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This is part of an authorized online posting of Harvey Reid's important book, "The Troubadour Chronicles," published in May 2020. It is for salein paperback from this web site or from Amazon.com.

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“Musical instruments are declared to be among the most powerful means by which the Devil seduces men.” [Henry George Farmer (History of Arabian Music)]

Chapter 13- Aspersion, Scorn & Persecution

How often have you seen a solo troubadour performing at the Super Bowl, or even on a late night television talk show singing a song on the couch in front of the host’s desk, without a band? I was surprised to see Paulinho da Viola sitting on a stool playing really nice acoustic guitar while singing the national anthem of Brazil at the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony, since it is so rare to see acoustic guitar-playing singers in ultra high-profile situations like that. I don’t think I have ever seen a singer-guitarist perform our national anthem in my entire life. In 2007 at Super Bowl XLI, Billy Joel sang the national anthem at the piano, marking the only true troubadour performance out of the 54 total so far, though Eric Church’s 2021 duet with Jazmine Sullivan came closer than usual. Troubadours Harry Connick, Jr., Lady Gaga, Jewel, Charley Pride and Garth Brooks all sang it without their instruments. For the purists, Paulinho wasn’t alone on stage, but the small acoustic group accompanying him was in the dark, barely audible, and ten feet behind him, and the impression given was that of a masterful veteran solo troubadour. There are no laws or rules that say an individual artist is unworthy to do this kind of thing, but it isn’t illegal to have a female U.S. president and that hasn’t happened. It was also very unusual that Paulinho was 74 years old, since young musicians almost always get the spotlight, but that’s another book.

There has long been some kind of a shadow over the troubadour profession– not everyone sees it, and it is by no means as grievous or widespread as other cultural wrongdoings of the past like slavery, misogyny, colonialism or oppression of indigenous people. But for many of us it is quite real, and the story has never really been told of troubadours falling or being pushed from grace– going from being a highly-regarded thing in early human societies through varying situations of being honored, praised, misunderstood, ignored, disrespected, scorned and punished, or just perceived as somehow inappropriate or inadequate in critical or high-visibility situations. Solo troubadours are allowed and even expected to begin hit songs with just a voice and a guitar, but they never get to finish them without a band coming in; typically within five to twenty seconds the bass, drums and other instruments take over and dominate for the remainder of the song. During the past five centuries troubadours have frequently been treated as no more than beggars or “riffraff” of society (a 14th century word) or of the musical world, and the legacy of that lack of respect lingers tangibly into the present time, often in unspoken and invisible ways. It would be interesting to investigate if there have been similar patterns in Far Eastern, African, South American or Central Asian cultures, though my subject matter is already too broad and I will just allude to that and remain focused on the American troubadour musical watershed.

Troubadours in the early 21st century are experiencing more respect and less derision now than they have for a very long time, and many will be surprised to find out that they are manifestations of a formerly oppressed people. There are now enough articulate and law-abiding singer-songwriters experiencing financial success and who come from respectable backgrounds that most of us can conjure a mental image of a “good troubadour” singing a nice song without immediately thinking about a drug-using musician trying to steal our liquor or seduce our daughters. Peasant musicians were kicked out of churches, academia and high society a long time ago, and the banishment, punishment and scorn we have intermittently endured from the rich, powerful and organized still smarts. So forgive me these old wounds if I cannot shrug them off. Since the 1970s, there have been classes in many colleges where you can study country music, often as part of an American Studies or sociology curriculum, alongside courses about the Civil War, the Depression, Asian-American film culture or gender bias in American culture. But you have never been able to enroll in those same colleges, or any others, to learn how to play country music, and its skilled musicians have never had those comfortable college teaching jobs with benefits and pensions. Peasant poetry and music has not been taught in schools or sufficiently celebrated by the learned and powerful, though I feel strongly that things are healing, and that the long persecution and deep rifts may finally be ending. It is not well-known that the European branch of my profession was mired in a systemic condition of what we might euphemistically call “disregard” for roughly 400 years, between about 1550 and 1950, making it a good time now to take a closer look at some of those bumps, potholes and roadblocks along the path.

