Tag Archives: Traditional music

From oilcans to old-time

Wayne's Body Shop

For more than 40 years—ever since Wayne Willis discovered that he could play the guitar and wanted some people to play with—Wayne’s Body Shop in Portsmouth, Virginia, has hosted a regular jam session.

Just about everyone who can play old-time, country, bluegrass, or gospel music in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina has jammed at Wayne’s. The first rule is that there is no hierarchy and no noninclusion; everyone gets a chance to participate.

This according to “Saturday night at Wayne’s Body Shop in Portsmouth, Virginia” by Dan Margolies (The old-time herald IX/3 [Spring 2004] pp.14–18).

Above and below, Saturday night at Wayne’s.

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Crunching ballads

punch cards

In the 1940s Bertrand Harris Bronson became one of the first scholars to use computers for musicological work.

For one of his projects he encoded melodic characteristics of hundreds of tunes collected for the traditional ballad Barbara Allen on punch cards, so a computer could ferret out similarities. His project resulted in four groups of tunes, members of which came from both sides of the Atlantic with varying frequency.

This according to “All this for a song?” an essay by Bronson reprinted in his collection The ballad as song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 224–242).

Above, an illustration from the article (click to enlarge); below, the classic recording of the song by Jean Ritchie, a singer Bronson deeply admired.

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Filed under Curiosities, Ethnomusicology

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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Bert Jansch’s legacy

Bert-Jansch-2010

The guitarists’ guitarist and the songwriters’ songwriter, Bert Jansch (1943–2011) influenced musicians as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, Donovan, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Bernard Butler, Beth Orton, and Laura Marling.

Unassuming, enigmatic, and completely focused on his music until his untimely death, he remained singularly resilient to the vagaries of fashion, being rediscovered and revered by new generations of artists every few years.

Born in Edinburgh, Jansch became an inspirational and pioneering figure during Britain’s folk revival of the 1960s. In 1967 he formed the folk/jazz fusion band Pentangle with John Renbourn and enjoyed international success; when they split in 1973 he returned to his solo career, securing his standing as one of the true originals of British music.

This according to Dazzling stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival by Colin Harper (London: Bloomsbury, 2000, 2nd ed. 2006).

Jansch would have turned 70 today! Above, Jansch a year before his death, when he was touring with Neil Young; below, his classic version of Black waterside.

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Filed under Europe, Popular music

Pungmul and dance

pungmul

Pungmul is played with your heel!” say many celebrated performers of this percussion genre, underscoring the inseparability of the music and the musicians’ dance moves.

Merely listening to the music of pungmul is not sufficient for differentiating between passages where the meter does not change but the instruments play cross-rhythmically and those where the meter does change and the instrumental parts reflect this change. Such passages can only be differentiated through a choreological analysis that demonstrates the relationships between the stepping patterns of the dancing musicians and the music that they are simultaneously playing.

This according to “‘Pungmul is played with your heel!’ Dance as a determinant of rhythmic construct in Korean percussion band music/dance” by Nathan Hesselink (Eum’ag gwa munhwa/Music and culture IV [2001] pp. 99–110). Below, a taste of pungmul from the Gungnip Minsok Bangmulgwan (National Folk Museum) in Seoul.

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Mike Seeger, according to Bob Dylan

mike seeger

Although he was only eight years younger, Bob Dylan called Mike Seeger (1933–2009) a father figure, and considered him the ultimate embodiment of a folk-star persona. Recalling him in Chronicles. I (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), Dylan wrote:

“Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary type all at once—had chivalry in his blood…”

“He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for—the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, the guitar, even harmonica in the rack….He played on all the various planes, the full index of old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered—Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel—being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them.” (pp. 69–71)

Today would have been Mike Seeger’s 80th birthday! Below, Seeger in 1976.

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Filed under North America, World music

Doc Watson’s oral memoir

docwatson

When David Holt asked Doc Watson to write an autobiography, he declined. Holt then said “What if you just tell your stories? I can ask you questions and we can record it and you can tell your stories yourself.”

Watson agreed, and in 2002 they released Legacy, a three-CD set that comprises an oral memoir by the country music legend; it won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album the next year.

This according to “Doc Watson and David Holt” by Carol Mallet Rifkin (Acoustic guitar XXII/6:228 [December 2011; online only]).

Today would have been Doc Watson’s 90th birthday! Below, Watson and Holt perform together in 2007.

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Folk lexicon

weavers

Folk lexicon: Lexicon of the modern folk fan was published by Caffè Lena in 2013.

This free online resource provides information on the folk music scene as it has evolved (mainly in North America) since the 1950s. Categories include awards, folk festivals, instruments, musical styles, publications, radio shows, and record companies, along with discussions of terminology and corny nicknames.

Above, the Weavers were influential founders of the contemporary scene. Below, the group’s 1980 reunion at Carnegie Hall.

Related articles:

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Filed under Resources, World music

Grainger and world music


Today, on Percy Grainger’s 130th birthday, let’s recall his reflections on the two broad stylistic groups he discerned in world music.

Grainger believed that strong musical and human characteristics unite the musical output of the Nordic countries, which include Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and several others.

The melodic habits of Nordic music are more like those of China and other Mongolian countries than those of such European countries as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria. The Mongolian-Nordic musical tradition favors solemn or spiritual unadorned melodies with long sustained notes, gapped scales, and a tendency to underlying polyphonic thought. The Nordic musical mind seeks inspiration in nature.

In contrast, the southern or Mohammedan tradition favors nervous, excitable, and florid tunes with quickly fluctuating notes, closely filled-up scales, and a tendency to seek surface complexity in technical passagework rather than in harmony.

This according to Characteristics of Nordic music, a talk broadcast on New York’s WEVD radio on 4 July 1933. Grainger’s talk is reprinted from a typescript held by the Grainger Museum, Melbourne, in Grainger on music (Oxford: Clarendon 1999, pp. 258–266). Above, Grainger with a radio microphone in 1928; below, some rare footage.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, World music

Rousseau and Aunt Rhody


The American traditional song Go tell Aunt Rhody originated as a gavotte composed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his opera Le devin du village (1752).

An English version of the opera was produced in London in 1766; subsequently the melody attracted various English texts, including Sweet Melissa (ca. 1788), and inspired a set of variations by the London piano virtuoso Johann Baptist Cramer (Rousseau’s dream, 1812).

Around 1825 the tune—identified as Greenville or Rousseau—began appearing in U.S. hymnals. The Aunt Rhody version has appeared in numerous American traditional song anthologies, and is still often found in children’s song collections.

This according to “Go tell Aunt Rhody she’s Rousseau’s dream” by Murl Sickbert, an essay included in Vistas of American music: Essays and compositions in honor of William K. Kearns (Warren: Harmonie Park, 1999, pp. 125–150).

Today is Rousseau’s 300th birthday! Below, the classic Woody Guthrie recording of his immortal gavotte.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities