Perhaps I should start by explaining what I am doing and why. For as long as I have been interested in folk music, I have had an awareness of the Child ballads. They have shown up in many of my favorite albums and and I have heard them sung by many professionals and amateurs at folk gatherings I have attended. More recently, I have begun singing them myself at open-mics for crowds that are not necessarily familiar with folk music.
One thing I have learned from doing this is that introducing a song as “one of the Child ballads” is one thing at folk gatherings, where most people either already know what the Child ballads are, but it is another thing doing so for a crowd which does not claim any knowledge of folk music. When people started coming up to me after open mics and asking for more information on traditional music, it made me realize how little I really know about the Child ballads.
For year I have simply known that the ballads are traditional and that they were collected by Francis James Child in… uh… Well, it was some time in the past, and I remember that he was featured briefly in the movie “Songcatcher” which took place during some time when women wore long skirts and petticoats and he was portrayed as kind of a douchbag and was having an affair with the main character and… how historically accurate was that movie anyway?
It should be clear why I felt the need to do more research. I’ve been singing a few of these songs for a long time, and they’ve been getting some good reactions from audiences, so I figured it was time to really learn where they come from. Not being one for half-measures, I acquired the five-volume set of Francis James Child’s collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. My plan is to read, take notes on, and if possible sing every ballad in the collection. All 305 of them… We’ll see how that turns out. Whether I make it all the way through the collection or not, I hope to increase my knowledge of folklore, as well as expand my repertoire and improve my introductions.