Ballads & Songs of Southern Michigan-songbook

A Collection of 200+ traditional songs & variations with commentaries including Lyrics & Sheet music

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16          Ballads and Songs of Michigan
A striking exception to marked variations in matter and form of a folk song or a ballad over a fairly long period of oral transmission is "Young Charlotte," known to have been composed over a hundred years ago by William Carter, of Vermont. This song, according to Phillips Barry, "appears to have passed into oral circulation as early
as the year 1835___Today it is current under the same conditions
of transmission that govern all folk-song-----It is quite as communal
as the best of the ancient British ballads. That it has become so wide­spread in its distribution is due largely to the wanderings of the nomadic Carter, himself, a modern representative of the old-time wandering minstrel."15 In the same article the author reminds us that communal re-creation is not a rapid process, nor a uniform one. But perhaps the fact that the events related in the song of "Spring­field Mountain" are said to have taken place at Wilbraham, Massa­chusetts, in 1761,10 a date which gives the song a comparatively long period in which to acquire variations, is responsible for its widely different forms.
Since the Michigan collection contains many items generally classi­fied as ballads by those who draw a distinction between them and other types of folk songs, a few definitions oŁ ballads commonly accepted by present-day ballad scholars may be cited. One of those which are most frequently seen is Professor Kittrcdge's simple statement that "A ballad is a song that tells a story, or—to take the other point of view—a story told in song." Then he adds, more formally, that a ballad "may be defined as a short narrative poem, adapted for singing, simple in plot and metrical structure, divided into stanzas, and characterized by complete impersonality, so far as the author or singer is concerned."17 Barry defines a ballad as: "The record of action cast in poetical form: a folk-ballad consisting of text and melody is a ballad traditionally current among singing folk." lH
Such differentiation as it seems possible to draw between the two types of folk songs chiefly represented by the present collection we feel was well stated by a great English folklorist, the late Cecil J. Sharp:
The distinction between the ballad and the song is more or less arbitrary, and is not easy to define with precision. Broadly speaking, however, the ballad is a narrative song, romantic in character, and above all, impersonal, that is to
WP. Barry, "William Carter, the Bensontown Homer," JAPL, XXV, 159. "See L. W. Payne, Jr, "Songs and Ballads—Grave and Gay," PTFLS, VI, 209-212. 17 Sargent and Kittredge, op. cit., p. xi. M Barry, op. cit., p. 164.







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