MacArthur, Margaret began collecting the songs of New England, particularly in Vermont where she lived. By 1951 she was singing on a local radio station, and with the coming of the folk revival, she made recordings for Folkways, and is now in demand at major festivals. When she isn't backed by members of her family, she accompanies herself on dulcimer or a small harp.
Macon, Uncle Dave (1870-1952) (David Macon) began playing professionally out of his Nashville home in 1918, recording a number of records in the 1920s. His music was based on traditional songs of the area, vaudeville tunes, English ballads, etc. In 1926, he became one of the first members of the Grand Ole Opry's cast, where he performed until 1952. In 1927, he and Sam and Kirk McGee McGee Brothers formed a group called The Fruit Jar Drinkers and made a number of recordings.
Dave's banjo and performance style widely influenced many old-timey and folk pickers, including Seeger, Pete. Some of the songs he popularized include "Rock About My Saro Jane", "Jordan is a Hard Road", and "Sail Away, Ladies".
MacColl, Ewan (1915-1989) born Jimmy Miller, Ewan probably had as much influence on British folk music as Pete Seeger did on American. Born in Scotland and later living in London, Ewan was originally a playwright during the 40s, but during the early 50s turned to promoting British traditional music during the folk revival in the UK. In the late 50s, he and his wife Seeger, Peggy collaborated on a series of radio-ballad productions for the BBC, from which we get legions of his fine compositions.
He was an active collector of songs, and he and Peggy have published a number of ballad books, both of collected songs and their own works. He is best known as a songwriter with dozens of great songs, (many of which were co-written with Peggy) of which "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", "Shoals of Herring", "Sweet Thames Flow Softly", "Dirty Old Town", and "Ballad of Springhill" are just a few.
machine head (or just "machine") a tuning peg with gear drive between the knob and the peg for fine adjustments of pitch on stringed instruments. Almost all quality instruments have them, except for friction-fit types like the violin and dulcimer.
MacNeil, Rita (1944- ) the Cape Breton sing-songwriter began her career in Toronto in the early 70s, singing feminist songs. By the late 70s and early 80s, she was performing at major Canadian folk festivals and had recorded three albums. Her later songs were to reflect her Maritime roots. She now has at least ten albums, along with several Junos. Her best-known songs are "Working Man" and "You Taught Me Well". She is currently (1995) the host of a popular music show on CBC television ("Rita and Friends").
madrigal a British term referring to a style of song, usually unaccompanied, and usually sounding vaguely like a hymn (there may or may not be religious references). There are two basic types, the madrigal proper and the air (or "ayre"). The madrigal proper is complicated, with contrapuntal elements and much variation on the melody with each new verse. The air is much simpler, less contrapuntal, and has the same melody for each verse. There is another category, the "ballett", which has a refrain, but this is beyond the scope of the document.
The term "madrigal" is only occasionally encountered in folk music, although many of the chorus songs are no doubt derived from the madrigal form. See also glee, ballade, burden.
magazines see Come For To Sing, Dirty Linen, Living Tradition, The, Broadside, and Sing Out!.
maggot a fairly rare word meaning a dance or the tune for that dance. The Playford Dancing Master lists many, including "Betty's Maggot", "Huntington's Maggot", and "Captain's Maggot". The derivation of the word has nothing to do with larvae, but comes from a ME word meaning "whim" or "odd fancy" (the word fancy also appears in tunes for dancing), which would also indicate that there may not be any specific dance steps. See also fiddle tunes.
mailing list, folk see Internet folk
maillins (Scot.) farmlands.
main (Scot., also "mayne") strength, power.
Mainer's Mountaineers an old-timey group formed in the early 30s by J.E. Mainer (1898-1971). They were known as "The Crazy Mountaineers" when they began broadcasting in North Carolina. They recorded for labels such as RCA, Arhoolie, and King, and continued to record a large number of albums into the 60s.
main stage festivals tend to have one large stage and a number of smaller ones, which are sometimes tents. The night concerts are held on the main stage; during the day, it's used for a variety of purposes, including workshops and demonstrations.
major chord something budding guitar and banjo players encounter all the time. A chord is made up of three or more notes, and a minimum major or minor chord is built from the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale - a C major chord contains C, E and G. This is called a triad. Note that the major triad consists of a major third (C to E) and a minor third (E to G).
A lot of folksongs can be played with only the three principal chords, which are built as above on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the scale; for instance, in the key of C, the principal chords are C, F and G, a trio familiar to all instrumental beginners. The word "principal" refers to the fact that the three chords contain all the notes of the major scale among them, so one of them will probably harmonize (more or less) with a musical phrase.
See also minor chord.
major key see scale.
major scale the eight notes of the major scale are arranged as tone-tone- semitone-tone-tone-tone-semitone. This pattern is our familiar do-re-mis. See scale for further information.
major seventh by convention, adding the seventh note of the scale to a major chord requires the seventh to be flatted - C7, for example, contains the notes C-E-G-Bb. If the seventh is not flatted, the chord becomes a major seventh - Cmaj7, for example, contains the notes C-E-G-B.
Makem, Tommy (1932- ) originally a member of the Clancy Brothers, Tommy left in 1969 to pursue a solo career. He has played concerts all over the world, and for years had a Canadian TV show called "Tommy Makem and Ryan's Fancy". He has recorded a large number of albums.
