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Folk Music

Folk Music

Folk music entertains, tells or supports a story, and is transmitted from generation to generation. It is the music of the common person as well as the wealthy. A significant number of American ballads were obtained from other societies such as Scotland, Ireland, Germany, England, and Wales, and the words were altered to fit the interpretation of the singer. Most often, the songs were obtained through oral tradition, rather than in written form, and the singer was left with the task of interpreting the meaning of the lyrics on the basis of his or her cultural milieu.

Most of the early folk songs were sung without instrumental accompaniment. According to folklorist Maude Karpeles, while collecting songs in the southern Appalachian Mountains during the years 1916 to 1918 with her colleague Cecil Sharp, found:

The songs were, with one exception, sung without instrumental accompaniment. This is in accordance with the older traditional methods of singing, both in England and in America. The present custom of singing to the accompaniment of guitar or banjo, which has been adopted by some traditional singers, is fairly recent and is probably due to the influence of popular and pseudo-folk music heard on the radio. (Sharp and Karpeles 1968, p. 9)

The instrument used while singing a folk song varies with the culture, from the drum in Africa to the bagpipes in Scotland to the plucked dulcimer in the American Appalachians. In the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the major instruments were the guitar, five-string banjo, upright bass, and fiddle.

The durability of a folk song may be attributed not only to the song itself, but to the folklorists and collectors who accepted the task of obtaining songs in various sections of the world and tracing their origin. Folklorists such as Francis James Child, Cecil Sharp, Maude Karpeles, and Alan and John Lomax have preserved a folk music legacy that might otherwise have been lost.

Folk music has been written and performed portraying every theme imaginable. There are love songs and silly songs. There are songs with religious themes and songs with secular lyrics. Folk songs portray the good life and they delineate hardship. Some of the most popular folk lyrics portray dying and/or death. Common themes are death and its relationship to accidents, the supernatural, trains, murder, natural causes, the elements, war, suicide, and religion.

Death by Accident

There are many forms of accident that can result in death. Vehicular death has been portrayed in folk songs on more than one occasion. "The Drunken Driver" tells the story of two small children who were killed as they walked along a state highway. One of the deceased children turns out to be the drunken driver's son. "The Fatal Wreck of Bus" is the true tale of mass death when a bus goes over a cliff.

The death of two small children via drowning is reflected in "Kiss Me Mamma, For I Am Going to Sleep," which originally appeared in sheet music form. Songs about the sea, such as "Asleep in the Briny Deep" and "The Sailor's Sweetheart," tell the story of maidens who have lost their lovers to the sea. "Mighty Mississippi" and "The Flood Disaster of 1937" are only a few of the folk songs about floods and death. In the popular ballad "The House Carpenter," a wife leaves her husband and children to run away to sea with her lover. They are both killed when the ship sinks.

"Companions Draw Nigh" (also known as "The Dying Boy's Prayer") provides an account of a young man crushed in a construction accident and destined to die without prayer, song, or Bible present: "I must die without God or hope of his son, covered in darkness, bereaved an' undone." The popularity of cowboy songs in the early 1900s produced "Little Joe, the Wrangler," the tale of a young boy killed in a cattle stampede. When an avid cave explorer named Floyd Collins was trapped in a sandstone cave in Kentucky, and died before rescue workers could save him, several songs were composed about the tragedy. Eric Clapton's commercial recording of "Tears in Heaven" (1992) is reminiscent of early folk songs of tragedy. It tells the story of Clapton's son, who fell from a sixth-story window to his death. The song asks a question often found in folk music: "Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven?"

Sensational accidents involving a large number of people are especially likely to become popularized in musical literature. Train wrecks, mining disasters, airplane crashes, fires, cyclones, and sea disasters are a few of the themes in folk music. "Lost on the Lady Elgin" and "The Ship That Never Returned" are about separate ship wrecks. The most famous of all the sea disasters is probably the sinking of the Titanic, immortalized in songs such as "The Sinking of the Titanic" and "Just as the Ship Went Down."

