An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section L)

LaFarge, Peter (1931-1965) singer-songwriter in the 60s, best-known for "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" and "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow". He was a contributing editor for Broadside and wrote for Sing Out!.


laird (UK, also "leard") used often in Scottish songs. A laird is a landowner, usually a wealthy one. Not to be confused with the real gaffers, the Lords. However, the two words may well be used interchangeably.

lake wake see lyke wake.

lament 1. A slow, mournful instrumental tune. 2. A slow, mournful tune with words that explain why the author is lamenting. 3. A slow, mournful song with hilariously funny lyrics that parody laments.

Lamentations-The Lamentations of Jeremiah form part of the Catholic liturgy of Holy Week, the week before Easter, traditionally chanted, but from the middle of the 15th century providing material for polyphonic setting.

Lament-Dirges or laments are an important element in primitive musical practice in mourning the dead or at other moments of parting. One of the most important and influential laments of Western music is Monteverdi's Lament of Arianna (= Ariadne), abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos, where she became a follower of the god Dionysus. This is the only surviving part of a lost opera of 1608. The lament was much imitated, not least by the English composer Henry Purcell in the lament sung by Dido, betrayed by her lover Aeneas, in the short opera Dido and Aeneas.

Lammas (UK) an August 1 harvest festival.

Ländler-The Ländler is an Austrian country dance in a slow triple metre, a precursor of the waltz.

landsman (UK) a landowner, but the word also appears in many songs with the meaning of farmer.

Landy, Bob see Blind Boy Grunt.

lane (UK, also "lain", alane) alone, usually as "Lady Errol lies her lane".

lang (UK) long, at length.

Langhorne, Bruce another of the guitarists who seem to be everywhere, Bruce backed many of the folk musicians of the 60s and 70s. His inventive and lyrical electric guitar style can be heard at its best on Bob Dylan’s recording of "Tambourine Man" on the "Bringing It All Back Home" album (as well as other tracks). Dylan’s "Freewheelin’" album notes credit Bruce with playing on "Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right", although it could be Dylan. He does turn up on "Corinna, Corinna". He can be heard on albums by Mimi and Richard Farina, Joan Baez, Tom Rush and many others.

Languido-languidly, sluggishly, spiritless.

Largamente-broadly and consequently slowly. Largo-Largo (Italian: broad, wide, large and consequently slow) is used as a frequent instruction to performers. Handel's Largo, an aria from his opera Serse, is in fact marked Larghetto, although this does not seem to affect its speed in popular performance.

Larghetto-Larghetto is a diminutive form of Largo (Italian: broad, wide, large) usually a direction of tempo, meaning slow. Larghetto is slowish, not as slow as Largo.

Lass of Roch Royal ( Child 76) aka "Lord Gregory", "Lass of Loch Royal", and "Fair Annie of Lochyran", this ancient British song has contributed a number of verses to various American songs, including John Henry. Some of the verses to be found throughout folk music are below, and come from version C of the Friedman, Albert collection. "Oh, who will shoe your foot, my dear,And who will glove your hand?And who will kiss your red rosy lips,When I’m gone to the far-off land?My papa will shoe my foot, my dear,My brother will glove my hand,My mama will kiss my red rosy lips,When you’ve gone to the far-off land.""As I walked out one cold winter night,A-drinking the good old wine,A-thinking of that pretty little girl,That stole this heart of mine." It’s also possible that the song inspired Burns, Robert, since several verses are close to those in "My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose": "And she looks like some pink rose,That blooms in the month of June,And now she’s like some instrument,Been newly put in tune.Fare you well, my own true love,Fare you well, for a while,If I go away, I’ll come again,If I go ten thousand miles."

lave (Scot.) rest, remainder.

lawin (Scot.) expense, cost, reckoning.

lay a narrative poem set to music. In general, a song.

layer. (Schenker: Schicht) a level of compositional structure other than the Ursatz.

layering. the process of superposing heterogeneous lines or "streams" on one another, e.g. in Charles Ives's Central Park in the Dark.

lea (UK, also "ley", "lee") a meadow or cropland. Also "leyland", which may be the origin of the mysterious word "laylum" that is sometimes found in English country folk songs.

lead (pron. "leed") the lead instrument plays most of the runs and fills during a song. In an instrumental, the lead instrument dominates the sound and gets to play the melody most often. The guitar is extremely popular as a lead instrument, and the best of lead guitarists become demigods. See Shea, Red.

lead note the starting note that may be played on an instrument or pitch pipe to lead into an unaccompanied song.

lead sheet (pron. "leed") simplified music notation used as a guide to a song. It can consist of a basic melody line and chords, or numbering for the chords (see figured bass). Sometimes the melody isn’t written out, but the bars are drawn along with the beats per measure and the chord changes. Also called "charts", although the chart can also be full notation. The lead sheet is a standard in recording sessions, where the musicians can usually pick up the melody right away and only need prompting here and there in a song.

