An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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Cockburn, Bruce (1945- ) Ottawa singer-songwriter-guitarist who began in the late 60s folk scene, and by the 70s had established himself as a Canadian star. He has about 20 albums. Popular songs of his include "Wondering Where the Lions Are", "Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long", and "Goin’ Down the Road" (the title song from the 1970 movie). His songs are widely recorded by others and he continues to perform.

cockie (Australian, also "cocky") a farmer.

cockup (British slang) A complete mess. "The organisers made a cockup of that festival from beginning to end." Usually refers to something large and complicated; you generally wouldn’t say that a guitar was a cockup, but you might say "That company sure makes a cockup of guitar-building."

coda a musical piece at the end of a selection to give a sense of finality. In folk arrangements, it’s not uncommon for the coda to be a repetition of the verse melody, or part of it, on instruments only, and is generally known as a tag. In classical arrangements, the coda is somewhat more complex. 2. A coda (Italian: tail) is the ending of a piece of music. This may be very short, but in a composition on a large scale may be extended. The diminutive codetta may be used to indicate the closing part of a section of a composition.

coeval of the same age, contemporaneous. Musicologists like this one.

coffeehouse a term much in use in the 50s to the 70s. Borrowed from European usage of centuries ago, it referred to a meeting place with a minimalist menu and featured folk performers. There might also be chess games going on, poetry readings, jazz, etc. Not all coffeehouses were licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, so many folkies had caffeine overdoses from cheap coffee in foam cups or expensive coffee in tiny mugs. The term is still used, but "folk club" is the current fave. Nothing pegs the folk outsider like the use of the word "coffeeshop".

Cohen, Leonard (1934- ) it is difficult to place Montreal’s Leonard Cohen in folk music - his songs are unique, to say the least. In his first album in 1967, he blended folk-like melodies with remarkable, vibrant poetry, and other people began recording his songs, such as "Suzanne" and "Bird on a Wire". In 1993, he was awarded a Juno for Best Male Vocalist - rather odd, since his voice has been widely noted as being somewhat unexpressive. His many albums are an inspiration and a challenge to songwriters.

Col Legno-play with the stick part of bow.

Colla parte-with the part.

Colla voce-with the voice.

collating a term used by collectors to describe the making of a version of a traditional song from other versions. In some cases this is done for personal preference, and in others it might be the only way to get a complete song out of collected fragments. This is often done by performers as well; their version might contain verses or lines borrowed from other songs, or another tune - either totally different or a variant. See also rewrites.


collectors there wouldn’t be the vast treasury of folk music that’s available today without the tremendous effort expended by the song collectors. Only a few of the enormous number of dedicated collectors are listed. See the individual entries: Barbeau, Marius Baring-Gould, Sabine Bronson, Bertrand Charters, Sam Child, F.J. Creighton, Helen D’Urfey, Thomas Fowke, Edith Friedman, Albert Goldstein, Kenneth Grainger, Percy Hugill, Stan Johnson, James Karpeles, Maud Kennedy, Peter Kidson, Frank Lloyd, A.L. Lomax, Alan Lomax, John O Lochlainn, Colm O’Neill, Francis Palmer, Roy Peacock, Kenneth Sandburg, Carl Seeger, Charles Sharp, Cecil Spaeth, Sigmund Thorp, N. Howard Williams, Ralph Vaughan As Professor Child neared the completion of his enormous work, which has been called one of the greatest works of literary research of the 19th century, he felt that he had said the last word on folksong, and his contemporaries seemed to agree. However, since Child had ignored rural songs and song tunes, there was a group of enthusiasts who went into the countryside of Britain at the turn of the century to see what they could turn up. Bertrand Bronson writes on this exploration in his 1969 "The Ballad as Song:" "These enthusiasts made the startling discovery that most of what had passed in print for popular music bore little resemblance to what the people were actually singing in the thorps and crofts of Britain. What was being sung bore the clear marks of a tradition anterior to the major and minor harmonic habits of the last three centuries. Its melodic outlines were more akin to the modal songs of the Middle Ages, resistant to modern harmonisation; and the intonation was almost as reluctant as the bagpipe’s to submit to the tempered scale." The enthusiasts had uncovered a vast treasure; the same was to be repeated in North America by many of the collectors listed above. In addition, the donors of the tunes came up with many more songs than those collected by correspondence by Child. The down side of song (and dance) collecting is that one style recorded on paper may become the definitive version, even if there might have been many variants at one time (see song family). This happened with the morris dancing collections of Cecil Sharp - what Cecil wrote passed into law. For instance, he didn’t see or hear of any women dancing the morris, and said so in print. It soon became a no-girls-allowed boy’s club. Women are still fighting this, and with much success. Invoking a collector’s version of a song (this applies particularly to Child’s works) as the One True Way is an indication of unfamiliarity with the folk process. You might argue that this very compendium is doing much the same thing - carving wobbly definitions in stone.

collier(UK) a miner.

colliery (UK) a mine.

