This is a blog where I engage with and try to expand my appreciation for the Child Ballads. What are the Child Ballads, you ask? They’re a series of old folk ballads that originated in Britain but spread – via colonialism – to North America, Ireland, Australia, and the rest of the English speaking world.
The name comes from their compiler, Francis James Child, a Harvard professor who spent a good deal of time tracking down and writing about them. Their influence in music, especially folk music, has been immense.
I fell in love when I first began researching them and tracking down recordings. They’re a form of low art – preserved, up until Child anthologized them, mostly via oral tradition – giving us a unique view into the lives of those who typically didn’t have histories written about them.
Most of the ballads originally came from a specific area of Britain – the Scottish-English border region – which has historically been marked by poverty, underdevelopment, and endemic violence. The people who emigrated (or fled) from those lands carried these traditions with them along with their music. Appalachia in the United States, for instance, was a popular destination.
I find it endlessly fascinating that some of the best music in the English speaking world came out of such harsh conditions. The subject matter in the ballads reflects this hardship. Murder, war, infanticide, rape, incest, and torture are common themes.
In writing this blog, I hope to better understand and appreciate the songs, learn something about the history surrounding them, and become a bit better of a writer. It also wouldn’t be so terrible if my enthusiasm proved mildly contagious.
I think these ballads have a lot to offer, after all.