Mallett, David singer-songwriter from Maine, whose best-known song is "The Garden Song", which was recorded by Denver, John. His best-known songs in folk clubs would be "I Knew This Place", "Fire", and "Ballad of St Anne's Reel".
mando-banjo see banjolin.
mando-cello a large version of the mandolin, though not as large as the actual cello.
mandola a mandolin larger than the familiar "bluegrass" style, but smaller than the mando-cello. Martin made one with a guitar body.
mandolin the mandolin family (which evolved from the lute family) is *huge*, and includes everything from cello-sized instruments to models like the Greek bouzouki. However, the one that comes to mind when you say the word to folkies is the "standard" or "bluegrass" mandolin. It's a small instrument with four pairs of unison strings tuned exactly the same as a violin, GDAE, with the G below middle C.
While the sound is abrupt and not very rich, players can go very fast, making it ideal for rapid solos (see bluegrass). Limited chording is possible as an addition to a band's rhythm section.
There is also a long-necked variant on the bluegrass mandolin. The longer strings yield a much richer tone.
What do you get if you cross a guitar, a mandolin, and a ukelele? Ans: a tiple.
Maphis, Joe (1921-1986) born in Virginia, he played guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and was later to be called "The King of the Strings" for his fast, finger-style playing. He joined his father's Railsplitters band in 1932 and went on to influence many in C&W - he was noted for picking fiddle tunes on the guitar, and may well have inspired others like Watson, Doc. He went professional in 1938, and switched to electric guitar in 1947. In the 50s he played backup for Rick Nelson and many others; he continued to play and record into the 70s.
maracas hollow gourds filled with seeds or pebbles and equipped with handles. They're shaken to give a rhythmic effect, and are usually played in pairs.
marimba a row of tuned wooden bars mounted in a box and played with mallets - similar to a xylophone or vibraphone.
mark (Scot., also "merk") an obsolete coin, worth 13 1/2 English pence.
marker folksongs of various types exhibit certain identifying characteristics that serve as markers of that type. In the ballad, for instance, the heroine's hands will be lily-white, heroes are brave and bold, and they meet while setting out one morning to take the sweet and pleasant air. She will be named Nancy or Polly and he will be named William or Jimmy.
The purpose of these cliched markers is twofold: it identifies the song as belonging to a particular genre (and often lists commonalities belonging to particular groups of listeners), and the use of familiar phrases simplifies the learning of a new song.
Markwick, Bill (1945-) the advantage to writing a compendium like this one is that you get to write your own bio. Born Owen Sound, Ontario. Greatly amazed at the time by the Kingston Trio and even more so by the great wealth of folk music formerly concealed. Fell in love with finger-style guitar in the early 60s and sang as best he could. Played folk clubs from the late 60s on, greatly influenced by Rush, Tom, Van Ronk, Dave, Carthy, Martin, and Shea, Red. Accompanied Margaret Christl for about six months in 1977, which was the same year he had a brief period as a somewhat bungling morris dancer.
With Jim Armour, was a resident performer at Fiddler's Green Folk Club for some years in the early 80s, and played local clubs and three Mariposa Folk Festivals. Now a technical writer. He lives in Toronto, still gets gigs, and is still attempting to sound like Red Shea. He has all his own hair and teeth.
Martin a favorite guitar of the 60s and 70s, expensive and made in the US since the 1830s, when it was started by Christian Frederick Martin. The guitar lines were expanded after the guitar's popularity got a boost from performers such as the Carter Family; another peak occurred during the folk revival of the 50s and 60s. They're the standard high-end, factory-made guitar for many folk and C&W performers, though they've been somewhat eclipsed in recent decades by limited-production models from individual luthiers. The Martin dreadnought shape became an industry standard in large acoustic guitars. See also Gibson, Guild.
The Martin company, while usually equated with guitars, also made other instruments. There was a very short production run of zithers in the 1880s, tenor banjos in the 1920s, plus mandolins and ukeleles of various types. See tiple and taropatch for two of the ukelele's cousins. In the 1960s, they turned out electric guitars (such as archtops and dreadnoughts with pickups) as well as amplifiers.
Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong Carl Martin, Ted Bogan, and Howard Armstrong were multi-instrumentalists and singers who began performing a wide variety of material (blues, ragtime, early pop, etc.) in the 1930s, being featured on Tennessee radio. They recorded separately and as a group (in the latter case, on Rounder and Flying Fish). They were popular at North American folk festivals, and travelled to Central and South America with the US State Department as sponsor.
Martinmas (Brit.) Nov. 11.
matlow (UK) sailor.
maun (Scot.) must
mazurka a Polish dance in triple time that enjoyed international popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There is an accent on the second beat and many dotted notes. Examples can be found by modern folk musicians who record dance tunes.
McBride, Owen originally from Dublin, Owen is a commercial artist now living in Toronto. He began performing in Toronto in the 60s, and was asked to sing at the Mariposa Folk Festival. He was a great success, and has appeared at Mariposa more than any other performer. He plays many major festivals and has an album on Philo.
Besides his singing of traditional Irish and British songs, Owen does superb storytelling, being one of the few masters of the art.
McCoy, Charlie (1941- ) a versatile multi-instrumental sideman in Nashville, perhaps best known for his harp, guitar, and bass work on records by Dylan, Bob.
McCurdy, Ed (1919- ) best known for his song "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" (a song which, happily, is coming true) Ed is one of the most recorded of the singers of the folk revival of the 50s and 60s.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Ed moved to Canada in the 40s, and performed for radio and TV. He has toured widely, performing at all major festivals, and has dozens of recordings.
McDowell, Fred (1905-1972) Mississippi Fred McDowell was one of the last of the country blues bottleneck style guitar players and singers. He was recorded by Lomax, Alan and these recordings brought him offers to play at major festivals in the US and Europe. He made a number of recordings for Arhoolie and other labels, and was an influence on Raitt, Bonnie, who played with him in the late 60s.
He introduced one of his recordings by saying "My name is Mississippi Fred McDowell, and I do not play no rock 'n roll!" He also had an album called "I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll", which might have something to do with the fact that he switched to an electric guitar in the 60s.