I sense in many troubadour musicians a kind of hidden inadequacy and a damaged or unformed self-confidence, together with an invisible pressure to be bigger and louder, and to feel awkwardly unempowered as an individual musician. Only a small handful of troubadours are completely comfortable performing on stage alone, which may be rooted in those centuries of mistreatment and disrespect for our art form. There has been a lot of shaming and bullying going on, along with the applause and admiration. Three of the four Beatles had impressive troubadour skills, though they never really came out of the closet, so to speak. It is telling that they were always reluctant to perform or record alone, even though all three were fine singers, writers, performers and players. One of the best-selling and most celebrated troubadour recordings of all time is Eric Clapton’s 1992 “Unplugged” album, certified at 26 million copies sold, yet only one of its fourteen songs, “Walkin’ Blues,” actually features Eric playing solo with just his voice and guitar, as if to underline that he felt too vulnerable alone. I suspect that Europeans, and the English in particular, may have had an even larger problem than Americans with some kind of shame or lack of confidence when performing solo, rooted in a more substantial inheritance of the scorn and disrespect of troubadours from the past. Joe Boyd says in his book “White Bicycles” that he noticed that the English have an, “upwardly mobile take on ‘Norman’ characteristics while the lower orders are taught to be ashamed of their roots. If the conquered tribes had been ‘coloured’ this pattern would be easier to perceive.”

Music festival promoters have told me they don’t book solo performers, as if we are uninteresting, unable to hold the audience’s attention or somehow unworthy or unqualified to occupy a big stage by ourselves. Even very talented troubadours often seem to be afraid that what they are doing is not enough to be compelling or powerful, and when they get a chance to be on television, play a prominent gig or make recordings they bring a band or backup musicians to give them support. Ultimately that urge for more power might diminish their effectiveness, concealing or diluting their artistic essence in unintended ways. Performing solo is not just a charming thing to do now and then for dramatic effect in the middle of a band performance, or a fallback position that happens when you can’t get or can’t afford a band. I can’t tell you how many times I went to see a troubadour, and couldn’t even really hear or experience them because their band was so loud. My guess is that many readers have had similar experiences, where an artist who interested them was drowned out and obscured by their own band.

If someone compiled an Encyclopedia of Persecution of Troubadours, it would be a very thick book; the examples I’ll give here, though they may seem overwhelming, barely scratch the surface of what can be found. If you get really interested in the scorn of the upper-classes for peasant art, you’ll be able to do plenty more research on your own, and I suspect you might be able to locate even more egregious examples than I have found. The act of a person singing a song went from the being center of music to being seen as ignorant, primitive, limited, and less worthy than larger or more organized types of music. It was one thing for Western music to gradually develop more complex music that involved harmony and to introduce notation, but what seems to have accompanied those developments was the rejection and even vilification of simpler and what they saw as “lower” music. This often centered around the troubadour musical concept of singing a song rhythmically with words. A perhaps more crucial question, again probably unanswerable, is how did the lower classes maintain their own troubadour traditions despite the lack of infrastructure or support from the more educated and powerful? Let’s see what we can determine about what lay between Aristotle and Handel, and then push onward to the present.