"The Akron's Last Flight" is about an airplane disaster. "The Avondale Mine Disaster," "The Dying Miner," and "Dream of the Miner's Child" reflect the relationship between coal mining and death. "Bonnie James Campbell" and "Darcy Farrow" concern horseback riding accidents that result in death. Death via fire is delineated in songs such as "Baltimore Fire."

Trains and Death

Perhaps no machine has ever captured the imagination of Americans like the train. In the early 1900s adults and children alike were in awe of the steam locomotive. The so-called father of country music, Jimmie Rodgers, was known as "the singing brakeman" because of his obsession with trains and songs about trains. Many songs reflect the death of the hobo, the common man who was often without home and food, and content to ride the rails. A few such as "The Fate of Chris Lively and Wife" concern death resulting from being hit by a train. Most, however, are about train wrecks and the brave engineers willing to die with their trains. "Casey Jones" (a train engineer on the Chicago and New Orleans Limited in Vaughan, Mississippi, in 1900) became an American hero when he died refusing to abandon his engine when it was about to crash into another locomotive. In "The Wreck of the Old 97" the engineer is "found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, a-scalded to death by the steam." The devotion of the railroad engineer is best exhibited in "Engine 143" when George Alley's last words are, "I want to die for the engine I love, One Hundred and Forty-three."

The Supernatural and Death

One of the oldest folk songs containing a supernatural theme is "The Wife of Usher's Well" (commonly called "The Lady Gay"), an English ballad reflecting the view that excess grief will cause the dead to return. A woman sends her children away to get an education, they die, she grieves, and they return to her in a vision. As a woman walks by the side of a river, her dead lover, "Lost Jimmy Whalan," returns to her in an apparition. In "Lily Lee," a sailor has a death vision involving his true love. When he returns years later she is dead. In the classic "Grandfather's Clock," the clock stops and never works again when its owner dies. Elements of the supernatural appear in the popular "Bringing Mary Home." The singer picks up a little girl walking along a highway and takes her home. When he opens up the door to let her out of the car, she is gone. The lady of the house explains that her daughter died thirteen years previously in an automobile wreck, and states, "You're the thirteenth one who's been here, bringing Mary home."

Death from Natural Causes

Death from natural causes is a common subject in musical literature. When the song involves a child, the title of the song often contains the word "little" followed by the first name (e.g., "Little Bessie," "Little Mamie," and "Darling Little Joe"). The listener does not know what the cause of death is, but the last hours of the child are sometimes emotionally portrayed. For example, in "Put My Little Shoes Away," the dying child's major concern is that the parents will give his or her prized shoes away. "Darling Little Joe" focuses on what others, both human and infrahuman, will do after he is dead. The dying soldier in "Break the News to Mother" is worried about the welfare of his mother when she receives the news of his death, and "Little Bessie" experiences auditory hallucinations common among those who are dying:

There were little children singing,
Sweetest songs I ever heard.
They were sweeter, mother, sweeter,
Than the sweetest singing bird.
(McNeil 1988, pp. 172173)

Death from the Elements

The plight of orphans frequently appears in folk music, often coupled with death from the elements to provide a more pathetic story. In "The Two Orphans," "The Orphan Girl," "Poor Little Joe," and "Little Paper Boy," children are discovered frozen to death at the end of the song. "Mary of the Wild Moor" and her child die from the cold weather and are discovered the next morning on the doorstep at the home of Mary's father.

The fact that failure to heed the advice of parents can end in death is emphasized in "The Frozen Girl" (also "Young Charlotte"), the true story of a young girl who froze to death on her way to a ball on January 1, 1840, after failing to heed her mother's warning:

"Oh, daughter dear," her mother cried, "This blanket 'round you fold,
Tonight is a dreadful one, you'll get your death of cold."
"Oh, nay, oh, nay!" Charlotte cried, as she laughed like a gypsy queen,
"To ride in blankets muffled up I never would be seen."
(Sandburg 1927, pp. 5859)

Children As Victims in Murder Ballads

Murder stories involving children have been very popular in musical literature. While mothers are generally portrayed as gentle and kind, there are songs that portray their violent side. Feticide/ infanticide may be found in "Mary Hamilton" and "The Cruel Mother" (also known as "Down by the Greenwood Sidie"), and rejection/neglect is delineated in "Lady Gay" ("The Wife of Usher's Well").

