Song sheets contained both lyric songs and ballads and were often sold by street vendors at cheap prices. Typically, such sheets contained only the words to the song, with no musical notation. Sometimes, the name of the intended melody was given, and the buyer was assumed to know the tune already. Vendors were frequently also singers who could demonstrate the proper melody to a buyer.
Finally, purchasers of broadsides were also free to compose their own tunes, or to fit the song to any existing melody. In this way, the same ballad text often entered the oral tradition with many different tunes attached. The most common singing style was a cappella, perhaps because ordinary people had limited access to musical instruments. By the late nineteenth century, scholars had begun studying the ballad tradition, both in Britain and America. Harvard Scholar Francis James Child collected early ballads from manuscript sources, and attempted to identify the earliest versions.
His collection and documentation's final form was published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. In this influential book, published in ten volumes between and , Child created a system of numbers for the ballads he collected, which some scholars still use today as an indexing tool. The oldest narrative songs were epics, poems about historical events and legends, some of which are ancient. Epics are typically too long to remember word-for-word, and therefore are composed in performance through a process that involves inserting verbal formulas into a traditional structural framework.
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They are often chanted, and many of them take days to perform. They are commonly sung without instrumentation or with a simple accompaniment such as a stringed instrument. John Soininen, in this field recording from , provides an excerpt from the Finnish epic, the Kalevala , " Vaka vanha Vainamoinen.
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The melodies in these songs are very simple, as the focus for the listener was intended to be on the telling of the tale, while the chanting and rhymed lines help the singer to remember the verses. Unlike epics, ballads are typically remembered word-for-word and sung to fully developed melodies. They became distinct from epics and acquired the features we recognize today during the Middle Ages. The word "ballad" is derived from a Latin root meaning "dance," which has led to the theory that early ballads were used for dancing. Some support for this theory comes from the fact that ballads are sung for dancing in some parts of Europe today, but how old and widespread a tradition this is has never been established with certainty.
Alongside the older traditional ballads they helped to spread, printing companies also composed new ballads, frequently employing poets for this purpose. In addition to providing entertainment, such new ballads became a means of spreading news, gossip, and political commentary of the day. Ballads composed for the cheap print market are seen by scholars as a separate class of ballads from the earlier ballad tradition, and are usually referred to as "broadside ballads. They can be reminiscent of stories in the tabloid press today, intending to persuade, shock, or amaze with tales of murders, disasters, and extraordinary events.
A broadside ballad frequently known as "The Wild and Wicked Youth" in Britain and Ireland, which tells the story of a young man who becomes a thief to support his wife, and who is caught and executed for his crime, became a widespread folksong in the United States under the title " The Roving Boy. Ballads as sung in North America, while preserving many qualities of the songs as they were sung in Britain and Ireland, also introduced changes through the process of transmission from one singer to another. In some cases the British ballads were made more American as the singers recalled them.
For example, Mary Sullivan sings a ballad known in England as "Young Beichan," or "Lord Bateman," which she learned as " Lloyd Bateman " Since the United States does not recognize aristocratic titles, she calls the protagonist a "gentleman" rather than a Lord. In early English versions of this ballad, the young protagonist sets sail from England for the Middle East, where he is captured and held captive for ransom. Ballads from many countries and languages have arrived in North America with immigrants.
Listen to the Finnish murder ballad " Velisurmaaja " sung by John Soininen and notice the melodic qualities that are absent from the example performed by the same singer from the epic, the Kalevala, mentioned above. An outlaw ballad, "Utott-kopott oreg csarda" The Old Tavern , sung by Mary Gaidos of California, demonstrates the style of ballad brought to the United States by immigrants from Hungary. Welsh coal miners brought the ballad " The Miner's Doom ," which was then picked up and sung by many American coal miners, including Daniel Walsh of Pennsylvania, who sang this version.
Eastern European ballads often show a relationship with the epic tradition. For example, old Russian ballads such as " Alaskan Promyshlenniki ," performed by John Panamarkoff, is chanted, like an epic, rather than sung. The recording is an excerpt from a long ballad about settlers traveling to Alaska in Baboyan in California in , still uses a simple melody, but allows the singer more opportunities to show off his voice and give emotional expression to the story than in the Russian example.
