Stephanie Ledgin admiringly referred to bluegrass music as to an overwhelming musical tradition that united American people with various social backgrounds: Fiddles and banjos, high-speed instrumental duels, three- and four-part harmonies rendered a cappella that send shivers up your spine – American music that can quicken your pulse or melt your heart with emotion. More pervasive and present in our everyday lives than it has ever been, bluegrass is all around us. Bluegrass used to exist long before it was reported of in popular press.
The goal of the present paper is to compare two sociomusical traditions of American bluegrass music and British ballad to prove their cultural and musical affinity. The essay will consist of four parts. The first one – Definitional framework – will provide an overview of definitions applied to both bluegrass and British ballads. The second one – Musicological perspective on bluegrass music and British ballad – will list distinctive musical features of both styles.
The third one – Sociocultural background of linkage between bluegrass and British traditions – will describe the affinity of bluegrass and British ballads through the lens of social culturology. Finally, the section Narrative similarities and differences between bluegrass and British ballads will analyze several examples of ballad narratives as re-created by the genre of bluegrass. Definitional framework The simplest definition of bluegrass music is provided by Bluestein who considered bluegrass to be “a technical term which refers to a style invented around 1945 by mandolinist Bill Monroe.
” Bill Monroe was born on September 13, 1911 in Rosine, Kentucky. In 1938 a young mandolinist assembled his associates into the band called The Blue Grass Boys to honor their home state of Kentucky, the Bluegrass State. The newly created group became popular on Grand Ole Opry, a weekly Saturday night country music radio program broadcast live on WSM radio in Nashville, Tennessee in October 1939. As Douglas put it, This was a string band with a difference – the sky-high tenor of Monroe and a hard-driving ensemble instrumental sound powered by his blues-inflected mandolin playing.
Exhibiting the influence of Jimmie Rodgers, black blues, gospel, minstrel, and old-time string band music, Monroe clung resolutely to the acoustic sound throughout the 1940s and 1950s when almost everyone else was adopting electrified instruments. In the 1940s, the popularity of Monroe’s band was even reinforced due to guitarist Lester Flatt with his “supple singing and guitar backup style” and banjoist Earl Scruggs with “sensational syncopated, three-finger banjo style. ” Bluestein stated:
When Earl Scruggs brought his lightning-fast five-string banjo picking style to Monroe’s group, the Bluegrass Boys …, the style was complete. Both Monroe and Scruggs used traditional materials to develop their highly innovative approaches to instrumental and vocal techniques. Hoffmann and Ferstler explained why Monroe’s music (the most well-known example is the song “Blue Moon of Kentucky” that was made the official state song in 1988) was so liked by the Americans: The Blue Grass Boys had an unusual instrumentation for country music, including a plucked string bass as well as the Monroe mandolin.
It had an up-tempo beat, bringing it close to jazz. By the end of the 1950s, as Douglas stated, “the term bluegrass was being attached to any band whose musicians had once played with Monroe or whose sound resembled that of Monroe’s seminal band. ” Ledgin acknowledged that the term “bluegrass” was used in print the first time in 1957 in the annotation that musician and musicologist Ralph Rinzler submitted for the album entitled American Banjo: Scruggs Style (produced by Mike Seeger).
In the liner notes to the second album – Mountain Music, Bluegrass Style (released in 1959) – Mike Seeger “again put the word bluegrass in print, further stamping it into the lexicon. ” The same year Alan Lomax provided a scholarly overview of the emerging genre in the article “Bluegrass Background: Folk Music with Overdrive” for Esquire. To summarize, bluegrass music is indebted to Bill Monroe who “is considered the father of bluegrass. ” Yet it seems that now the genre should be defined as something broader than the musical and stylistic ancestry of Bill Monroe.