McGarrigle, Kate & Anna singer-songwriters from Montreal. Their records have received rave reviews, and their songs have been recorded by others such as Linda Rondstadt ("Heart Like a Wheel") and Maria Muldaur ("Cool River"). Their repertoire is a mix of their own songs, contemporary folk, Quebecois songs, and more.
McGee Brothers Sam and Kirk McGee were the first to play the Grand Ole Opry along with Macon, Uncle Dave in 1926. They continued to play the Opry and make recordings for many years. During the late 50s, Mike Seeger had them record for Folkways, exposing their songs and Sam's expert finger-style guitar to a new generation.
McGhee, Brownie (1915-1996) (Walter McGhee) born in Tennessee, Brownie began playing professionally in 1935. In the late 30s, he met and started playing with Terry, Sonny and Blind Boy Fuller. He recorded with Okeh and Savoy records from 1939-45, then moved to NYC after Fuller's death in 1941, where he and Sonny Terry met Seeger, Pete, Leadbelly, Guthrie, Woody and others, and joined the short-lived Headline Singers.
It is with Sonny Terry that his name is mostly associated. They toured throughout the 60s and 70s, and made dozens of recordings.
McGuinn, Roger Roger (Jim) McGuinn made a few appearances with the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio, but it is his association with the Byrds that is usually remembered. After embarking on a solo career, he wrote the title song for the film "Easy Rider". His Web page is listed under Internet folk.
McLaughlan, Murray (1948- ) one of the pillars of Canadian contemporary folk along with such names as Lightfoot, Gordon. The singer-songwriter-guitarist has made many recordings, and some of the songs were hits in both folk and pop circles: "Child's Song", "Farmer's Song", "Honky Red", and "Sweeping the Spotlight Away". He has three Juno awards and is currently (1994) the host of his own show on Canadian radio.
McLean, Don (1945- ) best known to the public for his 70s hits "American Pie" and "Vincent" (aka "Starry, Starry Night"), Don was involved in folk music all through the 60s, including a stint in the Clearwater Project and much club and touring work. Since his popular success, which he did not take too seriously, he has released a number of albums containing both his own and traditional material.
On his success: he said in a number of interviews that the demand for "American Pie" annoyingly overshadowed much of his other work. He also said that the theme of "American Pie" is that commercialization corrupts inspiration.
McTell, Ralph (1944- ) (Ralph May) an English singer-songwriter and an excellent guitarist, popular in the 60s and 70s. He is probably best known for his 60s song "Streets of London", although it tends to overshadow many of his other fine works. He recorded for Transatlantic in 1968, and Reprise shortly after. A re-recorded "Streets of London" was in the UK top ten in 1974. He also recorded for Warners with Thompson, Richard, and Simon Nicol and Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention. He began his own label, Mays, in the 80s. His stage name comes from Blind Willie McTell.
McTell, Blind Willie see Blind Willie McTell.
meal-n'-ale (Scot.) a celebration.
meantone scale (also "mesotonic", "mean-tone") one of several attempts to fix the problems with the scale of just intonation, which is based on the harmonic series and goes sour when different keys ( modulation) are attempted, because the just or natural scale produces quite a number of different tones instead of the familiar tone/semitone of our equal-tempered scale. The meantone scale was popular from the late 1500s to the 19th century, particularly for organs - Bach seems to have used meantone organ tuning, since his choice of organ keys is consistent with the "good ones" in meantone - and it's still used today by period musicians.
Take a deep breath:
The meantone scale sets the thirds to the same pitch ratio as in the natural scale, 5/4 (a pure interval). This is done by jumping four fifths and falling back in octaves as required (for instance, C G D A E, in the same way as the circle of fifths used in the Pythagorean scale). The trick is that the pure fifth (3/2) has to be flatted very slightly, since the C-E from four pure fifths is a little over 5/4. The fifth is flatted to 1.495 by subtracting 5.4 cents, which is 1/4 of the syntonic comma (not the comma of Pythagoras, if you're keeping score).
What happens next depends on the period in history and the tuner's ideas - there were many different systems tried in hopes of getting rid of wolf tones that prevented key changes too far from the starting key.
One system: Now we have C D E G A, and another pure third is used to get B from the G. The process is continued. (In some systems, a pure fourth of 4/3 gives the F note.)
The two tones that make up the third will then be equal size (the geometric mean of 5/4, which for two elements is the square root, or about 1.118:1), which defines the whole tone and gives the scale its name. The mean tone is slightly smaller than the tone in our current equal-tempered scale, which is about 1.122.
The frequencies shown below are derived from the theory in Alexander Wood's "The Physics of Music" (1944, revised 1975). The fifth is flatted as explained above, the pure third is generated, and so on; the octave is tuned 2:1 from the starting note C. The note A was taken as 440 Hz, which makes C come out a little sharp compared to our equal-tempered C of 261.6. There are small discrepancies due to rounding off.
Note Freq. Multiplier C 263.18 1 C# 276.03 1.049 D 294.27 1.118 Eb 314.85 1.196 E 328.96 1.25 F 352.01 1.3375 F# 367.82 1.3976 G 393.57 1.4954 G# 411.23 1.5625 A 440 1.6718 Bb 470.79 1.789 B 491.95 1.869 C 526.36 2
The meantone scale is quite an elegant design, since a quick check with a calculator shows that the thirds (C-E, F-A, G-B, etc) are pure, and the fifths (C-G, D-A, F-C, etc) nearly so. Most notes are within about 6 cents of the pure value with the exception of C# (-11 cents), which is accurate as a third in the key of A and acceptable as a somewhat flat leading tone in the key of D. The above scale gives good results for the keys C, G, D, A, F, and Bb. Outside those, the wolf tones rise up, especially the fifth G#-Eb, which is sharp by about 36 cents (more than a third of a semitone).
