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The Folk-Song Society and the phonograph.

Until recently, the accepted orthodoxy about Percy Grainger's use of the phonograph and his relations with the Folk-Song Society (FSS) was that the society was wholly opposed to the machine's use. This was based on the work of Grainger's biographer John Bird and of scholars such as David Josephson. Bird alleges: 'Whilst Grainger was alive the world was silent about his innovations, and the stoniest of silences came from the English Folk-Song Society [sic], its heirs and disciples. (1) Josephson asserts: 'Grainger was attacked for his suspect recording machine and for the complexity of his transcriptions,' (2) Both imply that this 'opposition' to Grainger represented at best an unthinking conservatism and at worst a conscious attempt to cover up collecting and publishing practices that were not only shoddy but dishonest. Michael Yates's article in FMJ in 1982 was milder in tone. (3) An important point is that the alleged 'opposition' can only be dated to a 'rider' that the FSS's Editing Committee inserted in Grainger's article 'Collecting with the Phonograph' when it wasP published in JFSS in 1908. (4)

In 2003, I challenged this orthodoxy, demonstrating that the first use of the phonograph preceded Grainger's, and that most of the FSS's leadership accepted and used the machine, including Lucy Broadwood, Anne Gilchrist, Cecil Sharp, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. (5) In the 2010 issue of the FM/Andrew King documented the collaborations between Ella Leather, Vaughan Williams, and Sharp, centred on the use of the phonograph. (6)

Some restatement of the facts is necessary, however, because the Grainger mythology is re-emerging. Dorothy de Val has denied that Cecil Sharp ever used the phonograph. (7) In articles that appeared in FMJ in 2009 and Music & Letters in 2011, Graham Freeman has reinvented many of Bird's and Josephson's allegations. The FM] article is the more moderate in tone, and does at least acknowledge that other FSS members used the phonograph, albeit only 'subsequently', after Grainger, and after they lad previously objected to its use'. (8) In Music & Letters, however, Freeman makes no mention of the use of the phonograph by other FSS members, stating: 'many of the antiquarian collectors of the FSS were far from enthusiastic about its use as a tool for collecting folksong [...] Indeed, Grainger's phonograph caused great disruption among the members of the FSS. (9) He makes a number of serious allegations about the FSS's leadership, their methods of collection and publication, and their alleged 'opposition' to Grainger's work, alleging (in an echo of Josephson) that the 'rider' inserted by the society's Editing Committee was 'merely an inlding of the drubbing he [Grainger] was taking from FSS scholars in various printed media'. (10) Like Bird and Josephson before him, Freeman fails to provide any evidence of opposition to use of the phonograph from within the FSS prior to the Editing Committee's consideration of Grainger's article. (11)

Such evidence as there is does not indicate much opposition--rather the reverse. At the first committee meeting of the revived FSS, in 1904, Sir Hubert Parry urged 'the purchase of a phonograph' when funds permitted. The first known recordings were made by Graham Peel and James Campbell McInnes on the Isle of Skye, probably in 1904. Both were close friends of Lucy Broadwood. Peel was a FSS member and McInnes a concert singer who was Broadwood's protege. They showed the recordings to her on 18 May 1905. (12)

Grainger began folk song collecting the previous month. He already knew Broadwood and they rapidly became close friends. He began to use the phonograph during nine days' collecting in Lincolnshire in July--August 1906. This expedition appears to have been subsidized by a donation from George Gardiner, and the phonograph itself may have passed into the ownership of the FSS (Grainger did not buy his own phonograph until 1908). (13) A further donation from Broadwood's friend Lady Farrar was acknowledged in JFSS, which Broadwood proposed to put towards 'the purchase of the most satisfactory kind of phonograph, or other recording device'. (14)

At this time, there were two further developments. The first was that Grainger gave a lecture on his Lincolnshire experiences after the FSS AGM on 6 December 1906, possibly illustrated by phonograph recordings. A discussion ensued about whether the phonograph or the gramophone was the better recording device. (15) He was also elected to the FSS committee. Ella Leather stayed with Broadwood in November 1906 and was introduced to Vaughan Williams, from whom she borrowed a phonograph (beginning to use it in December) and sent the results to him for transcription. (16) Vaughan Williams apparently made recordings in Sussex in early 1907, bringing the results to Broadwood, and he must have left the phonograph with her because over the next few days she played the recordings to visitors and even to her housemaids. (17)

Graham Peel taught Broadwood how to make recordings in June 1907, and she used either Peel's machine or the FSS's own to collect from Kate MacLean at Arisaig, Inverness-shire, the following month. (18) Cecil Sharp began to use the phonograph in 1907; (19) as did Walter Ford (whose wife was to become FSS Secretary in succession to Broadwood). Anne Gilchrist watched, and perhaps helped, as her brother made recordings from trained and traditional singers. (20) Lucy Broadwood bought her own phonograph in March 1908. When George Butterworth called, she taught him how to work it, and then used it to collect from Scots people resident in London. (21)

