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At the heart of English folk
James Madison Carpenter

New project brings major folk song collection to the UK

A new project to incorporate a pivotal collection into the world’s largest online searchable database of folk songs and music has been announced.

The digitised collection of James Madison Carpenter, which has previously been accessible by visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, will be added to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library Digital Archive, thanks to a grant of more than £63,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Follow-on Funding Scheme.

Carpenter’s work includes a wealth of traditional songs, ballads and folk plays, collected from performers in Scotland, England and Wales by the Harvard-trained scholar, mostly in the period 1929-35.

As well as more than 2,000 items of traditional song and 300 folk plays, it contains some items of traditional instrumental music, dance, custom, narrative and children's folklore.

After making the collection, Carpenter brought it with him to his home in America, where it remained for almost 40 years. The Library of Congress purchased the collection from Carpenter in 1972 and ensured its survival.

It resides in the Library’s American Folklife Center archive, which has rehoused and preserved the physical collection of wax cylinders, acetate discs, photographs, and manuscripts, and digitised them for improved access. The Library of Congress then entered into an agreement with the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library to make the recordings available online.

The project is being delivered by the Elphinstone Institute, the centre for the study of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology at the University of Aberdeen, in partnership with the English Folk Dance and Song Society, which runs the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and Archive (VWML) at Cecil Sharp House in London.

A new learning resource for teachers will be created for the online EFDSS Resource Bank using a selection of material from the collection. EFDSS will also deliver a series of creative learning projects with young people, adults, and in schools to introduce the collection to a new audience.

The project will culminate in a celebration concert at Cecil Sharp House in March 2018 featuring material from the Carpenter Collection.

Laura Smyth, Director of the VWML, said: “The Carpenter Collection will be a fantastic addition to our digital archive with collected materials from the early 1930s – a period with little activity from English based collectors.

“It also features a large number of audio recordings, allowing us to get even closer to the original performances.”

Dr Julia Bishop, leader of the James Madison Carpenter Collection Project, said: “The Carpenter Collection has been away from home for so long. This is a wonderful opportunity to return it to the communities and places where so much of it originated.”

 

 

National Youth Folk Ensemble

National Youth Folk Ensemble

 

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