Collins, Judy (1939- ) beginning her career with vocals and guitar in the folk clubs of the 50s folk revival, Judy was soon a star, recording traditional and contemporary songs in the 60s. Her 1967 "Wildflowers" album was a landmark - she had begun songwriting, the album’s "Both Sides Now" by Mitchell, Joni was a hit, and Joshua Rifkin’s arrangements brought lush new dimensions to folk-pop. She has recorded over 15 albums, and continues to perform.

colophon an inscription at the end of a book (particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries) giving details of publication, or a publisher’s logo. Through these manuscripts, many books and song versions have been dated.

colophony see rosin.

colour. see tone-colour.

Coloratura-Originally signifying colouring, the word coloratura is generally used to describe vocal music that is extensively ornamented and calls for ability in a very high register. A typical part for a coloratura soprano is that of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflšte).


combination tone see beat, sense 4.

combination tone. (syn. difference tones) a frequency that is heard as the difference in two frequencies.

combinatorial/combinatoriality. (Babbitt) (set-theory, linear) the special capability of combining various row transformations, simultaneously, without duplications of pcs before all 12 pcs have occurred -- that one nonlinear segment of a row can be mapped into another by operations of transposition, R, I, or RI. The primary type of combinatoriality is hexachordal; e.g. the first six notes of P0 of any 12 tone row are the same as the last six notes of R0, therefore, they are combinatorial; i.e., if the two transformations are combined in a note-against-note (first species) contrapuntal texture, all 12 pcs will sound before any are duplicated. This is one of four types of combinatoriality, called retrograde-combinatoriality (Babbitt originally excluded this type, because it wasn't special). The other types are prime-combinatoriality, inversional-combinatoriality, and retrograde-inversional-combinatoriality. Special hexachords have all four types of combinatoriality, and are therefore called all-combinatorial.

Come For To Sing 1. The late, lamented folk music magazine published out of Chicago from the late 70s to 1987 by Emily Friedman. It featured songs, calendars, articles, interviews and lots more. It’s sorely missed. 2. A book of songs by von Schmidt, Eric, Houghton Mifflin, 1963.

come-all-ye a narrative song that gets its name from the opening line, which is usually of the form "Come all ye sailors brave and bold" or similar. It’s a type of ballad, usually with the narration in the first person singular or first person plural. The participants almost always go through a hair-raising adventure together, with the ending being either triumphant or a tragedy, with the moral in the latter case being a warning to others ("A warning take by me" is a common line) not to join the navy or become a buffalo skinner or fool with loose women.


Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eirann (pron., more or less, "Coltas Col-torry Erin") a guiding organization for Irish traditional music, with branches around the world. They encourage new musicians, hold concerts, competitions, etc. They are occasionally criticised for discouraging musical individuality in their quest to keep traditional music alive.

comma 1. A discrepancy in the tempering of the musical scale. See comma of Pythagoras, diesis, ditone, syntonic comma. 2. There are musical devices to denote phrases in music, just as the comma is used in writing - see cadence.

comma of Pythagoras as mentioned under circle of fifths, if you jump ahead in fifths, a ratio of 3/2, you can generate all the notes of the scale if you take it for 12 jumps, which is seven octaves. If you jump ahead in natural fifths, you’ll be noticeably sharp when you get to the end, because 3/2 can’t be multiplied times itself and still yield a true octave. This error is the comma of Pythagoras. See also diesis for another example of the comma. Putting it in numbers: if you start with a frequency of 1 Hz, the seven octaves should give a final note of 27 = 128. (2^7 = 128) If you use a value of 1.5 for the 12 notes required by the circle of fifths, you get 1.512 = 129.75. (1.5^12 = 129.75) The overshoot, 129.75/128, is the comma, equal to 23.5 cents or about ¼ of a semitone. In some music theory books, the comma is shown as 81/80. While very close at 21.5 cents, this is actually the syntonic comma. In our equal-tempered scale, the fifth is flat by a tiny amount (its value is about 1.498 versus the natural fifth’s 1.5, or about 2.3 cents lower). An ETS fifth will make the circle of fifths generate proper octaves. There are various other commas resulting from different methods of deriving the scale. Another one results when you use the natural whole tone as the jumping-ahead ratio. The pitch increase of a natural whole tone is the ratio 9:8, or 1.125. The trouble in using the tone is that you overshoot when you end up at the octave note, just as with Pythagoras’ comma. Since the scale encompasses six whole tones (five tones and two semitones}, the equation for the octave should be the following: (9/8)6 = 2 ((9/8)^6 = 2) And it doesn’t work. A few seconds with a calculator shows the above is not equal to 2, but 2.0273. This works out to about ¼ of a semitone more than a true octave (the fix that was used is in the entry for Pythagorean scale). The more you look into the other scales, the more appreciation you have for the equal-tempered scale as the king of compromises. See also temperament just intonation, meantone scale, natural scale.

