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How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers

Uncle_DaveO 03 Mar 05 - 05:41 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 03 Mar 05 - 08:18 PM
Malcolm Douglas 03 Mar 05 - 08:46 PM
Amos 03 Mar 05 - 09:18 PM
Cats 04 Mar 05 - 11:57 AM
GUEST,John Moulden 05 Mar 05 - 06:47 AM
alanabit 05 Mar 05 - 08:02 AM
Liz the Squeak 05 Mar 05 - 08:19 AM
michaelr 05 Mar 05 - 10:46 PM
michaelr 05 Mar 05 - 11:06 PM
Azizi 06 Mar 05 - 12:37 AM
GUEST,Art Thieme 06 Mar 05 - 12:37 AM
Bob Bolton 06 Mar 05 - 06:17 AM
alanabit 06 Mar 05 - 07:15 AM
Abby Sale 06 Mar 05 - 10:08 AM
alanabit 06 Mar 05 - 10:29 AM
Liz the Squeak 06 Mar 05 - 11:20 AM
JennyO 07 Mar 05 - 07:03 AM
Ferrara 07 Mar 05 - 03:51 PM
Amos 07 Mar 05 - 03:58 PM
GUEST,Val 08 Mar 05 - 01:53 PM
alanabit 09 Mar 05 - 03:51 AM
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Subject: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 03 Mar 05 - 05:41 PM

"The Scandalous Practice of Ballad-singing, is the Bane of all good Manners and Morals, a Nursery for Idlers, Whores and Pickpockets, a School for Scandal, Smut and Debauchery, and ought to be entirely suppressed, or reduced under proper Restriction. If Ballads do not, yet they ought to come under the Stamp Act, and the Law looks on Ballad-singers as Vagrants." ---Democritis, 1735

Looks like somebody needed to hire a public-relations specialist in 1735!

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 03 Mar 05 - 08:18 PM

Musta worked. They're almost extinct..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 03 Mar 05 - 08:46 PM

The full text can be seen at  The Internet Library of Early Journals:

Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 5 Feb 1735, p. 93

Thanks to Heather Wood for the full reference, posted on the BALLAD-L list.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Amos
Date: 03 Mar 05 - 09:18 PM

The language is too rich, and the reasoning too exuberant, to be left out of these annals. Herewith Democritus' entry for that issue, in 1735:

The Scandalous Practice of Ballad Singing is the Bane of all good manners and morals. a Nursery for Addicts, Whores, and Pickpocklets, a School for Scandal, Smut and Debauchery, and ought to be ebtirely suppressed or reduced under proper Restriction. If Ballads do not, yet they ought to come under the Stamp Act and the Law looks on Ballad-Singers as Vagrants.

This brings to my Mind the ill Conduct of many of our middling Gentry, who suffer hteir Children, particularly their Daughters, to frequent the Kitchen, be familiar with the Servants, and so learn their Manners. One Part of their Conversation turns upon frightful Stories of Witches, Apparitions, Etc., which serve to keep Miss in Awe and in their Interest.

Her delight in the Kitchen-Conversation increases with her Yeares; now she is flattered, taught to shew Trickes upon Cards, and play at Romps, which soon makes her forget her Birth and think herself on a Level with them. Well! Miss is now out of her Hanging Sleeves, and every one expecially the Footman, tell her how pretty she is. Now Ballads and Love Songs are daily presented her, and vouched for Truth: One tells, "How a Footman died for Love of a young Lady, and how she was haunted by his Ghost, and died for Grief. ANother, How the Coachman run away with his young Mistress, took to Hedging and Ditching, and she to Knitting and Spinning, and lived vast happy, and in Great Plenty. And a third, How the young 'Squire, Master's eldest Son,married her at the Floeet, was turn'd out of Doors, kept an Inn, got Money as fast as Hops, till the old Gentleman dies suddenly without a Will, and then his Son got all, kept a Coach, and made his Wife a great Lady, who bore him Twins for 12 Years together, who all lived to be Justices of the Peace, etc. By such foolish Stories, Miss is deluded; sighs, pities, and at last, loves; and so too often undone without remedy.

Democritus


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Cats
Date: 04 Mar 05 - 11:57 AM

But 'when they are good they are very, very good and when they are bad they are' bad and give ballad singers a poor image. Some of the ballads are the most gory and blood curdling songs out, some exotically romantic and some beautiful and gentle. There's something for every mood. By the way did I mention I bought myself the complete Child Ballads for Christmas!


