minstrel: A Calling-On Song

Lisa and Ken Theriot Lnktheriot at satx.rr.com
Wed Jun 11 10:20:15 PDT 2008

[Yes, it's a filk.  <g>  That particular filk has itself been filked;]

More than once I'm sure!  Some friends of mine perform "A Calling-On
Song" NOT followed by a dance (they usually opened their set with it),
so they changed the last verse to:

There's one thing more needing mention
>From here on we'll make no demands
Save that if with our songs we should please you
Feel free to say so with your hands!

[This link will probably break - do a search on Watersons and then go to
the Frost and Fire album.]

Their arrangement is totally different from Steeleye Span.

[However, if you're not familiar with The Watersons,]

I've got tons of British trad style recordings.  It makes my husband run
screaming from the room, but I've learned some wonderful songs from some
really, really terrible singers!  The Watersons actually sound great
together; the guy who solos "John Barleycorn" on the other hand...  Tim
Hart doesn't choose to sing like that, he just does!

The thing that struck me about their arrangement was the intentional
drone; I wonder if they were trying to mimic the sound of the
hurdy-gurdy that might accompany the later dance?

[With regard to SCA performance styles, I've heard a recording of
Elizabethan music in which some songs were set "in the rustic style."]

I wouldn't necessarily think that "rustic style" was anything more than
natural singing to a madrigal performer.  I don't sing a madrigal the
same way I sing a ballad.

[I've wondered for a while if this "country aesthetic" survived side by
side with the straight tone, polished sound.]

I think it's fraught with peril to assume that "country aesthetic" was
something intentional, as some modern "roots music" performers seem to
think (Eric Bogle jokes in "You're a Bloody Rotten Audience": "And when
I sing traditional, I sing it through me nose!").  Why should "straight
tone" necessarily equate with "polished sound"?

Personally, I think that local/country performers were simply using the
instrument they had, however good or bad that instrument was.  Since a
ballad performer has to a) remember the words, b) project the words, and
c) make the words into a compelling story, that's already asking a lot.
To further ask that person to have a nice clear natural tone may often
be a bridge too far.  The storytelling aspect of a ballad is far more
important than the melody, so if the person who can deliver the story
doesn't happen to be the best singer, they may still be the best ballad
performer.  And people who can hear the pitch properly but don't have
the flexibility in their throat to tune to it FREQUENTLY tune through
their nose, because it's the only way they can.  (Gordon Lightfoot, who
ruined his beautiful voice with decades of cigarettes, now sings through
his nose out of necessity; sometimes he fights so hard for the note the
sound cuts out completely.)

You might be interested in http://www.frankiearmstrong.com/ ; Frankie is
a ballad performer and a voice teacher (a founder of the "Natural Voice
Practitioners Network").  She does NOT sing through her nose.  Her style
is "balls out", no vibrato, mood colored to match her material.  That's
the country aesthetic I think most performers would have had, assuming
they had the natural gift for it.  Listen to kindergarten kids sing.
Nobody sings through their nose; some (the ones with a natural ear) are
on pitch, some aren't, but there aren't any artifacts yet, no vibrato,
no nasality.  Those have to be taught, except in very rare cases.
(Horribly, though, the current fad for pop music for toddlers is going
to start printing vocal artifacts on kids earlier and earlier.)

Last winter Anuna came here for a concert, and they all hung out after
the show and chatted.  I found myself in conversation with Charlotte
(Charlie) Richardson, the current soloist on "The Bluebird", who has the
most angelic pure clear tone it's ever been my pleasure to hear.  During
the "meet the band" segment, they mentioned that she's at the Royal
Academy in London-- studying Wagner!  I said, "Omigod, how can you
sacrifice your perfect natural tone to sing Wagner?" and she replied,
"Yes, I figure I've got about another year and a half before my voice is
too big for this material, but it's what I've always wanted to do..."
Sheesh.  To each his own, but I think she's gluing rhinestones on solid
gold.  In my next life, I want to be a soprano, and I promise not to
sing Wagner...


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