two sisters go for a walk one day along river or lake, and the jealous sister pushes her sister into the water and drowns her. Often the drowning sister pleads for her life, but to no avail. She is drowned and her body drifts away. This is where the story varies based upon where and by whom it is performed. In the typical English version the sister's body is found by a miller who steals her ring then pushes her body back in the river. The ballad usually ends as the miller and the jealous sister are punished for their crimes. This version of the ballad is also most often found in the United States. In the Scottish version the body is discovered by an instrument maker who uses part of her body (usually her hair) to build an instrument (usually a violin or a harp). When he plays the instrument, it sings and tells the story of the woman who was drowned - a very supernatural concept. In order to understand why there are these two different endings (and, more generally, why there are often so many different versions of ballads) we have to understand the emotional core of ballads. The emotional core is what the singer feels is the important message of the song and therefore remembers. In the transmission of a ballad, the stanzas that are closest to the "emotional core" will be remembered while the stanzas farthest from the "emotional core" will be forgotten. Ballads often served to teach and set examples of morality as well as entertain, so balladeers took the stories seriously. Thus if two people see two different "emotional cores" in the same ballad, then the ballad will consequently develop in two completely different ways. In English culture and in the United States ballad singers have chosen to focus on the punitive element. They believed that the most important message that a listener could take from the story is the enforcement of moral actions through the punishment of those who violate them. It has been suggested that the English version was popular in U.S. due in large part to the puritanical religious beliefs of the early settlers. In the Scottish version the singer focuses on the supernatural element. Belief in the supernatural – things like fairies, second sight, and ghosts – is quite common throughout Scotland. Thus a fascination with someone
5/1/16, 4:28 AM Anglo-American Diaspora Page 13 of 20 revealing their own murder when their hair is made into a musical instrument would seem perfectly in line with the emotional core of a Scottish singer. This version has been popular mostly in Scotland – but it has not migrated with the people. Although many Scots migrated to America, they dispensed with superstition and interest in the supernatural when they entered the "rational" industrial culture of the United States.
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- Summer '07
- Folk music, anglo-american diaspora