Ballads & Songs of Southern Michigan-songbook

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

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Her charmed form has degenerated into a white apron, which leads to the girl's being shot by her lover when he mistakes the garment for a swan.
All ballad students agree that many variations arise from what Kaarle Krohn calls the "influence of forgetfulness."24 Sometimes, he says, forgetting lines and stanzas may be only momentary, caused, perhaps, by the unexpected visit of a recorder. A few minutes later the informant recalls the omissions and inserts them wherever he happens to be in the song. The result may be as meaningless as are the misplaced lines for O and Q in "The Lumberman's Alphabet" or a garbled variant like "Lovely Willie's Sweetheart," both in the present collection. A verse or a stanza may be omitted completely during one recital and upon immediate repetition may be recalled and sung in the proper place. More differences appear in the various recitals of the same singer if these are separated by a considerable period. In Michigan this was especially true among the older singers when the texts were recorded one or more years before the tune was transcribed.
Kaarle Krohn found that forgetfulness is more marked when the records of an older singer are compared with those of a younger person who sings the same song, because the latter is singing in a period of the dying off of traditional songs. That was very clearly demonstrated in Michigan by Mrs. Maud Simpson, who could sing only mutilated fragments of pieces which as a child she had learned from her father. For details and a more coherent version than he could recall not infrequently he, in turn, had to consult his father, from whom he had acquired the songs and who in his advanced years still well remembered what he had learned in his youth.
The number of memory errors rises considerably if the song is not inherited in a direct line but passes over to a neighbor or reaches a stranger who happens to hear it only once. Miss Ruth Barnes could recall only "The black cat spit in the white cat's eye," a single line of "One Fine Day," which she had heard a neighbor sing a number of times. We secured the whole song from that neighbor, who re­membered having heard it sung by a member of her family when she was a child. Those who recall only a fragment of a song may transmit that bit to other persons, whereby an increasingly greater scope is afforded to forgetfulness. And it is in this way that some songs degenerate into one or two striking or easily remembered stanzas, such as the Michigan fragments "Georgie" and "A Lover's Farewell," which are considered by the informants complete songs
uDie folltforistische Arbeitsmethode (Oslo, 1926), p. 59.

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