Leadbelly (1888-1949) (Huddie Ledbetter). A tremendously influential 12-string guitarist, singer and songwriter from Louisiana. Songs he wrote or made famous include "Goodnight, Irene", "Cotton Fields", "Midnight Special", "Titanic", "Take This Hammer", "On a Monday", (aka "Almost Done") "Ella Speed", "Alabama Bound", "Silver City Bound" (see also Blind Lemon Jefferson), and many others (he wrote the tune for "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", based on a much older Irish tune - after his death, the Weavers wrote the words; Leadbelly is credited as "Joel Newman", perhaps due to the blacklist). Seeger, Pete said that Leadbelly’s first name was pronounced "Hew-dy"; early documentation also shows it spelled as "Hudy". His nickname was usually spelled in two words: "Lead Belly", though it became one word after the 60s. He was called "The King of the 12-string Guitar", and with good reason. His complex, powerful style (as in his "Fannin Street") has never been equalled. There are few guitarists today who can reproduce his playing, largely because of the technical difficulty. Guitarists such as Seeger, Pete, Cooney, Michael, and Gerlach, Fred keep a few of his arrangements going. He was brought to the north by the Lomaxes (see Lomax, John) for a concert tour in 1934. Unfortunately, Leadbelly had spent considerable time in prison, and the NY promoter felt that the concerts should be tricked up by having Leadbelly wear a convict’s uniform. However, the concerts did expose Leadbelly to a wider audience, and without John Lomax, we might never have heard Leadbelly’s amazing repertoire of ballads, blues, hollers, and more. He died in 1949, just missing the folk revival and the enormous fame that would have been accorded to him. His "Goodnight, Irene" was an enormous hit by the Weavers just months after his death. Much of the legend of Leadbelly is made up of exaggerations and half-truths, as most legends are. In the 1992 "The Life and Legend of Leadbelly", by Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, the authors point out that Leadbelly didn’t really write a song that got him a pardon from prison, and "Goodnight Irene" is based on a similar song from 1892 by Gussie Davis, and he wasn’t quite a "murderous minstrel" (as Time magazine said in 1935). No matter. Forget the PR and just listen to his songs. A film was made of his life story (see movies), with the guitar playing dubbed in. Folkies are divided about this film and its musical sound.

leading see progression, note names.

leading-tone or leading-note. the note that is a diatonic half-step below the tonic.

league (old UK measure) three miles on land, three nautical miles on the water.

Ledbetter, Huddie see Leadbelly.

ledger line alternative spelling of leger line.

leeze me (UK, also "lees me") the phrase is probably best rendered as "my delight is". Its most famous appearance is in "Dainty Davie", by Burns, Robert (there is another similar version, possibly by Burns and full of barely concealed bawdiness).

Legatissimo-extremely legato.

legato a playing style that’s smooth and flowing. The opposite is staccato.

Legato-Legato (Italian: smooth) is used as an instruction to performers. It is the opposite of staccato, which indicates a shortening and consequent detaching of notes.

leger line (pron. "ledger", and occasionally spelled that way) small lines above and below the staff in music notation to accommodate notes that fall outside the staff. See transpose and 8va for methods of minimizing these.

Leggero (Leggiero)- Leggero means light (= French: léger) and is used as a direction to performers.

Leggierissimo-very light.


Legno-Legno, wood, appears in the phrase 'col legno', with the wood, an instruction to string players to hit the strings with the back of the bow. Examples of col legno are found in the Danse macabre of Saint-Säens and at the opening of Holst's The Planets.

Lehrer, Tom (1928- ) an American satirist whose irreverent songs were popular in the late 50s and early 60s. His acid wit must have influenced many of the topical folksong writers in the 60s. His best-known songs include "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park", "The Boy Scout Song" ("Be prepared - don’t solicit for your sister, ‘cause you know that isn’t nice - unless you get a fair share of her price..."), "An Irish Folksong" - ("She drowned her father in the creek, sing rickety-tickety-tin, and the water tasted bad for a week - and we had to make do with gin"), and "The Vatican Rag" ("genuflect, genuflect..."). He seems to have retired from songwriting and performing in the early 70s to devote his time to academic pursuits (mathematics, psychology, and political science).

