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Singing in dialect

16 Apr 03 - 06:18 PM (#935014)
Subject: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

As I sat here just now listening to The Wild Geese as sung by JIm Reid
I am minded of an old puzzle for me. That is to sing in a dialect that is not my own. I already feel it is pretentious as all hell to sing a song in a language that either I or my audience doesn't know but what about dialect.

I know what Dinna Ken means and I guess I have learned over the years what a lot of Scotts and Irish dialect means. But am I going beyond the realm of good performance or maybe better stated, honest performance when I change Ken to "Know" or "Blawin' Frae the Land" to "Blowin' From the Land"?

The translation of the words from Scotts English to modern English has its disappointments no doubt. Some of the color of the song may be lost if the words are read off the sheet that way but is it possible to sing the translated song with the right emotion in the performance and still keep the color of the song intact? ( I hope that is clear?)

There is a fine line between doing song for the sake of the song and doing it for the sake of scholarship.


16 Apr 03 - 06:32 PM (#935019)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: McGrath of Harlow

"I already feel it is pretentious as all hell to sing a song in a language that either I or my audience doesn't know" - if you mean when neither of you know the language, fair enough (though not in all circumstances). But I can't see anything pretentious in singing a song in a language you know, even if the people listening don't know, if that's what you meant.

Turning a song closer to your own language when you are singing it makes a lot of sense. It's what happens to songs which get into the general repertoire anyway. Nobody puts on a Scots accent to sing Auld Lang Syne, even when they keep some of the non-English words.

Anyway a lot of people would rank the Doric as a separate language rather than a dialect, and the same for Geordie.

16 Apr 03 - 06:36 PM (#935022)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: John Routledge

I think it is better to sing in modern english rather than get the accent horribly wrong.

This is on the assumption that the lines still scan and rhyme and the modern version maintains some of the essence of the origional.

This is not really possible with some songs sung in dialect.

16 Apr 03 - 06:41 PM (#935025)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: greg stephens

I dont mind singing music in a language I dont know,and I love listening to music in languages I dont know. Music is sound, after all. The literal meanings of the lyrics is only part of what the song can do for you. What does "folderiddleido" mean, when all's said and done?
   I would feel stupid trying to sing in broad Scots though, though you can get sucked into it if you're singing along with someone! With some dialect songs, the dialect is integral, as the song is used to reinforce a regional which case it's not for you anyway, though you can enjoy listening. Sing it how you feel, anyway, that's my motto.

16 Apr 03 - 06:56 PM (#935034)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Dead Horse

A large number of sea shanties are meant to be sung in dialect, mostly a strong Irish accent is called for, and others in, for want of a more pc word, Nigger English.
It is ridiculous (sometimes intentionally so) to sing many songs in Queens English.
"My aged pater is a refuse disposal operative"
"He dons protective headwear supplied for his calling"
"He also sports Deity-Strike-Me-Sightless leg-wear"
"And he resides in an apartment provided by the local housing authority"
Now THAT is pretentious!
I dont mind singing a couple of songs in French, learned parrot fashion, but I do feel distinctly uncomfortable singing 'em when there is a Frenchman in the audience, for fear of being lynched!

16 Apr 03 - 07:23 PM (#935048)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Rapparee

I agree with DH. But...I have a problem, in that when I spend any time in a country where the rhythm and dialect differ from that I learned at my Mommy's knee, I start speaking with the "new" rhythm and dialect. That is to say, in Ireland I'll start speaking with an Irish accent (and even that will change from one part of the country to another), in the American South I'll start a Southern one, etc.

This is not meant to mock or try to fit in, but it's totally unconscious. My youngest brother does it too; he learned Japanese this way in about a month (total immersion, though).

So, what do I do? I don't want to seem like I'm trying to be something I'm not, but I do like many songs which are in dialects not my own.

16 Apr 03 - 07:24 PM (#935049)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

McGrath, yes that should read NEITHER, maybe a Joe Clone will see this and fix it. Thanks for pointing that out. Sometimes I don't type so red hot and miss the odd letter.


16 Apr 03 - 07:26 PM (#935051)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Deckman

Dead Horse ... well said. I actually love the sound of several languages. And, as a singer, I know several songs in several different languages. However, I speak only three passibly. So, I indulge myself by reveling in this wonderful music in other languages ... but ONLY when I'm alone. I would never presume to sing a Czech song in front of a Czech, 'nor a french Canadien ditty in front of someone who knows the language well. I would feel insulting. But, that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy them, to MY fullest, when I'm alone. And I do, daily. CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson

16 Apr 03 - 07:28 PM (#935052)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner


I understand that phenom well. And I think there is no issue there.

