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folk process: tune evolution?

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: 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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