minstrel: A Calling-On Song

Patricia Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Wed Jun 11 08:57:43 PDT 2008

I got a private email objecting to my use of "muddy" to describe The
Watersons' sound.  I wasn't trying to denigrate their sound.  Perhaps it
would clarify if I said that to my ear, I'm hearing more notes than there
are voices sounding.  It's possible that they're getting more overtones, or
different ones, than we usually hear in singing.  Think of a wirestrung harp
that's getting audible sympathetic ringing across the range of the
instrument when one of its bass notes is struck.


-----Original Message-----



However, if you're not familiar with The Watersons, their rendition might be
a bit of a shock.  The harmonies are very tight, lots of fourths, fifths,
and the occasional second, and I would say they're not singing in equal
temperament (good old E.T.).  Most of their work is a cappella.  There's a
muddy quality, a buzz to their voices that is found in other traditional
styles, though not so pronounced as in the Balkans, for example.  Think
shawms and bray harps.  It's a different aesthetic than our modern one, kind
of an inversion of the English choirboy sound.  If you've heard any of the
field recordings in the Voice of the People series, there's some similarity.


More information about the minstrel mailing list