Drunken fathers are factors in songs like "The Drunkard's Child." "Little Blossom" goes to the bar to find her father and in a drunken rage he murders her. Poisoning is the variable in death for "Lord Randall." Revenge against the father for failure to pay a debt leads to the murder of his son in "Lamkin."

Several of the child murder ballads popular in America were transplanted from Europe. Sir Hugh tells the story of a little boy murdered by a Jew's daughter, and "Dunbar the Murderer" is the tale of a man who murders two children left in his care by the parents. However, most child murder ballads are original to the United States. Surprisingly, sensational cases, such as the murder of fourteen-yearold Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb on May 21, 1924, and the murder and cannibalism of Grace Budd by Albert Fish in the 1930s, never made their way into musical literature. However, the killing of "Little Mary Phagan" at the pencil factory where she worked in 1913, the murder and beheading of "Little Marian Parker" on December 14, 1927, and the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 were popularized in the media, commercial records, and folk music. Mass murders such as the "Ashland Tragedy" in 1883 (two children and a neighbor in Ashland, Kentucky, were murdered and the bodies burned) and the "Murder of the Lawson Family" (the father killed his wife, six children, and himself) made their way into the folk music tradition.

Women As Victims in Murder Ballads

The common theme in ballads involving the murder of women is the luring of the woman by the man to the place of her demise under false pretenses. Most of the songs are English ballads or altered forms of English ballads.

The victim dies when she refuses to marry her murderer in "Banks of the Ohio" and "Poor Ellen Smith." Money appears to be a factor in "Down in the Willow Garden" (also known as "Rose Connelly"). Jealousy on the part of the killer is extant in songs like "Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor" (the name of the woman changes with the singer). Pregnancy sometimes exists as a variable. For example, when Scott Jackson and a fellow dental student murdered Pearl Bryan at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, in 1896, both pregnancy and jealousy were factors. Jonathan Lewis drowned "Omie Wise" in Deep River in 1888 for dual reasons: She was pregnant and he preferred a local girl. "Knoxville Girl," a British broadside (single-sheet ballads sold for a penny or half-penny on the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries) written in the early 1700s, contains some of the most violent lyrics in any folk song.

Men As Victims in Murder Ballads

Few songs feature the murder of a man by a woman. Outstanding are the English ballad "Young Hunting" (known in America as "Loving Henry" and "Lord Henry and Lady Margaret") and American ballads such as "Frankie and Albert" (also known as "Frankie and Johnny") and "Frankie Silvers." In all these songs the homicide is the result of jealousy.

Men kill men for many reasons and under varied circumstances in folk songs. There are heroes (e.g., "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Jesse James") and anti-heroes such as "Stagger Lee." Murder may be committed for wanton cruelty or economic remuneration. An act of homicide may involve the killing of one man ("Jesse James") or many ("The Golden Vanity"). The killing can be the result of jealousy and/or hatred. Whether the song is simply to tell a story or entertain, it is popularized and transmitted from generation to generation.

Suicide

Parental opposition to a love affair is a major theme in songs concerning suicide. In "Silver Dagger," both the boy and girl commit suicide when her parents oppose their love. Death due to grief is a factor for women ("Barbara Allen" and "Earl Brand") and men ("The Two Sisters"). In "It's Sinful to Flirt" the boy kills himself because the girl won't marry him, while the reverse is true in "The Butcher Boy." The girl commits suicide in "Johnny Doyle" because she is being forced to marry someone whom she doesn't love. The man dies from a self-inflicted wound in "The Last Letter" when the girl marries someone else.

