I have just heard that folklorist Margaret Lynn Steiner will be broadcasting on Tuesday, March 17th - St. Patrick's Day - from 9 to 11 pm (Eastern time). She says that her program will be split between songs from Northern Ireland (where I was born) and songs from Miramichi, New Brunswick (near where my brother lives). Of the former Margaret says, "Newtownbutler, in Co. Fernmanagh, Northern Ireland, had a very active living song tradition, certainly in the late 1970's. Local songs abounded, centering around hunting, Gaelic football, and cockfighting, as well as songs celebrating the local topography, etc. All I had to do was walk into McQuillan's Pub, and I could just happen on a 'singsong.'"
Regarding Miramichi, Ms. Steiner has been attending their folksong festival since 1986. This is the oldest folk music festival in Canada. Dating from 1958 it has the primary function of preserving traditional songs and culture. One of the treasures of Miramichi has been Wilmot MacDonald, a singer with an impressive store of old songs - and who is featured on a 1962 Smithsonian recording. Margaret Steiner contributed to a CD and book about MacDonald, that is available from the Maine Folklife Center, University of Maine.
Margaret Lynn Steiner: "Edward D. (Sandy Ives) has done a lot of work on the English-language tradition, especially focusing on 19th-century folk poets such as Larry Gorman and Joe Scott. Ronald Labelle, of the University of Moncton, has worked a lot with the Francophone tradition, and I've been working with singers who are bilingual and bicultural and looking at how they juggle their biculturalism musically."
Folklorists are important people. Song collecting is important work. In this - as Lucas Gonze puts it - age of copyright extremism, we need to broaden our base of inspiration. We need to be reminded that songs can be living things with a vitality and meaningfulness that, in terms of cultural and personal value, far outstrips the monetary lifespan of Mickey Mouse.
So, that's WFHB on Tuesday, March 17th, from 9 to 11 in the evening, Eastern time. I shall be scheduling an audio capture, so I can load it onto my iPod.