The ancient Greeks saw a demarcation between fundamental music types: the music of Apollo, played on the stringed lyre, and the music of Dionysus, played on the drum and the aulos, a type of horn. Apollo and Dionysus were sons of Zeus; Apollo was the god of beauty, light, and reason and Dionysus was the god of wine, revelry, emotion and tragedy. Some Greek societies even went so far as to prescribe different amounts of the two fundamental types of music as part of a proper education. What music was deemed good for you depended on who you were and what the occasion was, and this kind of thinking may underlie the division of “high” and “low” music that has eternally dogged troubadours, though back then the troubadours with their lyres and poetry were on the side of reason and beauty and not debauchery. There is evidence of Greek scorn for “low music” as early as Aristotle, who in the 4th century B.C. said, “Let the young practice even such music as we have prescribed, only until they are able to feel delight in its noble melodies and rhythms, and not merely in that common part of music in which every slave or child and even some animals find pleasure.” In the 19th century, a number of prominent European intellectuals picked up on this old dichotomy, and wrote extensively about what they saw as an almost eternal dividing line in human creativity between yin and yang, light and dark. The very influential German philosopher-poet-scholar-composer Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) went deep into those old Greek dualities involving Apollo and Dionysus in his attempts to explore and explain art, and his influence on the subject echoed around Europe considerably.

Music Inheritance from the Roman Empire
Music in the Roman Empire is a large topic, but in a paragraph, we’ll suggest that they inherited much from the Greeks, but added the first things we would classify as organs (hydraulis) and the first European stringed instruments with fingerboards (pandura). They didn’t obsess over music quite like the Greeks, though they used it in religion, feasts and celebrations. The Romans liked music contests, and trained their children in music. Even Emperor Nero was some kind of a troubadour, though the fiddle we think of him playing while Rome burned is now thought to have been a cithara or kithara. The Latin word at the root of the modern word fiddle was fidicula, which referred to several types of stringed instruments, and some dictionaries also say “an instrument of torture,” including a small German noose called a fiedel. The perhaps more important question concerning the music Europe might have inherited from the Romans is what music the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths and Huns replaced it with after they sacked the Roman Empire. The invaders managed to destroy the governments, religion and possibly the music of the Roman empire, but its language remained and evolved into a family of new languages. The conquering cultures don’t seem to have had guitar or lute-family instruments, with mostly horns, whistles and percussion instruments. Between the 4th and 7th centuries, what we loosely call “Goths” gradually adopted Christianity in different regions as the official religion of the remnants of the Roman Empire, though there weren’t much in the way of central governments or countries. Broad statements of what the various Germanic conquerors did musically or religiously once again aren’t going to be precise or meaningful. I found sources saying that the Visigoths preserved more of the Roman Empire in Iberia (Spain and Portugal) than the Goths did near Rome itself. Remember also that the Moorish invaders took that territory in the 8th century and held it for over 700 years. The origins we are seeking of rhymed, lyric songs to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument with a fingerboard were primarily Arabic, and do not appear to be as directly connected to Greek or Roman practice or tradition, though undoubtedly plenty of people sang self-accompanied songs in those cultures. Much of what Europe eventually learned about ancient Greece came indirectly from Arabic sources and not directly from remnants of Greek or Roman civilizations. Arabic civilization had highly-developed libraries, with a strong system of education, exploration and preservation of knowledge, including ancient Greek.

Music and Sin in Islamic Society
As we discussed earlier, the Islamic world inherited a rich tradition of Persian, pagan, Assyrian and possibly Phoenician music, including rhythms, melodies and songs from around the Middle East and Asia Minor. Just as Christianity was unable to eradicate paganism and instead absorbed many of its traditions, Islam followed a similar course. Songs of war seem to have been universally allowed, as was music at feasts, weddings and holidays, but different Muslim religious leaders at different times and places enforced prohibitions on some types of music, while other leaders liked and encouraged it. Islam, like Christianity, has always had difficulty separating the music that connected people to spirituality from the types of music that were connected to forbidden drinking, fornication and gambling.