War

Songs about war are fraught with death and dying. There are lyrics portraying the grief (and death from grief) of those left behind. In "The Cruel War" the girl refuses to be left behind, dresses as a man, and goes off to war with her lover. The horror and violence of the battle are often portrayed in folk songs. Reflections of the dying soldier are quite poignant in folk music. Most of the final thoughts involve mother and/or the sweetheart left to mourn. In "Legend of the Rebel Soldier," the dying Confederate is concerned with whether his soul will pass through the Southland one last time on the way to the hereafter.

Religion

Songs concerning religion have three major themes. First, there are songs that provide a blueprint for living prior to death. Second, the means of conveyance to the hereafter is occasionally a subject. For example, it might be by train ("Life's Railway to Heaven"), a band of angels (that may carry the soul to Heaven as in "Angel Band"), boat ("The Gospel Ship"), or chariot ("Swing Down, Sweet Chariot"). Third, there are lyrics that denote what the afterlife is like. It is portrayed as a place of "Beautiful Flowers" and an "Uncloudy Day." It is a realm where there is no suffering or pain, loved ones may be greeted, and "The Soul Never Dies."

Folk songs provide helpful insight into the cultural traits related to death and dying in a specific society at a particular point in time. They also allow for comparisons of traits over a period of time. The provision of entertainment and knowledge at the same time makes folk music an integral part of any society with a music tradition.

See also: Mahler, Gustav; Music, Classical; Operatic Death

Bibliography

Clapton, Eric. "Tears in Heaven." On Eric Clapton Unplugged. Reprise Records 9-45024-2.

Cohen, Norm. Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folklore. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981.

Crissman, James K. Death and Dying in Central Appalachia. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Johnny Cash Motion Picture Songs. New York: Hill and Range Songs, 1970.

McNeil, W. K., ed. Southern Folk Ballads. Vol. 2. Little Rock, AR: August House, 1988.

Sandburg, Carl. The American Songbag. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927.

Sharp, Cecil, and Maude Karpeles. 80 Appalachian Folk Songs. Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber, 1968.

The Country Gentlemen. "Bringing Mary Home." On Bringing Mary Home. Rebel Records REB 1478.

JAMES K. CRISSMAN

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Folk Music

FOLK MUSIC

Russian folk music is the indigenous vocal (accompanied and unaccompanied) and instrumental music of the Russian peasantry, consisting of songs and dances for work, entertainment, and religious and ritual occasions. Its origins lie in customary practice; until the industrial era it was an oral tradition, performed and learned without written notation. Common instruments include the domra (three-or four-stringed round-bodied lute), balalaika (three-stringed triangular-bodied lute), gusli (psaltery), bayan (accordion), svirel (pennywhistle), and zhaleyka (hornpipe). Russian folk music includes songs marking seasonal and ritual events, and music for figure or circle dances (korovody ) and the faster chastye or plyasovye dances. A related form, chastushki (bright tunes accompanying humorous or satirical four-line verses), gained rural and urban popularity during the late nineteenth century. The sung epic bylina declined during the nineteenth century, but protyazhnye protracted lyric songs, slow in tempo and frequently sorrowful in content and toneremain popular. Significant stylistic and repertoire differences exist among various regions of Russia.

Russian educated society's interest in folk music began during the late eighteenth century. Numerous collections of Russian folk songs were published over the next two centuries (notably N. L. Lvov and J. B. Práč, Collection of Russian Folk Songs with Their Tunes, St. Petersburg, 1790). From the nineteenth century onward, Russian composers used these as an important source of musical material.

During the nineteenth century, German philosopher Johann Herder's ideas of romantic nationalism and the importance of the folk in determining national culture inspired interest in and appreciation of native Russian musical sources, especially as they reflected notions of national pride. Mikhail Glinka, for his purposeful use of Russian folk themes in his 1836 opera A Life for the Tsar, is considered the founder of the "national" school of Russian music composition, most famously embraced by Mili Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. This designation had more political than musical significance, as composers not associated with the national school, such as Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky, also made use of folk music in their compositions.

