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If you don't like ballads......

Steve Gardham 17 May 19 - 10:50 AM
Jack Campin 17 May 19 - 11:17 AM
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Subject: RE: If you don't like ballads......
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 May 19 - 10:50 AM

Got to agree with you there, Jim. The big problem for me is that there is so much stuff out there even now that it would take me the rest of my life to grub through it. There are similarities with what I've spent the last 40 years doing, sifting through dunghills to find the 'moderate
jewels' in libraries all round the country. At least with the internet we can immediately share our findings and collaborate. Malcolm was a massive loss to me in that respect. He knew the interweb thing inside out, but we still have people like Mick P and Jon L with us which I'm grateful for.


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Subject: RE: If you don't like ballads......
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 May 19 - 11:17 AM

Going back to the title if the thread, and something I mentioned a while back.

Ballads are a very small part of the range of possibilities of folk song; the wider variety includes all the magical/performative uses of verse and song like incantations, charms and curses;
love lyrics; religious meditations; dance or work songs where the rhythm is the main point; jokes; demonstrations of verbal cleverness; lullabies; funeral laments; recitations of genealogies; election slogans; auctioneers' and race commentators' chants; mnemonics; agricultural calendar sayings; prayers; liturgical songs; cattle calling songs, where the intended audience isn't even human; and so on. So there's a lot there to like if you leave ballads out of it.

And there's a reason why that might happen. That wider class of folk songs also includes a far wider class of formal structures. Compare the variety of verse forms you get in the love lyrics and devotional poems of the late Middle Ages with the range of options used for writing ballads after 1700 - all that variety has gone. (This is not just an Anglophone phenomenon, it happened in most European traditions).

BUT that variety survives outside the folk/ballad idiom - in pop lyrics. These still use an extraordinary variety of stanza forms, as wide as the range employed by a lyricist of the 15th century. And if that's where you're coming from, of course you're going to be bored by the ballad idiom with everything pushed into ABAB quatrains.

Same goes for other popular genres like rap. If that sort of verbal fireworks is what you've come to look for in music, you're going to have to look back beyond the ballad to something like the qasidas of Moorish Andalusia or the show-off songs of the Provençal troubadours to find anything comparable in European tradition.

Ballads don't do it all; they never did; and it's easy to find products of modern mass culture that go beyond them in important respects.


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