An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section C1)


C- C is a note in the scale ( = French: ut; Italian: do).

C&W Country-and-Western (or recently, "New Country") began with roots in traditional folk music and owes little to it today. While a C&W group would be welcomed at, say, a folk festival, there is only a little interest in Nashville music among folkies. While the instrumentalists are exemplary, the arrangements are generally seen as superficial and stylised (which is odd, since C&W musicians are among the best in the business). C&W refers to the mass-marketed output and shouldn’t be confused with country or old-timey, which have influenced many folk musicians.

ca (Scot.) to herd or drive. Thus "Ca the Yowes to the Knowes" refers to herding the sheep, not calling them. Do sheep come when they’re called? Perhaps.

cadence 1. A chord progression that ends a line, phrase or a piece of music. The cadences most often used are dominant-tonic (ie, G to C in the key of C - also called the "authentic cadence") and subdominant-tonic (ie, F to C in the key of C). The latter is so often used to close church music that it is known as the "Amen" cadence. You might say that the cadence is music’s comma and period. 2. In general, the rhythmic flow of a song, tune, poem, etc.

cadence. a pause or stopping point. Often cadences are associated with harmonic or melodic formulae; e.g., an authentic cadence is a stop with the chords V to I. A "Landini cadence" is a melodic formula that proceeds as 8-7-7-6-8 (scale degrees). 2. A cadence usually consists of two chords that provide musical punctuation at the end of phrases or sentences.

cadenza Italian for cadence, but has now come to mean a place in a composition for a performer to demonstrate technical virtuosity. This is the equivalent of a solo for folk instrumentalists. In classical music, the cadenza also afforded vocalists a chance to take off and strut their stuff; there is no equivalent for this is folk. Vocalists just get going when they want to.

Cadenza-A cadenza, based often on an extended and embellished final cadence, at least in classical concertos, is a passage originally improvised by a performer in which virtuoso ability might be shown. Cadenzas are now more often written by the composer, although some modern performers continue to improvise. In classical concertos the cadenza often leads to the last section of a movement.

cadger (UK) 1. A huckster or devious borrower. 2. (archaic) A seller of corn.

cadgily (UK) merrily.

cafeteria effect large festivals with many stages may be presenting five or more concerts or workshops at the same time. The result is often harried fans rushing all over in hopes of getting a bit of each, or attending one while lamenting the missing of another.

Cajun the Cajuns of southern Louisiana were originally the French of Acadia, eastern Canada, deported by the British after the 1750s. Their music, which has its roots in 18th century French folksong, is called Cajun or Zydeco (occasionally "zorico"). The word "zydeco" is said to be a corruption of "les haricots" (beans), possibly from a song using the phrase, or because the music was played for dances after the bean harvest. The music is spritely and fast, and the instrumentation usually consists of melodeons, fiddles, washboards, harmonicas, basses and so on. The vocals are usually in Cajun French, which, not surprisingly, sounds rather like Quebecois pronunciation (to our American friends: Quebecois French sounds about as much like Parisian French as a Brooklyn accent sounds like Bostonian). The public’s first taste of Cajun was probably from the popular recordings of Doug Kershaw in the late 60s and early 70s ("Louisiana Man", "Diggy Liggy Lo", etc.), although "Jambalaya" by Williams, Hank is unmistakeably Cajun in rhythm and tune. Cajun music is now a staple at folk festivals.

cakes part of the morris tradition is to offer small pieces of cake to people in the crowd, especially those donating to the bag. Whether or not this is done depends on the inclination of the team.


call and response a way of singing chorus songs, found especially in church music. The leader sings a line (the "call") and the audience answers with another.

callant (Scot.) a young man.

calling-on song see morris call.
calliope a steam-driven organ, large and loud, used mainly as an attraction at carnivals, etc. Some are still in use, kept going by restorers of steam engines and similar. Some had keyboards, and others were automated with a barrel-and-pin arrangement in the same way as music boxes. The usual pronunciation is "kal-lye’-o-pee", though US poet Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) wrote a poem, wonderfully recorded by his son, in which the instrument says, "Kal-lye’-o-pee! I am the kal-ee-ope! Sizz fizz!"


calypso a style of music said to have originated in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, combining African and European elements. There was a craze for calypso in the 50s, largely inspired by the songs of Belafonte, Harry and a few others. Many folk groups did calypso and calypso-like songs: "Wreck of the John B", "Jamaica Farewell" and so on. It continued to be more or less popular until the 70s and 80s, when it was eclipsed by the more powerful sound of reggae.

cambiata. also known as changing-tones; a pair of nonharmonic-tones separated by the interval of a third, approached stepwise and resolved to the note in between the third.

cambric a cotton or linen fabric.

