Mudcat Café message #3264847 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #141683   Message #3264847
Posted By: Owen Woodson
28-Nov-11 - 12:20 PM
Thread Name: Chorus songs for ballad singers
Subject: RE: Chorus songs for ballad singers
I was at a very chorusy, very shanty singing type festival recently, which included a ballad session on the programme. Fearing that the halyard raisers and the pints of foaming ale singers would swamp anything with a chorus, I deliberately chose two non-refrain ballads.

However everything with so much as a repeated last line was given the south Atlantic frozen sails, foaming sea spray and force ten gales treatment, with so much gusto that I thought the bows of our goodly ship were about to break and the sea come dashin' in.

Now this session showcased some very fine ballad singers, and one of them complained to me afterwards that she had been unable to sing the refrain line of one of her ballads as she wanted to because of the straightjacketing effect of the audience.

May I offer some conclusions?

1. Whether they have a chorus or no, ballads are not there to be treated like other forms of chorus song. They tell stories, often intensely human stories, about basic human emotions, and about people caught up in the cuelty of inexorable situations over which they have no control.

2. If you are in the habit of belting out the refrain of, say, the Cruel Mother, for all you are worth, then you cannot be aware of the meaning of the song. You cannot be attempting to comprehend the dilemma of someone who has been seduced and abandoned and left pregnant, to face the accusations and hostility of a highly puritanical and very unforgiving society. In other words you haven't listened.

3. No matter how heavy the ballad being sung, nobody would deny that a moderate contribution from the audience is perfectly in order. Equally, nobody would deny that both shanties and ballads occupy important places in our folk tradition. But if you enjoy lusty chorus singing, then please go find a lusty chorus session, and leave those of us who wish to enjoy ballads for what they are to our own devices.