In early times, women and slaves provided most of the music, though in the 7th century the first male professional Arabic musicians appeared, known as the mukhannath. They were said to have dyed their hands red, and to have been effeminate and acted like women. The first was reported to be a man named Tuwais, “The Little Peacock,” who was the son of a Persian slave, and around the year 650 he sang and danced while playing a square tambourine. The lack of “manliness” of the mukhanneth musicians reportedly did little for the popularity of music played by men in Islamic society, and in that era music began to move towards being viewed as a forbidden art. Arab men were said to have looked at the arts as beneath them, and preferred to focus their maleness instead on military, governmental, and business occupations. Muslim music scholar Henry George Farmer said in “History of Arabian Music”, “One of the most perplexing points in Islam is its attitude toward music, and for centuries its legists have argued the question whether listening to music is lawful or not.” The Prophet Mohammed was said to believe that musical instruments are, “among the most powerful means by which the Devil seduces men.”
There is no direct censure or forbidding of music in the Koran, and the intermittent Islamic rejection of music seems to have come from a Puritanistic rejection of wine, women and song that was not unlike what has often happened in Christian society. Arguments for and against music appear instead in the Hadith, which is not the Koran itself, but a collection of sayings and stories attributed to Mohammed. Some argued that music was unlawful when it employed poetry, which Mohammed scorned, and Farmer also says, “There can be little doubt that Mohammed feared the poets and minstrels, and stopped at nothing to accomplish their discredit and even destruction.” He was competing with them as he launched his Revelations, and Mohammed is also on record as having said that “music and singing cause hypocrisy to grow in the heart as the water makes the corn grow.” Certain stories claimed that Mohammed hated the singing girls, and others said he considered them allowable, though accounts seem to agree that he tolerated instrumental music. His wedding to Khadija was celebrated with music, and one of his closest associates was thought to be an Indian military drummer named Baba Sawandik.
Over the 450 years between Mohammed’s death and the introduction of troubadour arts into France, Muslim caliphs alternately encouraged and banned music. Al-Mutawakkil was against it, but his son Abu Isa Abdallah was an avid musician who wrote over 300 songs. Both the Fatamid and the succeeding Ayyubid dynasties were supportive of music. The situation evolved that in Spain, far from Baghdad or Byzantium, and especially in Seville and Cordoba, music flourished more so than in other parts of the Islamic world. Pythagorean scales were employed instead of Persian, and the oud had 5 courses (pairs of strings) instead of the 4 it typically had in the Arabian peninsula. These factors contributed to the development of Flamenco guitar styles in Andalusia in southern Spain, and a music that was different than what was going on at the Eastern end of the Arabic world. Virtuoso minstrels proliferated in Iberia, and names have survived of brilliant performers who combined those abilities with their skills as poets, storytellers, and even chess players. There were also many female singer/oud players, though they were still mostly in the slave class. Good ones were prized possessions of rich and powerful men; in the 9th century Al-Mundhir, the Emir of Cordoba, reportedly paid 1000 gold pieces for a singing girl named Tarab.

Christianity and Forbidden Music in Europe
Another thick book could be devoted to the relationship between Christianity and music, and both Islamic and Christian societies have long been plagued by the idea that music is capable of uplifting humanity as well as purporting to connect it to darker things. Plenty of music has been commissioned and celebrated by the church, but an untold amount of non-church music was shunned, ignored and even forbidden, both locally and on a larger scale. The musical interval of the augmented 4th, the tritone, was said to have been prohibited in some European churches at times in the Middle Ages, and is still referred to as the “Devil’s interval.” The associations of some music with drinking, sin, gambling, heresy, sex and crime have long been alternately overlooked and addressed by governments, churches and powerful individuals. Some types of musicians and songs undoubtedly attracted the church’s disfavor, starting with anything that could be perceived as blasphemous or licentious.

Biblical David was a prolific songwriter, as was his son Solomon, and the Bible contains a number of passages about people singing. Four times in the Bible it is reported that Jesus sang, though it always was as a part of worship and hymn singing. He was clearly not an avid musician himself, nor was he known to surround himself with music. There are Bible passages that mention troubadouring, especially Psalm 144, “With the ten-stringed lute will I sing psalms unto thee…” which appears to be a reference to a Persian 5-course oud. Christian leaders, like the Muslims, had a long history of conflicted thinking about what kinds of music to celebrate. Nearly all sects of Christianity have embraced singing as an important part of faith and ritual, but it has been an ongoing issue whether instrumental music should be part of either Christian or Muslim worship. The pipe organ didn’t begin to take hold in Western European churches until the 15th century, and the deepest traditions of Christian music for a long time only involved a capella singing or chanting. Even now, when we seem to widely accept both singing and instrument playing in Christian churches, there is controversy about the use of drums and electric guitars, and those instruments remain stigmatized.

