Folk Music of the British Isles and North America

This subject will introduce students to some of the folk music of the British Isles and North America and to some of the scholarship as well as the folklore about it. We will examine the musical qualities of “folk music” and the literary qualities of “folk poetry”— particularly in the old narrative ballads—and will try to understand the historical context in which folk music was a precious part of everyday life. We will survey how, when, and why folk music began to be collected, beginning in the 18th century with broadsides, Percy’s Reliques, and Sir Walter Scott’s collections—and how it changed the course of literary history. We will compare the instrumental styles and sung ballads as they migrated from the U.K. to North America—with their attendant changes and continuities. We will examine the enormous influence of African-American musics and texts on U.S. folk music. We hope to conclude with the “folk revivals” in the USA and Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, although we often don’t manage to get that far.