no preferred versions around. Along comes 1960's vinyl as a potential 'ecological niche' and a singer or producer may decide to tidy it up to suite a wider audience. Conversly, a corruption making something slightly mysterious (Residue, sing residue ...) may make it a succeed with a new audience where a pristine original would not.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:31 PM

Crossed with Pamela R, who I was hoping would be back :-)


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:57 PM

"I feel obligated to clear up a very common but extremely mistaken view that seems to be persisting here. In Biology "evolution" does not in any way imply "improvement" nor progression towards any higher form. That is simply not part of the theory as presently understood."

I think most participants here do understand that.

The conclusion of Sharp's 'pebble' analogy was that folksongs evolved towards a form "congenial to the taste of the community, and expressive of its feelings, aspirations, and ideals" which, as I suggested before, is in tune with the Darwinian idea of adaptiveness, with community taste acting as selection pressure. That, however, is the thing I feel will be the hardest to demonstrate, because of a lack of evidence of how rural singers and listeners of 100 or 200 years ago reacted to particular musical characteristics. We puzzle, for instance, over the fact that the most dreadful tales of tragedy or murder might be sung to the jauntiest of tunes. Again, modal tunes have always been popular in the folk revival partly if not mainly because they sound so different from the commercial music of the day, but we don't really know how singers in 1900 perceived the differences.   

Sharp goes on: "Those tune-variations which appeal to the community, will be perpetuated as against those which attract the individual only. The nature of that appeal may be of two kinds. It may be an appeal to the sense of beauty i.e., aesthetic in character; or, it may be an appeal to the understanding, i.e., expressive in character."

Here he was suggesting (and, to be fair, he did admit that he was speculating) that aesthetics were a key adaptive characteristic, and thus the argument gets muddled with the very value judgements that you as a biologist want to steer clear of.

I don't disagree with any of your latest post, Pamela. Your paragraph beginning "Of course that's not the really interesting part of the conversation..." addresses exactly the kind of issues I've been trying to raise.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 05:18 PM

There are bound to be minor differences but on the whole I believe the analogy is a pretty useful one. One of the points we were discussing on Saturday in Sheffield was the great amount of influence sophisticated rewriting has had on oral tradition and this goes back to the earliest records of oral tradition and print, even further. The analogy here with biology would be the influence of man upon biological evolution, unnatural selection if you like.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17
Date: 27 Nov 17 - 03:53 AM

The analogy here with biology would be the influence of man upon biological evolution, unnatural selection if you like.

Isn't that a different analogy? If an analogy with evolution through natural selection is being made for a human process then I think the human aspect has to count as 'natural' so far as the anology is concerned.

However, if not doing that then Pamela's mention of an issue within biology of "How does "unnatural" selection (criteria imposed by human intervention) relate to, and interact with, natural selection?" is interesting. I wonder if some of the more overtly commercial aspects of change in songs are similar to, say, the creation and propogation of garden palnts or fancy poultry. One aspect of that is creating a fashion for people to follow. If that is a better comparison it could be that social psychologists (or ethnomusicologists) are the ones with better conceptual tools.

Going back to Sharp, rather than modal tunes being polished by selection amongst 'the folk' doesn't what we know about them suggest that they are a more like an early-evolved form that has survived with little obvious change because there has always, somewhere, been niche for them. Jack Campin's penatonic slime is doing very well all over the world.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 27 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM

Mudcat doesn't offer a "like" facility, but it it did I would be liking most of the recent posts.

One big difference between biological evolution as concisely described by Pamela and that of folk songs is that the population of song S in generation N in a particular locality was often only a single specimen or, at most, a few. So there would have been very limited scope for selection of one version rather than another. Rather, selection certainly did happen between one song and another, some becoming widespread, some being collected only a very few times, and many broadsides falling by the wayside long before a collector arrived, if indeed anyone ever sang them. (Selection between versions is more relevant nowadays when those with sufficient interest can have access to many versions including those from the various collections and recordings by revival performers. But a major determinant now of which version gets learnt and performed by new singers is not any of its inherent traits but who recorded it, e.g. Joan Baez, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones ...).

As in biology, the source of variation is imperfect heritability: the singer (or in the case of the words the broadside printer) makes changes intentionally or unintentionally.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 27 Nov 17 - 09:58 AM

> But a major determinant now of which version gets learnt and performed by new singers is not any of its inherent traits but who recorded it.

Significant observation, Richard.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 27 Nov 17 - 10:00 AM

"But a major determinant now of which version gets learnt and performed by new singers is not any of its inherent traits but who recorded it, e.g. Joan Baez, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones ..."