McGregory regarded bluegrass as a form of southern gospel music altogether with traditional, country, African American, new southern, and new southern country styles. As the researcher stressed, bluegrass as well as other forms “are quite distinctive genres with social components that reflect the spiritual and Sacred Harp traditions in the South. ” Rosenberg also defined bluegrass music as a musical style belonging somehow to the South tradition but put greater emphasis on its country roots that “combines elements of dance, home entertainment and religious folk music of the rural South-east.
” In Rosenberg’s understanding, bluegrass is very eclectic since it “includes traditional folksongs but is dominated by newly composed music, including sentimentally reminiscent secular songs, religious spirituals, revival hymns and instrumental numbers. ” In his attempt to define bluegrass Bluestein (1994) cited Cantwell (1984) who stated that “instrumentally and vocally bluegrass music is a thoroughgoing ‘process of rhythm,’ an Afro-American ensemble form in the body of traditional Appalachian music. ” Tunnell () was of the same opinion:
… this area, with its mountains and highlands, “acted as a giant cultural deep freeze, preserving these old songs and singing methods better than in any other parts of the country. ” … The long period of isolation combined with an eclectic cultural assimilation gave rise to a unique blend of musical style – bluegrass music. Unlike Cantwell and Tunnell, Hoffmann (2005) differentiated bluegrass from the string band music of the Appalachian region because the former focuses more “on rhythm and on instrumental virtuosity. ”
The most radical definition of bluegrass is given by Farmelo who denied any musicological string tying together the old-time musical styles and bluegrass music. The researcher has put it as follows: Bluegrass music carries with it two definitive notions: that it is an antiquated style which goes “way back,” and that it is, and always has been, a traditional music of white people. Neither notion is entirely true. … Bluegrass music itself incorporates and propagates nostalgic and antiquated sentiments which do not bear out the intricacies of the development of its antecedents.
To put it in a nut-shell, bluegrass music is a synthetic genre incorporating stylistic features of various cultural traditions. The goal of the present paper, though, is not to overview the richness of all styles having contributed to the evolvement of bluegrass music but rather to trace the link between bluegrass and the ballads of the British Isles. Therefore it is important to define ballad in this section. It will be easier than in case of bluegrass since researchers define ballads in a less controversial manner.
Goertzen and Wilgus referred to ballads as “narrative songs. ” The researchers observed that there was almost no distinction between the musical ballad and the lyrical one since traditional songs of such type “tend to be story-orientated in that there is at least implicit narrative content. ” Ballads are usually distinguished on narrative ideas that form a plot of song (e. g. , murder ballads, soldier songs, etc. ). The goal of the next section is to briefly compare bluegrass and ballad genres against their musicologist features.
Musicological perspective on bluegrass music and British ballad As Rosenberg and McGregory (1997) stated, a typical bluegrass band consists of four to seven musicians. There would be no bluegrass without acoustic string instruments. The rhythm section is represented by guitar and double bass, and the melody is created by fiddle, five-string banjo, mandolin, steel guitar and second guitar. The voice that is higher than in most country music singing creates a melody against “a harmonic and rhythmic background [that is] often in a responsorial relationship to the vocal part.
” In other words, the vocal parts are usually interchanged with the alternating instrumental solo breaks in between the verses of a song. In regard to the rhythm, bluegrass “is mostly in duple meter with emphasis on the offbeats. ” It is rather fast so that an average bluegrass composition has 160 to 330 crotchets per minute. Ledgin observed several stages of development in regard to bluegrass style. In the 1970s, the traditional bluegrass gave way to the so called progressive bluegrass, newgrass, and new acoustic substyles.
The researcher has mentioned Tony Trischka, banjo player, who used to “to stretch his inventiveness and to explore the nonboundaries of bluegrass, delving into jazz, classical, world music, rock, and blues” as a member of Country Cooking, alternative rock groups R. E. M. and Violent Femmes, Skyline, and Tony Trischka Band. Another talented banjo player, Pete Wernick, linked together bluegrass with Dixieland jazz-swing in the compositions performed by Country Cooking and Pete Wernick’s Live Five. These examples add to the definition of bluegrass music as a synthetic phenomenon.
