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Friday, July 29, 2011

Folk Songs and Chaunters

Image courtesy this site.

Beginning in the 16th century, printed folk music became popular.  These were songs printed on sheets of variable lengths, with no music, but under the title would often be a well-known tune the words were to be sung to.  These ballad broadsides were popular in Great Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Italy, and later the U.S.

The earliest musical broadsides cropped up in the 1500s.  In 1520, an Oxford bookseller is recorded as selling more than 190 ballads, which is surprising considering the low literacy rate.  But broadsides and chapbooks (see yesterday's post) are considered responsible for spurring an interest in reading among the hoi polloi, and the market for cheap reading material catered to this new class of readers.  Many of these broadsides were illustrated with a woodcut.

In 1556, England required the legal registration of printed ballads at four pence apiece.  The next year printers were required to be licensed by the Stationers' Company in London, the center of ballad and chapbook production.  This continued until 1709, and the Company's records reveal over 3,000 entries in that one hundred and fifty year period alone.

Eighty percent of English folk songs that were collected in the early 20th century have been traced to broadsides.  These were mostly written in pubs and sold by peddlers, and then eventually in stalls, leading them to also be sometimes called stall ballads. Their heyday was in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The "business" was often piratical, and some of these broadsides were printed or glued together so one could get more than one song on a long paper.

But at some point in time, enterprising entrepreneurs came up with a marketing ploy to sell more of the ballad broadsides by having chaunters sing them, using any traditional tune that would fit.  These chaunters, or ballad singers, would sing and sell these songs on street corners, markets, fairgrounds, and even executions - anywhere a crown could be found.

Chaunters took the place once held by minstrels.  By the end of Queen Elizabeth I's reign, minstrels were put in a class with rogues, beggars, and vagabonds. Grouped with other street orators, such as montebanks or patterers, chaunters often showed little propriety in their speeches and sometimes their songs, so eager they were to sell them.  "Patter" became a slang term for speaking.  Some chaunters worked with patterers, playing the fiddle while the patterer gave a sales spiel.

When music halls became popular circa 1850, it vitually ended work for chaunters, coinciding with newspapers taking over the service that proclamation and news broadcasts once provided.  So chaunters had to adapt.  Since the songs from broadsides were often part of the program, chaunters started hawking music hall hits.  Music halls offered cheap concerts, and in the mid-1800s introduced the outrageous practice of admitting both genders.  Eventually the demand for broadsides faded.  In 1800 there were about seventy-five ballad presses operating, but by 1871 there were only four.

Chaunters started performing in pubs and taverns, first selling songs table-to-table, then performing for the whole audience.  Those who were successful became the first music hall singers.

Broadside ballads were the literature of the working class, and today provide us with a glimpse of what their lives were like.  These ballads moved back and forth from being printed and learned orally, eventually becoming traditional songs. Produced with the working class in mind, they were bought by all classes.  Samuel Pepys collected them, ending up with one of the finest collections consisting of over 1,800 ballad broadsheets.

The U.S. also produced them, and some songs went back and forth across the Atlantic.  The broadside below is from Northampton, Massachusetts, printed on March 28, 1798.  It is a song about "bloomerism", a new fashion for women consisting of baggy pants caught in a cuff at the ankles, allowing a woman the comfort of pants but still obscuring her figure.  These caught on in the mid-1800s, and were named for Amelia Bloomer who popularized them.

Image courtesy Kent University library, special collections.

Printing and reading are thus intertwined with folk music.  As new songs were written for old music the words became more notable than the tune.  The extant examples of these broadsheets show us the language and culture of a class of people who left no other written record themselves of their existence.  This is an entertaining way to learn history.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of this site.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cheap Reads: Broadsides and Chapbooks

Sample broadsides, courtesy the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland.

A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only.  Historically they were posters, announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements. Early ones were often illustrated with woodcuts.  As these were considered ephemera, they were created for an express intention, and then discarded.

