Each tradition has its own place in the scheme of mankind's needs, but their forced marriage produces puny offspring. Perhaps our American folk operas will come from the sources we least expect, maybe from some college kid who has learned to play the five-string banjo and guitar, folk-style, or from some yet unknown hillbilly genius who develops a genuine American folk-style orchestra.
In the early days, when we were taking notes with our recording machine for that imaginary American opera or for our own books, we normally recorded only a stanza or two of a song.
Now, the recollection of all the full-bodied performances we cut short still gives me twinges of conscience. Even more painful is the thought that many of the finest things we gathered for the Library of Congress are on those cursed aluminum records; they will probably outlast the century, complete with acoustic properties that render them unendurable to all but the hardiest ears. This barbaric practice of recording sample tunes did not continue for long, for our work had found a home in the Archive of American Folk Song, established in the Library of Congress by the late Herbert Putnam, then Librarian, and there were funds for plenty of discs.
By then, we had also come to realize that the practice among the folk of varying the tune from stanza to stanza of a long song was an art both ancient in tradition and subtle in execution- one which deserved to be documented in full.
So it was that we began to record the songs in their entirety. Learning that the Russians were writing full-scale life histories of their major ballad singers, I then began to take down lengthy musical biographies of the most interesting people who came my way. In that way I learned that folk song in a context of folk talk made a lot more sense than in a concert hall. By the Archive of American Folk Music had become the leading institution of its kind in the world, with several thousand songs on record from all over the United States and parts of Latin America.
We were lending equipment and some financial aid to the best regional collectors. We had our own sound laboratory, had published a series of discs with full notes and texts which was greeted with respect and admiration by museums and played on radio networks the world over- though little in the United States.
By teaching our best discoveries to talented balladeers like Burl Ives, Josh White and Pete Seeger, many hitherto forgotten songs began to achieve national circulation. Even music educators began to give serious thought to the idea of using American folk songs as an aid toward the musical development of American children- properly arranged with piano accompaniment and censored, of course.
This gentleman thereupon built up a head of steam and proceeded to deliver an impassioned speech, demanding to know by what right his constituents' money was being spent "by that long-haired radical poet, Archibald MacLeish, running up and down our country, collecting itinerant songs. A shocked House committee rose to this national emergency.
It not only cut the appropriation for the Archive out of the bill, but along with it a million dollars earmarked for the increase of the entire Library. Our national Library would have to get along without the purchase of books, technical journals and manuscripts for a year- but at least that poet would also have to stop doing whatever he was doing with those "itinerant songs.
I was hardly the most popular man in the Library of Congress during the ensuing week. My name had not been mentioned in Committee, but the blame for what happened fell on me- for my noisy round objects had never fitted into the quiet rectangular world of my librarian colleagues. For a few days I walked down those marble corridors in a pool of silence. Then logs were rolled and the million dollars for the Library were restored, apparently, though, with the understanding that the folk song Archive should get none of it ever.
To the best of my knowledge, no further government funds since that day have been appropriated for the pursuit of "itinerant" songs. Although the Archive has continued to grow, thanks to gifts and exchanges, it has ceased to be the active center for systematic collecting that we so desperately need in this unknown folksy nation of ours.
To the best of my knowledge, I say, because when it became plain that the Archive was no longer to be a center for field trips, I sadly shook the marble dust of the Library off my shoes, and have paid only occasional visits there since.
However, once the field recording habit takes hold of you, it is hard to break. One remembers those times when the moment in a field recording situation is just right. There arises an intimacy close to love. The performer gives you his strongest and deepest feeling, and, if he is a folk singer, this emotion can reveal the character of his whole community. A practiced folk song collector can bring about communication on this level wherever he chooses to set up his machine. Ask him how he does this, and he can no more tell you than a minister can tell you how to preach a great sermon.
