The Lost Voices of Maud Karpeles Folksongs from Newfoundland

Glenn Colton


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 Newfoundlands 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renditions of ballads and songs in the published collections and other titles that were excluded entirely) remain unpublished. This paper, a first step toward a new edition of Karpeles unpublished Newfoundland song material, seeks to rediscover these lost voices by exploring selected songs from Karpeles unpublished Newfoundland song transcriptions based on manuscripts housed in the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive. The paper will examine factors that informed Karpeles selective process and, at the same time, demonstrate that the unpublished songs (and the singers who sang them) merit the same recognition accorded the iconic songs from the published collections.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.

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