by Stewart Hendrickson

    What are some sources of information on traditional music? With the advent of modern recording techniques, and now the Internet, traditional music is no longer restricted to an oral tradition of transmission and dusty libraries. There are Internet sites with lyrics, many with accompanying midi files of tunes and other information. You can also listen to old recordings, including field recordings, on the Internet. This is the best of times to do research on traditional music.

    On my music web site I have a page of resources for traditional Irish music. In order to illustrate these and other sources I will lead you through several searches of mine.

    In a early column I mentioned that I was looking for information on the tune Bendemeer’s Stream. A search on several Internet sites gave the following information.

    The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, is part of  the Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at The Johns Hopkins University. It contains over 29,000 pieces of music and focuses on popular American music spanning the period 1780 to 1960. “An image of the cover and each page of music will be retrieved if the music was published before 1923 and is in the public domain.” A search for Bendemeer’s  gave sheet music to Bendemeer’s Stream.

    The Lesley Nelson (aka the Contemplator)'s Folk Music Site. “Folk and Traditional Music and Popular Songs, with Lyrics, Midi, Tune Information and History behind the folksongs and ballads. Irish, British and American Folk Music including Francis J. Child Ballads and Sea Shanties.” A search for Bendemeer’s  gave lyrics with Barry Taylor’s lovely midi arrangement, and information (and other links) about the author, Thomas Moore (1779-1852).

    Mudcat Discussion Forum (includes Digital Tradition, a database of several thousand folksongs). A search for Bendemeer’s in the “Digitrad and Forum Search” box found lyrics and a midi file in the Digital Tradition database, and several discussion threads in the Forum.

    Google search engine. A search for Bendemeer or Bendermeer gave many web pages, some of which pertain to the song Bendemeer’s Stream.

    Two of my favorite Internet research sites above are the Mudcat Forum (and Digital Tradition) and Google (my preferred search engine). The Mudcat Forum is an open (free) Internet discussion where anyone can post questions (and answers) about folk music. Unfortunately, about 90% of the discussion is now about topics unrelated to music (politics, gossip, BS, etc.); however, the music threads are a fantastic source of information. One can ask about an obscure song or tune and in a very short time receive replies from experts all over the world; it’s quite fantastic! Or one can search the Forum for past discussions of particular musical interest.

    Many years ago at Rainy Camp (a Seattle Folklore Society weekend singing retreat) I lead a workshop entitled Bawdy Broadside Ballads. Beginning in the 16th century with the advent of the printing press, popular songs were printed on one side of sheet of paper and became known as broadsides (see the Contemplator’s Short History of Broadside Ballads. Only the words were printed; a well-known tune was often suggested. These sheets, often illustrated with a woodcut print, were sold on street corners and became a popular urban mode of song transmission. They were often topical and told of noteworthy events. Censorship, if it occurred, was mainly restricted to political topics, bawdy ballads were rarely censored. One of these ballads I sought was The Wooden Leg’d Parson:

A barber there was named Timothy Briggs,
Quite famous he was for making good wigs;
Till with a lass called Becky Bell,
Slap over the ears in love he fell.
Sing, rumble dum dairy, rumble dum day!
Mark well the truth that I say.

    An Internet search of the Bodleian Library of Broadside Ballads at Oxford University gave a digital image of the original broadside (between 1842 and 1855), complete with a woodcut print of  Parson Sly and his wooden leg. By the way, this ballad is only mildly bawdy; for more-blatant bawdy ballads you can search the Bodleian Library yourself! This library holds one of the largest collections of original broadsides, which can be viewed from the convenience of your own home computer. It is interesting to see how the words have, or have not, changed over the years. This is a fantastic resource.

    The Internet is also a tremendous source of tunes. As a fiddle player I am often interested in finding traditional fiddle tunes. One of the best sites for Celtic tunes is Ceolas. “Ceolas carries notation for several hundred traditional tunes, in various formats, along with music software and an index of most published tune sources and links to other sites with tunes and songs.”  Hosted on the Ceolas site is The Fiddler’s Companion.  “The Fiddler's Companion is a huge encyclopedia of fiddle tunes from the Celtic, British and American traditions, created by Andrew Kuntz. Most tunes contain notes and anecdotes, references to published or recorded versions, and several thousand have abc-format tunes included.” The current version contains over 30,000 entries. There are many other sources for tunes on the Internet. I have listed some Irish Fiddle Links on my music web pages.

    I have given here just a few of the many resources on traditional music on the Internet. If you hop on the Internet using Google and other search sites you will find many other useful music resources.

Stewart Hendrickson is Chemistry Professor Emeritus – St. Olaf College, Research Professor Emeritus  University of Washington, and in his new career, an unemployed folk musician (voice, fiddle, guitar; ).