Whereas bluegrass music pays special attention to instrumentation, the genre of ballad emphasizes a melody so far as this musical and lyrical genre is often sung solo. Sometimes voice may be accompanied by fiddle, harp, guitar, banjo or dulcimer, but instruments are “in the shadow” of a singer leading his part. To put it differently, words prevail over melody in ballads. The most common themes for ballads are tragic events such as unhappy love, grievous farewell, loss of beloved, and so on. As Porter explained, The ballad tune, with just one or two notes to a syllable, helps to shape the versification though not the mood of the ballad text.
The tune’s character, in fact, is sometimes at variance with the tragic tone …. In general, though, the tune has a key role to play in the overall rhythm and style of the sung ballad. Porter listed six variants of phrasal patterns that occur in ballads of the British Isles – ABCD, ABAC, ABCDE, ABAB, ABCA, and ABBA. The researcher stated that among the tunes with phrasal four-line pattern the most popular type is ABCD, “a non-recurrent form that provides not only the greatest variety of phrase but also the widest space between repetitions.
” Among the tunes with a repeated phrasal pattern, ABAC is the most frequently found. Porter further specified: In a long ballad the scheme ABAB doubles not only the number of repetitions but also their frequency when sung. ABCA, on the other hand, returns to the opening phrase in cyclical fashion. The ‘come-all-ye’ type of tune, ABBA, juxtaposes inner as well as outer identities. … Refrains (e. g. ‘savoury, sage, rosemary and thyme’, ‘down a downe, hey downe’) force narrative to give way to melody; refrains can consist of a fifth repetitive line, a burden between stanzas, or intercalated lines within the stanza.
There are many forms of the genre in regard to the country or region where it is popular (e. g. , Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Appalachian, Old Southern, etc. ). These region specific ballads vary in some musical features: for example, phrasal structure, harmony, and rhythm. A majority of traditional English ballads are structured as a series of four-line stanzas with the “main cadence points [being] at the end of the second and fourth lines, where the normal rhyme of the ballad stanza occurs. ” At these cadence points a melody often rises from the tonic to the fifth.
Scottish tunes are more likely to repeat the first two phrases with small modifications in the end of stanzas. In regard to harmony, ballad tunes are usually ranged in an eight-note octave, though an extension to a twelve-note one is also possible. Whereas the ballad tunes of the Appalachian and Scotland regions demonstrate a prevalence of the so called “gapped” forms, either pentatonic or hexatonic, English ballads are more likely to be heptatonic “with a sharp or flattened third and a flattened leading note.
” In regard to rhythm, English and Scottish ballads have four-beat metre but in England one may also hear a 6/8 one. The distinction between English and Celtic ballads on the basis of rhythm is not rigid though. As Porter observed, “the singer does not always stick rigidly to an isometric formula, and tunes can fall into patterns such as 5/4, or even irregular barring such as 3/2, 9/4, 3/2, 5/4, 4/4. ” To close a section, bluegrass music and the ballads of the British Isles demonstrate diversity in regard to rhythm, phrasal pattern, instrumentation, and harmony.
Possible fields of similarity and reciprocity between the two styles under analysis may be found in their narrative structure and sociocultural background. The point is to be discussed in the next section. Sociocultural background of linkage between bluegrass and British traditions At first glance, American Appalachian and Old Southern styles that bluegrass music is much indebted to cannot have anything in common with the melodies of the British Isles. This is untrue.
When Farmelo researched the concepts of ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ in regard to the sociocultural impact produced by them on bluegrass, he found a correlation between bluegrass and Celtic ancestry on the level of definitions. To be specific, Farmelo researched “the stereotypes which [history of bluegrass] supports or denounces, and, ultimately, the social composition of the music’s subculture,” and concluded that the stereotype of “white manhood” was borrowed by bluegrass from the Scottish dialect.