Circa 1828, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

Before printing presses, broadsides were written by hand.  The earliest printed broadsides were printed in blackletter (Gothic, or sometimes Old English typeface). Circa 1700, the typeface was replaced by roman type (or sometimes italic), and known as whiteletter.

Samples of blackletter typefaces, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sample of modern roman typeface, commissioned by the British newspaper,
The Times, in 1931.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The classic broadside proclamation is the Dunlap Broadside - the first publication of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, printed on the night of July 4, 1776 by John Dunlap, who published an estimated 200 copies.  Dunlap also printed one of an account of George Washington crossing the Delaware on December 30, 1776.

Dunlap's shop was near the corner of 2nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia, just blocks
away from the State House (Independence Hall).  Image courtesy of www.ushistory.org.

Broadsides that were folded twice or more to make pamphlets were called chapbooks.  These reached the height of their popularity in the 18th century. Although the form originated in Britain, they were produced in the United States as well at the same time.  Where the word came from is unclear.  Some sources say it was phonetic spelling for "cheap books", and those whose sold them were "chapmen".  Other sources state that the term for the pamphlets came from their peddlers.

An early children's chapbook, courtesy of www.library.pitt.edu.

Like broadsides, chapbooks were sold for a penny or halfpenny.  Both were produced cheaply, and since paper was expensive, were usually recycled for wrapping or baking, and there are even some references as to their use as bum fodder, or toilet paper.  Eventually both forms of cheap information were replaced by newspapers.  Broadsides and chapbooks are still being produced by small printers and publishers, usually as a fine art product intended to be hung on walls, and still with a woodcut (albeit a finely crafted one.)

Modern broadside created by Paul Hunter for Wood Works Press from hand-set metal type on
archival paper with an original woodcut.  Limited edition of 160 copies.  Watermarked.

Broadside ballads have a history of their own, preceding chapbooks but with similar content.  Most of the broadsides and chapbooks were written by anonymous hacks, working out of pubs.  At first sold in the streets by peddlers, some traveling from town to town, they were later sold in stalls.  Tomorrow we'll look at the ballads...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rocking Toward Krishna Consciousness

The original poster from 1967.

You used to see groups of them at airports and along Hollywood Boulevard. Heads shaved, wearing orange robes, they became a cliche in comedy films and tv shows.  Although they are not so prevalent any more, they still elicit a snicker or two when someone mentions them - Hare Krishnas.

Image courtesy of flickr.

What would you do if you were trying to establish a centuries old religious tradition from India in the United States in the 1960s?  Well, having a rock concert just might work - and that's what happened on the West Coast.

Images of the baby Krishna all show an adorable youth with huge eyes.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was assigned the mission of spreading Vedic knowledge to the English-speaking world.  He came to the United States in 1965.  He went everywhere to spread Krishna Consciousness.  He befriended many famous spiritual seekers of the time, including George Harrison, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, and Donovan, to name just a few.

Second to left is George Harrison with son Dhani in front of him.

To introduce the Swami to the West Coast, it was decided to sponsor a charity rock concert.  The Avalon ballroom in San Francisco was donated for the night.  Allen Ginsberg was persuaded to fly from New York to personally present him.  Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin), the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape agreed to perform for the musicians' union minimum of $250.

Allen Ginsburg welcoming Swami Prubhupada at the San Francisco airport.

Admission was $2.50 and limited to door sales.  With an audience of nearly 3,000, the room was filled to capacity.  The concert began at 8 P.M., and the Swami arrived at 10:00 P.M.  He lead two hours of chanting, ending with Sanskrit prayers. The musical groups and members of the audience, many of which had brought instruments, joined in.  When the Swami left, Big Brother and the Holding Company took the stage.  The event lasted into the wee hours.

An article from the San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, No. 5,
by Mukunda Das as a promotion to the event.

This event attracted the mainstream media's attention, and brought awareness of Krishna Consciousness, as was intended.  The $2,000 in proceeds went to support the Radha Krishna Temple in San Francisco.  Some members of the Hell's Angels acted as security guards.  Timothy Leary attended, as did Paramahamsa Yogananda's disciple, Swami Kriyananda.  Moby Grape were unknown in the music scene, but their participation made their name.

