Appalachian Music Fellowship 14

Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship
Day 14, June 18, 2009

Here is one last note on the ballad collecting craze I’ve been writing about recently. From about 1900 through at least the next 50 years, Berea College had several faculty members who were avid ballad collectors. Berea’s third President, William Goddell Frost (1893-1920), encouraged faculty and students to find and document ballads and ballad singers. For a time, Berea was well known as a haven and repository for ballad performers, scholars, hunters, and songs.

However, today I found two typewritten notes written in 1922 by two Berea students (we think; we’re not sure; we also believe they may be course evaluations) who make known their distaste of “them old love songs and song-ballets.”

“There are some earnest people in Berea who believe we should confine our study and singing to ballads, thus making Berea unique. I believe Dr. Raine is addicted to this idea. We in the Music Dept. do not so limit ourselves, for the same reason that he does not confine his Dramatics Association to Morality plays and his classes to Chaucer. Audiences are much interested in ballads; but audiences think only of being entertained. They are not looking far enough ahead to see the musical future of a people. Berea College is not a museum, nor is it an object of curiosity.”

“The teachers of the Music Dept. and the members of the Glee Club are sick of mountain ballads—as are the students who were brought up on them. Why? Because they have little literary or musical value. By the time students come to Berea, they have outgrown them. They come to Berea to learn, to hear, and to see the best there is. Shall we let them think the best in the whole musical world is made up of ballads? If the musicians of today confined themselves now to the study of this music, it would be as though our medical students should confine themselves to the study of the use of herbs among our forefathers. The mountain ballads may be interesting to an outsider for the moment and as a curiosity, but how our students hate the idea of being curious or different from other students.”

–from the Berea College Special Collections, Hutchins Library

Published by Marianne Worthington

Marianne Worthington is a poet, editor, and co-founder of Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing writers, artists, and musicians with ties to the Appalachian region since 2009. She received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine. She was awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship at Berea College. She co-edited, with Silas House, Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons from the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a writing craft anthology from teachers at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop from the last 40 years. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, Shenandoah, The Louisville Review, Appalachian Review, Cheap Pop, and Chapter 16, among other places. She lives in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and teaches communication studies, media writing, and journalism at University of the Cumberlands. Her poetry collection, The Girl Singer, is available from University Press of Kentucky, 2021.

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