Kenneth Peacock made his first trip to Newfoundland in 1951. In total from the period of 1951 to 1960, he made six trips to the island during the summer months to travel and collect his recordings. In these trips, Peacock collected music exclusively in the outports of Newfoundland. These were the rural, more isolated communities, which were sustained primarily on the fishing industry. Like Barbeau, Peacock believed that authentically traditional music could only be found in the most rural areas; growing urban centres such as St. John’s had been influenced too much by modernity, especially communication technologies and thus modern culture itself.
Only in the outports could “traditional” (i.e. ‘premodern’) ways of life and culture still be found uncorrupted (1). “Outport Newfoundland, then, is in a rather special category among white folk cultures. In her formative early and middle years with no class elite near at hand to exert legal and moral pressures she evolved her own methods of social co-operation and survival in a harsh environment. It is surely one of the rare examples in recent centuries of a neo-primitive white culture.” (2) While on the island, Peacock certainly availed himself of mid-twentieth century modernity as much as possible: carrying his mechanical tape recorders and tapes, he traveled by car to as many villages as he could over the weeks that he was there.
In conducting his work, Peacock emphasized recording the initial performance of the song, to be transcribed later, and then afterwards getting the singer to repeat the lyrics of the song separately so that the works could be recorded accurately (3). In a field guide he later wrote for other collectors, Peacock also encouraged collectors to know their subjects in order to get the songs and performance desired:
“I have found alcohol an effective social lubricant in many situations…in Newfoundland a bottle of rum is almost as important a piece of equipment as your tape recorder. The drink should be a ceremonial gesture, offered to the health of the informant or ‘to clear his throat.’ If the session is long a second or third drink may be offered but no more. Too much alcohol will slur the informant’s speech, and you may have difficulty transcribing the songs later. Above all, be careful not to create the impression that you are trying to get the informant stoned to seduce songs out of him…[u]se a small, slim flask with a screw-on drinking cap which can be slipped inconspicuously into your briefcase. If the occasion seems fitting you may introduce it quite naturally.” (4)
The guidance Peacock provides to other collectors suggests that he was approaching his work with preconceived ideas about their culture and behavior, despite the fact that he contextualized this advice as learned experience from his time on the island.
These assumptions meant that Peacock collected music with a sense of what he wanted or at least hoped to find, rather than accepting what was sung for him. Despite being hired by him, Peacock’s approach in this regard differed greatly from Marius Barbeau’s. While Nurse argues that Barbeau’s anthropological approach was a culturally selective one in which he chose certain aspects of the cultures he studied to represent their authentic cultural essence, it is also clear that Barbeau collected deeply within this pattern of cultural selection (5). Indeed, the sheer volume of songs Barbeau collected in his lifetime (over 3000 classified as “Aboriginal,” 7000 as “French Canadian,” and 1500 as “English”) stood in marked contrast to the total of 766 songs collected by Peacock in Newfoundland (6).
This is one of his field recordings from his trip to Newfoundland in 1951. Have a listen, if you’re curious! (CMH/MCH, Kenneth Peacock Fonds, Audio, “Songs of Newfoundland, 1951,” PEA 1-1 to PEA 1-8.)
More so than Barbeau, Peacock was unafraid to commission work from his collaborators when it felt necessary. As he advised others, “[i]f you are interested in a particular type of song like traditional ballads give the informant a few examples…[y]ou could tell him the stories of some ballads or, if some other type of song is involved, sing two or three verses.” (7) Peacock also believed that cultural selection was needed to discern for quality, cautioning readers of his songbooks, for example, that there was such as thing as “poor material.” By this, Peacock did not mean the quality of the recordings; rather, he told his readers that collectors should follow his example by sifting out songs that were not aesthetically and musically accomplished enough to represent their culture (8). Given all this, it is little wonder that, despite comparable amounts of time spent doing fieldwork with specific populations, Peacock and Barbeau produced rather different sizes of collections.
