The Ballad Tree: A Study of British and American Ballads, Their Folklore, Verse and Music, Together with Sixty Traditional Ballads and Their Tunes


In the long history of ballad criticism, a recurrent note voices the belief that the ballad is dead--that its best days are over, that its creative period is gone by, that nobody sings the old songs any more. In this nostalgic vein forty years ago Cecil Sharp wrote, "The English ballad is moribund; its account is well-nigh closed." But ten years later Sharp was to find in America a living tradition of folk song in the isolated parts of the Southern Appalachians, and his exhaustive researches were to add to Francis J. Child's definitive English and Scottish Popular Ballads the missing element of music, and the proof that people still sang ballads. And today Sharp would find that folk song not only lives in the remote and rural parts of America, but has returned in new vigor to the country as a whole. For better or for worse, a folk song renascence is upon us. Ballad singers have reached the professional stage, both literally and metaphorically. They sing in concert halls and night clubs and over the radio, and their albums of recorded songs are bestsellers. During the last few years the American "musical" has drawn on native song, both directly and by implication, and the inspiration for today's song hit may often be found in a folk song. One Theatre Guild production, Sing Out, Sweet Land, dramatizes the migration of song westward through America with the advancing frontier. The composer of today, like his Elizabethan forebear, finds in the folk song new sources of music for orchestras and choruses. Two popularly presented collections for home or group singing--The Fireside Book of Folk Songs and Folk Song U.S.A.--have had large sales to people often, no doubt, first interested by hearing a singer over the radio, or in the theater, or on a record. Ten years ago children knew little more in the way of folk songs than "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies" and "Oh No, John." Today they sing in school and camp the folk songs of America and England and the world. At regional and national festivals singers, dancers, and fiddlers foregather before large audiences and with full press notices. Shakers, Mormons, Indians, Negro choirs, European and Asiatic as well as American ethnic groups take part. The annual festival of the Southern Appalachian folk movement has sprouted regional festivals from the parent stern. In the belief that "every git-box should . . .


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