Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation

By Bearman, C. J. | Western Folklore, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation


Bearman, C. J., Western Folklore


Folk Song: Tradition, Revival, and Re-Creation. Edited by Ian Russell and David Atkinson. (Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, 2004. Pp. 550, introductions, photographs, illustrations, maps, tables, musical notation, bibliography, indices. £20.00 paper)

This volume contains the proceedings of the 1998 Sheffield Conference that celebrated the centenary of the (English) Folk Song Society. Since it was the first such conference for many years, the book is of interest and importance for that reason alone; but there are few academic jobs in English folk music scholarship, and still less money, so most of its practitioners are "amateur" in the sense that they do their work for love, and that factor brings to the volume a quality and sense of engagement lacking in other "proceedings." More than fifty papers were given at the conference: the book contains two introductory essays, followed by thirty-six essays evenly divided into three sections-"Reviving and re-creating folk traditions"; "Those who made it happen"; and "Singers and Songs." In a short review it is not possible to do more than notice the best and examine some general trends.

The star essay of the first section is David Atkinson's "Revival: Genuine or Spurious" (no. 12), a nod to the Handler and Linnekin article of 1984. Most of us think we understand what we mean by "tradition," but this understanding is at best very hazy: empiricists (like your reviewer) tend to shy away from the topic altogether. Atkinson manfully and successfully grapples with his subject, though his essay would be better had he written in English rather than Academese: "Thus while tradition depends essentially upon a personal, volitional, affective engagement across time, and/or space, and does not inhere specifically in cultural products, these are nonetheless necessary for the instantiation of tradition." Is it really necessary to make readers tease out the meaning behind passages like these?

The section "Those who made it happen" is divided equally into "The Men" and "The Women." In the male section, the most interesting essays address the Telfer manuscript (by John Wesley Barker, no.13) and Peter Kennedy and the BBC folk music recording scheme (E. David Gregory, no. 18), with strong contributions by Martin Graebe (on Sabine Baring-Gould, no. 14) and John Francmanis (on Frank Kidson5), though Francmanis should beware of drawing wide-ranging conclusions from a tiny evidence base. Amongst the women, by far the most enjoyable essay is by Martin Lovelace, on Maud Karpeles' collecting trips to Newfoundland in 1929-1930 (no. 22), though it is marred by a carping attitude which chides Karpeles for failing to meet the standards of a later generation of collectors, and compares her work unfavorably with that of an American collector (Elisabeth Greenleaf, in Newfoundland at the same time) without telling us how well Greenleaf met these more exacting standards. …

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