Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autumn and the Fall

click photo to enlarge
In the years 1916 to 1918 Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles spent forty six weeks recording folk songs sung by the inhabitants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. They amassed a total of about five hundred songs (1,600 including variants), and nearly every one had its origin in the British Isles. This area of the United States was settled principally by people of English, Scots and Scots-Irish origin. When their ancestors emigrated to the New World they took very little by way of material possessions, but they did take their songs. In the Appalachians these had been passed down through the generations, the words embellished and embroidered, the melodies adapted by successive singers.

Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) had been collecting traditional folk songs and melodies since the early 1900s, and had, almost single-handedly, sparked a revival of English folklore. In his journeys through rural England he sought out the songs that the common people sang, and it is through his efforts, and those he inspired to search with him, that we have such a fine body of English folk songs today. Without Sharp's written and mechanical recording most of these songs would have died with their singers. It was this groundwork in England that enabled Sharp to identify what he heard in the Southern Appalachians. It also allowed him to work out that some of the versions he heard in the United States were closer to the original of the song than were the British versions. In the remote mountain area the songs had been subjected to fewer outside influences and frequently carried more of the melody and narrative that was sung by the earliest settlers.

In fact a number of words used in North America are old English words that the people of England no longer use, or are modifications. Take "the fall", meaning the season between summer and winter. In Britain the word "autumn" is almost universally used. Yet a few hundred years ago we too described this time of year as "the fall". I was thinking about this as I passed the Shell headquarters in London. On the pavement outside a demonstration by environmentalists was underway, and up above the last leaves were falling from trees growing in front of the building. The irregular branches and delicate yellow and orange leaves contrasted nicely with the very regular bands of windows and the deep blue sky. So, overcoming my natural desire to keep verticals vertical, I composed an image with two strong diagonals and pressed the shutter.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 27mm (54mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On