Ballads & Songs of Southern Michigan-songbook

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

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18            Ballads and Songs of Michigan
of folk songs, toward the general acceptance of which most present-day scholars incline.22
While there is proof of individual composition, as we have indi­cated above, there is also evidence which points to improvisation in songs like "Roll the Old Chariot Along," where there is no coherent or logical thought. Informants have reported that this method is responsible for the nonsensical and widely varied character of "Billy Boy." One informant said that in her home town the majority of the older people were church members who would not permit their children to participate in dancing. Conceding, however, that young people must have recreation, they did not frown upon singing games, which could be played while the elders chatted in an adjoining room. The young people found it an easy transition from some of these games to a dance accompanied by singing. Since no thematic se­quence was required, to make the dance last as long as possible one ingenious person after another would invent a line while the others joined in shouting the incremental repetition in each stanza. Similar improvisation in other songs used to accompany games and dances popular with loggers was reported by a Kalamazoo informant, whose business in the nineties had taken him to many lumber camps. He wrote that "It was sure sidesplitting to watch those bewhiskcred six-footers skip about like happy children, acting out and singing at the top of their lungs words for such simple games as 'Happy Is the Miller,' which they remembered in part and improvised in part."
Although, as we have suggested above, many variations in folk songs and ballads are made consciously, it is doubtful whether these changes can be regularized or reduced to set formulae. Any student of ballads discovers that many American folk songs arc slight or marked variants of British cousins. For example, "The Boston Bur­glar" is clearly a localized form of the British "Botany Bay." "The Waxford Girl" is derived from an English broadside, "The Wittam Miller"; "The Banks of the River Dec" or "On the Banks of the Old Pedee" is clearly an American form of an old English broadside song, "The Cruel Miller"; and "The Butcher Boy," of which the Michigan collection has seven forms, is an Americanized version of the English song, "A Brisk Young Sailor Courted Me." A ballad which Miss A. G. Gilchrist, a highly respected authority in English folk song, thinks to be a degraded relic of some old-time story or song of a swan maiden or an enchanted white doe is "Molly Baun."2:*
** For discussion see Pound, op, cit., pp. T3-27; Sargent and Kittredge, op. cit., p. xvii.
" For discussion and references see "The Fowler" ("The Shooting of His Dear"), JFSS, VII, 17-21.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III