The link is covert yet rather traceable. As Farmelo put it, “Bluegrass, along with hillbilly music before it, has always been associated with poor white people – usually Southern, illiterate, unemployed, sometimes inbred and, possibly, mentally challenged. ” There is a term “white trash” to denote those people who were called various names in different regional dialects (the researcher listed: ‘cracker’ in Georgia and Florida, ‘linthead’ in the Carolinas, ‘okie’ in the West, ‘hillbilly’ or ‘ridge runner’ in West Virginia and the Midwest).
The term ‘hillbilly’ is borrowed from Scottish dialect where the word ‘hill-folk’ denoted Presbyterians deprived of their rights, and ‘billie’ stood for ‘friend. ’ Farmelo summarized: A combination of the two would designate a rural poor white, or a friend of one. Whatever its origins, the hillbilly thread of the white trash stereotype found its way into bluegrass and, while it is losing its grip as bluegrass ascends the pop charts, it remains well embedded in popular consciousness. Let us leave the realm of linguistic analysis and proceed to some historical overview.
As Tunnell reminded the readers, Southern American music had much in common with the music brought to the United States by English, Irish, and Scots who came to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland Gap of Appalachia in the 18th century. As the researcher stressed, “they brought their songs that had been a part of their oral histories and cultures for at least two centuries. ” In his turn, McWhiney researched specific traits of mentality that made Celts and American Old Southerners similar to each other.
First, Irishmen, Scots, Welsh, and the residents of the American Southern states enjoyed the same vivacious character: “Like their Celtic forebears, Southerners enjoyed seeing and being seen as well as hearing and being heard; the visual, oral, and aural pleasures delighted them. ” Second, in regard to the art of story-telling that is essential for ballad composition, both Southerners and Celts were connoisseurs: Celts loved to talk, preach, orate, tell stories, and to listen to others do the same.
Southerners displayed “a love, amounting almost to a passion, for discussion, oratory, and public speaking,” insisted a visitor [to the Southern states in the 19th c. ]. Third, both adored dancing: A [Canadian] traveler wrote of backcountry North Carolinians [in the 18th c. ]: “Dancing they are all fond of, especially when they can get a fiddle, or bagpipe; at this they will continue hours together, . . . so attach’d are they to this darling amusement, that if they can’t procure musick, they will sing for themselves. ” … Other Celts were as fond of dancing as Southerners were.
“The enthusiasm of Scotch dancers is proverbial,” noted an Englishman in 1790. Scots loved music and “appear to be natural dancers,” observed a Yankee, ”but even the most polished among them are less distinguished by an adherence to the rules of art, than by a certain native ease, gracefulness and spirit. ” Finally, in regard to music, both Southerners and Celts demonstrated similar preferences: The music that … most Southerners and other Celts – found “most delightful” was produced by string instruments played by ear.
Observers most often mentioned hearing two instruments: the fiddle and the banjo. … The songs these Southerners played and sang and danced to were part of their Celtic heritage. In result, by the early 20th century when bluegrass music was in the ‘cradle,’ many observers observed similar musical patterns derived by the emerging genre from the Celtic musical ancestry. McWhiney referred to a television documentary entitled “Irish Country” by Bobby Lord which “proved that old-time southern and bluegrass music have their roots in the reels and jigs of Ireland.
” The researcher summarized: Southern string and bluegrass bands still play such old Irish tunes as “A Black Velvet Band,” which is often called “The Girl in the Blue Velvet Band,” and “The Battle of the Boyne,” which evolved into “Buffalo Gal” (fiddler Benny Martin calls his version “Nashville Gal”). While touring Texas, Paddy Moloney of the traditional Irish musical group the Chieftains heard “Cotton Eyed Joe” and immediately recognized it as “The Mountain Top,” an old Irish melody.