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: GUEST,John Moulden
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 06:47 AM

This Democritus article does not represent how the PUBLIC looked at Ballad-Singers but how they were viewed by representatives of the elite. Governments sought to suppress them - across Europe - because they were not easily controlled, and as they attempted to control all wanderers and still do. Well-off ladies and gentlemen were offended by their bawdry and semi-philanthropists like Democritus sought to protect the 'uneducated' from being led astray by the examples of behaviour offered in ballads but the PEOPLE loved them.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: alanabit
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 08:02 AM

A brilliant thread title, because it goes to the heart of what folk music is and why it should always be important.
I enjoyed the article and it made me smile. What I am more interested in though, is the environment in which folk lore, story telling and singing can flourish nowadays. I have long feared that the industrial revolution effectively severed many people from their folk culture. I also fear that the ensuing vacuum was so filled with the arrival of mass media, that it may never be able to effectively re-establish itself. I fervently hope I am wrong.
Art Thieme and I would define "folk music" or "folk culture" differently, perhaps. However, a few weeks ago, I read a brilliant post from him, which conveyed to me the thrill he feels of being able to enter a bygone age - simply by hearing or singing a song from it. Now I would include newer songs as part of this culture. In fact, I would say they are essential to keep the culture alive. However, where I think we both have something in common, is that we are talking about a simple, unadorned medium - simply passing on songs to each other face to face, to get a glimpse of other parts of our world. This is seen as unhip, archaic and very often as ridiculous in our hi tech age. That is obviously not what Mudcatters think, but I think we need to get the message out that we are losing a hugely important part of our humanity if we do not keep it alive.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 08:19 AM

Mostly through their fingers whilst uttering 'Oh no, not bloody Tam Lin again... we'll never last till the end before we need a pee!'

I have met a balladeer, although he styled himself as Troubadour and came from Belgium. Mad as a box of jellied fruit bats.

LTS


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: michaelr
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 10:46 PM

I can tell you how my local's publican looks at ballad singers. A (relatively) well-known duo of San Francisco shanty singers performed recently and proceeded to offer little but down-tempo, unaccompanied, AND dirty songs. Cleared the house in the first set but did a second anyway.

The owner said "Never again"...

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: michaelr
Date: 05 Mar 05 - 11:06 PM

Alan -- "I have long feared that the industrial revolution effectively severed many people from their folk culture. I also fear that the ensuing vacuum was so filled with the arrival of mass media, that it may never be able to effectively re-establish itself. I fervently hope I am wrong."

Alas, I fear you're spot on right, my friend. Thomas Hardy was a great chronicler of the time when the beginnings of industrialization first broke up the rural village life in England and caused folks to travel outside of their very limited circles.

Since then, the trend has continued right through what's now called globalization. We could debate for a long while whether "progress" is a good thing or bad, but it is a fact of existence. Modern, instant communication technologies and the mass media will continue to homogenize local traditions. Exciting fusions may lead to general uniformity -- who knows?

Let us cherish the collective knowledge, memory, and wisdom here at Mudcat as well as in our own spheres for as long as we can.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 12:37 AM

Alanabit & MichaelR ,

I found both of our posts to be well written and thought provoking.

I was particularly intrigued by the Alan's sentences:
"..we are talking about a simple, unadorned medium - simply passing on songs to each other face to face, to get a glimpse of other parts of our world. This is seen as unhip, archaic and very often as ridiculous in our hi tech age."

end quote

Alan, I wonder in order to retain the essence of what you are saying, must the songs be only passed out "face to face"?

Also Michael you wrote:

"Modern, instant communication technologies and the mass media will continue to homogenize local traditions. Exciting fusions may lead to general uniformity -- who knows?"

end of quote..

Alan also referred to our "hi tech" age.. This is the same hi tech, instant communication technologies that we are using right now to communicate online, and share traditions, and learn from one another.
So it can't be all bad, right?

I think it is important to preserve information about the past, and increase understanding about those traditions. However, I believe that the contemporary practice of some of those traditions may need to be modified for a host of reasons, none the least might be the increased understanding about the importance of treating others with dignity and respect..

As a result of cyperspace connections, and other advances, I look forward to increased awareness & understanding about the past, AND exciting cultural fusions.

I certainly hope that we will not have a bland, one size, one color fits all homogenized culture. How boring that would be, and how dangerous for those who {as my nephew said about someone I know} not only walk to a different drummer, but walk to a different band.

..except sometimes I strut instead of walk.

Azizi


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 12:37 AM

...I think I ended the piece I wrote saying that I figure as how I sing/sang folksongs about 60% of the time. The other 40% of the time I sang folk-type songs and singer/songwriter songs written in that older style because those songs depicting and of the past were the ones I am/was drawn to.-----I also noted that if Barry Bonds, with or without steroids, had done as well, he'd've hit 600---and that's not too shabby. That made me a folksinger 60% of the time-----and something else the rest of the time! ;-) Still, I was proud of the fact that I was a folksinger and even prouder to be a part of FOLK LEGACY RECORDS and the amazing doings of Sandy and Caroline Paton there in Sharon, Connecticut.