My concern is with Don Meixner in central New York State singing The Wild Geese in a broad SCoots accent to a bunch of local worthies whose best knowledge of things Sctlandish is when we have pipe bands march in the Memorial Day Parade.


16 Apr 03 - 07:30 PM (#935053)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

That was certainly a need bit of fooked ooop typing wasn't it. :-)

16 Apr 03 - 07:37 PM (#935054)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Deckman

Hi Don, your last posting made me remember some horrible memories from my youth. I well remember when I was 17, or 20, or 25, and I would learn all these wonderful songs in other dialects or other languages. I would then 'broadcast' them to whoever was around. I didn't have a clue what they meant, and I'm quite sure I stepped on many, many toes. At the ripe old age of 65, I now remember those mistakes as "the arrogance of youth!". CHEERS, Bob

16 Apr 03 - 08:16 PM (#935087)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Padre

Don, Are you distinguishing between 'dialect' and 'language' in your post? That is, do you mean that you see [hear?] a difference between singing a song in English but with a regional or national dialect, and singing a song in a foreign language?


16 Apr 03 - 08:19 PM (#935088)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Leadfingers

Here's old Leadfingers back on one of his Hobby Horses.If it FEELS OK
then sing it.If it Doesnt feel Ok leave it in the 'To learn' basket
until it DOES feel OK.I do (occasionaly)songs that are NOT in my own
language--Even in Geordie--If I feel comfortable,its no problem.Other
wise,its back to the drawing board.

16 Apr 03 - 08:19 PM (#935089)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: michaelr

As a singer performing Scots and Irish songs for American audiences, I feel that the old-fashioned wording is in many cases hard enough for modern casual listeners to follow. If I were to put on an accent or failed to "translate" dialect words, I'm sure the audience response would be a resounding "Huh?" I do put in the odd "me" for "my", but generally I sing the songs in "American".

Rapaire is right, though -- I, too, pick up local inflections subconsciously. People keep asking me where in Ireland I'm from -- and I haven't even been there yet!


16 Apr 03 - 08:42 PM (#935102)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner


I am talkning about both actually. I am a true American, I speak our fundamentally flawed English nothing else altho I speak Canadian when I must. I would never sing a song in French to any of my audiences. I wouldn't know what I was singing and my audienec wouldn't know what I was singing either. I find that to be a bit pretentious.

And unless I am burlesqueing a song outright, I won't sing in a dialect or an accent either. But some songs will nearly require an accent if the dialectic words are sung " Twas a braw bricht moonlicht nicht" rather than It was a fine bright moon lit night.

My question is where do we draw the line on translations into a modern English for some of the older songs? Just because Child has a dialect down for a song is it wrong to sing it in a modern form of the original language?


16 Apr 03 - 09:04 PM (#935109)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Coyote Breath

Sometimes it is not up to the performer to determine whether what they are doing is OK no matter how they feel about it. Case in point: I learned "The Handsome Cabin Boy" accidentally by having to listen over and over again to a Folk Music Club member sing it (no doubt it was a "favorite" and they felt very OK with it) The reason that the song "stuck" in my mind was when they did sing it, it was in a "dialect" that sounded so awful as to be painful to listen to.

I refrain from singing blues (I'll PLAY, tho) because I simply can't SOUND like a blues singer. If I tried it would be terrible AND possibly insulting.

I love "Dodi Li" and "Karev Yom" but NEVER sing them in public even though my hebrew "accent" is pretty good. But I WILL sing "Hava Naghila" and with gusto (and on the banjo).

Use common sense, sez I.

I had a guy ask me where I was from not long ago. "Missouri", I answered. He said; "Naw I mean originally, that ain't much of a Missouri accent". "I was born and raised in Wisconsin" I said. "Yup", he said, "I thought it was SOMEwhere up north."

Beware when "using" a regional accent or dialect, that guy might be in the audience. I haven't lived in Wisconsin since 1962!


16 Apr 03 - 10:34 PM (#935152)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: dick greenhaus

Whatever works.

16 Apr 03 - 11:49 PM (#935185)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: PoppaGator

You can "use" an accent if you feel the vocal sounds you're making are essential to the sound of the music, that is, if you understand -- instinctively or otherwise -- the genre, its vocabulary, traditions, whatever.