Some ballads traveled from country to country, translated along the way by polyglot singers. It is known in Britain, Spain, Scandinavia, and other areas, but is best known in France, where the Hoffpauirs' version surely originated. It concerns a ship lost at sea, in which the sailors are forced to draw lots to see which of them will be eaten; after the decision is made but before it is implemented, they are rescued.
Ballads composed in the United States and passed along in tradition tell stories and legends on many topics.
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While retaining recognizable European roots, they developed in ways that reflect the regional differences in songs of the United States. One of the earliest known ballads composed in the American colonies is "Springfield Mountain," a song about the death by snakebite of Timothy Merrick in Wilbraham, Massachusetts in The tale was particularly tragic because Merrick was very young, and also because he was to be married the following day. Two versions of this ballad were written down in the nineteenth century, and an account of the events leading to Merrick's death was published in As often happens when songs are transmitted orally, this tragic ballad changed and became more lyric, as in this example called " Young Johnny ," sung by Winifred Bundy in As colonial printers set up their shops in the s, sheets containing song lyrics were printed and marketed in North America.
These included British and Irish ballads along with ballads composed in North America. During the American Revolutionary War, ballads about battles and heroes were used to build support among the colonists.
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An example is a song sheet with the ballad "Britania's Disgrace," and a lyric song, "Lamentation of Lady Washington. Though undated by the publisher, the lyrics of the ballad relate events that took place between and Such historical ballads also entered oral tradition, where they were passed on by word of mouth until modern times.
Bristol was bombed again in Though of unknown age, the ballad has a style consistent with it being from the era of the war.
Though the town was severely damaged, the song seems to make light of the event. This reflected a "Yankee" attitude of the time that often portrayed the British forces as inept, though Britain was one of the great military powers of the age. Similarly, the U. Navy's early victories in the War of were cast as a humiliating defeat for England by American ballad-writers, as Pearl Nye's version of " Perry's Victory " makes clear.
Perhaps it was songs like this that helped American soldiers face the coming battles. Some ballads seem to have been composed to promote a particular point of view about an historical event. The song depicts Commander George Armstrong Custer and the men who died with him as a martyrs and heroes. Because Custer used poor judgment in planning his attack, and because the American Indian tribes were defending lands that they had been given by the United States by treaty, historians today do not view Custer's actions as heroic.
But the ballad preserves the attitude of a particular era, which painted the American Indians as the enemy regardless of their treaty rights, a situation worth reflecting upon. Hampton Roads is a strategic shipping lane at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, off the shore of Virginia. The wooden USS Cumberland was rammed and sunk by the ironclad in a devastating show of the power of this new type of warship.
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But rather than focusing on the defeat, the ballad extols the heroism and patriotism of the sailors in the USS Cumberland. The second day of the battle pitched two ironclads against each other for the first time in history, as the Union's USS Monitor arrived and took on the CSS Virginia remembered both in song and in news reports of the day as "the Merrimack ". Although this battle of the ironclads is generally regarded as a draw by historians, the ballad "Iron Merrimac ," promotes the view of the Union proponents that the battle was a Union victory.
Ballads in the French and Spanish languages, both brought from abroad and composed in America, have a long history in the United States, since large portions of the country were settled by French and Spanish colonists before they became part of the United States or experienced significant Anglophone influence.
They learned the second song they perform, "Belle," from a Library of Congress field recording, of a singer known only as Mr. It is a ballad composed in Louisiana, about a man who travels from Louisiana to Texas only to learn his sweetheart has fallen ill back home. He returns to Louisiana and sells his horse Henry to pay for her treatment. Writers Workshop Regular Forums. Program Links Program Reviews. View profile. Report Abuse Print. The author's comments:. I was inspired to write this article just so I could express how much music means to me and how empty my lif would be without it.
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Roz methaji said It's amazing and It's related to me also. Report Abuse. Peekay said Muzic in my life. Music important for me Anonymous said I really like what you wrote! Keep up. Nice article.