Martin and Shan Graebe

What a wonderful day with Martin and Shan Graebe on the Kodály Spring Course 2016.

Our first lecture was from Martin, who took us entertainingly through the story of English traditional song from medieval times to the present day. We heard about the people who sang them, and the men and women who collected and published them. The story was illustrated with pictures, videos and sound – including a few songs from Martin and Shan.

Martin talked about some of the main collectors, Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp. They had two crucial characteristics in common – an interest in people and the ability to get on with them. Both qualities that Sam Lee displayed last night in his session on the songs of the travelling communities of the British Isles.

I was fascinated by the role of the Broadside Broadsheets in the introduction of apparent folk songs into the repertoire of the country singers. Did they start as compositions for the Broadsheets and then become adopted into the folk repertoire or were they taken from the community in the first place. It was fascinating to hear that songs that the singers thought had been passed down through many generations of their families were in fact much more recent compositions. Of course, they have since been passed down and kept alive through singing because the flimsy broadsheets are long destroyed.

After a short break it was Shan’s turn to entertain us by teaching us some folk songs, including a wonderfully encouraging improvisation session which became the accompaniment for another of her beautifully performed songs. It was interactive, open, creative and an encouraging environment to experiment with our own harmonies.

Finally after dinner they performed some of their favourite songs. Each one accompanied with an engaging story about its origin and meaning.