In other words, if you've *internalized* the accent somehow, just like what happens when you "pick up" an accent when you move to a new environment. (I think anyone who's any kind of singer shares that tendency, at least a little bit). If you really have come to know a vocal musical tradition, you've gradually picked up a few of the most basic sounds of an accent or dialect, and also eliminated a few of your own natural pronunciations that sound wrong within that musical vocal context. It's still your voice, mostly at least, and the modifications ideally enhance your opportunity to deliver a nice emphatic, emotionally honest performance.

Can a 21st century urbanite sing auld Celtic balladry? Can a white boy sing the blues? Shit yeah! *IF* they know, love, and serve the music, render it faithfully, and use it to express their own selves, absolutely!

By the by, if you want to work on your Irish intonation, get a copy of anything by John Millington Synge and just sart reading out loud. These would be plays, including "The Playboy of the Western World" and a couple of nice little one-acts. Synge absolutely loved the sounds of English as spoken in the west of Ireland -- the second-language English of the Gaelic-speakers -- and did a great job of reproducing it on the page, back in the 1880s. The prose is so lyrical that it's practically impossible to speak the words without automatically adopting much of the proper inflection and pronunciation. Speaking this stuff is almost like singing.

I don't know nearly as much about the Scotch, but I'm sure there are plenty of devoted readers-aloud of, say, Robert Burns. That's just one example, I'm sure we could go on.

Immerse yourself in the culture of your choice, make a geniune honest effort to listen and understand, and you should feel confident about employing whatever vocal riffs, skills, strategies, etc., you eventually acquire.

17 Apr 03 - 01:19 AM (#935214)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Melani

I find that if I'm singing something Irish, I can usually get away with doing it in straight English, though sometimes a little inflection creeps in--I also pick up accents unconsciously. (As a native of Illinois, I spent the summer with relatives in Kentucky, and upon returning to elementary school, I was put in speech therapy for a defective "R" sound, thanks to my aquired Kentucky accent!) I have found that Scottish songs are much more likely to depend on dialect for proper rhyme or rhythm. I try to do it with as little accent as I can get away with, sort of like someone who's lived in the States for years but still has just a trace of accent left--that way I don't feel like I sound too dorky.

I was shocked but pleased one night after singing an Irish song with just a little inflection when an actual Irishman came up to me and told me I had just transported him back to Belfast. So I guess it didn't sound too dumb.

17 Apr 03 - 02:19 AM (#935223)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,Boab

As a Scot,I think I have always managed to make a reasonable attempt at singing Irish [particularly of the North] and English [again of the North!] songs. I lived and worked for many years in Northumberland, and revelled in the wondrous wealth of folk song and music there. There is one phenomenon which at first consideration seems strange; almost every Scot [or Britisher, for all I know--]who has or has had familiarity with the music scene can "turn on" an American singing voice almost at will.An amusing incident of a couple of years back; I had been a regular attender at our local pub in B.C. and was pretty well used to being asked to repeat every damn' thing I said---my Scots accent, and the dialect too, never has lost one iota of its broad Ayrshire content. Then one night I was persuaded to do something that I had always avoided like the plague---I was coaxed into a "karaoke" spot! So---I pored thro' the list. Ah!---Hank Williams, "Cheatin' Heart"---pure Glesca country and western! So I sang. All the guys an' gals were flabbergasted; "You sang in CANADIAN!!" was one wee lassie's amazed comment. Funny that---we can all "sing in Canadian" --but we sure as heck cannae SPEAK it! I expect it all stems from the fact that auld Sods like me were weaned on Gene Autry, Buck Jones and the Three Stooges.....

17 Apr 03 - 04:36 AM (#935275)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: alanabit

I was interested in PoppaGator's comments there. When I first read "Waiting for Godot," I commented to an actress,"I can't imagine it being performed with anything other than a soft, Irish accent, because the rhythm of the language just wouldn't sound right any other way." She promptly pointed out that the play was actually written in French and translated! Am I right in believing that the version of Nabokov's "Lolita" which we know, is actually a translation from the Russian by his son? I don't know what the linguistic experts say, but I think that rhythm is as important as sound in a dialect.
Personally, unless I think I can make a good stab at an accent, I bend the words a bit until I think it sounds credible coming from me. In particular blues language and words like "mama" sound quite ridiculous from my lips, so if I am singing something like Tommy Johnson's "Canned Heat Blues", I leave them out altogether.

17 Apr 03 - 04:47 AM (#935277)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Nigel Parsons

Back in June 2002 we had a request for a translation This Thread of the Welsh "Cān Y Melinydd" from 'Mad Maudlin' who wished to sing it in Welsh, but wanted to know what she was singing. This led to a translation, and later to a translation which also followed scansion and rhyme scheme, so the song could be sung in English. However, if one can produce a reasonable approximation of the pronunciation and accentuation, I would always prefer to hear an attempt in the original.

