Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

The Merging of the Folk-Song Society and the English Folk Dance Society: Amalgamation or Takeover?

Academic journal article Folk Music Journal

The Merging of the Folk-Song Society and the English Folk Dance Society: Amalgamation or Takeover?

Article excerpt


In 1932 the Folk-Song Society (FSS) and the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) amalgamated to become the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The idea for an all-embracing folk society was an ambition harboured by Cecil Sharp and was first publicly mooted in 1919. Following the death of Sharp in 1924, the establishment of a Memorial Fund to commemorate his work provided the ideal opportunity for his disciples and supporters in the EFDS to pursue the founding of such a society. This article will show how, eventually , the leaders of the EFDS were able to realize Sharp's ambition and bring about the amalgamation of the two societies, and will show how eventually this led to what can be described as a 'takeover' of the FSS and the sidelining of the major folk song collectors who helped found that society.


At the time of amalgamation of the Folk-Song Society (FSS) and the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) in 1932 it was widely believed that most, if not all, folk songs had been collected and that only variants remained to be discovered. On this basis it was argued by the FSS members who favoured amalgamation that the main work of the FSS had been completed. Therefore, amalgamation with the EFDS seemed to many to be a logical next step. To most of those involved, the merger of the two societies was seen as an amicable affair which became viable following the opening of Cecil Sharp House. The collaboration would bring together people who would be able to pool their respective skills and knowledge in order to bring folk song and dance to a wider audience, in order to promote and encourage folk activities. Although folk dance was the primary concern of the EFDS, Cecil Sharp had always seen singing folk songs as part of its work and it was included in the society's activities.

Sharp had founded the EFDS in 1911 and under his leadership the society grew in size and influence. In 1919 folk dance was introduced into the school curriculum. Throughout this period, Sharp maintained an active interest in the collecting of folk songs and continued as a member of the FSS committee. The idea for a combined society was first publicly mooted in 1919, by which time Sharp had established himself as the leading figure of the folk dance movement and England's most successful folk song collector. Although Sharp entertained the ambition of creating a combined folk song and dance society, this was never achieved during his lifetime, but it would be pursued by his disciples and supporters after his death.

Sowing the seeds of a folk song and dance society

In 1919, a report was prepared by the Ministry of Reconstruction's Adult Education Committee to look into the future development of non-vocational adult education. The report encouraged the development of courses in music, drama, dance, and the creative and domestic arts, to be organized along 'W.E.A. lines'. (1) The report stated: 'The needs of young adults should, we think, be clearly studied [...] For a large number it appears to us that music, folk dances [my italics], and literature and the drama, on the one hand and creative handwork on the other will provide appropriate opportunities for self-expression.' (2)

Closely following the publication of the 1919 report, the Adult Education Committee called a meeting to discuss 'folk-music propaganda' and the founding of a School of English Folk Song and Dance. The meeting took place at the Wigmore Hall, Marylebone, London, on 21 January 1919 and was chaired by Sir Henry Hadow. The Musical Times reported that the speakers at the meeting were 'Mr. Plunket Greene, Dr. Arthur Somervell, Mr. Granville Barker and Mr. Cecil Sharp' and the following resolution was unanimously carried:

   If the English Folk Dance Society is prepared to enlarge its
   activities, and is ready to organize an appeal for funds to secure
   a suitable headquarters in London (to further the dissemination of
   folk-music and folk-dances, to establish a reference library and a
   centre for practice, experiment, and instruction), this meeting
   appoints an advisory committee of the E. … 
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