Hunting the Wren

Dick Eney dickeney at
Sun Sep 10 07:06:33 PDT 1995

On Sat, 9 Sep 1995, Brett Williams wrote:
> Well, I *like* the grim and gruesome ballads, the ones where everyone 
> dies and one's day is generally Real Bad (grin). I once taught a class 
> on Child Ballads at the Summer Solstice Folk Music Festival put on by 
> California Traditonal Music Society and was asked "Aren't there any 
> CHEERFUL ones?"
> And y'know, I thought about it for a little while and couldn't come up 
> with one other than the medieval ones about King John and the peasant 
> (whose name escapes me) 

He never gave it; just "I'm his (the Abbot's) poor shepherd".

> and Dame Ragnell (Gawaine and Lady Lionors). I 
> offered the man the personal opinion that balladry was once a way to 
> pass on news orally-- and is it not a fact that most of the information 
> modern newscasters feel is newsworthy is not something we feel 
> comfortable letting small children see?
> Which leads to another question of mine:  What do you all (meaning the 
> subscribers to the enitre list) feel about all the pieces that fall 
> into the "unproven" category? Do we adhere strictly to the letter of 
> the law and exclude all that which is undocumentable despite they can 
> be placed in our period by reference or quotation? 

If they can be placed in our period by reference or quotation, they're 
not "undocumentable".  If you mean the musical notation isn't recorded, 
then all period music is "undocumentable" except a few pieces at the very 
end, with the rest having been written down from oral tradition when an 
agreed notation was finally developed.  But there are plenty of other 
period items that are "undocumentable" in that sense: nobody wrote about 
them in any record that has been preserved.  Even the Authenticity Police 
wouldn't dare (I hope) cite as "unprovable" artifacts of which we have 
actual specimens, such as garments, armor, lamps, cutlery,... but which 
are not down in ink on parchment anywhere before modern times.
> It's my feeling that if we exclude the unprovable then it would lead 
> one to a natural conclusion that not only should we exclude the 
> unproven, but also our own efforts as well. I, for one, fail to see the 
> difference, from the viewpoint of absolute authenticity standards, 
> between reinterpretation of fragments of period balladry/songs and 
> original effort. Both are, at heart, according to the cry of the 
> authenticity maven, "not period".
> And that's not a step I want to take. One of my greatest joys in music 
> is what I call 'redaction music": a demonstrably old piece of music or 
> song that's been redone/reinterpreted anew. I love listening to it and 
> doing it myself. I find redactions to be one of the special attractions 
> of the Society.
And, after all, redaction is certainly In Period and even predating 
Period.  The Greeks would have hemlock'd any poet who altered the 
classical myths as freely as, say, Schiller did with "The Maid of 
Orleans"*, but every poet was expected to put his own spin on the basic 

[*He thought that burning at the stake was the wrong ending for a heroine, 
so he had her killed in battle.]

|---------Master Vuong Manh, C.P., Storvik, Atlantia---------|
|Now, let's stop and think: how would Bugs Bunny handle this?|
|----------------(dickeney at|

More information about the minstrel mailing list