Personal preference only!


17 Apr 03 - 05:19 AM (#935284)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Bagpuss

I can just about feel comfortable singing a song in Scots - but only because I lived in scotland for 4 years and am married to a Scot who can tell me when I'm practising if I sound really stupid doing it. Most other songs I would probably keep the dialect in, but soften the accent a bit, just so it doesn't sound really stupid and a bad fake accent. The main problem is in deciding whether something is an accent or dialectal difference. To use the example of a Geordie song - The Blaydon Races (which I sing in full accent as Im from those parts). Take the phrase "Gannin alang the Scotswood Road". I would imagine a non Geordie singing the word "road" slightly differently to a native Geordie and that would be ok(ish) as its really an accent difference. I would find it *extremely* odd if they were to change "gannin" to "going". But what about changing "alang" to "along". Is that an accent or a dialect difference?

Having said that, The Blaydon Races is such a geordie anthem that is would sound odd for an non NE native to sing it no matter what they did or did not change about the song.

So maybe the rule is - wherever possible, sing it to a native first and get their opinion before you inflict it on the general folkie population.


17 Apr 03 - 05:22 AM (#935287)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Gurney

Give credit where you learned the song, if you are going to sing in a 'foreign' accent. That's enough.
And DEAD HORSE, thats great. Do the whole song in pretentious English and I'll sing it.
A group I was in used the 'Banana Boat Song' as first half closer, but we sang it in 'plummy'English, wearing bowlers/derbys and twirling rolled umbrellas.

17 Apr 03 - 05:45 AM (#935299)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,Letty (no cookie)

A German friend of mine sang me a song in Dutch last night. Sure, it
wasn't like a native would sing it, but I liked it anyway!
I try to sing songs in other languages too, even if I'm not fluent, I thinks it's a lot of fun. What's the harm in that?
I think it's different if you pretend to be a fluent speaker and you really aren't...
Anyway, many successful pop/rock singers who sing in English aren't native speakers either.


17 Apr 03 - 05:58 AM (#935302)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Deni-C

'I refrain from singing blues (I'll PLAY, tho) because I simply can't SOUND like a blues singer. If I tried it would be terrible AND possibly insulting.'

so maybe, like an actor, if you can do a pretty convincing accent or dialect, you could maybe get away with it as long as it SOUNDS OK.

who can it hurt?

Reminds me that singers of a lot of other nationalities sing in English. Is anyone going to say they shouldn't do that because they don't soundlike English people, I think not. it only works the other way around from what I've heard......

I think we should sing songs the way they are menat to be sung, with as much added artistic license as we like.

17 Apr 03 - 09:17 AM (#935370)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Big Mick

Very simply, it comes down to whether or not you can pull it off. If you give the tradition that you are trying to sing in its proper respect, then you will take the time to understand the linguistics as well as the importance of the region it came from. In other words, if you are trying to sing a Belfast song with a Dublin accent, you are not giving it the proper respect. If you are not willing to put in the time to give it its due respect, then you are guilty of disrespecting the tradition. That is where you get in trouble. In that case, just sing it in your native tongue.

If you sing for groups of immigrants, you will know rather quickly.


17 Apr 03 - 10:09 AM (#935402)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: wilco

This is a little different perspective on dialect, and it pertains to schools. When I sing in schools, for children, I'll stumble through the dialect, then do it in modern English (which is pretty close to my native language, Tennessean). The kids get a historical and ethnic flavor, which fits right into my ongoing theme of emigration and multi-culturalism.
    I would be very hesitant to do a song in dialect in other settings.

17 Apr 03 - 12:16 PM (#935506)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,The O'Meara

It doesn't bother me to listen to a song in dialect, even poorly done, so long as the singer means well and is true to the music. After all, I listened for years to Scotty explain to the captain, in a strange Scottish dialect, that the engines weren't working very well.
    But my background may have determined my level of tolerance for strange dialect. My father was career military, so I spent my childhood in San Angelo, Texas, where he was stationed. But the rest of the clan was in the (heavily Irish) city of St. Paul, Minnesota, where we spent time when the old man was overseas. This resulted in permanent culture shock and language confusion. ("Yah, sure" got confused with both "Sure, and.." and "Y'all.")
    My paternal grandparents were from Immigrants from Dublin, and my maternal grandmother played the guitar rather well and sang many semi-traditional Irish songs. Trouble was, she was an immigrant from Oslo and sang with a heavy Norwegian accent. Singing in dialect doesn't bother me after years of hearing "Yipsy rofer come ofer da hill..."


