Resources in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: The Anne Geddes Gilchrist Manuscript Collection

By Wolz, Lyn A. | Folk Music Journal, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Resources in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: The Anne Geddes Gilchrist Manuscript Collection


Wolz, Lyn A., Folk Music Journal


Folk-song collector and tune expert Anne Geddes Gilchrist (1863-1954) was a member of the editorial boards of the English folk-song societies from 1906 to 1948. This article gives a brief introduction to her life and her contributions to folk-song collection and scholarship. A survey of the types of materials included in Gilchrist's papers is accompanied by appendices that list her correspondents, titles of songs she collected, and names of singers from whom she collected them. A select bibliography of publications by and about Gilchrist is also included.

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Folk-song scholar Anne Gilchrist once wrote that among her fondest memories was her father's singing of a song about a young lady who enlisted in the army to follow her love. It was also the first song that she 'collected' once she had learned to read music--as her father sang the song, young Annie transcribed it. As Gilchrist recalled in later years, even as a child she had a quick ear for music and loved melodies of all kinds, not only her family's songs, but also church hymns, songs her nursemaids taught her, and singing games learned at her grandfather's house in Cheshire during Christmas visits. (1) Her love of folk songs lay dormant through much of her later classical music training, but resurfaced when she heard a folk song sung at a concert by one of Sabine Baring-Gould's fellow collectors. Realizing that her own heritage of song was worth serious study, she dedicated the rest of her life to the work of the Folk Song Society, benefiting her fellow society members as well as scholars around the world.

Anne Geddes Gilchrist (1863-1954) was a woman of diverse interests and accomplishments who is known today in scholarly circles primarily as an authority on folk melodies. (Figure 1) A life-long resident of Lancashire, though a full-blooded Scot on both sides of her family, (2) she collected folk music during the 1890s and early 1900s from family members and from people in the communities where she spent time. She had a long association with those in the vanguard of folk-music collection and study in England--Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broad wood, and Frank Kidson among others--who all appreciated Gilchrist's knowledge of traditional melodies and her ability to trace tunes through sources both common and obscure. She was also a mainstay of the Folk Song Society and its successor the English Folk Dance and Song Society for many years. Frederick Keel acknowledged the importance of the work she did for the Folk Song Society in this way:

The entrance of Miss Gilchrist on the scene was an event of considerable
importance to the Society. Her extensive knowledge of Folksong,
Folk-lore and kindred subjects was ... freely given to her
fellow-members, her interesting and valuable annotations, her brilliant
essays and her own contributions of songs helped largely to increase the
value of our Journal, to establish the reputation of the Society in
other lands, and gain for it a new esteem. (3)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Gilchrist's family heritage of Scottish music was one factor that led to her later interest in the folk music of England, Scotland, and Ireland. She remembered her mother singing in the nursery and her father singing around the house. Her mother came from a musical family, had a lovely voice, and used a strong, rhythmic delivery that delighted her children. Her father loved to sing songs for the children with burring 'r's in the chorus. When Annie transcribed his songs, he insisted that she write the tunes exactly as she heard them, not subtly changing them to reflect the modern major and minor modes she had learned in her music lessons. Though for a time she had lost her 'innocence of ear', as she called it, she consciously developed the habit of careful listening and exact notation that later made her field recordings valuable and helped her to trace tune variants. The seed planted by the songs she heard in her childhood led her to turn aside from a conventional musical career and directed her considerable energies into the folk-music studies she pursued for the rest of her long and productive life. …

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