As witness the popularity in the folk revival of ballads like 'The Selkie', 'Willie's Lady' and 'Annachie Gordon', all of which (whilst fine ballads) were very rare in tradition. It's all too easy to assume that balladeers of 200 years ago sang mostly about fairies, demons or incest, on the basis of what's been popular in folk clubs over the years.

When I reviewed the 'New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs' - which selected for popularity in oral collections, rather than appeal to modern singers - I was struck by the small proportion of modal tunes and gothic ballads, relative to the 'folk scene' repertoire of the last 60 years.

Seems that the tastes of a mostly well-educated and urban community in the late 20th century were different from the rural working class of 100 years before. Who'd have guessed it?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 27 Nov 17 - 12:12 PM

"I was talking there about song collecting. Instrumental music is interesting in its own right, but the OP was asking about songs" (Brian P) - true. I don't know the world of songs so well, I guess I was assuming that the same thing would have happened there. But if it hasn't, that's probably fodder for a different thread.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 03:31 AM

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.

Pamela


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 04:11 AM

Richard R: regarding instrumental music vs. song: I don't know much about that (being an unaccompanied ballad singer myself) but I found the following to be of interest and perhaps relevant:

(Background): A couple of years ago I came to realize that what I knew about folk songs, folklore, or ethnomusicology (as at least some would use the term) has been highly influenced by an "oralist" slant (my first teacher on the subject was an admirer of Walter J Ong). While still fascinated by the ideas about how primary or secondary or residual orality qualitatively influences culture and cultural transmission, I increasingly realized that the extent of literacy in Europe and the role of print (Broadsides) in the history of English language ballads had been somewhat underestimated by my earlier sources. So to educate myself more about that I paid a visit to the English Broadside Ballad Archive up at UC Santa Barbara (as well as the Wax Cylinder Archive at the same institution). This began a most fruitful conversation*.

Getting to my point, I learned that broadside ballad sheets almost never had a notated tune, instead simply stating "to the tune of...". At the Broadside Ballad Archive project they take a stand to use only tunes that were documented (notated) before 1701, and it turns out they get most of those from fiddle or dance tune books. This suggests to me that many folk instrumentalists in the 1600s read musical notation but singers generally did not? This makes me wonder if the role of aural/oral transmission in instrumental music would have had less influence than it has for songs.

PR

*Incidentally: if anyone is going to Camp New Harmony in Northern CA this winter I'll be holding a workshop to share (and sing) some of the broadsheet versions of ballads we also know from oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 07:38 AM

"Brian, interesting point regarding the selectivity of revival... 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."

Same here. The revival is what it is, and I'd never criticize any contemporary performer for making the same kind of choices that I have. It's more of a problem when you hear people get up and say that the folk song repertoire is full of songs about fairies etc., which creates a false impression. A lot of the magical ballads in Child are represented by a tiny number of source versions, in some cases only one (usually the famous Anna Brown).

"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?"

I've never checked systematically, but certainly in the case of VOTP there is a wide range of material including several CDs devoted to themes like romantic love, farm work, merrymaking, etc., and only a couple devoted to tragic ballads. I would guess that the choices there were made to showcase the best performances, and represent reasonably broadly the repertoire that those singes performed. Though you could argue that, like Sharp's collections, VOTP under-represents music hall material. If you listen to the double CD of Walter Pardon put out by Musical Traditions with the 'World Without Horses' release on Topic, you'll find more music hall and other recent songs on the MT release, which was a deliberate attempt to present a more comprehensive sample of his repertoire than the 'folksong' release had done.

"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."

There are examples, I believe, of singers learning ballads from earlier published material. And, in the US at least, the reason that many audio recordings of ballads made after 1930 are significantly shorter than the kind of things Sharp collected, is that those singers had learned them from 78 rpm recordings on which the ballads had been edited to fit the maximum playing time of the record.

"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?"

Well, there's good old Cecil himself. He was very interested in Appalachian 'gapped scales'. You can download (free) the book he co-wrote with Olive Dame Campbell in 1917, and take a look at his introduction:

English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, 1917

"At the Broadside Ballad Archive project they take a stand to use only tunes that were documented (notated) before 1701, and it turns out they get most of those from fiddle or dance tune books."

If you listen to the tunes EBBA has put online, they tend to sound nothing like the tunes to which the same ballads were collected 200 years later than those Roxburghe, Pepys, etc broadsides. Which leaves the mystery of where those later tunes came from. In any case, you're certainly right to say that earlier studies downplayed the role of print, which is now much better appreciated.

"This suggests to me that many folk instrumentalists in the 1600s read musical notation but singers generally did not?"

I can't speak for the 1600s, but by 1800 (when the kind of tune books that Richard Robinson was talking about were being written out) there seems to have been a cohort of village musicians who were not members of the educated middle classes but could nonetheless read and notate sheet music (Richard, what do you think?).