17 Apr 03 - 12:41 PM (#935539)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,JohnB

I spent the first 27 years of my life in Manchester, Lancashire England. The past 25 have been spent in Canada. I do not understand the question, regardless of what other people hear, I don't have an accent.

17 Apr 03 - 01:30 PM (#935585)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

There is a difference in a Belfast dialect and a Dublin dialect? Who'd of thunk it? Now a Kerry accent is different. Just mumble very fast and softly and occasionally cackle. But Dublin and Belfast.   Next thing you'll tell me Mick is there is a difference between a Welshman and a Cornishman's accent.


17 Apr 03 - 01:36 PM (#935589)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: MMario

Good thing Americans all speak the same...


17 Apr 03 - 01:47 PM (#935598)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: alanabit

You would have to be badly deaf not to be able to distinguish between a Cornish and a Welsh accent if the natives were speaking English. It is strange reallly, because the Celtic languages are closely related. I suspect Don is pulling someone's leg here.

17 Apr 03 - 01:59 PM (#935613)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Padre

Here in Virginia, there are 'Tidewater,''Mountain' and 'Southwest Virginia' accents, and then ther is Northern Virginia, which is full of transplants from everywhere else.

17 Apr 03 - 02:11 PM (#935624)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Strupag

Apart from the Proclaimers, all the Scottish rock bands sing with American accents and generally get away with it. I don't see why north Americans shouldn't be able to reciprocate.
I would think, however, that to sing in Scots dialect, you would need to spend just a wee bit of time learning, not only the words, but the meaning of them so that the song would come over with more sincerity.
I recently got a CD from Mary Smith (marynf)of Virginia and she does a really good versions of "Glenlogie"
When I listen I don't hear an accent but just someone singing a ballad well.

I would love, however, to hear from across the pond if you have ever heard someone from this side murdering an American ballad.
I've heard Hank Williams songs being sung with very broad Glasgow, Inverness and Peterhead accents. It all adds to the colour (color) of life.

17 Apr 03 - 02:27 PM (#935635)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,Sharon G

I don't sing... but I do play in a band with a stated goal of playing Irish traditional music (even though none of us are Irish and we have an inescapable American accent in our instrumental playing.

So here's my question: If a singer with a pronounced American accent (southern, Texas, New York etc) sings an Irish song with a band where the musicians are all playing with appropriate ornamentation - wouldn't that sound pretty weird? Not that the singer should force the an Irish accent, but shouldn't they at least de-emphasize the American sound? Same if they were singing Scottish songs and playing Scottish traditional tunes.   

What do non-Americans do when they perform country and western music? Do they put in a "twang" and try to sound like American country singers? And would American country singers feel that was inappropriate or disrepectful or laugh at performers who did that?

Just curious....

17 Apr 03 - 06:56 PM (#935657)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: TheBigPinkLad

If you can do it fine. If you can't (Scotty on Star Trek) don't.

17 Apr 03 - 07:31 PM (#935679)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

Me? Pull a leg? Twist an ankle? Push a foot? Alan, I am convulsed!

AS to my original question. The question was rhetorical: generating the discussion and breadth of response I'd hoped for. Thanks to all.


17 Apr 03 - 07:37 PM (#935686)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: McGrath of Harlow

I rather think that non-Americans must make as much of a cod's arse, trying to sound American when they sing, as Americans do when they try to sound English/Irish/Scottish (especially most of the film actors, but that's another topic).

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules here, but generally I think the best thing to do with a song is import it into your own natural way of singing. Good songs move around the world easily, and take on the colouring of all the places they end up in.

17 Apr 03 - 09:35 PM (#935743)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect

I have very mixed thought on this subject, but it is something that I have struggled with since I mainly sing Irish Traditional material.

If we are talking about accents and dialects, this is my feedback. While I do not like to hear affected accents, I recognize that some performers do this to more fully portray the flavor of the song and the people and sometimes they do it as a performer gimick to break up the flow of the set. On the other hand, I do not like to hear traditional songs sung with folk singer bland midwestern american accents. It is very irritating to me to hear a workshop leader throw aspersions at singing in a Scots accent, while having no problem with singing in a deep southern accent. What is with that???

However, to me the more interesting subject is the inflection and tone of the song. When I sing Irish traditional material, I cannot help but find bits of the Irish sound in my singing. (OK, I am a horrible mimick too, and can't even call back to Tennessee, where I grew up, without getting off the phone with a twang) I do work to remove the over-the top stuff, but I would never want to remove the finer sounds that make it sound Irish and not American. We could go on and on about what those inflections are, but people know it when they hear it. For example, many times I have had Irish people ask me if I am from Ireland because I sound authentic. I am not singing in an accent, but clearly I am incorporating some of the sound. Some of it is just vocal technique.