An ISKCON event in Cambridge.

This was an ideal time for the launching of the Krishna Consciousness movement. The counterculture was fascinated by everything Indian, and very interested in spirituality and expanding their minds.  The Radha Krishna temple was in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, which soon became the center of hippiedom.

Image courtesy of the Stuff Stoners Like blog.

ISKCON - the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - aka the Hare Krishna movement, is based on texts from which the ideas are thought to be about 5,000 years old.  There is an extremely long oral tradition in Sanskrit.  The movement in India is based on the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which emerged as a group in the late 15th century.  It is non-sectarian and monotheistic, and was formed to broadcast the practice of Bhakti yoga, which advocates the fostering of loving devotion to one's personal form of God.  There are three major schools of Bhakti yoga - Vaishnava (forms of Vishnu, of which Krishna is an incarnation), Shaivism (forms of Shiva), and Shaktism (the divine feminine).

Lord Krishna

Of course, Western practices differ significantly from the Indian ones.  For one thing, in India drugs are a definite no-no, yet the temple created in the Haight specifically catered to those coming down from acid trips or other drugs.  The temple became an integral part of the Haight-Ashbury scene.  People living on the streets always knew where they could get a hot breakfast, and the chanting was a good way to come down off a drug-induced high.

Swami Prabhupada is best known in the West for his translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, which literally means "song of God".  It is a 700 verse Hindu scripture from the epic work the Mahabharata, but is often considered a stand-alone text.  It features the conversation between Krishna and Prince Arjuna prior to a battle.  Prince Arjuna has a moral dilemma about fighting his own family and his duties as a prince and a warrior.  Krishna counsels him on duty and universal harmony.

This edition was either given for a free or a modest donation by
Hare Krishnas.  Once ubiquitous in second-hand bookstores, it is
seldom seen in this edition.  I still have mine from back in the day!

The Gita, as it is informally known, is a comprehensive look at the Vedic tradition. It is considered an important text in both the fields of philosophy and literature. Luminaries such as Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Jung, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Hesse, and of course, Mohandas Gandhi have given it high praise.

Arjuna (l) being counseled by Krishna before the big battle.

In Swami Prabupada's lifetime he saw ISKCON grow into a worldwide federation, still extant today.  On August 18, 2007, forty years after the Mantra-Rock Dance was held, at the People's Park in Berkeley a second Mantra-Rock was held.  This free commemorative event was deemed a success, and proof that Swami Prabupada's mission was accomplished.

The 2007 poster.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of www.prabhupadaconnect.com

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Phantasmagorical Art of Lucio Bubacco

Devils and Angels

Angels and devils compete, mythological figures abound, and all are frozen in vibrant and shiny colors.  These are the art glass creations of Venetian artist Lucio Bubacco.

Image courtesy Sarah Hornik/flickr.

He was born in Venice on the island of Murano, internationally famous since the 14th century for glassmaking, the son of a glassmaker.  Traveling with his father, he became aware of the different ways that glass was being used all over the world.


He began by doing lampwork, and a lot of self-study.  An important part of the preparation for his art was drawing.  He wanted to translate what he was able to draw on paper into glass.  He was always attracted to the human figure, and began to explore interpretations of it in painting, then clay, before taking it to glass.  Sculpting in clay would seem a necessary step to the difficulties of sculpting with glass.

Gold Grape Bacchanal

Over time he studied at various international schools.  Part of the formal education he sought, in order to bring to life his glass dreams, was attending WheatonArts (then Wheaton Village) in New Jersey, home of the Museum of American Glass.  This site is where some of the greatest international glass artists have worked, and he claims his time there was fundamental in his development as an artist.


At WheatonArts he availed himself of their program that was established to provide contemporary glass artists with the facilities and equipment to develop their art - The Creative Glass Center of America.

Grape harvest with Bacchus

In Murano he had bravely set up shop among traditional glassmakers.  Undaunted, he pushed what he had learned, pursuing his own course of education about creating with glass to the limits, incorporating lampwork with blown and cast glass.

