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Musical literacy in times gone by

GUEST,Rigby 11 Jan 18 - 05:22 PM
Tattie Bogle 11 Jan 18 - 07:17 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 18 - 04:18 AM
GUEST,Dave Hunt 12 Jan 18 - 10:26 AM
GUEST,Jack Campin 12 Jan 18 - 10:35 AM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 10:44 AM
RTim 12 Jan 18 - 11:24 AM
RTim 12 Jan 18 - 01:17 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 02:08 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 02:28 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 02:30 PM
Jim Carroll 12 Jan 18 - 02:43 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 03:01 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 05:20 PM
Jack Campin 12 Jan 18 - 05:49 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 18 - 06:22 PM
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Subject: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: GUEST,Rigby
Date: 11 Jan 18 - 05:22 PM

Reading Steve Roud's book got me thinking... we have all been debating whether the singing communities of the past got their texts from broadsides, or whether the broadsides were taken down from singers, but I haven't seen much discussion of how the actual tunes were transmitted. Obviously in a great number of cases it must have been purely by ear, and this would account for the tendency of tunes to mutate, but was there any use of musical notation outside the 'educated classes'? And were there any other forms of notation that were used informally or locally?

John Clare certainly knew how to read and 'prick down' fiddle tunes, and I'm sure he was not alone.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 11 Jan 18 - 07:17 PM

Some of the older documents have tunes notated as individual quavers, rather than, as we are more used to, in groups of 2 or 4 at a time. Also there is a tendency in older manuscripts to use 6/8 where, listening to the tune being played, you might think 3/4 was more appropriate: then you get a modern player coming across one of these manuscripts, and seeing the 6/8, interprets it as a fast jig!


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 04:18 AM

Rigby - (fancy meeting you here)
Traveller Mikeen McCarthy, who we recorded for about thirty years, was a singer and storyteller from a strong family background in both - as Travellers were a non literate group, their oral traditions were orally transmitted
AS a teenager, Mikeen participated with his mother in selling 'the ballads' which were basically songs from the oral repertoire put into print by either getting someone to write them down and taken into a local printer, or the customer reciting the song over the counter while the printer wrote them down
Mikeen would then go off and sell them at the local fairs and markets in rural Kerry
In Ireland, the trade was carried out almost exclusively by non-literate travellers, so in essence, it was an oral tradition on paper
In rural Ireland, the 'ballad' tradition was infinitely more influential than the urban based broadsides.
None of the 'ballads' had tunes attached to them, so the seller was expected to be able to teach them to the customer, if necessary
Most of the sellers were street singers anyway, who earned pennies around the streets and bars of rural towns apart from the trade
All the house based singers we recorded who had bought 'the ballads' told us that if they didn't have a tune for the song, they would use one they would use one from another song - this was in rural Ireland, of course, but I suspect that this would have been the case in rural England
Every single singer we asked told us that the tunes were secondary to the words of the song - they considered themselves storytellers whose stories happened to come with tunes.
We recorded two brothers in North Clare who gave us a couple of dozen traditional songs between them - over half a dozen of those songs were to the same tune.
This is our note to a track on the double CD, From Puck to Appleby' where Mikeen MacCarthy describes the trade of ballad selling and teching tunes
Jim Carroll
2 - Selling the Ballads (The Blind Beggar)   Mikeen McCarthy
Well er, around where my father came from like, he was very well known as being a singer, not a singer now for his living like, but a fireside singer, we'll call it, and what we call c?ilidhing now, going to houses. Well they were very fond of that song where he came from, he'd be like the young people today singing, buying those records, you know. But it got that popular around that area, travelled from parish to parish then; where he got it from I do not know.
So when I used be selling the ballads then like, and my mother, they used ask me, "Have you any of your father's songs?", you know, when we went in to where we were reared now, "Have you the Blind Beggar?", and I used say, "No."
"Why don't you get those printed?", they'd say, "Those are the songs you'd sell, and if you get them printed I'll buy about a dozen of them off you next time I meet you."
So that's how I got them in print then myself. My father write them out for me and I'd go in to the printing office then, then I'd get them printed.
Well they were the songs that did sing, and many a time after I went into the pubs after selling ballads like and things like that and I'd hear all the lads inside on a fair day now, we'll say markets and meetings, well when they'd have a few pints on them, 'tis then you'd hear my songs sung back again out of my ballads.
But I remember one day I was in Listowel Fair and I was selling ballads anyway. So I goes into a pub, I was fifteen years of age then - actually, I never wanted to pack it up, it was ashamed of the ladies I got, you know - but there was an American inside anyway, he wasn't back to Ireland I'd say for thirty years or something, he was saying.
So I sang that song now, The Blind Beggar, and he asked me to sing it again and every time I sang it he stuck a pound note into my top pocket.
He said, "Will you sing again?"
So I did, yeah. The pub was full all round like, what we call a nook now that time, a small bar, a private little bar off from the rest of the pub.
"And, will you sing it again?"
"I will; delighted" again, of course, another pound into my top pocket every time anyway. And the crowd was around, of course, and they were all throwing in two bobs apiece and a shilling apiece and I'd this pocket packed with silver money as well.
So he asked me, "Will you sing it for the last time."
Says I, "I'll keep singing it 'til morning if you want."
I'd six single pound notes in it when I came outside of the pub. I think I sold the rest of the ballads for half nothing to get away to the pictures".