So, I guess I have equal dislike for over the top accents as I do for over americanized singing. There you go... to each their own.


17 Apr 03 - 11:34 PM (#935776)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

I'll get right to the nitty of this topic and what started the whole thing for me. Years ago, nearly 30, my friend Mike Waters and I sang Irish and American folk as a duo in Central New York. I like to think we were pretty OK and had a future as performers. WE did some festivals and some bar gigs, the odd coffee houses and even a small spot or two in East Durham, NY in the Catskills(AKA The Irish Alps).
   We had a chance at radio spot in Ithaca NY but the emcee of the show, still running and will remain nameless said no to us because he "Didn't like the phony accents.." Years later, Mike is driving horses in Bristol Me or Someplace, Rhode Island or maybe up in Cow Hampshire. I'm still doing the semi-trad music bit in Central NY
still not doing that radio show for the same reason. I have for awhile viewed this as folk snobbery but hells bells it's his show.
I am not doing the accents or the dialect myself. I would suck at it. I find it hard enought to be a marginally good singest let alone dialectician. The front guy in our band has what he calls an Irish Microphone. When he talks into it he sounds like Will Millar, when he talks in mine he sounds like a 60ish guy from Syracuse NY. All this micro-crap gets on my nerves but after 30 years BIll won't change and after 12 I should be over it by now. Or at least accept it as "Marketing". I guess I was asking am I being too anal or am I a Folk Snob or am I hoping for honesty in performance.

Or maybe it just doesn't matter. Thanks for all the great input and opinion.


18 Apr 03 - 12:31 AM (#935787)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Anglo

"A chance at a radio spot." Romantic as that sounds, I think doing that particular radio spot is worth about as much as you get paid to do it. (Though at least you've got a live audience to cheer you on and make you feel good).


Back to the topic. Martin Carthy has no problem rewriting Scots ballads into English There is a close relationship between the trad English counry song repertoire and the English-language Irish repertoire - Irish farm workers carrying them back and forth till you can't tell where a song might have come from originally. How might they have been sung "in transit"? Same with Scottish ballads going to Appalachia - there had to be some transitional stages there. Songs in the lunber camp repertoire, learned and carried by people from all over.

You have to just do what seems right to you. And what is right for one song may not be right for another. I find I need to leave some songs alone. But others (Scots, let's say), in some cases I'll convert to English, in some cases I'll sing in English with a few dialect words left in, in some cases I'll leave them in Doric and try to work from there. Same with Irish. And I might treat the same song differently in an Irish bar on St Pat's than on a radio show in Ithaca

Just treat every song with the respect and attention it deserves. They don't all fit in the same cubby.

18 Apr 03 - 09:11 AM (#935911)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner


18 Apr 03 - 11:02 AM (#935965)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Marje

It grates on my ears when I hear people straining to put on an accent (ususally Irish, Scots or American) that doesn't come naturally to them. If you do have several accents that you can slip in and out of (and many of us have lived in enough different places for this to be the case) that's another matter, but to hear my English friends adopting stage-Irish accents makes me feel uncomfortable, and reminds me a bit of white men blacking up to be nigger-minstrels and putting on fake Alabama accents.

Last night I was in a session where an English guy sang "Farewell Muirsheen Durkin", a song that's done to death by Plastic Paddy bands, but he sang it in more or less his own accent, in a way that sounded very natural, and I really enjoyed it, instead of cringing at the mock-Irishness it's usually subjected to.

When Irish or American people sing English songs, it's quite the other way about - not only do they not attempt an English accent, they usually claim the song is Irish. But that's another argument entirely....