Various other people have noticed the similarities between Irish and southern music. Farmelo listed a few of sociomusicological features that he thought had contributed to the firmament of bluegrass as a string band format: a collaborative black and white school of banjo playing, the forced invisibility of the black banjo, the alliance of the Scots-Irish-American fiddle and the Afro-American banjo, and the proliferation of the guitar in Southeastern rural areas.
In regard to the point of our interest, the inferences of bluegrass from the Celtic musical ballad tradition, Farmelo referred to Conway who stated that “both Celtic Americans and African Americans highly influenced each other and participated in extensive musical exchange” in the Round Peak region of the Blue Ridge Mountains, east of the Sugar Grove Region in North Carolina. It speaks to the fact that instrumental combinations traced in bluegrass were born out of sociocultural exchanges between the folks inhabiting the United States.
As Tunnell observed, the cradle of Celtic culture in the United States, the Appalachian region, was closed for the outer cultural influences up to the late 19th century. Due to its closedness, the territory could boast of preserving long-lasting cultural traditions, i. e. musical and lyrical forms. The descendents of the 18th century Celtic emigrants began to assimilate to the urban population of the American North during World War II. … similar to their ancestors, these former Appalachians took with them their cultural traits, including their music.
As bluegrass music was removed from its insular setting and exposed to a wide variety of urban dwellers, it soon was embraced by many non-southerners, due largely to its inherent Anglo and African-American folk heritage and values. Narrative similarities and differences between bluegrass and British ballads In the early 20th century when American music has been preparing to produce its new branch of bluegrass style, a possible root for the British ballad ancestry to be utilized by American musical culture appeared to be the so called ‘songsters,’ cheap pocket-sized and paperback books of popular song texts.
Cohen referred to Guthrie T. Meade who in his research entitled “Sources of Country Music” emphasized that “many early hillbilly musicians possessed songsters and used them as sources for texts. ” If hillbilly that is the genre of country derived its narrative content from the abovementioned songsters, why bluegrass could not do the same? By the 1950s musicologists acknowledged “the functional similarity between commercial sound recordings of the 1920s and ’30s and cheap print – broadsides, chapbooks, songsters – of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
” It has already been noted that Celts used to like ballads. It has also been acknowledged that ballads are usually grouped into the clusters in regards to their narrative structure on the basis of a particular theme or topic. Some researchers (e. g. , Cohen, Hamessley, Tunnel, Farmelo, etc. ) analyzed a body of ballad and bluegrass lyrics against the aforementioned narrative structure and found that bluegrass and the ballads of the British Isles displayed significant similarity.
Tunnell summarized the most common themes derived by bluegrass music from the daily life of the Appalachian dwellers: “themes that address … the importance of family, home and loved ones,” and “themes that speak to the dark side of life: violent crime and punishment in the community. ” In regard to the class of ‘clean themes,’ the researcher listed a range of concepts associated with positive values: ‘mountain cabins,’ ‘close-knit families,’ ‘loving mothers,’ ‘a God to fear,’ ‘maidens,’ and ‘the love between parent and child.
’ There is also a class of themes that describe sad events: ‘highways,’ ‘graveyards,’ ‘rogues,’ ‘longing for a home that is no longer there,’ ‘unrequited life,’ ‘the deceit of urban women,’ ‘being orphaned in the city,’ ‘one’s own impending death,’ ‘the death of loved ones,’ and ‘the belief in an eternal life where loved ones shall never part. ’ On the one hand, bluegrass narratives as well as their ballad matrices “aggrandize spiritual life, home, family values and home spun tradition, although there is a small yet important collection of songs that “bemoan their disintegration.
” Tunnell describes the situation as follows: … bluegrass performers and aficionados claim the bluegrass music is wholesome, clean, family music that reflects wholesome themes – unlike those more widely accepted in mainstream country music (e. g. , drinking, gambling, infidelity and divorce). … Although a strong argument can be made that bluegrass music is “wholesome,” little is said about those themes that are neither wholesome nor family-oriented and less is said about the oft-found violent crimes and punishment in bluegrass music.
