Tag Archives: Europe

May Day and mayhem

On this first day of May, let’s look at a vivid depiction of Dublin May Day customs from a ballad that was first published in 1843, though it was already flourishing at least 60 years earlier.

De May Bush takes place amid a longstanding feud between the Liberty and Ormond factions—weavers and butchers, respectively—and revolves around the tradition of selecting, cutting, and guarding a handsome May Bush throughout the night before May Day. The vigil involved much revelry and drinking, and on this particular occasion the butchers fell asleep and the weavers stole their May Bush. The butchers’ leader exacted revenge in the form of driving a bull into the heart of the weavers’ turf to wreak havoc and create mayhem.

Like the song itself, the action depicted is a performance genre; the theft of the bush resembles the recurrent motif of the abduction of a bride. The butchers and the weavers were just as capable of manipulating multivalent social language as they were of ribald, full-bodied expression in song—complementary performance genres that meet around the May Bush.

This according to “May Day and mayhem: Portraits of a holiday in eighteenth-century Dublin ballads” by Cozette Griffin-Kremer, an essay included in The flowering thorn: International ballad studies (Logan: Utah State University, 2003, pp. 101–27).

Above, an Irish hawthorn, a popular choice for the May Bush; below, a tourist video shows decorated May Bushes in Galway.

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Jean Redpath and Robert Burns

The young Scottish traditional singer Jean Redpath shared a New York apartment with Bob Dylan in the early 1960s; she went on to make more than 40 recordings, not least the astonishing project she embarked upon with the American composer Serge Hovey, to record all of the songs composed and collected by Robert Burns.

Hovey arranged 323 Burns songs for her, matching them to their original melodies, often with imaginative contemporary orchestral arrangements. Redpath recorded seven albums of these arrangements, which were critically acclaimed, and went on to make other Burns albums as well.

This according to “Jean Redpath, MBE” by Jim Gilchrist (The Scotsman, 23 August 2014).

Today would have been Redpath’s 80th birthday! Above, a portrait by Alexander Fraser commissioned by the Glenrothes Burns Club; below, Redpath’s recording of Burns’s Green grow the rashes.

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Silvesterklausen, a New Year’s Eve ritual

silvesterklaus1

On New Year’s Eve men and boys in Urnäsch, Switzerland, disguise themselves in various costumes and, bearing harnesses with heavy bells, walk in groups from house to house; at each house they sing wordless yodels. The custom is called Silvesterklausen, and the men and boys are known as Silvesterchläus.

At the crack of dawn they march off in single file. Arriving at a house, they shake their bells rhythmically to announce their presence. The inhabitants are expecting them, and the husband and wife step out to greet them; the wife bears a tray with a bottle and glasses.

The Silvesterchläusen then form a circle and sing polyphonic yodels, which are received with great favor by the household. Each visitor is offered a drink; the yodelers accept their drinks, shake hands with their hosts, and march off to the next house.

silvesterklaus

This according to Progress and nostalgia. Silvesterklausen in Urnäsch, Switzerland by Regina Bendix (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). Below, Silvesterklausen in 2013.

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The Krk kolijani season

dubasljanski-kolejani

The kolijani-koleda event on Krk, which takes place in the Christmas and New Year period, is marked by processions moving from house to house expressing good wishes, together with a choosing-the-king custom. Through changes and innovations this ritual has ensured its firm entrenchment in the consciousness of the people.

The symbolic presentation of village unity moves from the secular to the religious sphere; their mutual permeation is constant and inseparable, and the performance of the ritual is the present expression of collective identity and feelings. The dialectical relationship between tradition and revival is confirmed in the interweaving of the old pre-Christian symbols (although they are expressed with new meaning or just repeated as a rule) with the most contemporary expressions of identity.

This according to “The kolijani ritual event on the island of Krk, Croatia: Continuity or revival?” by Tvrtko Zebec (Yearbook for traditional music XXXVIII [2006] pp. 97–107). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, excerpts from a 1989 documentary on kolijani in Dubašnica.

BONUS: The season in 1972.

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Blood, thunder, and drums

ballynahinch-protestant-boys

The drumming style among Protestant bands of Northern Ireland known as blood and thunder evolved as a result of working-class bands both imitating military practices and adapting them to their changing tastes.

This unique tradition developed through working-class musicians’ endeavors to emulate the musical practices of the dominant military power without access to the tuition techniques and facilities on which that style depends. A transformation taking place in blood and thunder drumming is characterized by an added element of aesthetic deliberation, which is considered by many to be an artistic advancement.

This according to “Blood, thunder, and drums: Style and changing aesthetics of drumming in Northern Ireland Protestant bands” by Ray Casserly (Yearbook for traditional music XLV [2013] pp. 142–163). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Ballynahinch Protestant Boys, a group featured in the article.