It takes practice and it takes a deep need on the part of the field collector- which the singer can sense and want to fulfill. I swore I would never touch another recording machine after I left the Library of Congress; but then, somehow, I found myself the owner of the first good portable tape machine to become available after World War Two. Gone the needle rasp of the aluminum disc; gone the worry with the chip and delicate surface of the acetates.
Here was a quiet sound track with better fidelity than I had imagined ever possible; and a machine that virtually ran itself, so that I could give my full attention to the musicians. I rushed the machine and myself back to the Parchman Mississippi Penitentiary where my father and I had found the finest, wildest and most complex folk singing in the South.
The great blizzard of struck during the recording sessions, and the convicts stood in the wood yard in six inches of snow, while their axe blades glittered blue in the wintry light and they bawled out their ironic complaint to Rosie, the feminine deity of the Mississippi Pen—. Although my primitive tape recorder disintegrated after that first trip, it sang the songs of my convict friends so faithfully that it married me to tape recording.
I was then innocent of the nervous torments of tape splicing and of the years I was to spend in airless dubbing studios in the endless pursuit of higher and higher "fi" for my folk musicians. The development of the long-playing record- a near perfect means for publishing a folk song collection- provided a further incentive; for one LP encompasses as much folk music as a normal printed monograph and presents the vital reality of an exotic song style as written musical notation never can.
At a summer conference dealing with the problemsof international folk lore, held in , I proposed to my technically innocent colleagues that we set up a committee to publish the best of all our folk song findings as a series of LPs that would map the whole world of folk music. Exactly one person- and he was a close friend of mine- voted in favor of my proposal.
The myopia of the academics was still a favorite topic of mine, when one morning, a few weeks later, I happened to meet Goddard Lieberson, President of Columbia Records, in a Broadway coffee shop.
His reaction to my story was to agree on the spot that it would be an interesting idea to publish a World Library of Folk Music on LP- if I could assemble it for him at a modest cost. Out of my past there then arose a shade to lend a helping hand in my project. The first song recorded for the Library of Congress, Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene, had just become one of the big popular hits of the year; and it seemed to me, in all fairness, that my share of the royalties should be spent on more folk song research.
Thus, within ten days of my chat with Lieberson, I was sailing for Europe with a new Magnecord tape machine in my cabin and the folk music of the world as my destination. I loftily assured my friends at the dock that, by collaborating with the folk music experts of Europe and drawing upon their archives, the job would take me no more than a year.
That was in October of It was July, before I actually returned home with 20 of the promised 40 tapes complete. Seventeen LPs in all, each one capsuling the folk music of as many different areas and edited by the foremost expert in his particular field, were released on Columbia; and eleven LPs on the folk music of Spain were edited for and released by Westminster.
As a matter of fact, for several years I had supported my dream of an international "vox humana" for several years by doing broadcasts on the British Broadcasting Corporation's Third Programme. I had also become a past master in wangling my recorder and accompanying bales of tapes through customs, as well as by a dyed-in-the-wool European tyrant in the dining room of a continental hotel.
There were several reasons why my efficient American planning of had gone awry. For one thing, only a few European archives of folksong recordings existed which were both broad enough in scope and sufficiently "hi-fi" to produce a good hour of tape that would acceptably represent an entire country.
For another, not every scholar or archivist responded with pleasure to my offer to publish his work in fine style and with a good American royalty. There was the eminent musicologist who demanded all his royalties whatever they were to be in advance because he did not trust big American corporations he was a violent anti-communist as well.
Yet another was opposed to release his recordings prior to publication of his own musical analysis of them. Others, as curators of state museums, were tied down by red tape. In one instance, despite unanimous agreement in favor of my recording project, it took a year for the contract to be approved by the Department of Fine Arts and then a year more for the final selection of the tracks to be made.
As for the folklorists of Soviet Russia, ten years of letter writing has yet to bring an answer to my invitation for them to contribute to the "World Library" project. I simply could not afford to go everywhere myself.