Leitmotif- The leitmotif (= German: Leitmotiv) is particularly associated with the music-dramas of Wagner, although the practice has a longer history. The leading motive is a theme or part of a theme, associated in the work of Wagner with a character, idea or event, and forming in his music-dramas an essential element in their construction.

leitmotif. a brief idea, such as a melodic line, that is used by a composer to symbolise a character, feeling, or thought, most often in a vocal genre, such as opera.

leman (UK, also "lemman") lover.

Lent the 40 days preceding Easter, beginning with Ash Wednesday.

Lento-Lento (Italian: slow; = French: lent, lentement) is used in instructions to performers. Negatively some French composers, notably Couperin, use the direction sans lenteur, without slowness.

lesser fifth (archaic) the tritone.

Lewis, Furry (1900-?) (Walter Lewis) Memphis country blues guitarist and singer. He came to the folk revival through Charters, Sam, the collector and blues folklorist, who met him in 1959. Furry had made race records much earlier, but Charters arranged for a recording published by Folkways. Some of the songs Furry recorded that influenced performers like Rush, Tom and von Schmidt, Eric included John Henry, Casey Jones, "Dry Land Blues" and "I Will Turn Your Money Green" (recorded by Tom as "Turn Your Money Green").

ley see lea.

Libitum-see ad libitum.


Library of Congress the LOC has made an enormous contribution to folk music through documents and field recordings. If you have access to the World Wide Web, their American Folklife Center page is well worth a visit: See also Folkways, Lomax, John.

Libretto-The libretto, the little book, is the text of an opera or similar vocal work, originally issued in a small printed book.

lich (UK, from OE) a corpse.

lich wake see lyke wake.

licks (also "hot licks" or riffs) a particularly interesting and complex solo, or tricky melodic bits that an instrumentalist uses to embellish the main melody. Also, disparagingly spoken of a musician who is sticking to very safe and simple playing: "Those are his hot licks."

Lied-Lied, (German: song), Lieder in the plural, is used more specifically to indicate songs in the great German tradition of song-writing exemplified by the work of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss and others. It should not be confused with Leid, sorrow, as in Kreisler's Liebesleid, the sorrow of love.

ligature 1. Another name for the slur used in notation to indicate several notes on a syllable ( melisma) or smoothness in playing several notes. 2. In medieval music, a symbol used to replace several notes.

Lightfoot, Gordon (1938- ) singer/songwriter, and a Canadian institution. He started in folk music in the early 60s, with other people creating hits out of his "Early Morning Rain" (written in 1964, this was a hit for Ian & Sylvia, PP&M, George Hamilton IV and many more), and other songs. He was influenced by Seeger, Pete, Gibson, Bob, and Dylan, Bob. Before long, he was famous in his own right, with a long string of hits that he performed himself. Many of his lyrics capture the essence of Canada, with mentions of our incredible landscape, the distances across it, and our relationship to it all. He seemed to be able to write songs that appealed to folk, pop, and country audiences (eg, respectively, "Don Quixote", "If You Could Read My Mind", "Did She Mention My Name"). Folkies debate whether his masterpiece is "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" (written for our 1967 centennial) or "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", a 1976 balladry tour de force describing the sinking of an ore carrier in Lake Superior in 1975. Some of his songs are well out of the folk genre, but the majority of folkies feel that if you overlook his easy-listening output, he has more than secured a name for himself with his better ballads, let alone the closet full of Junos (the Canadian Grammy) and the Order of Canada.

lillie (Scot., also "lilly") lovely, charming.

limberjack doll folk art meets folk music in the limberjack doll, which is a jointed doll about 12" high or so, suspended from a string or strings in much the same way as a puppet. The operator sits on a long, thin piece of wood placed on the chair seat, and the doll "stands" on the end of this. When the music starts, the operator beats rhythmically on the wood, making the doll dance in a style somewhat like clogging. The name is obscure, but may be from "lumberjack".

Limeliters a trio from the US west coast that had considerable success during the folk revival in the 60s. Their sound was closer to the Kingston Trio than to traditional folk, but they were very entertaining. Members were Lou Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough, who later went on to a successful career in pop music ("Baby, The Rain Must Fall" was his biggest hit).

limies a term for the English, said to come from the fact that lime juice was served to British sailors to prevent scurvy (see grog). In fact, the names "lime" and "lemon" were often interchangeable in the 18th and 19th centuries, and there is more evidence that the sailors were served lemon juice. Besides, lemons have more vitamin C, which is what the sailors needed. Sorry about that.