What Christian music was doing in the dark centuries following the fall of Rome in 476 is pure guesswork; it gradually evolved from a peasant music foundation and rhythmic chanting to something more closely resembling the organ and choir model that has been in place for the last half-millennium. I am reluctant to either skip over or to try to dwell on the gigantic issue of how much influence of Christian doctrine and practice (until 500 years ago this meant the Catholic Church) had on either the development or the suppression of troubadour musical practices. It’s probably a safe assumption that there were no universal policies or trends, and conditions and practices presumably varied regionally according to the tastes of those with the authority. The church was the most powerful cultural force in Europe and it used music constantly, and obviously shaped nearly all musical development to some extent. But it also did not ever eradicate drinking, gambling, folk tales or tarot cards, and there has always remained a body of cultural information and practices that have flourished quietly or privately despite being publicly discouraged or outlawed outright. This is probably a useful model for understanding the long and hidden history of troubadour arts, as a form of folk knowledge that has persisted in the populations, not unlike herbalism, circus arts, dirty jokes, magic tricks, limericks or superstitions. To understand how lower-class or “vulgar” things can survive, despite being publicly shunned, look no farther than casinos, pornography, strip clubs, taverns and other such institutions in modern society that often are often not far from churches, schools or libraries.
We discussed how incompatibilities with musical notation may have helped push troubadour music out of the church as much as did some more abstract and spiritual ideas. Guitarists and lutenists have always had difficulties with reading music, and as church music became more and more dependent on written notation, guitar-family instrumentalists, already at a severe disadvantage due to the low volume and difficulties in tuning and transposing, would have found less and less of a place for themselves in the cold, cavernous churches. Hundreds of worshipers singing along would be straining to hear unamplified troubadours, and this could believably lead to a situation where the troubadour arts would increasingly take place outside the churches. Already deployed in taverns, as tools of seduction and even connected to unwelcome political or social ideas in the form of popular songs, they might increasingly have been perceived as unholy.

King Edward I, the Welsh Bards and the Beginnings of Punishment
Startling to our modern sensibilities is the fact that a number of European countries passed a significant number of draconian laws that outlawed and punished traveling or independent musicians. This is not a myth or rumor, and a number of the original documents still exist. As early as 1277 King Edward I was said to have ordered 500 Welsh bards burned at the stake to complete his conquest of Wales. That story has circulated widely, though Thomas Stephens, in his extremely thorough 1876 treatise about Welsh culture and literature, took the position that it was fictional, and due entirely to an unsubstantiated account by Sir John Wynn of Gwedir. Edward was the first English ruler to conquer Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and created what we know as Great Britain. He undeniably saw the Welsh bards as a political force resisting his occupation, and what Sir John referred to as “stirrers of sedition.” They were reported to have refused to sing his praises, which may have sparked his brutal retribution. Some accounts say that Edward merely punished the bards he could get his hands on, others say that he only banished or imprisoned them rather than executing them, and still others say that only traveling musicians were actually punished. In 1284, Edward indeed ordered “that the Westours, Bards, Rhymers, and other idlers and vagabonds, who lived upon the gifts called Cymmortha, be not supported, nor sanctioned in the country, lest by their invectives and lies they lead the people to mischief, and burden the common people with their impositions.” Cymmortha was an established ancient tradition of neighborly aid, that included community activities not unlike Amish barn-raisings. Edward’s original edict was actually in French, and referred to “westours, rymours, ministralx ou autre vacabondes,” since French was the official language of England for several centuries after the Norman conquest in 1066. Westour is a lost word for a British Isles troubadour, as is the old Welsh word clerwr, whose plural is clerwyr.