18 Apr 03 - 03:35 PM (#936099)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Penny S.

Many moons ago, I sang at a musical evening for fellow teachers, a selection of folk music including "Aupres de ma Blonde", which I paired with "This one and that one may court me", both being about loves missing in the Netherlands at war. My version of the French came from my father's French teacher when he was in the army during WW2, at Clapham. It transpired that there were two French teachers in the audience, and I was a bit embarrassed, but they said it was OK (apart from one grammatical slip involving tous and tout), so it remains in my repertoire. I do think that singing in the original language is part of respecting the source. (Though providing explanation somewhere is a good idea.) Dialect, that is alternative vocabulary and syntax, I feel, should receive the same respect. Very often, the way the words work with the tune can be lost by changing the dialect to something different (I'm thinking of the way some modern hymn editors change words from Victorian hymn dialect to modern forms.)
Accent is different. I am one of those who picks accents up easily - currently, to my shame, it's a bit estuarine, innit. I do not feel comfortable singing innit. My singing is much more received. I don't make any attempt to replicate accents when singing - it doesn't come nearly as easily as spoken accents do, and would interfere with the singing process, I think. The conflict between the mouth shape needed for the singing sound and that needed for the accent is probably what leads to the forced effect.
I have been made aware at times that people with accents unlike mine regard the subject as sensitive. I was banned from reading "Albert and the Lion" to the children by a Mancunian colleague. A friend's wife was deeply offended by my saying that she had a Yorkshire accent - according to her, she didn't have any at all, but she did, though weak. I use them when reading to children, when they are relevant (ie, when they distinguish characters from each other), but only when I have heard the accent used recently. I certainly wouldn't do it in front of people I don't know, because it's a minefield. I do have problems in the literacy hour with "poems from different cultures" by Agard and Zephaniah, for example, because I can only do Trinidadian, and it's not up to date, and I don't know the writers' views on how their work should be read by estuarine white teachers. And their poems are impossible to read with respect without some indication of the natural rhythms and tones of the writers' language. As is Albert. A difficult area all round, not just with singing.


18 Apr 03 - 04:37 PM (#936146)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,Claire


Thanks for clarifying, I can see much more what your issue is now. I have to say that I would have a very big problem listening to your friend do his Irish microphone thing if I were in a band with him. When you are in a band, each of you helps create the band's personality and the over-the-top phony accent would grate on me. I was recently at an event where the MC did did that type of stuff. To me, it felt insulting to the Irish, but it was just a one time thing and he wasn't in my band, so it was fine.

As for the radio show, there is an incompatibility between your band's style and the style of the show, so no biggie - it happens.

Have you thought of talking to your front guy and telling him of your concerns. Maybe you could say something like... let's try mixing up some of the Irishy banter with other types of stage banter, for variety.

Good luck to you, Claire

18 Apr 03 - 04:47 PM (#936154)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner

Hi Claire,

Yeah I did. I mentioned it about 13 years ago when I joined the band. At that time he'd been doing the phony accent bit for 20 years and he wasn't about to quit. But none of the local native born Irish complain about it, so its just me. So every now and then when he is way over the top we say things like, "How come you don't sound like this on the Phone?" or " Your Mither said what?"
That calms him down awhile.


18 Apr 03 - 06:01 PM (#936190)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect

Hi Don,

Funny you should mention that the native born Irish don't object. Our local Irish folk tend to be much more impressed when I sing a standard than when I sing a more off-the-beaten-track traditional song.   We try to meet them in the middle. For example, recent additions to our repertoire are Spancil Hill and Irish Molly O. I have a specific request for Irish Eyes at a wedding this spring, so I will have to grit my teeth and learn it.

Maybe you can find some comfort in the thought that you are not alone in your feelings, and maybe try playing in other settings with others that are like minded. If you have a more trad band on the side, you might feel better being in the band with Mr. Irish microphone.   Try calling him Mr. Irish Microphone.... hee hee.


18 Apr 03 - 07:54 PM (#936247)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: CraigS

I am half-Scottish, and come from a part of West Yorkshire that is far enough west for me to be mistaken for a Lancastrian by a Lancastrian. I have found that I can adopt convincing East Midlands and South London accents, and if I put my mind to it I can be mistaken for a native of Ireland (Dublin or Donegal). OTOH I have found that in certain circumstances trying to borrow an accent is of little use. Despite living with my Glaswegian father for years, and spending much time in Scotland, trying to sing with a Scottish accent provokes laughter if there are Scots in the audience - frankly, I've given up on it. On the other hand, I speak and sing in French with a pronounced Swiss accent - and the French appreciate it on the talking horse principle, ie. it is not wonderful, but for them it is amazing to find a foreigner who can be bothered to try. The only true test is an audience - ask them if it works, if it doesn't, don't bother with it. Some people just DO it, eg for southern US accents - Mick Jagger has been getting away with it for years, and Ian Matthews did a good job considering he hadn't left Illinois before recording that Southern Comfort stuff .

19 Apr 03 - 06:13 PM (#936677)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: pattyClink

Don & Bob, I wouldn't feel bad about doing songs with dialect, or having done them . You never know who in that audience might have Scots (or Czech or whatever) roots or who might simply fall in love with Scots songs, but has never heard a blasted one sung except for Auld Lang Syne. I stumbled onto some in books and albums literally by mistake and I love them. I too don't like people to put on phony accents, but if you love the song, sing it to people. You could always, in your introduction, ask if anybody in the room was born in Scotland or whatever, and if you get a yes, tell them it's a good time to take a bathroom break 'cause you're about to butcher their language.