Much "World Library" material had to be gathered by correspondence- and that in a multitude of languages.
So a huge file of letters accompanied me wherever I went, and inevitably there were a number of painful misunderstandings. One well-meaning gentleman hired a fine soprano to record his country's best folk songs. Another scholar, from the Antipodes and more anthropologist than musician, sent me beautiful tapes of hitherto unknown music- all recorded consistently at wrong speeds, but with no information to indicate the variations.
The most painful incident, and one which still gives me nightmares, concerns a lady who, on the strength of my contract, made a six month field trip and then sent me tapes of such poor technical quality that all the sound engineers in Paris were unable to put them right. I had no choice but to return the tapes, and the lady soon found herself with no choice but to leave her native land to escape her creditors.
Despite such problems, the job as a whole went smoothly, for the Library of Congress Archive records had preceded me and made friends for me everywhere. My European colleagues must have enjoyed leading their provincial American co-worker through land after unknown land of music, and though I had sworn to stay away from field recording and to act merely in the capacity of editor, the temptation posed by unexplored or inadequately recorded areas of folk music in the heart of the continent from which our civilization sprang was simply too much for me.
It so happened that mine was the first high-fidelity portable tape recorder to be made available in Europe for folk song collecting. So I soon put it to work in the interest of the music that my new-found colleagues loved. The winter of I spent in Western Ireland, where the songs have such a jewelled beauty that one soon believes, along with the Irish themselves, that music is a gift of the fairies.
In the summer of , I was informed by Columbia that publication of my series depended on my assembling a record of, Spanish folk music; and so, swallowing my distaste for EL Caudillo and his works, I betook myself to a folklore conference on the island of Mallorca with the aim of finding myself a Spanish editor. At that time, I did not know that my Dutch traveling companion was the son of the man who had headed the underground in Holland during the German occupation; but he was recognized at once by the professor who ran the conference.
This man was a refugee Nazi, who had taken over the Berlin folk song archive after Hitler had removed its Jewish chief and who, after the war, had fled to Spain and was there placed in charge of folk music research at the Institute for Higher Studies in Madrid.
When I told him about my project, he let me know that he personally would see to it that no Spanish musicologist would help me. He also suggested that I leave Spain. I had not really intended to stay. I had only a few reels of tape on hand, and I had made no study of Spanish ethnology.
This, however, was my first experience with a Nazi and, as I looked across the luncheon table at this authoritarian idiot, I promised myself that I would record the music of this benighted country if it took me the rest of my life. Down deep, I was also delighted at the prospect of adventure in a landscape that reminded me so much of my native Texas. For a month or so I wandered erratically, sunstruck by the grave beauty of the land, faint and sick at the sight of this noble people, ground down by poverty and a police state.
I saw that in Spain, folklore was not mere fantasy and entertainment. Each Spanish village was a self-contained cultural system with tradition penetrating every aspect of life; and it was this system of traditional, often pagan mores, that had been the spiritual armor of the Spanish people against the many forms of tyranny imposed upon them through the centuries. It was in their inherited folklore that the peasants, the fishermen, the muleteers arid the shepherds I met, found their models for that noble behavior and that sense of the beautiful which made them such satisfactory friends.
It was never hard to find the best singers in Spain, because everyone in their neighborhood knew them and understood how and why they were the finest stylists in their particular idiom. Nor, except in the hungry South, did people ask for money in exchange for their ballads.
I was their guest, and more than that, a kindred spirit who appreciated the things they found beautiful. Thus, a folklorist in Spain finds more than song; he makes life-long friendships and renews his belief in mankind. The Spain that was richest in both music and fine people was not the hot-blooded gypsy South with its flamenco, but the quiet, somber plains of the west, the highlands of Northern Castile, and the green tangle of the Pyrenees where Spain faces the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay.
I remember the night I spent in the straw but of a shepherd on the moonlit plains of Extramadura. He played the one-string vihuela, the instrument of the medieval minstrels, and sang ballads of the wars of Charlemagne, while his two ancient cronies sighed over the woes of courtly lovers now five hundred years in the dust.