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 09:21 AM

It's been a while, but I don't recall many modal tunes on the Library of Congress LPs.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM

The idea that modal or gapped scales are in some way archaic is one that I was taking the piss out of a few posts back. There are no fewer tunes being created now in these scales than there ever were, and there has never been a time when they fell out of favour. For one particular genre - the pipe marches of the British Army - the vast majority of the pentatonic ones now played date from after 1850, when the pipes became fully accepted as a military instrument for marching to. In this instance. modality became military technology. If you're playing for a column of soldiers slogging along through a valley in Afghanistan in the middle of a three-day march, anything to relieve the boredom. Switch from a phrygian/dorian/minor pentatonic tune to a lydian/major/mixolydian one and the change in sonority will echo off the hills, catch everyone's attention and keep those feet moving. (The same idea survives in civilian life as used by ceilidh bands for long dance sets).

And modality survives just fine in pop, both vocal and instrumental dance music. The age of jazz-inspired chromatic heptatonicism was fad that's decades gone.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 10:42 AM

by 1800 (when the kind of tune books that Richard Robinson was talking about were being written out) there seems to have been a cohort of village musicians who were not members of the educated middle classes but could nonetheless read and notate sheet music

The tunebooks from the fifers of the Black Watch that I transcribed and put on the flute pages on my website are an interesting example. They were presumably young soldiers from Argyll, training near Oban on their way to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Their tunebooks are competently written, as far as the notation goes - a few boobs and discrepancies but nothing to get in the way of practical usability. But their handwriting was semiliterate, and most of them used the covers to practice signing their names. So it didn't take a high educational level to become a user of music notation.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 01:11 PM

Pamela, Brian, literacy - I don't really know. I'm not any kind of historian, I'm just someone who plays "The Tunes" in the way we do it these days (which, broadly, is oral/aural transmission, but with a lot of literacy in the background). So don't trust me, I Know Nothing, I'm only guessing / projecting from my own experience. But, some scattered thoughts anyway ...

I think my comment earlier about the economics is relevant - it turns out that a lot of notation has been hanging about, lost in someone's attic, buried in libraries, whatever, and is surfacing now that printing and distribution doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Handwritten manuscript, not stuff put out commercially by a printing house a la Playford. Which leads me to guess that they would have been the working notes of someone who played them, spare memory. Because that seems (to me) the most likely reason for taking the trouble, given that they weren't for publication; and because it's what I do myself (it's behaviour that's beneficial in a certain context. Selection ? I'd pick up a tune by ear, maybe look for notation to clarify any details I wasn't quick enough to get hold of, and then write it down when I had it straight, because my live memory isn't big enough to hold all the tunes I've learnt at the same time. What I mean is, the abilities don't necessarily conflict). Given that musical skill would likely have been relatively sparsely distributed in a less-generally-educated time, it seems more likely that someone who played an instrument would have learnt to read & write it than someone who didn't ?

But how that (relative) literacy might have affected the actual practice of the tunes, performance, I don't know - where people got tunes from, how often they got chances to meet up with other players and swap tunes, and how they'd have done that, I don't know. Those old manuscript collections often do also contain printed material, people were learning new tunes from print as well as writing things down themselves (assuming it was them). I'm heavily biassed towards assuming oral/aural would have been predominant just because it's so much easier to do, and literate players would (surely ?) always have been a subset; even now, I meet quite a lot of players who aren't comfortable with notation, and it's not a handicap, whereas someone who can't use their ears/memory and insists on having everybody wait till they haul their sheet of paper out is a pain in the proverbs. But that may just be an artefact of my experience of the current situation.

I notice the way that song people refer to "collectors" - a sense that songs have been "snapshotted" by people who weren't part of that world, rather more than has happened with the tunes themselves. So, yes, perhaps instrumental players tended to record their own material, while singers were recorded by other people ?

I'm reminded of a comment by, I think it must have been Jack, long ago in a different place, that it could be a mistake to regard someone who played the tunes as "only" a folk musician. I think he was talking about 18C Scotland, saying that in an economy that could only support a limited number of musicians, they'd have found themselves needing to occupy all the different musical niches. String quartets for the posh people on Friday, dance tunes for the village people on Saturday, kind of thing. Also a piece by Henrik Norbeck remarking that Swedish music had a tradition of clarinet players playing polka; because one of the main ways people learnt to play an instrument was via military bands, clarinets was what they used and polkas were what the army wanted from them. I know nothing (as usual) about any such history in UK (I probably mean English, actually ?) tunes, but if you look at the Village Music Project, a lot of their 18C stuff seems to be the March of So-and-so's Militia or Lord Whatsit's Regiment (I'm not suprised they've been forgotten, either. Ahem)

