The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) is the national development agency for preserving, protecting, disseminating and promoting the traditional folk arts of England. Alice Little partnered with them to study around twenty tunebooks – musical notebooks – from the eighteenth century which are held within their archive.
Alice explains that, ‘while the repertoire contained in these manuscripts is still relatively popular on the folk music scene today, the sources themselves have been under-researched. EFDSS was keen that I should help users of the collection interpret them, particularly with regard to cultures of music collecting and the understanding of “national music” in the eighteenth century.’
Alice was also interested to learn more about these tunebooks in the context of the wider collections held by EFDSS. During the course of the project, Alice has catalogued the tunebooks and their contents, and has begun to use this data to compare the repertoire contained.
She has written about her work for English Dance and Song magazine, and prepared an academic article for Folk Music Journal. In February 2020, EFDSS organised a public-facing knowledge exchange event at which Alice gave a ‘guided tour’ of the eighteenth century tunebooks in their archive, played recordings of some of the tunes in the manuscripts, and heard from present-day collectors and other researchers about what these sources meant to them.
While plans for a concert-lecture have had to be put on hold as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, Alice is helping to organise the conference ‘Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs’, to be held at EFDSS in October 2020. Beyond the Fellowship, Alice says that, ‘I am speaking with a network of researchers about future directions, with options including a multi-archive grant application, and sharing information to build a collaborative database of tunebooks that will be useful for researchers and archivists as well as contemporary musicians.’
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