If all this seems like a great deal of jiggery-pokery in hopes of arriving at an impossible goal, you're right. As pointed out under temperament, there is no perfect scale. It's probably no coincidence that "temperament" is the chosen word for tinkering with the scale - it's temperamental, and bad-tempered tuners result.
measure a bar.
media the pop media *always* screw up any presentation of folk music. They fail to recognize its complexity and subtlety, and present it as a 1960-ish sort of stereotype, with the focus on anybody who's playing an acoustic guitar. Folkies can never watch anything folk-oriented on the mass media without eyerolls and grimaces.
mediant see progression, note names.
medicine shows up until the 1930s, travelling shows for selling patent medicines always included entertainment, usually in the minstrel and vaudeville traditions, and some of the best of the blues performers got their start there, including Rainey, Ma, Cannon, Gus, and Smith, Bessie.
medieval folk music said to be medieval often belongs to the Renaissance period, particularly Elizabethan, and is often music of the court, composed by Elizabethans such as John Dowland. Medieval times cover a rather large span of history - from the fall of the Roman empire to the Renaissance, or thereabouts. In terms of musical periods, it can be taken from somewhat before 1000 to 1450 (see classical).
Real medieval folk music (15th century, say) can be pretty raucous stuff - instruments like the krumhorn sound like giant kazoos. It's spritely, though: consider the tune of "Good King Wenceslas". This was written in 1582 (the spring carol "Tempus Adest Floridum" - the words are by John Neale, an 19th-century hymnwriter); while this is a bit late for "medieval" (in fact, it's Elizabethan), it does nicely capture the spirit of the music.
The formal composers of the time are a different story. They wrote a great deal of beautiful music, although the stiff structure may not please everyone. Many of these tunes found their way into the tradition, in particular the dance tradition (see also country dancing, Purcell, Henry), Playford, Society for Creative Anachronism. Internet folk lists Web sites related to medieval/Renaissance history.
medley a series of different songs or tunes performed one after the other. In some instances, different keys are used for interest. See also segue.
Mel Bay a publishing company that has an enormous number of books that are mostly tutorials for various instruments. That's how you started in 60s/70s folk playing: you bought your guitar or banjo and your Mel Bay book and started plunking. It would be interesting to know how many famous pickers got their start via Mel Bay.
melisma a song setting in which one syllable gets more than one note, usually more than six or so (less than this is called neumatic, at least in textbooks). An example would be the Christmas carol "Gloria in Excelsis", in which the word "gloria" is stretched out over quite a few measures. Opposite "syllabic".
The distinction based on the number of notes is generally ignored by musicians, and "melisma" is used (if it's used at all).
melodeon similar in appearance to an accordion, but with buttons instead of keys. It's diatonic, although a second row of buttons gives a second key. Some players choose a melodeon with two keys close together (such as B and C) to give a large number of sharps and flats and allow more freedom with the key. This is obviously not easy to do. The usual keys are C-F and D-G. There is also a model (the "club melodeon") that has a third row of buttons to add more sharps and flats and increase the number of available keys.
The sound of the melodeon depends on the number of reeds fitted per note. One reed results in a fairly pure tone like the concertina, while two to four reeds give a richer, wavery sound.
Another difference from the accordion is that you get one note pushing the bellows and another when you pull. This makes for a built-in rhythm from the bass chord buttons. Melodeons are great faves for dance music.
Also known as a "box" or "squeezebox" or (rarely) "windjammer".
In times past, small reed organs for the parlor or small church were also known as melodeons or harmoniums, depending on the manufacturer.
melodic minor see scale.
melody the variation in the notes of a musical selection - synonymous with tune. See parts of music.
membranophone an instrument whose sound comes from a stretched membrane, such as a drum. It's one of the four types of instruments; the others are aerophone, idiophone, and chordophone.
Memphis Minnie (~1897-?) (Minnie McCoy) Louisiana blues singer and guitarist who recorded for Columbia after 1929. Songs of hers include "Me and My Chauffeur", "Black Rat Swing", "Pickin' the Blues", and "Bumble Bee" (evolved by others such as Waters, Muddy into "Honey Bee"). She was one of the great blues guitarists, according to Broonzy, Bill.
Memphis Slim (1915-1988) (Peter Chatman) played blues and boogie piano during the 30s; in 1937 he moved to Chicago, where he played with Broonzy, Bill, and Dixon, Willie. He recorded for Okeh, Bluebird, and Folkways (including an album with Willie Dixon and Seeger, Pete called "Pete Seeger at the Village Gate").
merk see mark.
me-sen (UK) myself.
mesotonic scale see meantone scale.
Messer, Don a Canadian fiddler who played a number of styles. He's best known for his radio broadcasts and "The Don Messer Show" on CBC TV. He has a large number of albums on various labels.
meter the rhythmic quality of lyrics or tunes. Just as the meter of the lyrics is determined by the number of syllables per line and the stresses put on them, the meter of a tune is determined by the time signature and the way the notes are grouped and stressed in each bar. See foot for examples of how this works with lyrics. See also scan, rhythm.
metronome a mechanical or electronic device that emits a regular click or beep calibrated in beats per minute. It's used in practice sessions to set a performance's tempo. Not very popular in folk music, although it probably should be, since so many folkies have a wobbly sense of rhythm.
microtone any musical tone smaller than a semitone. Microtones are used in all the world's folk musics. In Western folk music, we tend to get locked to the notes of the scale, but microtones are still used as expressive devices by singers, by whistle players, or by players of continuous-tone instruments like the violin. On fretted instruments, microtones are available by bending the strings or using a slide. The exact size of the microtone is up to the performer.
middle C so called because it appears halfway between the treble staff and the bass staff, and is also approximately in the middle of a piano or organ keyboard. Its frequency in the equal-tempered scale is 261.626 Hz. For the various ways of notating it, see octave notation.
