COLLECTING FOLK SONGS

Performer and production credits:
Karol Bennett, soprano; Leone Buyse, flute; Hannah Holman, cello; Susan Oltsman Koozin, narrator; Tricia Park, violin; Rod Waters, piano; Michael Webster, clarinet; Blake Wilkins, percussion.
Bill Klemm, videographer and editor; Kate Dawson, director.


Especially within the last one hundred years, great efforts have been made to record and preserve the folk music from around the world. "Songcatchers" is the term used to describe musicians who collect folk songs. Under often unpredictable conditions, risking exposure to disease and the elements, songcatchers have set out into the countryside and remote areas to record and transcribe indigenous song. The Hungarian composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly traveled with wax cylinders, the first recording equipment. The cylinders were cumbersome and difficult to carry, making this patient and painstaking work. The technology has rapidly improved: Songcatchers have graduated from cylinders to cassette recorders and now to digital equipment.

Folk music is generally not written down. Transcribing a folk melody—that is, writing it down in standard Western musical notation—is often difficult and approximate. Native singers often use vocal inflections and rhythmic freedom that doesn't fit comfortably in Western notation. Nevertheless, transcribing the melodies has enormous benefits: It allows the music to be published and therefore more widely disseminated.

Thanks to the work of songcatchers, native songs that might have remained obscure or lost altogether have been preserved, studied, and are now heard and sung by people the world over.

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