The ‘Lost Voices’ of Maud Karpeles’ “Folksongs from Newfoundland”


  • Glenn Colton Lakehead University


In September of 1929, Maud Karpeles of the English Folk Dance and Song Society arrived in Newfoundland for the first of two pioneering expeditions aimed at discovering a living legacy of British traditional song in the New World. By August of the following year, she had collected close to two hundred tunes from singers in forty outport communities with the assistance of Newfoundland lawyer, musician, and folklore enthusiast Frederick Emerson (an effort that paralleled the work of American song collectors Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf and Grace Yarrow Mansfield of the Vassar College Folklore Expedition). Karpeles’ findings were disseminated in stages. In October of 1929, she lectured on her first expedition to a large gathering of academics and invited guests at Newfoundland’s Memorial University College, during which Emerson sang several of the songs and accompanied himself on the piano with arrangements he had created for the occasion. Five years later, thirty of the songs were arranged for voice and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams and his associates Clive Carey, Hubert J. Foss, and Michael Mullinar, and published by Oxford University Press. It was not until 1971, however, that a more comprehensive collection of Karpeles’ work in Newfoundland was published by Faber and Faber of London, containing close to one hundred songs and ballads (many of which appear in multiple musical variants). Remarkably, more than forty of the tunes Karpeles notated during her Newfoundland expeditions (alternative renditions of ballads and songs in the published collections and other titles that were excluded entirely) remain unpublished. This paper, a first step toward a new edition of Karpeles’ unpublished Newfoundland song material, seeks to rediscover these “lost voices” by exploring selected songs from Karpeles’ unpublished Newfoundland song transcriptions based on manuscripts housed in the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive. The paper will examine factors that informed Karpeles’ selective process and, at the same time, demonstrate that the unpublished songs (and the singers who sang them) merit the same recognition accorded the iconic songs from the published collections. The presentation will include the performance of selected songs for illustrative purposes.

Author Biography

Glenn Colton, Lakehead University

Glenn Colton, musicologist and pianist, is an associate professor and Chair of the Department of Music at Lakehead University, where he teaches courses in music history, Canadian music, and music criticism. Glenn’s research has focused on aspects of music in Canada, including the music of composers Jean Coulthard and Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, and the musical traditions of Newfoundland and Labrador (the primary emphasis of his work in recent years). In 2007, he co-edited (with Dr. Beverley Diamond of Memorial University) a special music volume on the latter topic in the journal Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. Other published contributions include articles in the Canadian University Music Review, the International Alliance for Women in Music Journal, the University of Toronto Quarterly, the Newfoundland Quarterly, Fermata, the Phenomenon of Singing, and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, among other publications. His recently completed biography of Canadian composer, music educator, and arts administrator Frederick Emerson is being published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.