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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Cuilionn Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads (549* d) RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads 03 Jan 10

As another newish Ballad-tackler, I'd advocate the gourmand approach to start: surround yourself with as many recordings of, and books about, balladry as you possibly can. Autobiographies of singers are useful too. Gather it all in, soak it up, submerse yourself in the richness and range and variety. Pay attention to the voices and styles that hold YOUR attention...ponder why and how. Then try out a few...sing a few verses of this ballad or that until you find one that seems ripe for you to embody.

To my way of thinking, embodiment is important. Work, work, work (or play, play, play) at acquiring those words, those lines, those verses and refrains, those audience-grabbing cadences, but also do your best to present a ballad with all of your being, thrumming with the harmonic and narrative power.

Yes, each singer will make technical adjustments as they deem necessary or suitable, but it's important to treat the songs like beloved elders: bow to them, honour them, and crawl right up into their laps and throw your arms around them if you can. Don't argue with them before you've developed an affectionate relationship. (BTW, I am one of those who believe it IS possible to get your ego out of the way, humble yourself, and become a host or a vessel for music that is more ancient and powerful. I've felt this ego-surpassing power in the presence of a few ballad singers--especially Sara Grey, with her eerie, spare clawhammer banjo accompaniment, and Scottish tradition-bearers Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, at whose feet I would happily sit (and join in on refrains, if welcomed) for ages!

I would heartily recommend Alison & Geordie's recordings for the liner notes as well as their fine, engaging singing. They've done a great deal of song-and-story-gathering from source singers themselves, as well as painstakingly documenting the lives and work of some of these singers. (You can track down their work here.)

In our household, we are blowing the dust off a lot of old albums just now...endeavoring to learn and re-learn some of these Big Boys (and Big Girls!) is our mutual New Year's Resolution.


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