‘When Shirley Collins talks about folksong, it isn’t a conversation of historical information, musicological data sets, Roud or Child numbers. It is of the corner of a Sussex field … it is a mother strolling through that field’s corner and becoming, for a moment, every young woman who’d ever strolled past it. To Shirley Collins … each age-old song is that corner field – a magical locus in which the singer is no longer merely themselves, but becomes every man and woman who has ever sung that song’ (Justin Hopper, 2014)
I sing regularly in a Sussex-based folk choir and I have heard folk songs sung all my life by my mother who has performed in folk clubs around Sussex for the past 40 years. Following in Shirley Collins footsteps, literally and figuratively, I intend to sing the folk songs of Sussex in sites of resonance. I will aim to publish one recording a day, with an introduction to the site, the history of the song, and then an unaccompanied performance in situ. As a researcher, I am particularly interested in notions of landscape that are haptic and auditive rather than visual, therefore I intend for the recording to be purely audio and to discuss how imagination might add to the process of landscaping for the audience.
A multitude of folk songs are set in the month of May, and it is within this month that I will be posting my research. I hope that I will be able to explore why May has proven such a muse for singers of the British Isles, by discussions around the social and agricultural practices of this time of year and the processes of nature that have inspired them. Although in contemporary times we have been able to record folk songs, both in the written and the audio form, for this project I would like to interview Sussex folk singers and learn songs orally from them. This method both continues original traditions of practice and reflects how I have absorbed folk songs throughout my life.
At the outset of the projects I had wanted to learn songs throughout the British Isles and sing them in sites of well-known archaeological merit. My decision to narrow the perspective is two-fold; my postdoctoral research argues that landscaping is a process and Sussex, being my home county, has been the site of my formative landscapes [or lifeworld as Pearson and Shanks term it: ‘the totality of a person’s direct involvement with the places and environments in everyday life’ (Pearson, Shanks 2005: p. 153)]; furthermore I believe that this will contribute to notions of the everyday and vernacular archaeologies explored throughout Public Archaeology 2015. Therefore, whilst I may record a song on the lofty heights of Chanctonbury Ring, I may also record a song walking through Lancing Recreational Ground on my way to the Co-op.
- Public engagement as it stands would be with those who are engaged in the project through twitter and the blog, and the singers that I approach to teach me the songs of Sussex. How might I engage the non-blogging public? Do I perhaps perform all 30 songs at the end of May at a local folk club? Or do I sing the songs live at the sites with people around and therefore have both a non-web and non-folk audience?
- If archaeology is a subject concerned with artefacts, how might we begin to perceive the artefacts of folk performance practices? Am I the artefact? Or are their traces of songs imprinted on the land? Is this interpretative archaeology?
- Is landscape the preserve of the seeing subject? How might folk song contribute to a multi-layered conception of landscape – or a deep map?
- Beyond Mike Pearson and Mike Shanks’ collaboration Theatre/Archaeology (2005), are there texts or projects of interest that may help me to formulate my ideas around the relationship between performance and archaeology?
Hooper, J (2014). By The Mark On His Hand. Available at: http://www.justin-hopper.com/by-the-mark-on-his-hand/ [Accessed on 11/08/2014]. Electronic.
Pearson, M. Shanks, M (2005). Theatre/Archaeology. London: Routledge. Print.