Louise Manny - Songs of Miramichi

In 1947 Lord Beaverbrook opened up a new world for me by saying, “Why don’t you go out and collect New Brunswick folksongs? I’ll send you a fine recording machine.”

I had a few sketchy ideas of folksongs. I knew people had collected them in the Appalachian Mountains, that folksong societies existed in England, and that European countries held festivals at which people in quaint costumes sang the songs of their ancestors. But I didn’t know that folksongs were sung all around me in New Brunswick.

So I said to Lord Beaverbrook, “Folksongs? I don’t believe there are any – not nowadays at least – unless someone can remember Peter Emberley which your brother Traven used to sing.”

“Nonsense” said His Lordship, “of course they have folksongs…Any amount of songs. Just you start collecting, and you’ll have a lot of fun.”

What a masterpiece of understatement that was! “Little did I think what lay before me!” as the old songs are fond of saying…

That we would be on the radio, and that people in country districts would walk miles on Sunday afternoons to hear “our own songs” and that lumber camps would stop work to hear our Wednesday afternoon programs.

All these conversations gradually introduced us to a phase of folk culture we had never known existed – the folk traditions and folksongs that have survived in spite of changing fashions and formal education.

What is folksong? Broadly, says the Library of Congress, it consists of songs which people sing from memory for their own and their friends’ pleasure. Many of the Miramichi songs were composed by the folk themselves, and passed on by word of mouth. Some of our singers have never seen the words or music of the songs they sing, in print.

We found a mixture of very old songs (some of ours are literally a thousand years old) with later and even contemporary songs modeled on the ancient ones.
Our forefathers brought from the Old Country some of the old ballads, which are still being sung on the Miramichi. Along with the very old songs they brought the street songs – onetime contemporary verses about local happenings. These last are the true prototypes of our come-all-ye’s (so called because they usually begin ‘come all ye jolly lumbermen – or farmers – or sailors – and listen unto me’).

The Miramichi songs are usually sung without accompaniment, and by one singer alone. To the listener whose ear is trained to expect a musical background and modern harmony, songs are based on the modal or gaping scales sound monotonous, but when one learns to understand them one is struck by their sincerity and charm. 

Louise Manny, Songs of Miramichi,  pp. 15 - 19
Louise Manny
c. 1968
CANADA Northern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Northern New Brunswick, CANADA
© 1968, Brunswick Press. All Rights Reserved.

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