Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia

Article excerpt

Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014). xx + 361 pp.; numerous colour and black-and-white plates, 20 track CD. ISBN 078-1-4696-1822-7 (hard covers); $39.95. ISBN 078-1-4696-1823-4 (ebook); $34.99.

The influence of the Scots-Irish music, some of it medieval in origin, was nothing if not pervasive, and in America it moved to rural environments where it both preserved and adapted its cultural and musical traditions. Modern practitioners like Dolly Parton, who contributed the preface to this book, and Bob Dylan, both acknowledged their indebtedness, and even Elvis Presley, it is here reported, could trace his roots to the hamlet of Lonmay in Aberdeenshire, and to one Andrew Presley who had crossed to America in 1745.

Wayfaring Strangers often speaks to what it calls a ballad tradition, but employs the phrase so as to embrace sung lyrics generally, and concerns itself with the conditions under which lyrics were composed and transmitted, the circumstances that informed their presentation, and what can only be called the social significance that sometimes appears in their verses. None of these topics, as treated here, corresponds exactly to their medieval antecedents, but as an encouragement for further study, and as a goad to present attitudes, Wayfaring Strangers challenges assumptions, and reminds students of earlier periods of what too often has been left out of our literary histories.

Differences of course remain. Many students of medieval lyrics would probably allow more agency to individual authors than appears here, and medieval lyrics, whether religious or secular, were not born for the road, and seem to have flourished in the stability provided by a convent or a household. …

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