And watch for two new CDs from moi on Folk Legacy real soon!! (I'm pleased as punch about that too.)

One is produced by Dennis Cook. It will be called CHICAGO TOWN AND POINTS WEST. There will be a song from Scotland on it too because I figure that if ya go West from Chicago, eventually you might get to Scotland.

The second CD is to be called ON THE RIVER and it's a composite of my river cassette I made when I sang on the Mississippi Steamboats---with some tracks from my older Art Thieme--LIVE AT WINFIELD, KANSAS recording ("The Great Turtle Drive" etc).

Sorry about the thread creep but Alanabit's very nice comments got me to thinking this might be a good place for some unabashed self promo.

Onward and upward,

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 06:17 AM

G'day Art, (from wherever you can duck in and splash around in the Mudcat pond),

How soon? It will be great to hear your 'new' CDs (I have the river cassette ... but it will be really nice have that properly bumped up onto CD. I presume we can buy through through the usual channels and drop a few coins into the Mudcat platter ... ?

Oh yes ... back to the thread theme - Uncle DaveO: I think that the disapproval of authorities - and their toadies - is an essential hallmark of real folk culture, the thing that unites us all across the ether in our love and respect for songs that tell of real people, not the puppets all governments wish for.

Regards,

Bob (If rocks aren't coming at you from both sides ... you should just check to see you haven't wandered into the wrong place!)


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: alanabit
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 07:15 AM

This thread seems low on quantity, but pretty high on quality and it has got me thinking. I am not really airing hard and fast opinions, just asking aloud the questions which I often ask myself.
I have mixed feelings about what you are saying Bob. For sure, a vigorous folk culture does not need the approval of the authorities. It can also be used as a focus for scorn or even outright opposition to authority as well. That is a quality which I also find attractive. I do not think it is the main distinguishing characteristic of it though.
That leads me on to what Michael and Azizi were discussing. For me the spirit of folk music is more about passing a guitar to and fro and singing to each other the songs which we like. In fact, simply doing what we did when you visited me last year. Marion did the same a year previously. For me, she embodies very accurately what a real folk singer is. She travels around, collects stories and then sings them to people face to face. I would obviously include Art Thieme in that description to. It is neither here nor there whether he still does this or how old his songs are (it does not matter one way or the other to me). The point is, that the stories/bits of stories/gags are passed on in a social context.
Azizi's point - as ever - is well made and well taken. I see the drip feed commercial control of entertainment media as a huge threat to the folk culture. Technology is another issue. I actually met both Marion and Michael in the virtual world before I met them in the real one. I have also learned songs from the Mudcat which I would not have learned otherwise. It is obviously not hi tech which threatens our culture. Indeed, modern technology makes it possible for people like us to make albums and tell people about it who might be interested. That was not possible twenty years ago, without crawling to record companies and signing oneself into considerable debt.
For me, Bruce Springsteen is essentially a ballad singer. What baffles me, is that many who buy his records and enjoy his story telling skills would scoff at a ballad singer singing about the lives of his own neighbours in a local pub. I think that is sad, because that is the sort of ballad singer I want to hear.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Abby Sale
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 10:08 AM

michaelr, I think I'd have loved the performances and stayed fot the second set. Then I'd have had a chance to talk to the fellers and maybe learn some more. Obviously, they were in the wrong venue that day -

I sort of feel the a capella, ballad singer is offering a purely intellectual experience. I don't mean that the songs are "high-toned," often they're bawdy or silly or crude - I mean that they are appreciated actively & intellectually instead of pasively & emotionaly.

I mostly sing ballads - sadly poorly - and it's taken many years for the local singer/songwriter populace to appreciate what I do at all. But many do now. Newbies tend to run from the room but "trained up" oldersters might even make requests of me to sing.

I think that today's public simply isn't accustomed to listening intently enough to the words to enjoy ballad singing. It certainly helps if one might have the wonderful talent, charisma and story- telling ability of, say, Art - or any of the Scottish greats. But if that were the whole story, Art would be a billionaire and on MTV nightly. I don't think he is. Not yet.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: alanabit
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 10:29 AM

"I think that today's public simply isn't accustomed to listening intently enough to the words to enjoy ballad singing."
Abby, I think that is exactly what the core of the problem is. We are essentially a passive society when it comes to entertainment. That goes for TV, film and other forms too. With music we are more accustomed to hearing rather than to listening. There is a huge difference between the two.


