England’s Vernacular Music and Dance

England “lives in interesting times”. In the last decade, she has been confronted with the new (and in some cases, historical) aspirations of separatists among her neighbours in the United Kingdom – Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The new and strident demands of the restless neighbours by such luminaries as Sean Connery have resulted in a cultural and political upheaval called devolution. As England examines itself in this startling new climate, her identity as “Britain” fades into the background as a new consideration takes its place in the form of a question – “What is England?”. We in Canada have also struggled with the question of identity so we can commiserate.

Over the last few years, the English people have been engaged in a search for cultural markers that identify it as England, as opposed to Great Britain or the United Kingdom. To this end, several centuries of English folk music research has become newly interpreted as distinct voices of England, whether resident or exported to countries around the world in amongst the baggage of British Imperialism.  Perhaps the oddest development is the place of morris dance, and folk dance in general. It is scorned, and for reasons that are as illuminating as they are puzzling. Students will explore all these avenues of thought and in the process, understand more about the place of music and dance in the inner world of identity formation. In addition, some of the early markers of Englishness that surfaced in England’s far-away colonies such as British Columbia will be illuminated in the course, providing a deeper appreciation of the pioneer culture and its modern manifestations here in BC.


Schechner, Richard (2002) Performance Studies: An Introduction

Lecture Schedule and Readings

Week 1 England and the spectre of devolution in the United Kingdom

Kumar, Krishan (2003) “English or British? The question of English national identity,” in The Making of English National Identity, pp. 1-17

Colls, Robert (2002) “Thinking with England,” in Identity of England, pp. 356-381

Paxman, Jeremy (1999) “Old Country, New Clothes,” in The English: A Portrait of a People, pp. 232-266.

Week 2 das land ohne musik – the land without music? 

Blake, Andrew (1997) “Introduction,” in The Land Without Music: music, culture and society in twentieth-century Britain, pp. 1-25

Hughes, Meirion, and Robert Stradling (2001) “Crusading for a national music,” in The English Musical Renaissance 1840-1940: constructing a national identity, pp. 164-214

Scott, Derek (1989) “The Foundations of the Drawing-room Genre,” in The Singing Bourgeois: Songs of the Victorian Room and Parlour, pp. 1-44

Week 3 Cecil Sharp and the “discovery” of English song and dance

Porter, James (1991) “Muddying the Crystal Spring: From Idealism and Realism to Marxism in the Study of English and American Folk Song, in Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music, edited by Bruno Nettl and Philip Bohlman, pp. 113-130

Thompson, Flora (1939/1973) “At the Wagon and Horses,” in Lark Rise to Candleford, pp. 64-75

Week 4 The Study of ballads and broadsides

Atkinson, David (2002) “An English ballad tradition?” in The English Traditional Ballad: Theory, method and practice, pp. 233-252

Gammon, Vic (2008) “Song, Experience and Authenticity,” in Desire, Drink and Death in English Folk and Vernacular Song, 1600-1900, pp. 231-247

Brown, Mary Ellen (2010) “Child’s Ballads and the Broadside Conundrum,” in Ballads and Broadsides in Britain: 1500-1800, pp. 57-74.

Week 5 Popular Music in Early Modern England

Robins, Brian (2006), “A Thoroughly English Music: The Seventeenth Century Background and Early Clubs,” and “The Catch Club”, in Catch and Glee Culture in Eighteenth-Century England, pp. 1-15, 32-71

McIntosh, William (1974), “Handel, Walpole, and Gay: The Aims of The Beggar’s Opera,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Summer, 1974), pp. 415-433

Day, Cyrus L. (1932), “Pills to Purge Melancholy,” in The Review of English Studies, Vol. 8, No. 30 (Apr., 1932), pp. 177-184

Week 6 Victorian Music Hall

Bailey, Peter (1998) “Business and good fellowship in the London music hall,” in Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City, pp. 80-100

Bennett, Anthony (1986) “Music in the Halls,” in Music Hall: Performance and Style (Popular Music in History series) pp. 1-22

Week 7 The Fiddle and Its Repertoire 

Roberts, Paul E.W.(2006) “English Fiddling 1650-1850: reconstructing a lost idiom,” in Play it Like it Is: fiddle and dance studies from around the north atlantic, pp. 22-32

Hardy, Thomas (1894/1996) “The Fiddler of the Reels,” in Life’s Little Ironies, pp. 137-155

Holman, Peter (1993) “ ‘Common Musicke’: The Violin Outside the Court,” in Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court 1540-1690, pp. 123-143

Week 8 Country Dance

Whitlock, Keith (1999) “John Playford’s The English Dancing Master 1650/51 as Cultural Politics,” in Folk Music Journal, volume 7, number 5, pp. 548-78

Leppert, Richard (1988) “Music and the Body: dance, power, submission,” in Music and Image, pp. 71-106

Week 9 Morris Dance

Forrest, John (1999) “Theory of Origins,” in The History of Morris Dancing 1458-1750, pp. 3-27

Chandler, Keith (1993) “Motivations and Rewards,” in Ribbons, Bells, and Squeaking Fiddles, pp. 195-206

Week 10 Seasonal celebrations in dance and song

Malcolmson, Robert (1973) “The holiday calendar,” in Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700-1850, pp. 15-33

Pettitt, Tom (1995) “Customary Drama: Social and Spatial Patterning in Traditional Encounters,” in Folk Music Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 27-42

Week 11 Brass Bands

Russell, Dave (1997) “Brass Bands,” in Popular Music in England, 1840-1914, pp. 205-247

Herbert, Trevor (2000) “God’s Perfect Minstrels: The Bands of the Salvation Army,” in The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History, pp. 187-216

Week 12 Folk Clubs and pub sessions 

Smith, John (1987) “The Ethogenics of Music Performance: A Case Study of the Glebe Live Music Club,” in Everyday Culture: Popular Song and the Vernacular Milieu, pp. 150-172

Foy, Barry (2009) Field Guide to the Irish Music Session 

Jackson, Michael (1976) “A Unique Phenomenon: The Role of the British Pub,” in The English Pub, 5-27

Stephanie Pitts (2005) “Music and Group Experience: Rehearsing and Performing With Others,” in Valuing Musical Participation pp. 53-72

Week 13 The Interface of English Classical Music and English Folk Music

Hughes, Merion and Robert Stradling (1993), “Being Beastly to the Hun,” in The English Musical Renaissance 1840-1940,  pp. 115-163

Blake, Andrew (1997) “A British “classical music”? in The Land Without Music: Music, culture and society in twentieth-century Britain, pp. 26-75

Stradling, Robert (1998) “England’s Glory: Sensibilities of Place in English Music, 1900-1950,” in The Place of Music, edited by Andrew Leyshon et al. pp. 176-196

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