commercialised you can always start a heated discussion among folkies by stating that commercialisation rots the very fabric of folk music. While it’s true that large commercial interests strip away the subtleties and complexities and go for profit, there is also the problem of a subculture that simply doesn’t want its private world made public. On the negative side of it, Mclean, Don said that the theme of his song "American Pie" was that commercialisation corrupts inspiration. Seeger, Pete has often made the point that if the Weavers hadn’t gained fame from doing commercial club dates, or if they hadn’t made the Decca recordings (which have 50s-style string sections and a somewhat over-produced sound), much of their music would never have been heard, and he wouldn’t have had the enormously successful solo career that followed. There’s quite a difference between making money from folk music and wrecking the music for exploitive purposes. See electric folk, Steeleye Span, gig, money for further comments on this. See also oral tradition for a nice quote from Bronson, Bertrand on the durability of folksong.

common chord the root position of a chord - in a C major chord, this would be C E G. See chord inversion.

common time 4/4 time, notated by a "c" at the beginning of the music. It doesn’t stand for "common" - the historical explanation is that triple time was considered perfect by analogy with the Trinity, and was denoted by a perfect circle. 4/4 time was seen as imperfect and denoted by a broken circle.

common-chord. a chord that is diatonic in two or more different keys; see also pivot-chord.

communal origin a theory that says that folksongs just arose somehow from people getting together in small communities to sing work songs or entertainment songs, etc. Whatever the appeal of this rosy image, it’s universally dismissed by musicologists ( Bronson, Bertrand called it "metaphysical moonshine"). Someone with a gift for verse and/or melody put together a song, and it began making the rounds by oral tradition, being filtered by the folk process along the way. Of course, the single-author purity theory comes under justified attack from researchers - it seems unlikely that a song could travel for centuries withoutsome changes (see historical accuracy). However, experts such as Child, F.J., Bertrand Bronson, and MacColl, Ewan say that certain of the ballads in the main collections owe much to one author. The interested are referred to the discussion of the song "Edward" in Bronson’s "The Ballad as Song".

compass the range of a melody from lowest to highest note; it’s synonymous with tessitura. See also ambitus.

compere (pron. "compare") In British usage, a host or master of ceremonies. Some confusion arises when festival visitors from the UK ask "Who’s compering this?", to which the reply is, of course, "Who’s comparing this to what?"

complement. 1. (interval) the interval that when added to a given interval will form an octave ; e.g. minor 3rd + major 6th; also known as interval inversion; 2. (set-theory) in set theory, the elements not in a given set. e.g. c,d,e,f# is the complement of c#,d#,f,g#,a,a#,b and vice versa.

complex-tone. a tone containing inharmonic overtones.

composite-chord-symbol. a symbol that consists of a Roman-numeral, indicating the chord's position in the scale, and the figured-bass, indicating its inversion. For example, V6, meaning first inversion dominant.

compound interval any interval greater than the octave is called compound, because it’s really the distance of an octave plus a smaller interval - an example would be the tenth, which is the octave plus a third. In music, 8 + 3 can indeed yield a tenth, since the octave note is the same as the low note of the added interval: octave -- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 <-- added interval

compound meter a time signature with more than two, three, or four beats per measure: 6/8, 12/8, etc. Two to four beats per measure is simple meter. If the compound meter is evenly divisible by two, it’s "compound duple". If it’s divisible by three, it’s "compound triple". See also meter, rhythm.

compound time see compound meter.

compound-interval. an interval greater than an octave.

compound-meter. a meter in which each beat is divided into three pulses; for example, 6/8 contains two beats, each of which is divided into three pulses; e.g. 6/8 is a duple meter containing two groups of three 8th notes.

concert pitch by international agreement, concert pitch is defined as the A above middle C being 440 hertz (cycles per second). Musicians use a tuner of some sort to set instruments or voices to this standard. See also perfect pitch, and for those interested in scale derivation, temperament.

Concertante-A concertante part in a piece of music is a part that calls for some element of solo performance, as in a classical concerto. The word is found in the phrase Sinfonia concertante, which is used to indicate an orchestral composition with two or more solo instruments, a title used from the late 18th century onwards.

concertina a miniature bellows instrument, hexagonal in shape, with small buttons instead of keys. Its compact size is said to have made it a favorite with sailors, which is why the stereotypical sailor always seems to have one, but there’s some doubt about this, since concertinas were expensive and their steel reeds rust-prone (see also Wheatstone, Sir Charles). There are two basic flavors, the English (the same note pushing or pulling - such as the "Wheatstone") and the Anglo-German (a different note on pushing or pulling). Both are popular instruments for accompanying songs or for playing in dance bands (see also bandoneon). There is another type called the "duet", which has the bass buttons on one side and the treble on the other. This allows separate bass and treble lines to be played. There are many different sizes and keys available; the family has the range of the instruments in a string quartet. Classical works have been composed for the family, and Tschaikovsky included them in an orchestral suite. One of the most remarkable achievements in concertina playing was the multitracked recording of a Bach fugue by Alistair Anderson of England, using different sizes of instruments. The listener is hard pressed to tell the sound from a large church organ.