Michaelmas (Brit.) Sept. 29.
mickle (Scot., also "meikle", "muckle") much, great.
military folksongs it might seem odd to associate folksongs with the military, but soldier songs have a long history - many of the ancient ones are still sung today by traddies ("Duke of Marlbrough", "Over the Hills and Far Away", etc.). Some military pipe tunes are in the repertoire of folk performers. The soldier songs form a sub-subculture of their own, with songs describing various units or exploits, or just life in the military in general. Songs from WWI and WWII that might be heard today in folk clubs include "Has Anyone Seen the Colonel", "Bless 'Em All", and "Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant-Major".
Some of the lyrics are original, and some are rewrites of existing traditional songs. The tunes can be traditional, original, or borrowed from pop music (the reverse: the tune of Waltzing Matilda is from a military recruiting song). "The Jolly Tinker" is a traditional song that ended up in the military (in a somewhat more bawdy version than in folk), and "The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily", which is by Henderson, Hamish, exists in both military and folk idioms.
Mills, Alan (1913-1977) Canadian folksinger who specialized in popularizing the folksongs of Canada. He began singing in 1935, and in 1951 wrote the well-known "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". He did considerable singing on CBC radio from 1947 to 1959. In 1967 he recorded many tracks for the nine-disk centennial album "Canadian Folk Songs" (RCA CS-100). Although his singing was somewhat stiff by folkie standards, he had a wealth of knowledge of Canadian folklore and contributed much to the folksong revival in Canada.
Mimi & Richard Farina see Farina, Richard.
minim see notation, British.
minor used as an adjective, it refers to an interval that has been reduced in pitch by one semitone; for instance, a minor third is C to Eb, whereas a major third is C to E.
minor chord a chord built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the minor scale; for instance, in the key of A minor, the Am chord contains the notes A-C-E. Note that the chord consists of a minor third (A to C) with a major third (C to E). See also major chord, relative minor.
minor key see scale.
minor scale the sequence of the minor scale is tone- semitone-tone- tone-semitone-tone-tone. This is from A to A on the white keys of the piano (the key of A minor). For further information, see scale.
minstrel in past centuries, a minstrel was anyone making a living from music, especially someone who was a traveller. Their social positions varied from street singers to members of a royal court. One step up was the troubadour, a somewhat more lofty position: the ranks of troubadours (skilled musicians of social rank) included nobility, and even kings. The job seems to have been predominantly male.
In medieval France, the minstrels were called jongleurs. A step up from the troubadour was the trouvere, who was pretty much the equivalent of a professional composer, since they weren't noted for public performances. The trouveres were first documented around the 12th century.
The travelling minstrel shows of the 19th-century US were the forerunners of vaudeville. Although the shows are often associated with the south, in fact they began in New York City. An offshoot were the medicine shows, sort of minstrels with a sponsor.
In the US in the 19th century, the shows featured both black performers and white people in blackface singing plantation songs and spirituals (often ersatz). It's of interest to note that black people often wore blackface, with its exaggerated eyes and white-outlined mouth. In early years, particularly the 1820s through the 1830s, many of the songs written by the performers were based on much older stage and folk songs from the UK (which had a blackface minstrel show tradition as well). The "big four" in the mid-19th century US minstrel tradition were Emmett, Dan, Frank Bower, Dick Pelham, and Billy Whitlock.
As this died away, the minstrel show became a way of making a living for many of the black people. Some of its alumni went on to greater fame in blues music, such as Rainey, Ma, Handy, W.C., and Smith, Bessie. Some of the minstrel songs ended up in (or back in) the folk tradition, with "Golden Slippers" by Bland, James being one example.
A highly readable work on the entire topic of the minstrel-show tradition is "Dan Emmett and Early Negro Minstrelsy", Hans Nathan, University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. See also goliard.
minuet a baroque dance, usually in 6/8 time and moderate in pace.
minus sign in chord books, indicates a minor chord, such as "A-", although "m" or "min" is more common.
mirliton if you've ever heard "Dance of the Mirlitons" from the "Nutcracker", but couldn't find mirliton in any dictionary, here you are: it's a kind of kazoo - a cylinder with one end closed with a stretched diaphragm. Humming into it produces a buzzing noise that follows the tune (sort of).
missing fundamental see fundamental.
Mitchell, Adam Canadian singer-songwriter who started in the folk revival of the 60s. He joined "The Paupers" when it was formed in 1966, doing vocals, guitar, and drums. They were signed by agent Grossman, Albert, and enjoyed some popularity until disbanding in 1969. He then embarked on a solo career, with his best-known song being "Je T'aime, Marie".
Mitchell, Joni (1943- ) born Roberta Joan Anderson in Alberta, Joni came to folk music through the coffeehouses of Calgary and Toronto's Yorkville in the 60s. She was successful, and played the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1965 doing her own compositions. She continued on to considerable fame as a pop star. Her best-known songs in the folk genre are "Urge for Going", "The Circle Game" and "Both Sides Now". She was married to US folksinger Chuck Mitchell, 1965-66.
mixdown most albums are recorded on multiple tracks, from 4 to 24. It's necessary to blend them into the left and right stereo final mixdown.
modal (adj.) referring to anything in a mode.
modal tuning an instrument open tuning, used when the tune is in a mode and the instrumentalist wants to avoid certain chord notes that seem inappropriate to the mode. For instance, a guitar might be tuned in fourths and fifths, eliminating the third. For example, EAEAAE would give a stark droning sound when strummed.