I live in Lancaster (UK), where the Winder Manuscripts are a local Thing - a bunch of papers found in a farmhouse attic a few miles away, tunes written down by 3 generations of the same family. Relevant point #1 - the first of these was one John Winder, who advertised himself as a Dancing Master, working in the local Assembly Rooms. That was a Respectable Society thing - the "folk" who made use of the tunes weren't all peasants. Relevant point #2 - as I understand it, the original bundle of papers also included an amount of "West Gallery" material - hymns, church music. The same people played for dancing and for church. Sub-point - I've seen & transcribed the tune, I've never seen the church stuff; the collection as a whole got split up and went to different people - these days, "tunes" and "West Gallery" are different interests, a couple of hundred years ago they weren't. (Sub-sub-point, relevant mainly to myself - those tunes are supposed to have links to scans of the original, but they seem to be broken. Curses. I'll try and fix them).

So what am I getting at ? Pass. Perhaps, that "folk" music hasn't been entirely isolated from all the other worlds of music ? That I know nothing about the history of the concept of musical traditions, or the idea that the ones we're talking about were that separate from some of the others ? I've pointed to mechanisms that could have led instrumental players to come into contact with literacy - would there not have been equivalent stuff going on for singers ? Meaning nothing pejorative, maybe it was easier to be a singer without having to make so much commitment to identifying as a 'musician' ? (the expense of acquiring an instrument and learning to play it, for example).

Um. "Hope this helps", as they say.

Previewing this, I think it's too long. Sorry.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 01:22 PM

Thanks for all that, Richard. I've been playing tunes from the Winder MSS for many years now, thanks in the first place to your efforts to disseminate them.

My own experience with the Thomas Watts MS (Derbyshire Peak District) is similar. Whoever wrote that down (and it may have been more than one person) played dance tunes and psalms, as well as a very few songs (NOT what we would generally regard as 'folk') and one or two oddities like the cello part for Handel's 'Judas Maccabaeus'. So there was an overlap between folk dance, religious, and art music.

I should probably know this already, but how many tunes are reproduced in more than one of the Winder MSS, and is there any evidence of temporal change?


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 01:52 PM

Pamela R wrote:
"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)."

Just for interest, amongst the top 20 Child ballads (by number of variants collected) in Sharp's Appalachian MSS are:

Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender (1st)
House Carpenter (2)
Little Musgrave (6)
Two Sisters (10)
Lord Randal (12)
Young Hunting (13)
Two Brothers (14)
Cruel Mother (16)
Earl Brand (18)
Edward (19)
Sir Hugh (20)

Pretty Polly was the most popular of the non-Child ballads.

So I'm sure you're right that murder (especially familial) was a very popular theme in that place at that time.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 04:30 PM

Cheers, Brian. Actually Andy Hornby's worked harder at that than I have, I've just stuck 'em on my website, and play some of them.

Duplicates ? I can only say, I'm pretty sure there are some, but not always with the same titles, I'd have to go full-bore geek to get a list. Which is an interesting thought and I might get round to it, but I'm not promising.

The only one I have immediately to mind is Cuddle Me Cuddy (aka Mad Moll, Peacock Followed The Hen), which is intriguing for the key signature - same notes, but the John Winder version (1797) gives a signature of 2 sharps, A mixolydian, the 1840s version gives it as we have it now, no accidentals, Amin. Which is a very startling change[*], and leads me to think that perhaps "literacy" is not an absolute. ie, how far can we trust someone to have written it down accurately ? (there are some ... _odd_ ... things in that 3rd volume). But if they can both be trusted it's a drastic temporal variation over just a few decades; and if so, was it a widespread change or one person's "it seemed like a good idea at the time" ? I don't know of enough other versions to check. VMP gives another version with 1 sharp, A dorian.

[*] This is the sort of reason why I thought it important to give links to the originals rather than ask people to believe me. I think & hope I've found the glitch, they should work again now.


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Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,ripov
Date: 28 Nov 17 - 08:35 PM

regarding musical literacy;

from the University of Michigan-

Crowley, Robert ? The Psalter of David newly translated into English meter in such sort that it may the more decently, and with more delight of the mind, be read and sung of all men (my italics). Whereunto is added a note of four parts, with other things, as shall appear in the epistle to the reader 1549 London

four-part Psalter melodies
Contertenor.
Tenor.
Playn songe.
Bassus.

Which suggests that the writers assumed at least a small number of "readers" in the congregations, not necessarily instrumentalists.

Purely a surmise, but the youngsters in the community might have been encouraged to sing in the church choirs, so they may well have gained some literacy.


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