We can never know precisely whether or not Edward actually executed 500 bards, but here in the world of modern bards, it’s an extremely serious accusation and not one to merely brush away. Schoolchildren in Hungary for many years have learned the poem “The Bards of Wales,” written in 1857 by János Arany (1817-1882), Hungary’s most famous poet, that tells the story of the massacre as truth. We do know that Edward I, also referred to as “the uniter,” was not a nice man, especially toward the Welsh and the Scots who resisted his conquests. After the death in battle in 1282 of the leader of the Welsh, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (also written Gruffydd), Edward brought Llywelyn’s head back to London, had it wrapped in ivy, and put it atop the Tower of London, where incredibly it remained for 15 years as a lesson to those who might challenge Edward’s authority. In 1283 he arrested Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd (David), the new Prince of Wales who had been leading the ongoing Welsh rebellion, and after a very highly-publicized trial, conducted a hideous public execution on October 3 in the most grotesque and sadistic manner I have ever heard of. Edward’s Wikipedia page says innocently that he spent his time as monarch “reforming royal administration and common law” and that he “suppressed a minor rebellion in Wales.” He was also the one who 22 years later cruelly crushed the Scottish resistance that was led by William Wallace, as depicted in the popular Mel Gibson film Braveheart. Edward directed perhaps even greater brutality against the Scots than the Welsh, especially toward Wallace and his family members, many of whom were horribly tortured and publicly executed in similarly gruesome ways. (I don’t recommend researching the details of this; they are difficult to stomach.) It’s not a big stretch of imagination to believe that such a man could have also severely punished musicians and poets, especially for advocating and encouraging resistance against British sovereignty, which seemed to be the very highest of crimes in his world. He did have a lute player on his payroll, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t punish insolent folksingers.

Scorn for Peasant Music
There isn’t any way to know if whole classes of musicians were widely scorned in pre-literate situations, since there isn’t any data, and those sorts of societies tended to be small and isolated. It really wasn’t until the arrival of nation-states that we can find anything resembling a trend, and in those, whenever there were social classes, the upper echelons naturally looked down upon the lesser. Sir Ernest MacMillan was a highly-regarded 20th century Canadian classical musician who nevertheless enjoyed folk music. He said bluntly, “It is from a peasantry that the arts ultimately spring, however far thence they may travel… the very idea of a peasantry is usually regarded with scorn.” Because the upper classes of society were more literate, and controlled the academic and industrial sectors of society, there is a vast amount of written material from the past that derides and belittles folk arts, while touting the superiority of “higher” culture and “civilized” music.

Until the last 125 years or so, no one had radios, record players, smart speakers, iPods or CD players to deliver music on demand, so well-to-do Europeans often kept musicians in their employ to provide a soundtrack for daily activities, and for whatever meals, singing, dancing or “merry-making” might be desired. Presumably the better musicians got the best jobs, so we should be perhaps more understanding of the laws that began to outlaw peasant music. Because of income disparity, how little money hard-working peasants made, and also due to what has been depicted (by the gentry of course) as a widespread generosity and an appreciation of good music by the gentry, there probably were a lot of bad musicians trying to make money and thereby being annoying. No doubt the strict laws led to selective enforcement as they always do, and anecdotes about the generosity of the rich might be as hollow as those about kindly slave owners in the American South. On Jan. 20, 1662, it was declared in England that Edward Sadler, “for his insufficiency in the art of musique, be from henceforward silenced and disabled from the exercise of any kinde in publique houses or meetings” which is the only instance I can find anywhere of a specific musician being formally forbidden to perform publicly. It seems to have been enacted by a chartered corporation of musicians rather than Parliament, and is a rare instance of that sort of thing. One imagines what he did to bring that upon himself.