Camera-Camera (Italian: room,chamber) is found principally in the phrase 'sonata da camera', chamber sonata, to be distinguished in music of the baroque period from the sonata da chiesa, church sonata. The secular sonata da camera generally consists of dance movements.

Cameron, John Allan (1938- ) born in Cape Breton, John Allan left the priesthood to become a fulltime performer in the early 60s. His repertoire is wide-ranging - as he said, he runs through "the hit parade of the last 2,000 years". While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, his albums include east coast music, Child ballads, fiddle tunes, bagpipe tunes, and contemporary songs. He is a superb fiddler and 12-string guitarist, and seems to make his eclectic mix of material work well. Dan R. MacDonald, well-known as a composer of east coast tunes, is his uncle.

Camp, Hamilton an actor who recorded an album of songs in the mid-60s during the folk revival. He is rarely heard from, although he did collaborate with Gibson, Bob in the 80s.

Campbell, Alex (1931-1987) Scots singer of traditional and contemporary songs. He made dozens of recordings and influenced many of today’s performers, but was not well known in North America.

Campbell, Paul a pseudonym - see Weavers.

Candlemas (Brit.) Feb. 2.

candyman 1. (UK) Scrap dealer, rag-and-bone man. 2. (US) A loose term meaning, perhaps, "sugar daddy" or lover.

canned originally the term referred to recorded music, especially the stuff played in malls and elevators. Current usage may also include anything that sounds over-rehearsed and a tad less than sincere: "His intro to that song was canned." The expression "canned music" was said to originate with John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), the "March King", who apparently didn’t think much of the recording technology of the day.

Cannon, Gus (1883- ?) a Memphis musician who started off in the medicine shows in the years before WWI. He formed the Gus Cannon Jug Stompers, one of several Memphis jug bands, and recorded for Victor in 1928; some of the recordings were with Blind Blake. His songs include 1929’s "Walk Right In" (a hit in 1963 for the Rooftop Singers) and "He’s in the Jailhouse Now" (aka "Jailhouse Blues"). He recorded for Folkways in 1956 and again for Adelphi in 1969.

canny (UK) an all-purpose word. Child lists the meanings of gentle, cautious, clever, an expert, wily, gently, softly and others, depending on the context of the particular song.

canon 1. See round. 2. A term for the entire folk repertoire, borrowed from academia and not used very seriously except by collectors and people who write stuff like this. Occasionally misspelled as "cannon".

canon. a contrapuntal form defined by continuous imitation. A canon in music is a device in counterpoint in which a melody announced by one voice or instrument is imitated by one or more other voices or instruments, entering after the first has started, in the manner of a round. The word canon may describe the device as it occurs in a piece of music or a complete composition in this form, like Pachelbel's well known Canon.

Cantabile-Cantabile (Italian: in singing style) appears often at the beginning of movements as in andante cantabile - at walking speed and in a singing style.


Cantare-to sing.

Cantata-A cantata is generally a choral work of some length that also uses solo voices, usually with instrumental accompaniment. The texts used may be sacred or secular. Some cantatas use solo voices without chorus or choir.


canticle 1. A musical setting of passages from the Bible other than the Psalms, or simply the part of the church liturgy that’s sung rather than spoken. 2. A musical dictionary from 1656 gives the meaning as "a pleasant song, ballad, or rime".

cantillate to chant in a free, speech-like style. More associated with religious services than folk, though some hollers, blues, etc., have free rhythm. Many of the old ballads have this sound if they’re sung a cappella.

cantino see chanterelle.

cantometrics the classification of world song styles. The term is from Lomax, Alan, who has published a 1968 book by this name.

cantus firmus see Gregorian chant.

cantus-firmus. ("firm song") an unchanging melody that is used as the basis for a composition -- originally was Plainchant.

