The Singing Landscape Project

The Singing Landscapes project investigated the lost singers of Somerset, Hampshire and Gloucestershire. It was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellowship (KTF) award and in partnership with regional museums.

The research, undertaken by BU’s Yvette Staelens and Chris Bearman, looked at an undiscovered country, aimed to encourage people to discover more about their singing ancestors and to join in a celebration of the rich folk music heritage of the people of England.

Researchers collected data relating to 600 singers, dancers, musicians and collectors from across the three counties. This revealed biographical details, photographs of performers, as well as their life stories and music.

The aim was to access deep England, the domain of the individual, and to discover networks of family and friendships that created the songscape. The Project sought to answer the question ‘Who were the folk?’ Source singers, dancers and musicians were identified, together with place and location of their engagement with collectors. Photographs were accessed from families, public archives and libraries plus memories and family stories from oral history interviews.

The results of the Project were turned into a series of county-based folk maps, a unique concept designed to widely disseminate academic research beyond the academy and to place it directly into the hands of the public. An exhibition was produced and toured in conjunction with Somerset County Museum.

70,000 copies of the folk maps are now in public circulation, distributed by Hampshire Museums, Somerset Museums, Gloucester Folk Museum, Glosfolk, English Folk Dance and Song Society, Halsway Manor Society Library, Hampshire Songs Forum. This is thought likely to be the largest distribution of English research folk music research literature ever achieved. All folk maps are available free of charge and thus accessible to all.

Further dissemination was achieved via ‘The Singing Landscape’ exhibition which displayed fifty large format photos of Cecil Sharp’s Somerset singers, biographies and a sound track of collected songs. It toured for 8 showings reaching over 24,252 visitors.

Site specific village presentations penetrated even deeper into the rural community with a series of illustrated evening, daytime and weekend lectures attracting a further 621 people. For culturally deprived areas such as Bridgewater in Somerset, the Project formed an important conduit for the public to have free access to their cultural heritage.

The research, exhibition and Somerset Folk Map have been used as the central feature of a film on Cecil Sharp’s folk song collecting produced by Somerset Film, one of a set in the ‘Explore Somerset’ series. The Project has influenced regional heritage displays including the new Museum of Somerset, opened on 29th September 2011, which includes a Singing gallery/space inspired by the Singing Landscape Project and uses material from it (82,000 visitors since opening).

In addition, a new business in the form of folk performing duo ‘Mrs Price’s Parlour’ was inspired by the Somerset Folk Map to research, revive and perform Sharp’s Somerset collected songs commercially.

The production of Folk Maps, the presentation and the touring exhibition has led to a lasting legacy in the three counties.

References

  • Staelens, Y, 2009, ‘The Singing Landscape Project’ in Sharing Cultures, Amoêda, R., Lira, S. and Pinheiro, C., eds., Greenlines Insitutute; Lisbon.523-529.
  • Staelens,Y, Bearman, C.J. 2010, The Hampshire Folk Map, Bournemouth University.
  • Staelens,Y, Bearman, CJ, 2010, The Gloucestershire Folk Map, Bournemouth University.
  • Staelens, Y., 2011. Mapping the Singing Landscape, Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire & the Commonwealth (CHOMBEC) News issue no.10, 5-7, Bristol University.
  • Staelens, Y., 2012.  ‘Songs of People on the Move’. Ed. by Thomas A. McKean. BASIS vol. 8, gen. ed. Sigrid Rieuwerts. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier pp.161-174.
  • The Singing Landscape – A Celebration of Cecil Sharp. Touring Exhibition curated by Yvette Staelens