Sun Dance

He has had numerous shows all over the globe, and his work can be found in many museums.  He has taught at the Pilchuck Glass School, Sydney College of the Arts, the Corning Museum of Glass, and at the International Glass Workshop in Venice, among other places.

Moon woman

Two stamps for the 2005 Venice Regatta, held every year on the first Sunday of September, featured art pieces by Bubacco.  The first is a contest between an angel and a devil; the second features a gondolier dressed in traditional 18th century clothing.

His work makes many references to the pre-Christian, Mediterranean culture and its mythological figures, and that may be reflective of his Mediterranean upbringing. Wonderful, inventive, inspiring, and fantastic, his pieces are not only greatly imaginative, but beautifully executed and crafted.

Unless otherwise noted all images courtesy of the artist's website.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Man of Sharp Pen and Sharp Mind

André Gill, self-portrait, 1860.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

I'm in love with this man.  What a mondain!  My husband doesn't have to worry though, Gill died in 1885.  André Gill was a famous French caricaturist, known for his work for the weekly newspaper La Lune, L'Eclipse and Le Charivari among other periodicals.

A caricature satirizing the military's obsession with absinthe.
A drawing of Charles Monselet, poet, writer and gourmet.

Born in 1840 as Louis-Alexandre Gosset de Guînes to the Comte de Guînes and his wife, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris.  He chose his pseudonym to honor the famous British caricaturist James Gillray.

His style consisted of large heads and undersized bodies.  Despite the exaggeration, they were not cruel.  This caused him to be sought out by many of the celebrities of the day who wanted to be his subjects, including Sarah Bernhardt, Émile Zola, Otto von Bismarck, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Richard Wagner, and Émile Zola.

Caricature of Charles Dickens on the cover of the June 14, 1868 L'Eclipse,
crossing the English Channel with his books in hand.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

He worked for La Lune from 1865 to 1868.  Napoleon III, however, disliked the caricature depicting him as Rocambole that Gill did of him so intensely, that in December of 1867 he had it censored.  Editor Francis Polo was famously told by an authority, "La Lune will have to undergo an eclipse."  Thus Polo's new venture was named L'Eclipse, and Gill contributed to it as well.

Napoleon III depicted as Rocambole.  Rocambole is a
fictional character from a series of novels by Pierre Alexis
du Terrail in the mid-1800s.  Rocabole was an adventurer.

In 1831 the caricaturist Charles Philipon did a drawing of King Louis-Philippe turning him into a pear.  Strict government censorship was in place to prevent the publication of caricatures aimed at politicians.  When Gill drew a pumpkin it was believed by magistrates to be the head of a judge.  In light of Philipon's drawing and the suspicion of all fruit drawn by caricaturists, Gill was faced with a lawsuit. He ended up spending a short time in prison, but the notoriety brought him fame and entry into Paris's Bohemian art world.

Philipon's infamous darwing of King Louis-Philippe.

He was also a curator of the Musée du Luxembourg, but his work there was disrupted by the upheaval of the Paris Commune, the brief government that ruled Paris for two months in 1871.  In 1875 he painted a sign for a neighborhood nightclub of a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan.  Locals called it "Le Lapin à Gill" (Gill's rabbit), which eventually morphed into "Lapin Agile" (nimble rabbit) when the nightclub became famous.

Image courtesy of www.au-lapin-agile.com.

In the 1880s Gill began to exhibit signs of mental illness, and spent time in a psychiatric hospital.  He was unable, therefore, to enjoy the lifting of censorship laws that came about in France in 1861, which allowed that any newspaper or periodic writing could be published.  He died in 1885 at the asylum of Charenton, once the home of the Marquis de Sade.

He lived in turbulent times, and apparently had a turbulent mind.  Unafraid of involving himself politically and expressing himself humorously his loss as an artist was greatly felt.  We are left, however, with a body of work that recommends him highly, and that perhaps is the best one can hope to leave behind.

Unless otherwise noted, images from Project Gutenberg.