This month we have been recording four short accompanied folk songs of our own choice for examination. Folk music is generally music that has been passed down through generations. When taking ABRSM exams (the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music) for singing they always test unaccompanied tradition songs (folk songs). It is seen as an important part of each singing exam. They may seem like an easy choice, however, they are one of the most difficult songs to perform to an optimum standard. ABRSM themselves says the testing allows examiners to “assess the elements of unaccompanied singing through a more natural, musical and ‘singerly’ genre. Singers have to pitch and produce the notes from within, and accommodate the extra elements of language and meaning with nowhere to hide”.
The choice of folk song can be vital some of them can have a very wide range required. I’ve always sung British folk songs but I saw a concert at City Halls in Glasgow with work of the composer Aaron Copland and decided at that moment to research more of his work to consider performing a program of his. People consider his music to evoke the vast American landscape and pioneering spirit.
Aaron Copland 1900 – 1990 was one of America’s best modern music composers born in Brooklyn, New York. He wrote for voice, piano, orchestra; for plays, movies and dance he was also a conductor, pianist, teacher and author. He studied in Paris, France for four years in his early twenties and decided that the French had a very ‘French’ way of writing and that the Americans had nothing like that so he decided to compose music that was truly American. He used ideas from jazz music, cowboy songs, American folk songs and popular songs during the time of the American civil war, he even wrote a ballet about Billy the Kid the famous gun-slinger.
He was a highly decorated man. In 1945 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his music for a ballet called ‘Appalachian Spring’, the last part of the ballet is based on ‘A Gift to be Simple’ a traditional song. In 1950 he won an Academy Award for his compositions for the film ‘The Heiress’ following nominations for his scores for ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘Our Town’ and ‘The North Star’.
In 1964 President Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom America’s highest award to civilians. In 1987 he was awarded a special Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress.
His work in the late 1940’s and 1950’s include the use of the Schonberg twelve-tone system but found it ran contrary to his desire to reach a wide audience.
The four songs I chose to sing were:
The Boatman’s Dance
Long Time Ago
The Little Horses