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What is Celtic Music?

early folk music

Folk is the music of the common man, a constantly evolving tradition which has developed over centuries through an oral tradition and become part of a people's or a nation's heritage. It's fluidity sets it apart somewhat from the more formalised and restrained music developed at the same time for the feudal and royal courts and for religous worship.
A huge variety of folk music has grown up worldwide, the scope of which is far too great for this history, which confines itself to the development of folk music in British Isles due to leading role it played in the musical development of North America, the cradle of popular music.

The genre of British folk music distinguishes between ballads and folk songs, the ballad usually being longer and often telling a dramatic or humerous story. Examples include "Tam Lin" and "John Barleycorn". The folk song is usually shorter, more lyrical and personal - "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" is a good example - and falls into a number of categories, including lullabies and laments, sea shanties, work and soldier's songs. Another category is the folk melody used as an accompaniment to dance, as in Irish jigs, Scottish reels, hornpipes, maypole and morris dancing, some of which acquired words over time. Another is the square dance, which originated in 17th century England but became very popular in 19th century America, and developed further there.

Many folk songs provided the melody for what might very loosely speaking be called Britain's first popular songs - the so-called " broadside ballads " - which made their first appearance in early 16th century Europe, gradually replacing a centuries-old tradition of song transmission by minstrels and folk singers. These ballads, at first hand-written but later printed on lengths of paper known as broadsides, were sold by travelling peddlers or at merchant's stalls. Subsequently they were often simply pasted on walls and memorised by all who wished to do so.
Broadsides were originally just words, with an instruction that they should be sung to a well known tune. Later they often came with accompanying music, at which time they were more usually referred to as broadsheets, ballad sheets, stall ballads or slip songs.

It was these songs, ballads and dance tunes that went with the early pioneers and settlers to the New World, evolving there into old-time and Western music, from whose fertile soil the American folk and country music traditions would grow.

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audio : Folk Home Page
             Traditional British & Celtic Folk

books : on British Folk Music
             about European Folk Music


audio : World & Folk Home Page

books : on British Folk Music
about European Folk Music