Lincolnshire Poacher according to Kennedy, Peter, three other English counties compete to be the origin of this famous song, Somerset, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire. He says that more than half of the collected versions come from Northamptonshire, and so it gets his vote. This probably won’t make much difference; it’s believed far and wide to be a Lincolnshire song.

linear-set. A set ordered in time, as a temporal array, e.g. a tone row.

lining out see chorus.

lining track although this is the name of a song, it also refers to a group of rhythmic worksongs from the US, sung by the men (but see next paragraph) who installed or replaced the rails of a railway line. The rails had to be forced into position with crowbars by a large workcrew, and the songs helped synchronize the effort. In this respect, these hollers are closely related to shanties. Apparently women worked at track lining as well as men. There is a verse in one of the songs that goes "Y’oughta been on the Brazos, 19-and-10, Buddy Russell drove the women like he drove the men". Those who did this work were often known as "gandy dancers", a name said to be from the dance-like movements of the spikedriver, plus the name of the Gandy Company, who supplied tracklining tools. There’s a bit of lyric garbling from the song "Linin’ Track": singers who do this song often repeat the line that’s been recorded many times: "See Eloise go line that track!" An interesting image, but an incorrect one; the actual line, in the dialect of the US south, is "See how we’se gonna line that track."

linkin (UK) walking with a light step.

linn (UK, also "lin", "lynne") body of water, a pool in a river, etc.

lip see embouchure.

Lipscomb, Mance (1895-1976) Texas country blues singer-songwriter- guitarist. He performed exclusively in Texas until he was discovered (and recorded by Arhoolie) in 1960 during the folk revival. He then performed widely at folk festivals around the country. One of his best-known songs is "Sugar Babe", recorded by Rush, Tom and others. A peculiar phrase from that song, "buzzard lope", refers to a local dance step.

L'istesso Tempo-in the same tempo.

live a room with a great deal of reflective surfaces. In general, this is a good thing, since it allows performers to hear themselves and each other much better than in a dead room. One drawback is that the chance of feedback is increased if a PA is in use.

Living Tradition, The folk magazine from Scotland. Features reviews and articles on the UK folk music scene. It’s distributed in North America, but if you can’t find it, they can be contacted at PO Box 1026, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire KA2 OLG, tel/fax 0563 44855. North American folkies will drool at the size of the folk circuit in the UK.

Lloyd, A.L. (1908-1982) "Bert" Lloyd was a self-educated English expert on all aspects of folk music. His "Folk Song in England" (1967) is a comprehensive and lucid tour of songs over the centuries and will shed much light on the complexities. In the late 50s, he collaborated with MacColl, Ewan on the "Radio Ballads" for the BBC, and collated a number of traditional songs from fragments, including the version of "Tam Lin" recorded by Fairport Convention. He made a few recordings - he wasn’t a very good singer technically, being somewhat off-key, but traddies loved him anyway because he introduced so many people to traditional songs in the a cappella style. Besides, he was a brilliant writer.

LOC see Library of Congress.

location modulation. changing the apparent position of a sound source. normally this change is periodic.

lock see star.

Locrian. a seldom used mode consisting of S-T-T-S-T-T-T.

Lomax, Alan (1915- ) American folksong collector who worked with his father Lomax, John to amass an incredible treasury of folk music. He continued the work on his own. He is widely quoted in every book on folklore and has also performed at the Newport Folk Festival, among others, and has recorded several albums. He has published many books on folk, blues, and jazz, including "Mister Jelly Roll", "Folk Songs of North America", "The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs", and others. He also collaborated with his father on books such as "American Ballads and Folksongs", "Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads", and "Folk Songs as Sung by Leadbelly". He has also published a book on international song styles called "Cantometrics".

Lomax, John (1875-1948) American folksong collector. Together with his son Alan, he collected a huge number of songs that are household words today. His collection from the American west (done from about 1900 to the 30s) popularized songs like "Streets of Laredo" (aka "The Dying Cowboy"), "Jesse James", "Sweet Betsy from Pike", "The Old Chisholm Trail" and many more, including one of the great American ballads, "Buffalo Skinners". In 1934 he and Alan made field recordings of the traditional music of Tennessee, Kentucky, and the southern states. He contributed over 3,000 recordings to the Archive of Folk Song of the Library of Congress.

longsword see sword dances.

loun (UK) a dope, a loon.

loup (UK, also "lowp") leap.

