Jean Redpath: Folklore Through Music
•MARCY TELLES The popular broadcast version of folk music that we are used to is very different from folklore. Few of us realize that the best of the modern folk musicians have come from a tradition of music that most of us have never heard. Traditional music can be defined, I suppose but I would rather deal with some of the feeling invol- ved in it. Music passed down by word of mouth , as it were, has many implications. It seems to me to be a warmer way of doing things - something that comes through in its performance and in the nostal- gia it inspires. It communicates a pride of people in their history. It relates universal kinds of feelings through stories.
did some "play-party " tunes, intended for pure e- tertainment, and usually consisting of nonsense syllables. I found the work songs most interesting. The rhythm of these melodies is usually very regular, but varies with the kind of work being done. Jean told us a story about a weaving song, her mother taught her, accompanied with hand movement. Her mother didn't realize at the time that the movements were actually imitations of the shuttles of the loom. I'm leaving out a lot about Jean, but in the short time she was here, she did tell me a little about herself - how she was brought up hearing a great deal of traditional music from her mother, who loves to sing and her father who plays the dulcimer. She didn't know that the songs she had learned then in her childhood were significant in any way until she heard a lecture on Scottish folk- lore by Hamish Henderson at the University of Edinborough . She described Henderson much as I have pictured him - tall, crazy and with a know- ledge of native folklore that surpasses anyone I know. After this, Jean left Edinborough for California with no money, no job and nowhere to stay. - much to the dismay of her parents who have considere- her not quite sane ever since. Jean says she sends them posters and programs every once in a while so they know she's still alive and earning enough for a living. Her extensive tours have now made her friends all over the world. Perhaps in all the time that Jean was here, the closest I got to knowing her was a time when she was in conversation with Lydia Fish, and Frank Hoffman both of the SUCB English Department and Deanne Cunningham of Tapestry, a folk group that performed at the September Folk Festival. While I have always loved folk music and have prided myself in knowing something about it, I cannot communicate the feeling I had when these four people sat down to talk. Watching their faces and listening to them avidly critique Evan McCall and discuss the likeliest people to do a collection of Robert Burns' ballads and bemoan the change that has come over Peggy Seeger was to me like visiting another culture - strange at times, but very refresh- ing. In the two workshops and the concert/lecture that Jean Redpath did at Buffalo State, I think she managed to subtly communicate her own culture through the people who attended. She reached a Iota more people than I thought would be there and lef• J everyone with a feeling that they has stepped out of their own world for a while.
Traditional music has its own code words, very different from surreal, intellectualized symbolism of say Leonard Cohen. In traditional music, the per- former, the song and the audience seem to be equally important. True folk music is as demanding, artistic, and useful a craft as other true folk arts such as weaving or pottery. Jean Redpath, the Scottish folklorist, singing sometimes unaccompanied and sometimes with a guitar, performed a wide variety of traditional music, mostly Scottish, in the two days she was here at Buffalo State. It is a hard task to describe or categorize Miss Redpath or the songs she sang. I don't have the desire or the backround to be techni- cal. Technicality also tends to defeat her purpose. Probably the most popular of Miss Redpath's songs are the bothy ballads the bawdy songs. Even through the thick Scottish burr, most of the aud- ience seemed to pick up on those. She also did some serious ballads, though she tended to shorten them and use the time for their explanation. Jean 20
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