Peacock was not the only collector working for the National Museum, not was Newfoundland the only focus for collection. Helen Creighton was a contemporary of Peacock who shared findings with him of her research, as well as contributed to the Museum’s holdings. Creighton was so influential in her own right that McKay asserts, with no overstatement, that “[n]o single figure is more identified with the emergence of the idea of the Nova Scotia Folk than Helen Creighton.” (9) Like Peacock, Creighton began her career collecting folk music in Nova Scotia, approaching this work with a conception of the Folk based in a largely British musical education. From this, she too produced several songbooks, the first of which was Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia in 1932 (10).
In collecting folk music and folklore, Creighton may have been motivated by a sense of antimodernism (11), however her goals were not preservation, but rather commodification. Creighton found inspiration and example in the American folk movement, in which tradition and tourism were partners (12). By the 1950s, Creighton had become an unquestioned and unrivaled authority on folkculture in the Maritimes, such that she became an advisor to the National Museum and rose in status equal to Barbeau (13). At this time Creighton also took to television and radio to promote “the Folk,” and did so on a much larger scale than Peacock, or any other collector of the period (14).
Edith Fowke was another important contemporary of Peacock who became known for her contributions to academic and popular folk culture knowledge through various publications, albums, and radio. Fowke worked primarily in the rural communities of Ontario and, in particular, Peterborough. Beginning her fieldwork in 1956 with a tape recorder, Fowke’s objectives differed once again from Peacock, Barbeau, and Creighton. Fowke sought to record traditional music in order to popularize it for the use and enjoyment of Canadians, hoping to not only educate, but also inspire in Canadians a sense of their traditional musical heritage.
Fowke was less discerning of the music she collected than Peacock and Creighton were; lacking a musical background, Fowke judged the quality of a song by relying on her literary knowledge and research, rather than the song itself, admitting that she was likely to judge a bad song good if it were sung by a good singer, and a good song bad if the opposite were true (15). While rightly considered parts of a larger whole than the history of folk culture studies, Peacock, Barbeau, Creighton, and Fowke demonstrate the variety and subjectivity of the field in this period. Each was unique in what they looked for specifically, to what purpose, and in how they used their collections. As such their contributions to the revival and perpetuation of images of folk music and folk culture were distinct between them. Kenneth Peacock and his work were no exception to this.
In part 4, we’ll look at what Kenneth Peacock did with all of the music he collected after he returned from his trips to Newfoundland.
- Kenneth Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, Volume 1, (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer and Controller Stationary, 1965): XX.
- Ibid., XIX.
- Canadian Museum of History/Musée canadien de l’histoire (hereafter CMH/MCH), Kenneth Peacock Fonds, Box 306, f. 10, Talk 2, “Newfoundland folkmusic, 1953,” p. 4-5.
- Kenneth Peacock, A Practical Guide for Folkmusic Collectors, (Canadian Folk Music Society, 1966): 30-31.
- Andrew Nurse, “Tradition and Modernity: the Cultural Work of Marius Barbeau,” (PhD Thesis: Queen’s University, 1997): 36.
- Anna Kearney Guigné, Folksongs and Folk Revival: The Cultural Politics of Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Outports (St. John’s: ISER Books, 2008): 61, 1.
- Peacock, Guide for Folkmusic Collectors, 29.
- Peacock, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, XXII.
- McKay, Quest of the Folk, 43.
- Ibid., 60, 70.
- In his book, Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994) McKay discusses “the Folk” as a cultural construction that was invented, developed, and evolved (albeit modestly) in response to the regional political economic conditions in and around Nova Scotia from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. For McKay, it is a bourgeois culture of “antimodernism,” the assumption that folk culture was disappearing in the face of rapidly developing modernity, which pervaded the cultural selection of Helen Creighton, and the use of her (and others) work in developing tourism in the province.
- McKay, Quest of the Folk, 75-76.
- Ibid., 81.
- Ibid., 92-93.
- Allan R. Kirby, “Edith Fowke: Collecting Traditional Folk Songs in Rural Ontario, 1956-1964,” (PhD Thesis: Carleton University, 2012): 1-5.