capo (from the Italian "capotasto", lit. "head of the touch". Usually pron. "kay-po", though "kappo" is not incorrect). A mechanical clamp placed over a fret to raise the pitch of a stringed instrument. Various types are available for the guitar, banjo and mandolin. The advantage is that you can play in any key without learning all the actual (difficult) keys themselves. The capo is often called a "cheater", and perhaps it is. However, some effects are simply not possible without one, regardless of the player’s skill level. Fingerpicking the solo guitar in difficult keys like B or Eb is a lesson in frustration - if it can be done at all, it’s merely a technical exercise. When faced with an awkward key like Bb, Segovia, Andres used to put the capo on the first fret and play in

Capriccio,caprice-Capriccio (Italian: caprice; = French: caprice) appears in a variety of musical meanings, used differently at different periods and by different composers. In the later 16th century and 17th century it generally indicated a fugal composition (see Fugue), but later came to signify dances or dance suites or any composition that allowed a relatively free play of fancy, as in the Capriccio espagnol (Spanish Caprice) of Rimsky-Korsakov or the Capriccio italien (Italian Caprice) of Tchaikovsky.

capstan shanty see shanties.

Carawan, Guy (1927- ) travelled with Elliott, Jack and Hamilton, Frank in the 50s, performing in the US and Europe. In the 60s, he collected folk songs in Appalachia and the south, and did documentary work for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. With Seeger, Pete, he arranged and introduced We Shall Overcome to the freedom movement. He has four books on folk music and freedom songs and has been widely recorded.

cardinality. (set-theory, nonlinear) the number of pcs in a pc-set, e.g. C,E,G,C,G is a set of cardinality 3, since there are only three different pitch-classes in this set.

Carignan, Jean (1916-1988) "Ti-Jean" (a contraction of "Petit-Jean") of Quebec was probably one of the best fiddlers in the world. He played the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Festival from the beginning until 1977, and in fact, was a festival favorite all over North America and Europe. During the 60s he toured with Pete Seeger, and made recordings with Folkways, Elektra and others. He was acclaimed by both folklorists and classical violinists. He took a Celtic approach to his fiddling, with styles borrowed from Sligo fiddlers, Scotland’s Skinner, J. Scott and others. He received the Order of Canada in 1974 and the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallee in 1976. There is a bust in his honor at Ascot Corner near Montreal.

carl (UK, also "carle") a man or an old man.

carlin (UK, also "carline") old woman. Also used as an adjective to mean old, wealthy, or low-born, depending on the context of the song.

carol today, the word is applied to any song relating to Christmas, but the word originally meant a dance, especially a circular one. If you trace the origin of the word back to the ancient Greek, "ring" and "circle dance" keep turning up. In time, the word came to mean only the dance music itself, and by the 15th century, words had been added. The carol is somewhat like a folk version of a hymn, though there may not be religious references. The songs are sung on specific occasions, so there used to be spring carols, harvest carols and so on. See herbs for an excerpt from "Candlemas Eve", a beautiful example of a carol. See also medieval for a reference to "Good King Wenceslas", whose tune is from a 16-century spring carol. Many of the older carols preserved today are from the works of Wynkyn de Worde (an apprentice of William Caxton) who published his "Christmasse Carolles" in 1521. See ritual for an example.

Carolan, Turlough (1670-1738) (first name pron., more or less, "Turlock") blind Irish harpist, poet and composer, whose name is often spelled "O’Carolan", and reference books are divided on the correct version. The dispute seems to arise from the Gaelic custom of "o" in between first and last names (his name in Gaelic is Toirdheabhach o Cearbhallain), so until someone has the definite answer, either version is correct. His compositions for the harp borrowed a great deal from the Irish tradition, but also included elements from continental classical music - he was said to be influenced by Vivaldi and Corelli. He wrote many tunes that are still played today, such as "Carolan’s Concerto", "Lord Inchiquin", "Fanny Power", "Ode to Whiskey", and "Si Beag, Si Mor" (aka "Sheebeg, Sheemore"), both on the harp (the stringed variety) and other instruments. The Irish tradition includes a number of tunes with the name planxty (a tune in honor of someone); the term is said to come from Turlough. Fans of his music will find a Web page (which has related links) under Internet folk.

Carr, Leroy (1905-1935) leading blues pianist from Indianapolis. He recorded with guitarists such as Blackwell, Scrapper and White, Josh in the 1920s. Songs of his include "How Long Blues", "The Midnight Hour" and "In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down".

Carson, Fiddling John (1868-1949) an Atlanta old-timey fiddler who recorded for RCA and Okeh. He was a fiddle champion seven times, and played with the Virginia Reelers group. Although he wasn’t the first country artist to record, he was certainly among the first with his early 20s records.

