Friday, February 4, 2011

Ancient Ballads

I have always loved traditional Celtic music.  In college I read up on the Child ballads: collections of ancient British Isles songs in all their numerous variations, preserved by wandering bards through the centuries.  This is where you find all the different versions of "Scarborough Fair."  As a young single woman I listened to folk music programming on Friday and Saturday nights on the Washington D.C. public radio airwaves, and especially the Thistle and Shamrock.  The souvenirs of those days are a series of (ahem) slightly irregularly obtained, taped off the airways cassettes that I have loved to death over the years.  Now, with our latest children's audiobook finished and needing something to fill the commute time, I trotted them back out.  The kids have been listening to me singing along with these tapes for the last few weeks, and are either developing an appreciation for Battlefield Band or learning to suffer in silence.

However, the audiocassette format means that we will not have them forever, and so Steve has begun a massive project combining some of his favorite things: internet research, ancient music, and spreadsheets.  The net result may be, finally, legally purchased MP3 files of all my favorite songs.  It gets a bit tricky when some of the artists and pieces have incredibly obscure, Gaelic names that were impossible for me to spell phonetically 20 years ago, and then the pen faded, too.  But I'm telling you, the internet is amazing.

In the course of re-listening to old favorites, I noticed that Annachie Gordon, by Mary Black (above, on Youtube) and Glenlogie, by Danny Carnahan and Robin Petrie, are two versions of the same story; the first with a sad ending, the second with a happy ending.  Both have the strong-willed teenage heroine, Jeannie, who knows the man she wants -- and it's not the rich man her father wants for her.  The surname Gordon shows up in both of them, the object of her affections has duties that take him elsewhere, both contain a scene where she threatens her father she will die if she doesn't get the man she wants; both contain a scene where the hero returns to the dying girl, either just in time or just a little too late.  Even the tune and meter are a little similar.  Annachie Gordon is more what we expect of an ancient ballad -- both good and bad: dying of a broken heart is just so 13th century, you know!  Whereas the Jeannie of Glenlogie is the kind of modern grrl-power heroine we all recognize from chick-lit: manipulative, determined, and shallow.  The last two links take you to the two Child ballad sources, so you can judge for yourself.

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