From the past
0 comment Saturday, August 9, 2014 |
At the BBC website, there is an interesting short video having to do with Cecil Sharp's diaries. I can't embed it here, but you can click on the link to see it.
For those who may not know who Cecil Sharp was, as the video explains, he was a scholar in the early 20th century who collected traditional English folk ballads, and his search for still-extant old ballads took him to the Appalachian Mountains, where he found many, many English ballads still preserved.
I've written about Sharp and his work in the Appalachians previously, and this page has excerpts from his diaries. They make interesting reading.
''My experiences have been very wonderful so far as the people and their music is concerned. The people are just English of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. They speak English, look English, and their manners are old-fashioned English. Heaps of words and expressions they use habitually in ordinary conversation are obsolete, and have been in England a long time.
I find them very easy to get on with, and have no difficulty in making them sing and show their enthusiasm for their songs. I have taken down very nearly one hundred already, and many of these are quite unknown to me and aesthetically of the very highest value. Indeed, it is the greatest discovery I have made since the original one I made in England sixteen years ago.
This last week I spent three whole days, from 10 A.M. to 5.30 P.M., with a family in the mountains consisting of parents and daughter, by name Hensley. All three sang and the father played the fiddle. Maud and I dined with them each day, and the rest of the time sat on the veranda while the three sang and played and talked, mainly about the songs. I must have taken down thirty tunes from them and have not yet exhausted them. one ballad, The Cruel Mother, is by far the finest variant, both words and tune, which, in my opinion, has yet been found.
Of course, I am only at the beginning of things yet. I have been here seventeen days, but it looks as though I shall bring away with me a large amount of extremely valuable stuff, which when published will create a very great deal of interest in certain circles. Although the people are so English, they have their American quality that they are freer than the English peasant. They own their own land, and have done so for three or four generations, so that there is none of the servility which, unhappily, is one of the characteristics of the English peasant. With that praise, I should say that they are just exactly what the English peasant was one hundred or more years ago.''
Yes, Virginia, there were English-descended people in Appalachia. I know it's all the fashion to say that everybody there is/was descended from these fiery, warrior-like, fighting Scots-Irish, but Cecil Sharp found English people there.
In any case, for anybody who cares about our heritage, this is fascinating and rather poignant material. We do have a distinctive heritage, and it is being lost by the hour.
The short video is worth a look and a listen, and the linked website is interesting reading. Hat tip, by the way, to the Frank at the Kinist Forum for the link to the BBC video.

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