Many of the aforesaid narrative patterns survived through the centuries and miles of a great journey that Celts took across the Atlantics. As Ledgin recreated the events to describe the emergence of specific music styles in America, Among the material brought over by early settlers were age-old English ballads and timeworn fiddle tunes of the Celtic Isles. Many immigrants were highly artistic, coming from the culturally developed areas of northwest Europe. Their ballads spoke of love and family.
They conveyed true-life stories, hard times, death, and other miseries. These thematic archetypes, i. e. love, death, friendship, exile, and so on, cannot be placed within a single cultural tradition, either North American or Celtic. The case of bluegrass proves that an emerging style could take the readymade narrative material and artfully employ and develop it to create a new cultural framework. The hypothesis can be proved on the example of the most well-known British-derived ballad “Pretty Polly.
” This is just one song out of many attached to the class of the so called “murder ballads. ” As Lydia Hamessley observed, the narratives of “Knoxville Girl,” “Omie Wise,” “Pearl Bryan,” “Little Sadie,” “Florella,” “Rose Connoley,” “Banks of the Ohio,” and some other alike songs “can be traced to English and Scottish models, while others are American in origin, though clearly patterned after British traditional and broadside ballads.
” The plot consists of the following elements: a man makes his girlfriend go away from home into some desolate place; she understands that her lover is going to kill her; the most commonly found motives for murder are pregnancy and infidelity; a hero kills his beloved (by stabbing shooting, or beating to death); he puts the corpse into a shallow grave that he has dug beforehand, or drowns the body in the river; the hero confesses of the murder; he is punished either through legal proceedings or is subjected to eternal sufferings in hell.
Two most popular examples of the British-derived bluegrass murder ballads are “The Knoxville Girl” and “Pretty Polly. ” Tunnell stated that “The Knoxville Girl” (also “The Oxford Girl,” “The Bristol Girl,” “The Wexford Girl,” and “The Lexington Girl”) followed the earlier British versions of “The Wittam Miller” and “The Berkshire Tragedy. ” Unlike the most of American murder songs, this one reveals a possible reason for the narrator to kill his beloved. Her “dark and roving eyes” made the man think that she was unfaithful.
The picture of spiritual pain (“I rolled and tumbled the whole night through / As trouble was for me / Like flames of hell around my bed / And in my eyes could see. ”) precedes the account of imprisonment in “this dirty old jail. ” Hamessley traced the origin of “Pretty Polly” back to the ballad number 4 “Lady Isabel and the Elfin Knight” in the body of songs collected by Francis James Child. The researcher also found common points between “Pretty Polly” and the British broadside ballad “The Gosport Tragedy,” or “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter.
” In all three stories a young woman is taken away from home by her lover under the pretext of discussing the marriage. In “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter” a listener is aware of the fact that she is pregnant, whereas “Pretty Polly” and “Lady Isabel” omit this fact. Child’s “Lady Isabel” is different from other stories in regard to the coda. When the seducer asks a woman to undress so that he could drown her in the river, she asks her lover to turn away while she is taking her fine clothes off. When he does so, the victim pushes the murderer into the river and escapes death.
In “Pretty Polly” and “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter” male heroes succeed in their violent intentions. Both admit that spiritual punishment is harder than legal prosecution. The hero of “Pretty Polly” states: “For killing pretty Polly my soul will go to hell. ” The hero of “The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter” is haunted by the ghost of the murdered woman with her unborn baby so that he prefers to confess. As one can see, all three stories have the same dichotomous system of characters: a man and a woman.
The central theme of murder, though, is orchestrated in distinctive manners. As Tunnell has admitted, the most popular American version of the story “focuses only on the murder and omits any mention of the courtship, seduction and pregnancy. ” Hamessley also acknowledged that “many American versions of British ballads [are] a condensation of the text’s origin. ” Americans preferred to bracket out supernatural elements of the plot to emphasize the earthly life of common people. Americans also simplified the typology of characters’ names.