The selling of printed song sheets, 'ballads', as they were known, was still very much a part of life right into the 1950s in rural Ireland. The trade at that time seemed to be fairly exclusively carried out by travellers who could be seen at the fairs and markets singing and selling them.
Not all the songs that appeared on these sheets were traditional; sentimental songs like Smiling Through and There's No Place Like Home, have been mentioned to us as being 'best sellers', and among the last titles to appear was The Pub with No Beer. However, they did have a profound effect on the preservation and circulation of many traditional songs. In Mikeen's case, one of the sources for the songs he sold, such as Bessie of Ballentown Brae and Bonny Bunch of Roses, was his father, Michael, who had a large repertoire of traditional songs and stories and was recognised as a singer and storyteller by members of both the travelling and settled communities around Cahirciveen in Co Kerry.
In his youth, Mikeen, along with his mother and other members of the family, sold the ballads around the pubs and fairs of Kerry and he has given us a great deal of valuable information regarding the production and distribution of these, which he started to sell around the age of twelve some time in the nineteen forties.
Ref: Michael McCarthy, Singer and Ballad Seller. Singer, Song and Scholar, Sheffield Academic Press,1986.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: GUEST,Dave Hunt
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 10:26 AM

My mother was born in 1910 near Bilston in the Black Country and remembered people coming round selling song sheets, then singing them so you could learn the tune. No wonder there so many variants nationwide!.
Even I (b 1944) living on edge of Wolverhampton - remember things now long gone, a man on a bike selling wooden line props 'Line props, get yer line props' our milkman, small van,calling 'Milk-o lovely milk-o' Milk in a churn and you took out something to put the milk in and he measured it out with a dip can. Bread man with horse, later small van and Scrap collectors. .Calling out 'Scraaap iron any scraaap iron' In fact we still have one in Telford.. but small lorry with recorded sounds from speaker om roof

Many of the musicians could read music..and write arrangements. .See Village Music Project for more info.
Many latterly also had collections of 78s from which they learned tunes and songs...then altered them to fit their singing style. Prime example is a Boer War song 'The Baby's Name' but I'm damned if i can remember the mans name - but he had a version which was a VERY garbled form of the original!


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 10:35 AM

A lot of broadsides either state the name of the tune, or else are a pastiche of something else everybody knew at the time so the tune was obvious. It's very unusual for a broadside to appear with a new tune (perhaps commonest in the late 17th century with tunes like "Buggering Oates Prepare Thy Neck").

Simpson's book "The British Broadside Ballad and its Music" is an illuminating read on how tunes got recycled. Often the choice of tune made a point - some tunes were associated with particular political issues or long-running jokes.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 10:44 AM

'purely by ear,' Absolutely. The street literature had no tune attached anyway.

That is not to say that those at the bottom of the ladder were musically illiterate. Church musicians, dance musicians, as you say like Clare, could read music. There are plenty of examples of musicians' ms tune books that have survived.

