Archive for May, 2008

How the Group Will Work

May 20, 2008

After you’ve read the “First Things First” post below, it might be helpful for you to know how I think the group will operate. First, this blog: since there seems to be no comprehensive internet source for information on the Anthology, I’m going to keep this blog open all semester (and perhaps beyond) as a public resource and as a discussion forum for us group members and for whomever else turns up. It will have links to required and recommended readings, a bibliography, a discography, my running commentary, and videos and mp3 files drawn both from my collection and from around the web. Due to copyright concerns, I’ll only leave music files up for a week, and you won’t be able to download them, but I will bring in my laptop every week and my iTunes library is yours for the sharing. I expect this blog to be the main gathering place for group members when class is not is session.

How about when class is in session? We’ll be working our way through the Anthology disc-by-disc, with plenty of stops along the way to look at particular songs, genres, and musicians in more detail. We’ll begin with a broad look at folk music, what it is and what it might not be, with a particular look at how the recording industry that made Harry’s collection possible affected the music. Harry Smith himself was a quintessentially American weird genius, and the Anthology bears his artistic stamp as much as it does that of the participating musicians; we’ll talk about Harry’s life and how the Anthology came to be.

As we make our way through the music, we’ll hear more about the Carter Family, find out the true story behind the ballad of Omie Wise, and track down John Henry and Stagger Lee. We’ll also spend an afternoon learning about Sacred Harp singing and the shape-note tradition. This and, as they say, much more awaits us. There will be plenty of music on the site and in class. Your commitment will be at least 2-3 hours per week, and I’ll make the resources available for you to do as much more than that as your curiosity requires.

I hope group members will do reports, but won’t require them: I will need to approve your topic and ask that the presentation be limited to 20 minutes.

You can e-mail me with questions or suggestions but I’d prefer you to leave a comment below so that we can all react. Here’s something by the Carter Family to get you started.


First Things First!

May 17, 2008

If you’ve found this page, you’re likely looking for information about the HILR Study Group I’m leading this fall. I’ll be using this blog to post readings, music and links as well as my own thoughts on the Anthology and related topics.

I hope everyone who decides to participate will buy the Anthology. There’s a copy in the Dunlop Library, and the Lamont and Loeb Libraries at Harvard also have copies, but there’s no substitute for having one at hand. The music on the Anthology isn’t necessarily what most people think of as “folk music.” No Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie, no Joan Baez (although she covered 9 songs from the Anthology). This is old-time music, mostly recorded between 1927 and 1932. You’ll hear blues, church music, ballads and dances, murder ballads and novelty numbers. Eighty-four songs, carefully chosen and arranged from Harry Smith’s vast collection of old and often obscure 78 RPM records, and each time through will bring you new insights into the music and into the miracle Harry performed in bringing these songs together the way he did. You can get more information or place an order here, direct from Smithsonian Folkways. Use promo code ND-033108 and get a 20% discount, now through 7/31/08.

If you’re on the fence about whether to join our group, you might want to listen to Smithsonian Folkways’ podcast on the Anthology, here. Just download Episodes 4, 5, and 6 – each is an hour long and filled with musical examples as well as background on how the Anthology came to be.