The guitar tuning DADGAD (see also Graham, Davey) is another of use in playing modes. The third of the scale (normally F# on the first string, second fret) is eliminated, unless the player wants it in. This one is equally suited to playing in normal keys as well as modes.
The term is often incorrectly used to mean an open tuning that gives a major chord.
mode the word can mean any type of scale, but in folk musicology, it refers to specific types. At one time, the only scale available had no sharps or flats - like staying on the white keys on the piano. This is still true of some diatonic instruments like the whistle or harmonica.
It's possible to play in other keys by simply moving the keynote, but the changes in the tone/semitone sequence result in a scale different from the expected major (the do-re-mis). These new scales are called modes.
Note: there are two systems for describing modes, and although they're the same musically, they shuffle the names around. These are known as the Greek modes and the ecclesiastical modes; the latter are the ones used in Gregorian chant. In this file, modes always refer to the ecclesiastical naming.
Suppose you stay on the white keys of the piano and play a scale starting on a G note. Because the scale of G wants the seventh note (F) to be sharped, what you hear is a major scale with a flatted seventh. This is the Mixolydian mode, widely used in folk music and the usual scale for the dulcimer. "Old Joe Clark" is an example of a Mixolydian tune.
Since folk instruments are often chromatic, the intricacies of the modes these days are confined mostly to theorists (and obsessive folkies and dictionary writers). This is not to say that they aren't widely used: musicians who play diatonic instruments such as the whistle, harp, or pipes use them extensively. For a superb discussion of modes as they apply to Scottish tunes, see Jack Campin's Web page, where you'll find not only lucid explanations but the music itself in the ABC player format: http://www.campin.me.uk/.
See the end of this entry for a list of the modes. These are "authentic" modes, which simply means that they're confined to the span of an octave. There is another series called the "plagal" modes, which are the authentic modes increased by a fourth below or a fifth above. They have the same names, but with the prefix "Hypo", as in "Hypodorian". You might think that simply extending the scale wouldn't have much of an effect, but it does noticeably change the type of melodies available. In folk music, it's common for the melody to spend a lot of time around the dominant note, which is a fifth above the starting note of the mode (which is called the "final" note, because the song usually ends on it). In the plagal modes, the melody could go exploring below the final.
The Dorian mode is of particular interest. It begins on the D note of the white keys. Tunes in the Dorian mode sound like a mix of major and minor scales, and never quite settle down to either one. The mode is equivalent to the major scale with a flatted third and a flatted seventh. A good example of the Dorian mode is Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".
See pentatonic scale for a minimalist mode that's the foundation of many folk musics the world around.
For reference, the usual modes are listed below with the white-key starting note, plus a comparison with the usual major scale using that white-key starting note:
Dorian D flatted 3rd, 7th Phyrgian E flatted 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th Lydian F sharped 4th Mixolydian G flatted 7th Aeolian A flatted 3rd, 6th, 7th Ionian C same
Note that the Aeolian is our minor scale and the Ionian our major. There is a mode based on B called the Locrian, and although you'll find it in books for dulcimers, the Oxford Companion to Music says it "barely existed" (at least in the ecclesiastical modes). If you try it, you'll soon find out why: it never seems to get anywhere, and has an irritating tendency to resolve itself into the key of C, despite your best efforts to keep it in B modal. Satie, Erik would have loved it.
modulation a change in key, usually within the same piece of music. This is rare in folk music. (However, there are often several changes in the time signature within the same song.) Occasionally someone will modulate up one tone, but this is a contemporary device. Sometimes fiddlers will set each tune in a medley to a different key just to keep your interest up. G, D, A and E are favorite keys for this, since they correspond to the open strings of the fiddle.
There are some folk songs that have unusual chording that might pass for modulation. For instance, "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" in the key of G has the progression G-F-C-Bb-G-D-C-D-C-D-G. Whether or not the brief excursion into F-C-Bb could be called a key change is debatable - it could be argued that the unusual chords are simply used to harmonize with accidental notes.
moldy figs traddies who feel that folk (or other) music styles were set in concrete centuries ago, and they don't want anything to change, ever. See also commercialized.
Authorities often work up a head of steam over changes in musical tradition. Here's a quote from someone discussing musicians who:
"fuss with the measuring of the timing, aim at new notes, prefer to invent their own music instead of singing the old... They cut up melodies with hockets, smooth them with descants, and sometimes force upon them vulgar [extra voices]"
Pope John XXII,
'Twas ever thus. (Pope John just didn't quit - see organum). Also on changes to tradition, it's worth quoting from the book "The Ballad as Song", by Bronson, Bertrand:
"Last year's blooms are not this year's, though they spring from the same root. For each season there has to be a fresh re-creative effort; and in the day of Burns, thanks to a living tradition, as good versions were burgeoning as perhaps had ever flowered."
money there isn't much, not in folk music. There are performers who can make a living at it, but they are generally fairly famous in folk circles or have a lucrative gig such as children's folk. The majority would agree with the joke:
"Did you hear about the (insert least favorite minority) folksinger? He was only in it for the money."
See also commercialized, gig.
monitor it's a curious fact of physics that a performer is unable to hear much on a stage that uses a PA system. This makes vocals and instrumentals go off pitch and out of sync. To solve the problem, loudspeakers are placed at the foot of the stage, pointed at the performers. Thus the inevitable festival cry "More guitar in the monitor, please."
If the monitors are unsuitable or not there, singers will often cup one hand loosely over the ear. This reflects more of the voice back to the ear and greatly improves the control of pitch.