I remember the head of the history department at the University of Oviedo, who, when he heard my story, cancelled all his engagements for a week so that he might guide me to the finest singers in his beloved mountain province. I remember a night in a Basque whaling port, when the fleet came in and the sailors found their women in a little bar, and, raising their glasses began to sing in robust harmony that few trained choruses could match.
The tires on my Citroen had worn so smooth that on one rainy winter day in Galicia I had nine punctures. The blackhatted and dreadful Guardia Civil had me on their lists- I will never know why, for they never arrested me.
But apparently, they always knew where I was. It was time to leave Spain. I had seventy-five hours of tapes with beautiful songs from every province, and, rising to my mind's eye, a new idea- a map of Spanish folk song style- the old choral North, the solo- voiced and oriental South, and the hard-voiced modern center, land of the ballad and of the modern lyrics.
Spain, in spite of my Nazi professor, was on tape. I now looked forward to a stay in England which would give me a chance to air my Iberian musical treasures over the BBC. In the days before the hostility of the tabloid press and the Conservative Party had combined to denature the BBC's Third Programme, it was probably the freest and most influential cultural forum in the Western world.
If you had something interesting to say, if the music you had composed or discovered was fresh and original, you got a hearing on the "Third. Censorship was minimal- and if a literary work demanded it, all the four-letter anglo-saxon words were used.
You could also be sure, if your talk was on the "Third," that it would be heard by intelligent people, seriously interested in your subject. My broadcast audience in Britain was around a million, not large by American buckshot standards, but one really worth talking to. I could not discuss politics- my announced subject being Spanish folk music- but I was still so angry about the misery and the political oppression I had seen in Spain that my feelings came through between the lines and my listeners were- or so they wrote me- deeply moved.
At any rate, the Spanish broadcasts created a stir and the heads of the Third Progamme then commissioned me to go to Italy to make a similar survey of the folk music there. That year was to be the happiest of my life. Most Italians, no matter who they are or how they live, are concerned about aesthetic matters.
They may have only a rocky hillside and their bare hands to work with, but on that hillside they will build a house or a whole village whose lines superbly fit its setting. So, too, a community may have a folk tradition confined to just one or two melodies, but there is passionate concern that these be sung in exactly the right way. I remember one day when I set up the battered old Magnecord on a tuna fishing barge, fifteen miles out on the glassy, blue Mediterranean.
Interview 1 Plantation Recording. Interview 2 Plantation Recording. I'm a Young Bonnie Lassie. Scottish Drinking and Pipe Songs Jack MacGraw. Never Wed an Old Man. I'm Bound to Follow the Longhorn Cows. Cowboy Songs of the Old West Rambling Gambler. All the Pretty Little Horses.
Albums See All. Compilations See All. Books See All. About Alan Lomax Few figures deserve greater credit for the preservation of America's folk music traditions than Alan Lomax. He was the man who brought Huddie Ledbetter Lead Belly to national notoriety and he was also the father of the most famous and prolific folklorist of all, Alan Lomax. Born in Goodman, Mississippi, on Sept. While working as a teacher, college administrator, and investment broker, Lomax pursued his documentary interest in music — Texas cowboy songs at first — and published Cowboy Ballads and Other Frontier Songs in in addition to articles in various journals.
He began a year association with the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in , traversing the South with a portable recording machine, joined by his son Alan or his second wife, Ruby. Their expeditions resulted in the first recordings of Lead Belly at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, and after Lead Belly was freed, Lomax hired him as his driver and assistant.
David August Epikur EP, Unknown Artist HAND 03, Norman Connors Dance Of Magic, Kavinsky Nightcall, Jerry Goldsmith Gremlins 2 The New Batch Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Battery Cremil Len Mou Raid, Andrew Jackson Jihad Christmas Island