The glossary below is based on that on p. 77 of the printed Heritage Songbook. Additional material (some of it technical) is shown in color.
Ballad: As used in this book, a folk song which tells a story. There are “genres” of ballads, such as murder ballads, love ballads, emigration ballads. The Child Ballads, which originated in Britain, are among the most famous; Laws Ballads also tend to be well-known, and many are historical and originated in the United States.
Broadsheets, Broadside: A single-sided sheet printed with a song text (or news story, or anything else the printer thinks would sell). Some broadsides contained more than one song text, but almost none showed a printed tune. For many years, it was customary to sell broadsides for a penny. The printed songbook shows a broadsheet of “In Good Old Colony Times.”
Child Ballad: Refers to a song listed in Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, still widely considered the greatest work of traditional song scholarship. You can order copies of the five-volume edition of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads from www.loomishousepress.com. In the Heritage Songbook collection, “The House Carpenter,” “Lord Randall,” “The Golden Vanity/The Merry Golden Tree,” and “Mary Hamilton” are Child Ballads. Child ballads are known by number, from 1 to 305.
(To) Collect: a verb describing how a folk song comes to be archived. A collector will listen to an informant sing a song, and will take down or record the words and music. A song need not be collected to be a folk song, but until it is collected, it will be known only in tradition, not in print.
Collector: One who gathers folk songs from informants.
Folk Song: As used in this book, a song which survives by being handed down via Tradition
Informant: A singer from whom a collector records a song.
Laws Ballad: Refers to a song cataloged in Malcolm Laws’s Native American Balladry and American Balladry from British Broadsides. Laws ballads are known by a letter (which describes the song type) and number, so “Brave Wolfe” is Laws A1 because it is the first ballad in the “A’ category of songs about war. Some of the Laws Ballads in the Heritage Songbook collection are “Red Iron Ore,” “Caroline of Edinboro Town,” “James Whalen,” “Lord Franklin,” “Sweet Betsy from Pike,” “Brave Wolfe,” “The Cumberland’s Crew,” “The Flying Cloud,” “Young Charlotte,” “Charles Guiteau,” “Heenan and Sayers,” “Revolutionary Tea,” “The Persian’s Crew,” “The Last Fierce Charge,” “The Bigler’s Crew,” “Cole Younger,” “James Bird,” and “The Banks of the Little Eau Pleine.”
MP3: A format for storing musical recordings. Most music you find on the Internet is in MP3 form. You can save the MP3s from the Heritage Songbook and load them into your mobile phone or tablet.
MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Technically, a specification to tell electronic instruments how to play music. In practical terms, it is a format for saving electronic music in very compact form. You can play MIDI files in software such as QuickTime and most web browsers.
Oral Tradition: see Tradition
Songster: A collection of song lyrics printed in booklet form without tunes. Typical examples were the Republican Campaign Songsters of the 1850s and 1860s, and the Merchant’s Gargling Oil Songsters of the latter nineteenth century. One very famous example, the Forget-Me-Not Songster, ran through many editions and helped to create a “standard text” of a variety of songs.
Singing Game: A children’s game accompanied by music sung by the participants. “Ring Around the Roses” is one of the most popular, and was still played when the author was young. Other, such as courting games, have largely died out. Some singing games are playparties, found mostly in cultures where instrumental music and dancing were discouraged. “Uncle John Is Sick Abed” is an example of a playparty.
Tradition, Traditional: As used in this book, traditional has a specific meaning: a song handed down from singer to singer, sometimes changing over the years, but always preserved because people liked singing it. A folk song — a song of the people — is one which survives (or, at least, used to survive) in oral singing tradition. This is by analogy to folklore or a folk tale, which survives in oral spoken tradition.
Unaccompanied Song: Most songs from British roots were sung by voice without instruments; American songs were more often accompanied by banjo, fiddle, guitar, or dulcimer.