19 Apr 03 - 06:51 PM (#936698)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: toadfrog

Is this thread basically for stage performers, or ordinary club singers? As one of the latter, I have no problem about singing in any dialect or language I feel I can handle.

There may be a different problem for stage performers who want to develop a following and a stage persona. Surely Utah Phillips would never be caught dead singing in Broad Scots or Geordie!

19 Apr 03 - 08:50 PM (#936750)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Mark Cohen

Don, you called the Catskills "The Irish Alps"? Oy, veh! Such a meshuggineh kop. My Bubbie would plotz!


20 Apr 03 - 01:06 AM (#936819)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: DonMeixner


Just the area around East Durham, everywhere else is still Borscht Belt. So halvahn't gotta put no plotz in your shuga


29 Apr 03 - 03:52 PM (#942994)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: TheBigPinkLad

I once made the mistake of reading Dylan Thomas' Child's Christmas in Wales in a booming Welsh accent. I did a great job of it too, a real Taff told me so. Alas, two days later the local radio station played a 1930s recording of the great man himself reading it on BBC radio. He had a plummy English accent! I felt a right pudding.

29 Apr 03 - 04:18 PM (#943015)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect

The dialects of the the South have died out to the point where the old stories and songs would not be understandable to people who have descended from that heritage. See thread 59230, running now, on Georgia plantation songs: Harris Songs
A very simplified version of the dialect, in order to preserve some of the flavor, may be best.

30 Apr 03 - 11:32 AM (#943585)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Steve Parkes

I heard an early American recording of Under Milk Wood, with DT as narrator, and guess what? They all sounded Welsh except Thomas! And BTW, I've met people who knew him, and his name was pronounced Dillan, not Dullan (the Welsh way).


30 Apr 03 - 05:41 PM (#943859)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,The Vulgar Boatman

Have we considered the possibility that in terms of performance we are rather akin to actors, who think nothing of learning an accent or dialect for a role. Problem is, we don't keep it up for a seried of songs and spoil "the willing suspension of disbelief" and maybe that's what grates on the audience.

Two truths:
Once there was a man called James MIller who was born and raised in Manchester, England. He had Scots forbears, and when he took to singing, freely interchanged his working class Mancunian accent with a broad if unidentifiable Scottish dialect. Once he became Ewan MacColl, he then presumed to lecture the rest of us mere mortals about singing from your roots...


a quote from Dave Swarbrick, who when asked by Carthy if they could do something to a particular song replied, "Martin, the music doesn't mind.

Keep the faith


01 May 03 - 02:35 AM (#944163)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,Yorkshire Tony minus cookie

For what its worth, I think you should try to pronounce the dialect words correctly but not try overly hard to 'put on' the dialect. Otherwise stick to the English translation. I get very irritated by singers performing a dialect song with words from the wrong dialect - Scots or Geordie in a Yorkshire song for example.

I also get irritated by the preponderance of fake US accents in Country singers in Australia - isn't their own distinctive variety of the English language good enough for them any more?

01 May 03 - 07:19 AM (#944281)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: JennieG


Even Slim Dusty sings with an American accent - he always has done - he might deny it but you listen to "The Pub With No Beer"!
I would not dare to put on another accent (Scots, Irish) unless it was in fun and I was inviting people to laugh at me as well as with me. But I will leave dialect words in a song, as changing them can also change the song, and just sing in my own gorgeous Aussie accent.


01 May 03 - 07:54 AM (#944288)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: GUEST,mink

This is not always under concious control.
I hate myself for it, but I've started singing "da" instead of "the" in Irish-y songs. And I know its just because an Irish bloke I talk to down the pub has a perfectly genuine tendency to do that in his speech.
I don't know in advance that I'm going to do it - and then it grates like hell when it comes out!
Ditto some faux-northern bits in the trad English songs - due to listening to too much Waterson/Carthy.

01 May 03 - 08:16 PM (#944566)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: McGrath of Harlow

Rambling Jack Elliott's version of "I belong to Glesca" was a classic.

02 May 03 - 10:30 AM (#944881)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: Steve Parkes

Stumbling Jack Elliott's version would have been interesting! (JE of Birtley, for those not in the know.)

02 May 03 - 05:49 PM (#945145)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Singing in dialect
From: McGrath of Harlow

I've always liked the notion of some booking agent getting the two Jack Elliott's gigs mixed up.