Best (and perhaps only) monitor joke: Canada's Al Simmons, while hosting a night at Ontario's Mariposa Folk Festival, asked "Can I have a little banjo in the monitor, please?" He then bent over, reached into the front of the monitor speaker, and pulled out a tiny banjo. "Thank you," he said.
monochord a single-string instrument, played by bowing or plucking, such as the mouth bow. Another version has a movable bridge for setting the pitch and is used for teaching or investigating the musical scale.
monody see monophonic.
monophonic of a single unaccompanied melody. An example would be a cappella singing. Its opposite is homophonic, which includes harmonizations, or polyphonic music, which has multiple melodies at the same time.
Monroe, Bill (1911-1996) known as the "Father of Bluegrass", Bill began performing in 1927 with his brothers Birch and Charlie, playing old-timey music on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. The mandolin was to remain Bill's speciality. They began recording in the late 30s, doing such songs as "Nine Pound Hammer" and "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms". They separated in 1936 and the group was renamed "THe Bluegrass Boys". They played the Grand Ole Opry from 1939 to the 70s. The personnel varied from time to time, but they remain the most influential musicians in bluegrass.
Monroe, Charlie (1903-1975) after a stint with his brother Bill as "The Monroe Brothers" (see Monroe, Bill), he left to form the "Monroe Boys" in 1938 and later the "Kentucky Pardners". They continued to perform and record their bluegrass music until Charlie retired in 1957.
Montana Slim see Carter, Wilf.
Moore, Thomas (1779-1852) Irish poet, popular in London society in the first third of the 19th century. He often set his poems to composed or traditional tunes, and some of his songs are around yet: "The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls", "Minstrel Boy", "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms", "The Last Rose of Summer", and others. See also parlor ballads.
mordent an ornament consisting of the expansion of a note into three. For example, a mordent on a C note would be C-B-C (lower mordent) or C-D-C (upper mordent). The accent falls on the first two notes, which are brief.
morisco see morris.
morris (also "morrice" - the word may or may not be capitalized) an ancient folk dance originating in England, usually associated with the Cotswold hills of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The word is mentioned in Shakespeare, and no doubt was probably ancient then (see Kemp, William). It is structured, and danced by a team rather than being a communal dance: there are six or eight dancers to a side (team), plus one or more musicians and possibly a Fool.
There are various explanations of the name, all of them somewhat doubtful. Some teams would blacken their faces, and this is said to be the origin of the alternate name "morisco", because they looked like Moors; there was also a European Renaissance dance similar to morris called the "morisca". Whether or not the dances are "Moorish" is something best left to historical researchers.
The dances are said to be descended from ancient fertility rituals, and also said to be simply spring celebratory dances from the farming areas of central England. In any case, the morris is remarkably popular, with hundreds of revivalist teams throughout the UK, Canada, the US, etc. Many folk clubs have given rise to a morris team or two.
The dancers perform at fairs, in parks, and pretty much anywhere there's room, reasonable weather, and an audience for the danceout. One of the morris rituals is dancing at sunrise on May 1 (see also Hal-an-Tow); it's surprising how many non-dancers get up early to watch this remarkable ceremony.
The identifying mark of morris dancers is a leather pad covered in bells and worn on the lower leg. These produce quite a rhythm when the dance begins. Some morris teams have dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, in particular characters from the Robin Hood tales, or Jack-in-the-Green. Anything goes as far as the Fool's costume is concerned - a team from Rhode Island has the Fool outfitted as a giant lobster. The morris outfit, called kit, is usually either white shirt and trousers with a baldrick, or tatters.
The dances are complex and energetic, and are divided into two types: the Handkerchief dance in which the dancers wave kerchiefs to accentuate the motion of the arms, and the Stick dance, in which large staffs are clashed in rhythmic patterns. There are also solo jigs, which are show dances for the Fool or other accomplished dancers.
The traditional instrumentation for the morris is the fiddle or the pipe-and-tabor (see whistle), but teams often add melodeons, concertinas, guitars, and/or portable drums.
Particular dances and their accompanying tunes were once specific to a midlands village, so the barker will often introduce a song as being from the Bampton tradition, or Sherburne, or other of the Cotswold villages.
There is a faction that believes that the morris is for men only. Its opponents point out that this is because Sharp, Cecil, who wrote extensively on turn-of-the-century morris dancing, never saw any women dancing it, and his word became law. In any case, teams of women dancers (or mixed teams) are now the norm.
There is also a type called Northwest morris, which originated in the mill towns of northwest England. They incorporate clogging steps; the hard-soled clogs produce a rhythmic clatter that replaces the bells. The dancers usually hold and clash decorated sticks ( tiddlers).
For other related terms, see the entries following this one, and also Ale, bag, feast, Fool's Jig, foreman, Kemp, William, Kimber, William, LRO, real ale, rubbish, side, squire. See also Internet folk for the address of the "Morris-related Info" Web page.
morris call a song or tune played during a public gathering to call the dancers together in readiness to start. Usually followed by the processional. Also "calling on" or "calling-on song".
morris off see recessional.
morris on 1. See processional. 2. An album of traditional morris tunes, done in an up-tempo electric folk style by some of Britain's best folk musicians (see Albion Band). Traddie dancers tut-tut at this sacrilege, but they all have copies because it's so well done.
morris Ring an English organization formed for the purpose of promoting the exchange of information among dancers, providing instructionals, etc. They've published a book (called "The Ring Book") of notation of many of the collected Cotswold morris dances. It was collected and edited by Bacon, Lionel.
mountain dulcimer see dulcimer.
mouth bow looking like a bow from a bow-and-arrow set, the mouth bow is placed against the cheek and the string plucked. By varying the tension and changing the shape of the mouth, various pitches and tones can be produced. The instrument comes from the native peoples and was first brought to public attention by performers such as Sky, Patrick and Sainte-Marie, Buffy.