The heroes of American murder ballads usually bear the names of Polly and Willie. Besides some narrative element, American songs tend to be simpler than their British counterparts in regard to lyrical structure. Whereas British ballads are structured according to a four-line stanza formula, American songs have three lines in each stanza, where one line is repeated twice so that a ballad has an AAB structure. The duple-meter of British lyrics is more complex than a primitive one of American songs.
Finally, in American ballads the voice is accompanied by some string instrument, whereas British variants used to be performed a capella. Hamessley referred to Josiah Combs who described a strange effect of the British-derived tune being played on banjo: One of the best examples of the harrowing of the folk-song in the hands of the banjo picker is “The Gosport Tragedy,” commonly known as ‘Pretty Polly. ’ The traditional airs of this song are strangely beautiful but are hardly to be recognized when heard on the banjo.
Besides different orchestration, American country and Appalachian traditions (and, subsequently, bluegrass) treat the relationship between fictional reality and the narrator in a manner that is distinctive from British ballads. … G. Malcolm Laws reminds us that the action in ballads is “dramatized from beginning to end. ” Conversely, in lyric songs “the narrative and dramatic elements are weak. [The events are] reflected upon in the manner of soliloquy rather than dramatized. The story is not so much told as implied or suggested.
Thus setting aside the matter of subjectivity, we may say that in contrast to songs, ballads dramatize their central events. Moreover, the primary purpose of the ballad is not to tell a story, while that of the song is to express a state of mind. One may think that lengthy instrumental solos of bluegrass songs altogether with a detached voice of a singer who obeys to a rather quick beat of a musical piece may shift listeners’ attention from narration and its characters to music.
Hamessley described this hypothesis as valid on the example of “Pretty Polly” version that was performed by legendary Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless. The song entered the bluegrass charts in 1997. This version abandons the traditional old-time accompaniment of solo banjo for a full bluegrass band. Nevertheless, the affect in almost every other way remains traditional, with its fast tempo and straightforward vocal style. … what makes this rendition of interest is that Stanley and Loveless perform the song as a duet, taking on the roles of Willie and Polly.
… However, this dialogue does not guarantee a resisting performance if by that we mean one that gives voice to Polly’s experience. It has been already noted that bluegrass is traditionally conceptualized as a musical style of white poor socially deprived males. The invisibility of women in bluegrass songs derived from British earlier versions may take place because of sociocultural background of Appalachian and American South that served a so to say melting pot for bluegrass. Tunnell stated that “murder ballads in bluegrass music are often based on true stories.
” The most vivid example is “Omie Wise” where the narrator tells us in the third person voice about the murder of Omie Wise by a certain John Louis. The song pays special attention to the reaction of the community that refused to “go on [the murderer’s] bail. ” This particular bluegrass version borrows some common themes and narrative patters from ballad, though it is more detached and impersonal than its British-derived counterparts “as a story of oral tradition where this awful deed … has been recounted time and time again.
” Unlike ballads, bluegrass lyric songs about murders do not provide any prehistory of the case but concentrates on “an eye for an eye” punishment for the guilty man. All the aforesaid narrative patterns are assimilated by bluegrass musicians to create a new fictional world where the story is told against the backstage of “stunning harmonies, crisp banjo, and smart mandolin work. ” Bluegrass tradition owes the British Isles many of its narrative matrices, themes and instrumentation. The magic of American bluegrass, however, is not limited by a crafty assimilation of the elements tested by time and rich Cultural traditions of Celts.
To summarize, the present essay attempted to trace the relationship between bluegrass music and the ballads of the British Isles to prove a timeless and unlimited to regional boundaries cultural link across continents and generations. The affinity between two styles is traced on various levels including the one of culture, musicology, and linguistics. The descendants of British who came to the United States settled in mountainous regions that used to be detached from the mainstream American culture. Due to their isolation these people of English and Celtic ancestry were lucky to preserve cultural matrices inherited from their grandfather