Loure-The loure is a French dance of the 17th and 18th centuries, the name derived from a bagpipe used in Normandy. The dance is usually in 6/4 time and has been described as a slow gigue. Examples are found in Bach's E major Partita for unaccompanied violin and in the fifth of his French Suites.

love songs perhaps the favorite topic for folksong. One difference in content from the pop approach is that there are so many songs about failed love. Seeger, Pete said that the reason that there are so many songs about unrequited love is that when love is requited, there are better things to make than music.

Lovin’ Spoonful although not primarily a folk group, the Spoonful owed a fair amount to the tradition. It was formed in 1965 by Sebastian, John, a former member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, and takes its name from a song by Hurt, John. They had a number of hits, including "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind", "Daydream", "Summer in the City", "Nashville Cats", and others, before disbanding in 1969.

lozen (Scot.) windowpane.

LP see album.

LRO in morris dancing, the Liquid Refreshment Officer. The person in charge of seeing that there’s enough beer for morris gatherings, and non-alcoholic drinks for drivers and non-drinkers.

lullaby a lullaby is meant to put children to sleep, and so by definition should be monotonous. The lullabies recorded by folksingers tend to be arranged to brighten them up and defeat that purpose. But then, you wouldn’t want to listen to a recording of a real lullaby very often.

lumber (Scot.) to burden.


Lunnan (Scot.) London.

Lunsford, Bascom Lamar (1882-1973) a banjo player from North Carolina. He specialised in performing the traditional music of the area, and recorded many 78s and LPs, many for the folksong archives of the Library of Congress. He collected songs from all over Appalachia, and wrote songs occasionally (his best-known being "Good Old Mountain Dew"). Although he’s known best to fans of old-timey music, his banjo style influenced many of today’s traditionalist players directly or indirectly.

lute an instrument somewhat like a mandolin with an elliptical body, like an egg cut in half along the long dimension. There are various methods of stringing it, but a popular one is the seven course lute, which has seven pairs of unison strings tuned E A D G B E A (ie, guitar tuning with another fourth in the top strings). Another is the six-course, with tuning G C F A D G - three semitones above the guitar, with the third between the F and A strings. Oddly, it is not at all popular in folk music. This may have something to do with its muted tone and the tuning difficulties. The lute family is enormous - every culture seems to have a version or two. For close relatives, see archlute, theorbo. For some of its other relatives, see bouzouki, cittern, mandolin, oud. 2. The lute, a plucked string instrument popular from the Middle Ages until the 18th century and now revived, came originally from the East, its name derived from the Arabic 'ud. It existed in many different forms and in its Western form is usually pear-shaped, with a flat belly and central soundhole or rose. Its neck has frets, pieces of gut tied to mark the notes on the fingerboard, and its peg-box is generally bent back to form a right angle with the neck. The number of strings has varied, although the six-string lute was common. The lute was one of the most popular instruments in the time of Shakespeare, when the leading performer was John Dowland, who wrote songs with lute accompaniment. In the first half of the 18th century Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the instrument, of which one of the leading exponents and composers was Sylvius Leopold Weiss. A player of the lute is a lutenist, or, less commonly, lutanist. The meaning of luthier, originally a maker of lutes, has been extended to cover makers of all string instruments.

luthier originally someone who made lutes, now extended to anyone who makes guitars, mandolins, violins, etc. Interestingly, Ontario seems to be the capital of fine handmade guitars and mandolins.

lyart (Scot.) withered, gray.

Lydian. a mode consisting of T-T-T-S-T-T-S.

lyke wake (UK, also "lich wake", "lake wake") the watch over a dead body. Its most famous appearance is "Lyke-wake Dirge" by the Young Tradition, and was parodied by the Kipper Family as "Lightweight Dirge".

lyre an ancient harp-like instrument. The strings are fastened at one end to a crossbar, which is supported by two curved side posts. The shape is distinctive enough that it’s often used as design ornamentation ("lyreback chair").

Lyre-The lyre, the symbol of a musician in Western cultural tradition, is an ancient instrument, found in characteristic form in ancient Greece, where it was the instrument of Apollo. Similar instruments, with strings stretched from a cross-bar to a lower sound-box, to be held in the left arm and plucked with the right hand, are found in other cultures.