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 06 Mar 05 - 11:20 AM

Ever since the birth of the pop record, the attention span of the average audience member has dropped to about 3.45mins. Anything over that (including the time spent tuning up at the beginning) and the attention is lost, unless the material is something special and your audience is enthralled. Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' at 8.00 mins, Woody Guthrie's 'Alices' Restaurant' at 18.32 mins and Show of Hands 'Tall Ships' at 22.00 mins are good examples of something special.

The modern lifestyle is geared towards soundbytes. If you can't say it in 3 mins, it's not worth listening to, because there is always something else to go and do. Gone are the days when the only news came from travelling people and the only stories those passed down and around by families. We no longer have the *time* to sit and listen to a 20-30 minute song or story... our lifestyles have changed so much that we are always being goaded onwards to fill deadlines, beat others and hit targets, at the expense of attention to detail and the time to sit and really relax into a song or a programme. I bet that if you put on one of the above mentioned records now, you'd be doing something else before the end of it.

LTS


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: JennyO
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 07:03 AM

Well maybe some of us might. I had no trouble at all sitting and listening to 9 minutes of "American Pie" today. Having said that, what you said, Liz, has a lot of truth in it, unfortunately.

I try to not get caught up too much in that kind of rushed way of living. I think it's very important to remember to take time out to sit and listen. I'm lucky to have a partner who enjoys reading Terry Pratchett and Lord of the Rings to me, and I love it - and a ballad, if it is well written and tells a good story, will get my full attention.

Jenny


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Ferrara
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 03:51 PM

I suspect the 1735 quote was actually about buskers who sang from broadsides & ballad sheets, most of them pretty commercial, high-flown, and trite, rather than singers of ballads from the oral tradition. That doesn't detract from the various interesting stuff in this thread though, or from the fun of reading Democritus' diatribe....

Liz, you're so right about modern people being impatient and accustomed to sound bites. Singing a long song to yourself is a great way to make the time pass when you're doing something routine such as spinning (or woodburning, in my case, or sorting bills....) Guess they don't have much appeal for people who like to think of themselves as being on the fast track.

I've almost always liked long songs. I played piano and sang as a kid. If I liked a song I sang it through -- all the verses. It always frustrates me to go to a Christmas carol sing and discover no one wants to sing more than the first verse of each song.

In her class on Appalachian ballads, Sheila Kaye Adams taught me something about listening -- and not just to ballads. She kept saying, "Don't listen with your head. Listen with your heart! You have to feel what these people are feeling." It did change the way I listen to music (and sing it, too.) It puts you inside the song and your attention stays right there instead of wandering.

Rita F


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: Amos
Date: 07 Mar 05 - 03:58 PM

A fine succinct expression of deep wisdom, there, Rita!! Thanks!!

A


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: GUEST,Val
Date: 08 Mar 05 - 01:53 PM

just to share my unschooled (and therefore of suspect quality) opinions...

There is a basic concept in the "modern" world that Music is just another commodity to be marketed. Thus you have producers of the commodity, the sellers, and the consumers. For true FOLK music to thrive, it needs to be made BY THE FOLK as part of their everyday lives. Yet our culture tells everyone to "be a consumer, not a producer, of entertainment". Can there then be a "modern folk tradition" that encompasses the mainstream culture, when the people in that culture refuse to make their own music?

In the 1735 discussion, it appears that the concern was not so much about music, per se, but rather that the content of some of the popular ballads tended to encourage the breakdown of class consciousness in impressionable youth. Since "everyone knows Democracy is a Good Thing", then this change of values and breakdown of a traditional culture was something to be desired. (The victors/survivors always say the previous regime needed to be replaced)

You could say that Folk Music (or for that matter, such arts as Rap) COULD be a tool for similar sedition today. If you convince enough kids that they can make their own music, maybe they won't have to consume somebody else's? That would be one small step away from the Consumer Culture. I doubt it'll happen, but it's an interesting fancy.

As for ballads in today's music market, I think today's emphasis on visual communication has cut into the pervue formerly held by storytellers & balladeers. Add to that the emphasis on quick communication over deep communication (exemplified by Instant Messaging and CNN Soundbytes) and the result is a shorter attention span for (almost) all consumers.

If I may say so, frequenters of this board are (with all due respect) rather different from "the people" of the modern industrialized Corporatocracy - if for no other reason than that we are producers of music rather than consumers. Thus our perceptions are likely warped by comparison to "the mainstream". Personally, I think that's a good thing. And I'm glad there are a few eccentric corners of the world where some traditions are kept at least somewhat alive and where not everybody is a drone consumer (no, I'm not talking about eating bagpipes!)


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Subject: RE: How the Public Looks at Ballad-Singers
From: alanabit
Date: 09 Mar 05 - 03:51 AM

The only thing you sound unschooled to me in Val, is the mumbo jumbo sound bite jargon of our age. I happen to agree with every word you have written.


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