mouth music back when instruments were banned by the more puritanical churches or societies, or when people couldn't afford instruments, mouth music was used to imitate the sound of dance music. There may be actual words, or there may be nonsense syllables. A good singer doing mouth music is something to hear. It's rapid and intricate, the folk version of jazz's scat singing. Also known as diddling.
mouth organ see harmonica.
movable do our scale, the do-re-mis, can take any of the twelve semitones as a keynote - "do" can start anywhere, which means that you can sing or play in any key (within the limits of your voice or instrument). More importantly, you can add accidentals as desired, and you can change from any key to any other. This wasn't always true. The hexachord and mode systems were limited to a narrow range of keys and modulation was difficult if it could be done at all. Historical attempts to create a multi-key system were often stymied by problems of temperament.
movies there are only a few major movies about folk music and folk heroes. Of the few, the best would probably be "The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time" (1982), a documentary about the famous group, their history, and their last reunion at Carnegie Hall in November, 1980.
A reasonable choice for second place would be "Alice's Restaurant" (1969), based on the song by Guthrie, Arlo. It features folk musicians like Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and of course, Arlo. See Guthrie, Arlo for more on the fate of the famous restaurant.
Less successful are "Bound For Glory" (1976), the bio of Guthrie, Woody, and " Leadbelly" (1976). Although they're fine films and critically acclaimed, they may not convey much of the magic the two musicians generated, leaving non-folkies wondering what all the fuss was about.
Perhaps fans of the blues would prefer a mention of "Crossroads" (1986), a highly entertaining film about a young man's quest for the reputed 30th song by Johnson, Robert. See also crossroads for the inspiration for some of the film's scenes.
See also Dont Look Back.
mud since it rains at a lot of festivals, and since the grounds will be chewed up by crowds and service vehicles, mud is as much a part of folk as incessant tuning. See also chemical toilets.
multi-tracking since the 60s, recordings have been made with tape recorders having 4 to 24 separate channels. Besides the uses in balancing the final mixdown, they allow performers to record one track, then hear it played back while they play along onto a second. This can be repeated, allowing one musician to play a whole orchestra's worth of instruments. Sometimes called "dubbing" or "overdubbing", although these usually refer to replacing one track with another (such as resinging an unsatisfactory vocal track).
It's used quite often in folk recordings. The first to popularize it was probably Bull, Sandy, although Pete Seeger used the technique for guitar and mandolin on his "Goofing Off Suite" for Folkways in 1958 (another track is mentioned under Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring).
mummers see mummers plays
mummers plays ritual plays performed in the UK and eastern Canada (and anywhere the local folk club can get a mummer's troupe together). The plays are usually performed at Christmas; sometimes the mummers will tour from house to house, and other times might give the play at a pub or other meeting place.
The plays "star" the locals, and what the productions lack in polish, they usually make up for in verve. Costumes are improvised out of anything handy, and sometimes the dialogue is, too.
Although each locality has its variations, the plays are always much the same. The characters consist of St George, a doctor, a sailor, a soldier, etc. There is always a battle scene with someone being killed, and the doctor always restores them to life. This death-and-resurrection motif turns up in rituals and religions the world over.
The story of the mummers has been beautifully captured in a song by Bob Pegg, "Rise Up, Jock".
mumming see mummers plays.
Music Access a company providing excerpts of songs featured in Sing Out! and Dirty Linen via touchtone phone; see the entries for further information.
music hall the British music hall variety shows of the 19th and 20th centuries (the television of their day) produced a large number of songs. While some sound contrived, many have made their way into the folk and pop traditions. Examples would be "Cockles and Mussels" (aka "Molly Malone") or "Danny Boy", although the latter is too maudlin and overdone for folkies. George Formby's "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On the Bedpost Overnight" was reissued in the 60s by Donegan, Lonnie (along with "Henery the Eighth" by Herman's Hermits).
Famous names in the music hall included George Formby, Sir Harry Lauder, Harry Champion (who originally popularized "Henery the Eighth"), Gus Elen and Albert Chevalier.
The writers for the music hall thought nothing of borrowing from the folk tradition, and with that good a framework, the songs often ended up back in folk. An example would be "Sam Hall" or "Jack Hall", a song from 18th-century broadsides about a man hanged in 1701 for stealing. The lyrics are exceptionally good, and classify it as one of the many songs said to be the condemned person's last words (see goodnight ballad). Between the circulation of the original ballad and the boost it got from the 19th-century music hall stage, there are many versions and variants (some songbooks credit the music hall with originating the song). See song family for a discussion of the many relatives of Jack or Sam.
Music hall songs are undergoing a bit of a revival at present (1994). Many groups are rearranging the music hall standards for festival concerts.
musicianer an archaic term for musician, still used occasionally in the UK and North America.
mute 1. (v.) To silence a string, usually by touching it. 2. (n.) A small block of rubber or similar material that can be slid onto the bridge of a violin or viola, reducing the volume. A banjo can be muted by placing a wadded cloth against the inside of the head - a towel, say, or as Seeger, Pete recommended, a diaper. (It's interesting to speculate: even a cheap banjo rings out nicely - are the damped-banjo fans duplicating the sound of old banjos, or the sound of old recordings?) In trumpet playing, the mute is a conical device inserted into the bell of the horn. Some mutes can be waved in and out with the left hand, producing a "wah-wah" sound. Players of the bodhran often place a towel or cloth inside the instrument and against the head to act as a sort of low-tech tone control.
My Dog Has Fleas see ukelele.
My Grandfather's Clock see Work, Henry Clay.
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The Folk File: A Folkie's Dictionary Copyright © 1993-2009 Bill Markwick, All Rights Reserved.