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Sound of the Faroes

faroe islands

The Faroese people sing a lot. The fact that young people from the Faroe Islands are extremely successful in the multitude of popular singing contests on television is not accidental.

The Faroese have always been diligent singers, especially regarding the various genres of traditional singing, which for centuries have formed an important part of Faroese culture. With the increasingly globalized everyday life of the past 50 years or so, music from all over the world has permeated everywhere, including the Faroe Islands; nevertheless, traditional Faroese singing and dancing are still alive and well in the 21st century.

Following in the wake of four separate volumes of Faroese traditional music, a new edition, Føroya ljóð í kvæðum, vísum, sálmum og skjaldrum/Sound of the Faroes: Traditional songs and hymns (Hoyvik: Stiðin, 2014) is a  single volume covering all of the topics. Part I is on Faroese dance with melodies for both kvæði and Danish ballads, part II is on spiritual singing and Kingo singing, and part III is on skjaldur. Each part describes the genres in question and offers a comprehensive selection of melody examples with an accompanying CD.

Below, the celebrated Faroese chain dance after the total solar eclipse on 20 March 2015.

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The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland

irish encyclopedia

Edited by Barra Boydell and Harry White, The encyclopaedia of music in Ireland (EMIR; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2013) is the first comprehensive attempt to chart Irish musical life across recorded history. It also documents Ireland’s musical relations with the world at large, notably in Britain, continental Europe, and North America, and it seeks to identify the agencies through which music has become an enduring expression of Irish political, social, religious, and cultural life.

EMIR is the collective work of 240 contributors whose research has been marshaled by an editorial and advisory board of specialists in the following domains of Irish musical experience: secular and religious music to 1600; art music, 1600–2010; Roman Catholic church music; Protestant church music; popular music; traditional music; organology and iconography; historical musicology; ethnomusicology; the history of recorded sound; music and media; music printing and publishing; and music in Ireland as trade, industry, and profession.

EMIR contains some 2,000 individual entries, which collectively afford an unprecedented survey of the fabric of music in Ireland. It records and evaluates the work of hundreds of individual musicians, performers, composers, teachers, collectors, scholars, ensembles, societies, and institutions throughout Irish musical history, and it comprehends the relationship between music and its political, artistic, religious, educational, and social contexts in Ireland from the early middle ages to the present day.

In its extensive catalogues, discographies, and source materials, EMIR sets in order, often for the first time, the legacy and worklists of performers and composers active in Ireland (or of Irish extraction), notably (but not exclusively) in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It offers to the general reader brief lives of Irish musicians throughout history, and it affords the specialist a detailed retrieval of information on music in Ireland hitherto unavailable or difficult to access.

Below, the nocturne in B flat major by the widely influential John Field, one of the composers covered in the book.

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Una colección de patrimonio musical español

Paciendo el rebaño

The Fons de Música Tradicional at the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC-IMF) in Barcelona has more than 20.000 melodies, copied on paper, collected between 1944 and 1960 throughout Spain; most of them were compiled through the 65 folkloric missions and 62 notebooks presented to competitions organized by the Folklore Section of the former Instituto Español de Musicología of the CSIC, in which 47 researchers participated.

Launched in 2015, Una colección de patrimonio musical español/Una col·lecció de patrimoni musical/A Spanish collection of traditional music heritage is an open-access database comprising digitized materials of the music collected in the competitions and missions of Andalusia, Balearic Islands, Castile-La Mancha, the Castile and León region, Catalunya, Galicia, the Murcia region, and the Valencian community; more materials from these and other Spanish regions will be incorporated later.

The site can be navigated in Spanish, Catalan, or English; searches may be organized by source, location, researcher, informant, genre, or title. Audio files of the melodies will eventually be added.

Above, notation for the instrumental tune Paciendo el rebaño; the full record, which includes other visual materials, is here.

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Ewan MacColl and the BBC

Ewan MacColl

Many aficionados of Scottish traditional music regard Ewan MacColl as one of the foremost singers of his generation; fewer know of his pioneering radio work.

The ballad of John Axon was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1958 as the first of a group of programs known collectively as  Radio Ballads. It tells the story of a railway accident in which the driver John Axon died heroically while attempting to avert disaster.

In the program, four actual ballads carry the narrative, supplemented by several self-contained songs that illustrate the story rather than tell it, sections of recitative that provide insight into the minds of Axton and his fellow railwaymen, and the recorded speech of Axon’s widow and workmates. Although MacColl and Charles Parker are often credited jointly with the authorship of the program, strong evidence suggests that MacColl wrote it in response to an idea suggested by Parker, who served as the producer.

This according to “John Axon: Ewan MacColl’s tragic hero?” by Mick Verrier (English dance and song LXI/3 [fall 1999] pp. 2–4).

MacColl would have been 100 today! Below, one of the songs from the show, with Peggy Seeger on the banjo.

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Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

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