However another way the tunes were spread from the 18th century onwards is that the middle classes could afford to buy those more expensive sheets with the tunes on, songsters with the tunes , and indeed sheet music, and servants would undoubtedly pick up on some of this by ear. Admittedly not much of this would have been what we now call folk music. However pieces like 'The Seeds of Love', 'Sweet Nightingale', 'I Live not Where I love' which have the same tune very widespread probably filtered down in this way.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: RTim
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 11:24 AM

This raises the interesting question of the song – George Collins – Roud 147 and in all cases versions of Clerk Colvill or Lady Alice – Child 42 and Child 85

Dr. George Gardiner collect several versions of the song in the New Forest Hampshire between 1905 and 08 – all have very similar texts, with all having errors or forgotten words in the third verse.
However – they all have different tunes!!! In one case – the song was collected from George Blake, who was born and lived most of his life in or around Lyndhurst, and another was noted was collected from his Son in Law – Henry Stansbridge – also from Lyndhurst – but again with a different tune!
The other 2 versions were collected in nearby villages.
In addition – Sharp collected the song again from Sister Emma at Clewer near Windsor in 1909 – and that too is a different tune.
Finally – in the 1950’s Bob Copper collected the song again – this time in North Hampshire – at Axford – from Enos White – text very similar to the previous versions – but again a different tune………..

It should also be added that the song was collected many time in the USA by Sharp, et al – there the texts are not as complete as the versions listed above, but again the tunes are all different.

Now why are there different tunes for a single song within a small area? Where does the text come from - I would suggest a Broadside sheet - but who knows; I have not yet seen a printing - has anyone?

Tm Radford
Who has a long personal association and regard for the song!!


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: RTim
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 01:17 PM

I have taken the liberty to give below the link to my SoundCloud site where there are 2 of the versions of George Collins I have recorded. Those being from George Blake and the other from Enos White; same song, two different tunes.

https://soundcloud.com/tim-radford

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 02:08 PM

Tim,
I can't think of any other reason why 5 versions in close proximity all should have different tunes. My own theory is that GC is a burlesque of something else. These burlesques were popular from about 1750 to 1850. A broadside would be an obvious source. Many of the burlesques came from theatrical productions and the music rooms and it may well be that the song exists in sheet music somewhere.

That's just triggered off a memory. I think I may have a sheet music version from the 18th century. I'll get back to you.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 02:28 PM

Yes, I have a copy but only of the first verse and music. The same is actually printed in FSJ 13 along with some of the other variants you mention. It is dated c1778-80. The tune seems to have similarities with George's version and Henry Gaylor's. It is definitely burlesque.
Kidson thought it was a parody of 'Lord Thomas & Fair Eleanor' but I would say it's more likely of 'Lord Lovell'. It was directed to have been sung in a 'crying style' no doubt to elicit laughter. Both Joe Grimaldi and later Sam Cowell were masters of this style.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 02:30 PM

Incidentally some of the burlesques having been printed on broadsides later became serious songs again in the mouths of traditional singers. 'All around my hat', 'Billy Taylor'


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 02:43 PM

"Incidentally some of the burlesques having been printed on broadsides later became serious songs again in the mouths of traditional singers"
And vice versa of course
Pity none of us know which!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 03:01 PM

Actually we do know which. We have solid documentary evidence.

William and Dinah, we know the author.
Villikins and Dinah (burlesque) We know the author.

'And vice versa of course'. Absolutely, Jim. The song Tim mentions is a perfect example. Once it had become a serious song again it was again parodied as 'Giles Scroggins'

'Lord Lovel' is another example. In Walpole's day it was seen as a burlesque of something earlier, then it became a serious ballad again, then a burlesque, and by Child's time a serious ballad again.

Can we now return to the point of the thread please?


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 05:20 PM

BTW burlesque was often in the art of the performer. On paper many of these looked like perfectly serious songs. It was the exaggerated way they were performed that made them hilarious to the audiences. The 'burlesque' of the late 19th century in places like New York was an entirely different genre, more to do with scantily clad ladies and innuendo.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 05:49 PM

There was one organization with universal reach and a remit that included teaching musical literacy: the church. People of all classes were singing from four-part psalters (and later, hymnbooks) from the late 16th century onwards. If you can do that you can read a ballad tune.


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Subject: RE: Musical literacy in times gone by
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 18 - 06:22 PM

Some tunes were obvious simply from the given refrain 'Derry Down' and even just the metre and form, The Admiral Benbow and Jack Hall form. 'When sol did cast no light' was used for numerous ballads, easily spotable by its very simple form. Naming a standard tune on printed songs was used from the 16thc to modern day.


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