Broadwood, Gilchrist, Sharp, and Vaughan Williams made up four of the six members of the Editing Committee that considered Grainger's article for the JFSS; the others were J. A. Fuller Maitland and Frank Kidson. Only Kidson declared opposition to the phonograph, and only at a later date. The 'rider' actually appears to have been the work of Broadwood and Fuller Maitland. (22) Modern scholarship considers Grainger to have been right in his judgement that folk singers seldom sing purely in a single given mode, but that wisdom was not generally available at the time. The Editing Committee had to decide on the basis of the evidence before them, and it was that Grainger had made wide-ranging assertions on the basis of just sixteen published transcriptions from six people--all of them male, and all living in one small quarter of Lincolnshire--and that the great weight of experience was against him. In the circumstances, their caution was reasonable.

In fairness to Bird and Josephson, their research was done without the benefit of the documentation that has become available since the 1980s: in particular, Kay Dreyfus's marvellous edition of Grainger's letters, published in 1985; (23) and Broadwood's diaries, which have been publicly available at the Surrey History Centre since 2000. But both they and Freeman ignored the published evidence of the JFSS. At the very beginning of his article, Grainger thanks Cecil Sharp for sending him an article on 'The ethnological study of music' containing elementary hints on operating the phonograph. (24) This hardly indicates 'opposition'. The 1909 JFSS--the next issue after Grainger's--published transcriptions from recordings made by George Gardiner and Vaughan Williams. In 1910, there followed the results of Ella Leather's and Vaughan Williams's work in Herefordshire, from January 1907 onwards. (25) The FSS Annual Report for 1908-09 includes approving comments on collecting Scottish song with the phonograph, and it follows on directly from Barbara Cra'ster's article on collecting in Denmark, in which she notes that phonograph recordings had been cast in copper for permanent preservation. (26)

With the exception of Kicison's later writing, there was no 'opposition' to use of the phonograph. In Music & Letters, Freeman promises to produce evidence to back up his allegation about the 'drubbing' Grainger was taking, but the only pertinent quotation is from Kidson, and he does not even mention Grainger. (27) The phonograph was not more widely used for three main reasons. The first was its own limitations. The Edison 'Standard', in common use, was intended for office dictation, rather than ethnomusicological fieldwork. Because it used wax cylinders, recording required warm conditions. It could be used down to about 15 [degrees]C, but if it was any colder the resulting shallow groove gave difficulties in reproduction. That, alone, was the reason why recording was mostly carried out indoors.

This leads on to the way in which fieldwork methods developed during the 1900s, changing from a situation in which most collectors worked in their own homes or those of others, to one where they ranged widely across the countryside, using the bicycle as their means of transport, to collect by the roadside or literally 'in the field'. Use of the phonograph was incompatible with these methods. Besides the need to carry the machine itself, the cylinders needed protective support and wrapping when not in use. When the phonograph was used 'in the field', it was because the collector had adequate transport. Grainger's recording expedition to Winchcombe Workhouse in 1908 was possible because he travelled in the car belonging to the former prime minister Arthur Balfour. When he returned to Lincolnshire later that year, it was in a car that two American ladies placed at his disposal. (28) Ella Leather is remembered as travelling in a dog-cart, and her husband owned a car. (29) For most people, mechanical means of collecting folk song only became a practical possibility with the spread of motor transport and the invention of less cumbersome devices such as the dictaphone.

At its best, phonograph recording required a powerful voice. Sharp claimed, and Leather acknowledged, that the old and very frail could not be recorded. Sharp also claimed that the machine might disturb singers. Grainger and Leather contradicted him on this point, but Sharp cited 'a young man, a very first-rate folk singer' who became nervous and confused when confronted with the phonograph (this was almost certainly 'Jack Barnard' of Bridgwater--whose real name was John Barnett). (30) On his extant recording of Alfred Edgell (or Edghill), made in December 1907, a voice can be heard (very faintly) prompting the singer.0 If this was indeed Sharp, it is the only known recording of his voice.

As a body, the FSS gave Grainger all the help it reasonably could. It provided him with a platform for his 1906 lecture and published his 1908 article, ninety-five pages long, taking up a whole number off FSS. Because engraving for music publication was expensive, it cost about half of the FSS's annual income. (32) Bird and Josephson allege that the FSS's 'opposition' caused him to cease collecting in England (and indeed to leave the country). Freeman echoes this by stating that when Grainger 'failed to find a footing within [the FSS's] discourse, he left'. (33) If that were really the case, one wonders why he remained a FSS committee member until 1911, why he maintained his close friendship with Lucy Broadwood until 1914 (which only diminished with his abrupt departure to America on rhe outbreak of war), or why he remained a member of the FSS into the 1930s. None of these facts suggest that he retired in dudgeon after 1908. Perhaps it is time for those who allege 'opposition' to Grainger to take regard of the evidence, rather than their own assumptions.

(1.) John Bird, Percy Grainger, [3rd edn] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 131.