Russian ethnographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made efforts to record native folk music in the face of increasing urbanization. In 1896 Vasily Andreyev (18611918) organized an orchestra of folk instruments, and in 1911 Mitrofan Piatnitsky (18641927) founded a Russian folk choir. Originally consisting of peasant and amateur performers, both became well-known professional ensembles, providing folk music as entertainment for urban audiences.

During the Soviet era folk music had important symbolic importance as a form genuinely "of the people." During the 1930s, state support for socialist realism encouraged study and performance of folk music. Composers and amateur performers developed a new "Soviet folk song" that wedded traditional forms and styles with lyrics praising socialism and the Soviet state. Official support was demonstrated in the establishment of the Pyatnitsky choir and the Russian folk orchestra directed by Nikolai Osipov (19011945) as State ensembles. Russian folk music became a state-sanctioned performance genre characterized by organized amateur activities, notated music, academic study, and large professional performing ensembles that toured internationally. During the 1970s, Dmitry Pokrovsky(d. 1996) began a new effort to collect and perform Russian folk songs and tunes in authentic peasant village style, with local variations. This revival of Russian folk music received international attention as part of the world music movement.

See also: balalaika; folklore; glinka, mikhail; music; rimsky-korsakov, nikolai andreyevich

bibliography

Brown, Malcolm Hamrick. (1983). "Native Song and National Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century Russian Music." In Art and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Russia, ed. Theofanis George Stavrou. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Miller, Frank J. (1990). Folklore for Stalin: Russian Folklore and Pseudofolklore in the Stalin Era. Armonk, NY:M.E. Sharpe.

Rothstein, Robert A. (1994). "Death of the Folk Song?" In Cultures in Flux: Lower-Class Values, Practices, and Resistance in Late Imperial Russia, ed. Stephen P. Frank and Mark D. Steinberg. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Taruskin, Richard. (1997). Defining Russia Musically. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Susannah Lockwood Smith

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folk music

folk music. Term covering folk-songs and folk dances. Folk-songs are songs of unknown authorship passed orally from generation to generation, sung without acc., and often found in variants (of words and tune) in different parts of a country (or in different countries). Folk-songs were generally found among the country-dwellers, but with the increase of urbanization and industrialization they spread to the towns and factories. In the 19th and early 20th cents. the fear that with the advance of modern life the old customs were dying out led to a major campaign of song coll., in Eng. by Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Maud Karpeles, Mrs. Leather, Anne Gilchrist, Frank Kidson, and many others; in Hungary by Kodály and Bartók, and similarly in other countries. Many composers have made use of folk-songs in their comps., from Renaissance times to Haydn, Grieg, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Vaughan Williams, and others. Although folk-songs enshrine the nat. characteristics of their country of origin, they have int. similarities. Most of them are modal. Like every generic term, folk-song is susceptible to many conflicting interpretations, and readers are referred to several important books on the subject. It is also impossible to predict how folk-song may develop in future centuries. It may well be that the popular songs of the 20th cent. by named composers may become (indeed already have become) the folk-songs of a new age. Folk dance is a type of dance which has developed by itself without aid from choreogs., is connected with traditional life, and is passed from one generation to the next.

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folk music

folk music Music deriving from, and expressive of, a particular national, ethnic, or regional culture; it is nearly always vocal. Its main theme tends to be the history of a people, so that folk songs are usually narrative. Their origin is almost always peasant. The musical structure is the simple repetition of a tune (with or without chorus), sometimes with a freedom of rhythm that adheres more to the natural metre of the word than to the more formal requirements of composition.

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"folk music." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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folk music

folk mu·sic • n. music that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style. Folk music is typically of unknown authorship and is transmitted orally from generation to generation.

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Folk Music

FOLK MUSIC

FOLK MUSIC. SeeMusic: Early American, Folk Revival .

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folk music

folk music: see folk song.

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"folk music." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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