Esperance Morris Book vol 1 - online book

A Manual Of Morris Dances Folk-songs And Singing Games With Sheet Music And Instructions

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12
THE ESPERANCE MORRIS BOOK
CHAPTER V.
THE FOLK-SONGS.
I WANT to make this chapter as practical and as helpful as possible to those who propose to teach the folk­songs to children, boys and girls, and to any who are what all true folk-song singers are—musically unlettered.
The songs should be first of all sung quite simply and naturally by the instructor to the class, and it will very soon be evident whether the pupils like it or not, whether it appeals to them and takes their fancy ; if it does not, it is best to drop it at once. If it does, they will be able to sing it quite easily when they have heard it about four times. It may be necessary to go over the words once or twice if the song is a long one or if the story is not very clear, but as a rule the folk-song tells a story, and so the words are quite easily learnt. The Esperance girls and children have never seen the words of the songs, and I hope no one who learns them through this book ever will. To-day our pupils can sing about fifty songs, and the result is that wherever there happens to be half a dozen of our singing class together, on the sea, rowing up the river, out in the woods and meadows on our summer holiday, or where one is working a sewing machine in a West-end shop, or doing housework at home, no matter where or in what occupied, the folk-songs are sung, and it is one of my joys to-day to know that these songs are lightening the hours of labour in many a London and country work­room, and enhancing the joy of many a holiday hour.
The next question is what amount of acting and gesture is permissible. I hope no one will ever call these songs " action songs," the words convey an entirely wrong impression. Consulting with a lady of experience in village folk dance, song, and drama, we decided to describe some of the songs as "folk-songs with gesture." This seems the best way to describe what is quite natural to children and young folks in singing dramatic songs.
My plan is to take away all chairs, put the class in the centre of the room, and then see what they naturally do to express the meaning of the song. Their impulse is generally right. Then one criticises anything unsuitable, or ugly, gives a few hints, but in the end leaves them pretty much to themselves. Anything which justifies the term " action song" that is, any stereotyped action, must be rigorously excluded. I have seen children who, seen and not heard, might well have been taken for a class of drill students ! This is a danger for songs, dances, and games, now that they are included in the school curriculum, and if it becomes a fact will utterly destroy the meaning and beauty of the revival of the use of folk music.
I think Ihe Iwo best sets of child singers and dancers I have seen whose gestures and singing were most beautiful
were the Infant school scholars at Leicester and the children at the Sompting school in Sussex.
It cannot be too often repeated that at all costs the singers and dancers and instructors must be made to enjoy the dancing and singing, otherwise we have only added to the burdens of life in introducing these songs and dances into the school, and have done nothing that makes for its uplifting and joyousness. The dance and game teachers sent out from the Espcrance Club do not profess to teach the songs, but they will be found most helpful in suggestions as to the general spirit and way of singing them. They will gladly pass on to others all they have learnt in their own class.
It would be a counsel of perfection to suggest singing the songs as the traditional singer docs, without accom­paniment, though here and there will be found someone with an exceptional voice who can sing a solo unaccom­panied, but, speaking generally, the piano will be necessary, and is the best instrument for the purpose.
Although we always say, when sending out a teacher of the dances and games, that we do not undertake to teach the songs, rumours constantly reach me that the songs are taught—that is merely that they are sung and learnt as traditional music should be learnt, and as the songs were originally learnt and handed on from one generation to another. Only nowadays the songs are sometimes handed back a generation or two as well as taught to the children.
I had a letter this week which pleased me very much, and this is an extract from it :—
" I have taught many of the songs ; yesterday in church it was given out that the folk music class would be Tuesday instead of Wednesday, because most of the village people come to look on and enjoy it just as much as the dancers. Manv of the old people in the village have asked if I would go and sing to them—they cannot get out."
And so to-day, in the very heart of rural England, the children are dancing and singing, and the old folks sit at home and the singer goes round, and once more they hear the songs of their youth and rejoice. Who can say how far this movement will go towards so changing and brightening village life, that the fatal exodus towards the cities may be at any rate held in check?
Who can say how much the deeper and inner life of the English peasant may be stirred to new vigour and new awakening? Who can say what effect this new awakening ma}' have on the ultimate ideals and destiny of our native land?
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