(2.) David Josephson, 'The Case for Percy Grainger, Edwardian Musician, on his Centenary', in Music and Civilization: Essays in Honor of Paul Henry Lang, ed. by Edmond Strainchamps and Maria Rilke Maniates, in collaboration with Christopher Hatch (New York: Norton, 1984), pp. 350-62.

(3.) Michael Yates, 'Percy Grainger and the Impact of the Phonograph', FMJ, 4.3 (1982), 265-75.

(4.) Percy Grainger, 'Collecting with the PhonographVFSS, 3.3 (no. 12) (1908), 147-242 (p. 159).

(5.) C. J. Bearman, 'Percy Grainger, the Phonograph, and the Folk Song Society', Music & Letters, 84 (2003), 434-55.

(6.) Andrew King, 'Resources in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library: The Ella Mary Leather Manuscript Collection', FMJ, 9.5 (2010), 749-812.

(7.) Dorothy de Val, In Search of Song: The Dire and Times of Lucy Broadwood (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), p. 100.

(8.) Graham Freeman, "That chief undercurrent of my mind": Percy Grainger and the Aesthetics of English Folk Song', FMJ, 9.4 (2009), 581-617 (p. 611).

(9.) Graham Freeman, "It wants all the creases ironing out": Percy Grainger, the Folk Song Society, and the Ideology of the Archive', Music & Letters, 92 (2011), 410-36 (pp. 426-27).

(10.) Freeman, 'It wants all the creases ironing out', p. 423.

(11.) Although issue no. 12 of JFSS is dated May 1908, Lucy Broadwood received Grainger's manuscript submission in early May. After consideration by the Editing Committee, and her own work, she returned it on 11 June: Woking, Surrey History Centre, 6782, Lucy Broadwood Diaries, 11 June 1908. The issue was probably published in July.

(12.) Broadwood Diaries, 18 May 1905. The entries for 2 and 4 October 1904 show that Peel was then on Skye.

(13.) Woking, Surrey History Centre, 2185/LEB/1/139, Percy Grainger to Lucy Broadwood, 29 July 1906, states cryptically: 'And about Dr. Gardiner's [pounds sterling]5 I will let you know when I am done.' See Bearman, p. 455.

(14.) Addendum slip in JFSS, dated 16 December 1906.

(15.) 'Folk Song and National Song', Musical Herald,1 January 1907, pp. 20-21. The report alleges that the machine failed to function adequately and Grainger had to sing the songs himself.

(16.) King, p. 758; Broadwood Diaries, 12-15 November 1906. I am very grateful to Andrew King for his assistance and for having placed the fruits of his research at my disposal.

(17.) These were almost certainly recordings of Henry Burstow, one of which (In Bristol Town') was published in Broadwood's English Traditional Songs and Carols (London: Boosey, [1908]), and another song ("Through Moorfields') is also mentioned as having been collected with the phonograph (pp. 113-15).

(18.) Broadwood Diaries, 21-24 March, 27 June, 11 July 1907.

(19.) London, VWML, Cecil J. Sharp MSS, Correspondence, Box 1, photocopy of Cecil Sharp to Percy Grainger, 23 May 1908.

(20.) London, VWML, Anne Geddes Gilchrist Collection, AGG 8/142, Anne Gilchrist to Lucy Broadwood, 1 and 2 June 1908.

(21.) Broadwood Diaries, 5, 17 March, 11 April, 23 May 1908.

(22.) I infer the authorship of the 'rider' from the letter of Gilchrist to Broadwood, 1 and 2 June 1908.

(23.) The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger 1901-1914, ed. by Kay Dreyfus (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1985).

(24.) Grainger, p. 148.

(25.) JFSS, 4.1 (no. 14) (1910), 7-51.

(26.) Annual Report, June 1908-9, pp. iii--vi (p. iv), appended to JFSS, 4.1 (no. 14) (1910); Barbara M. Cra'ster, 'On the Preservation of Folk-Song and Folk-Lore in Denmark', JFSS, 4.1 (no. 14) (1910), 76-80 (p. 79).

(27.) Frank Kidson and Mary Neal, English Folk-Songand Dance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915), p. 49. 1 would like to know of any other instances of 'drubbing', but to fit Freeman's criteria they must be from FSS members, must have been published, and must mention Grainger by name.

(28.) The Farthest North of Humanness, pp. 205, 208: Percy Grainger to Rose Grainger, 5 April 1908; Percy Grainger to Karen Holten, 11 May 1908.

(29.) King, p. 754. For the car, see Broadwood Diaries, 24, 26 August 1908.

(30.) Sharp to Grainger, 23 May 1908.

(31.) I am very grateful to my colleague Yvette Staelens for drawing this to my attention. It is one of six pre-1914 recordings on the CD A Century of Song: A Celebration of Traditional Singers since 1898 (EFDSS CD02, 1998).

(32.) For this and some comparative figures, see Bearman, p. 436.

(33.) Freeman, 'It wants all the creases ironing out', p. 434.
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Title Annotation:Notes
Author:Bearman, C.J.
Publication:Folk Music Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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