Carter Family A.P. Carter (Alvin P. Carter, 1891-1960), his wife Sara (1898-1979), and sister-in-law Maybelle were from southwestern Virginia, and began recording in 1927. Through the 30s and 40s, they performed widely, made more recordings (some with Rodgers, Jimmie in 1931), and had a radio program. They did a tremendous amount to popularise traditional American music - songs associated with them include Wildwood Flower, "Little Darling Pal of Mine", "Engine 143", "Keep on the Sunny Side", "Wabash Cannonball", "Railroading on the Great Divide" and "Can the Circle Be Unbroken". Their simple but effective instrumental style influenced many pickers and old-timey string bands. Their descendants continue to perform as The Carter Family.

Carter, Maybelle see Carter Family.

Carter, Sydney (1915- ) English singer/songwriter whose best-known work is "Lord of the Dance", which is based on "Simple Gifts", a hymn from the Shakers, although the new, bouncier rhythm might obscure its origin. He writes songs that are mostly religious in content; they’re quite popular with religious assemblies. Another of his songs popular in the UK is "One More Step".

Carter, Wilf (1904-1996) a Nova Scotia guitarist and singer in the C&W tradition who started recording in the 30s for labels such as RCA, Bluebird, Decca, and Starday. His yodelling songs were influenced by Rodgers, Jimmie; he was known in the US as "Montana Slim". In 1972, he was made a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in Nashville. He wrote over 500 songs and was a mainstay in Canadian country music.

Carthy, Martin (1940- ) English singer and guitarist, who had (and is having) a tremendous influence on approaches to balladry and guitar playing. He brings ancient songs to life with up-tempo arrangements with a driving rhythm and complex fingerpicking, often in open tuning for special effects. His guitar style is a unique blend of American finger-style and British syncopation derived from older dance music. He has also set many traditional lyrics to new or old tunes, creating new versions. He was one of the early members of Steeleye Span, performing with them on and off over the years. Although he isn’t known as a songwriter, the songs he has authored and recorded are exceptionally good.

Casey Jones See also train songs. John "Casey" Jones was killed in Mississippi in 1900 when his train collided with another. There are two popular versions of this famous railway engineer song. The one with the chorus "Casey Jones, mounted to the cabin" owes a certain amount to the folk tradition, but comes from vaudeville and was published in 1910. The other is a more up-tempo folk version that contains lines like "On a Monday it began to rain, round the corner come a passenger train" and "he’s a good old rounder, but he’s dead and gone". The lyrics are often bawdy. The tune and structure are shared with "Jay Gould’s Daughter" (see hobo songs, Lewis, Furry).

Cash, Johnny (1932- ) born in Arkansas, Johnny Cash is widely respected in folk circles. His songs, whether his own or composed by others, are rooted in American tradition. He has an enormous number of hits: "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Orange Blossom Special", "Ring of Fire", "It Ain’t Me, Babe", "Ballad of Ira Hayes" and many more (his "Five Feet High and Rising" was the story of a Mississippi flood in 1937). He was supportive of Bob Dylan in the early years, presenting him with one of his own guitars. He had his own TV variety show, "The Johnny Cash Show", which ran from 1969-71, and on which he featured performers like Bob Dylan and Jack Elliott.

Cassation-The word 'cassation' is of disputed origin and was used principally in the third quarter of the 18th century in South Germany to describe a piece of music akin to a divertimento or serenade, music intended primarily for entertainment. Mozart uses the word to describe three of his own serenades.

castrato (plural "castrati") in the 17th and 18th centuries, there was a craze for men singers with high voices, and the castration of boys before puberty affected the development of the vocal tract and ensured a supply of artificial male sopranos. Whether or not there are castrati in folk music is hard to say. They don’t talk about it much. However, as a public service, it’s an opportunity to dispense with some widely-believed nonsense: castration after puberty has no effect on the voice. The pitch of the voice is dependent on the voice mechanism, and once it’s developed, it’s developed. Thought you’d like to know that.

catch a type of round that has multiple parts arranged to produce a comic effect when sung, or a round with light, amusing lyrics.

catgut back in pre-nylon days, instruments were strung with strings made from the intestines of animals, particularly sheep, and it was sometimes known as catgut. There is no apparent evidence that cats were actually involved, although it may be possible.