But there was scorn, and there were laws, and this together with the arrival, popularity and novelty of the orchestra, opera, piano, organ and the rapid development of what we now call “classical music” greatly deepened whatever divide there had long been between “high” and “low” musics. Accounts from this era indicate that there was a paradigm shift, and what had been the domain of minstrelsy for centuries was replaced by a new regime of organized music for the upper classes that removed much of their dependence and desire to have peasants entertain them. Thomas Percy wrote in 1765 that by the 1500s the various peasant musicians, “had lately grown into such intolerable multitude within the Principality in North Wales, that not only gentlemen and others by their shameless disorders are oftentimes disquieted in their habitations.” Not only were the people in general annoyed by the multitudes of musicians, but apparently so were skilled musicians. An archaic and thankfully obsolete definition of the word ‘noise’ refers to music: “a concert; also, a company of musicians; a band.”

The Vagabond Act and the Poor Laws
Both George Hart and Joseph Bird tell us that in the reign of Edward II (1284-1327) a law was passed in 1315 that forbade “idle persons under colour of minstrelsy and going in messages or other faigned business, have ben and yet be received in other mens houses to meate and drynke.” Hart, in 1883, couldn’t help making the snide comment that “That it was possible to mistake the counterfeit for the original alone indicates the fallen state of the art at that period.” In 1449 in Scotland, a hard-to-read law said that “Gif there be onie that makis them fuiles, and ar bairdes, or uthers sik like rinnares about, and gif onie sik be fundin, that they be put in the king’s waird, or in his irons for their trespasses, als lang as they haue any gudes of their awin to live upon– that their eares be nailed to the trone, or till ane uther tree, and their eare cutted off, and banished the cuntrie– and if thereafter they be funden again, that they be hanged.” Which says that jesters (fuiles) or traveling bards could be put into the king’s pasture (waird), or put in irons if they had no means of support (gudes of their awin to live upon), that their ears were to be cut off and nailed to a trone or public scale, or to a tree. They were to also be banished, and if they were caught again they would be hanged. Other types of “lesser” artists like cartoonists, circus performers or folk dancers have no doubt also felt certain amounts of disrespect and scorn, but I don’t think any governments cut off their ears and nailed them to trees. This harsh law was refined by King James VI in 1579, then re-ratified in the next century as Act 16th 3d Session, 1st Parliament under King Charles II, and simplified. Ear-burning became the standard punishment for the first offense, and death for the second. In 1698 Fletcher of Saltoun estimated that there were 100,000 “loose and disorderly characters” throughout Scotland, wandering, extorting, and begging, and that the laws were created to maintain order. Fletcher did remark that this problem was “an unspeakable oppression to the country” caused by a feudal political system that favored the privileged, “to the entire neglect of the great mass community.”

In 1494, during the reign of Henry VII, the first so-called Vagabond Act was passed, to be followed by a series of similar laws in the 1500s under Henry VIII and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I. The laws were a bit different in different regions, but they succeeded in restricting and eventually outlawing the minstrel profession in Great Britain, which was at that time was becoming the dominant world economic and military power. It is significant that Henry VII gave his son Henry VIII a lute when he was seven, and also to both his daughters. Two of Henry VIII’s wives, and all of his children, including Elizabeth I also played, so nearly the entire extended Tudor family played lute and a number of other instruments. In 1520 Henry brought in Italian musicians from Cremona, Venice and Milan, and hired a Dutch royal lutenist named Philip van Wilder to perform and tutor his children. The lute music of the day often consisted of dances like the pavan and the galliard, and there are no signs that royal music was in the singer-songwriter mold. The Tudors were obviously quite opposed to lower-class music, which marks a place in the timeline where the powerful upper-class royalty openly took action against troubadour music. One would guess that the Tudor family didn’t hire peasants to play music for their parties. Douglas Smith wrote about the early 16th century in the England court (p.246): “A prevailing, esoteric professional attitude toward music and a widespread itinerancy of musicians were replaced by increased musical literacy and semiprofessional musicians as servants at court and noble houses.”

Sometimes called the Tudor Poor Laws, or later the Poor Laws, these new statutes were actually much more than just punishment for musicians, since they created a commendable system of taxation on all citizens to create a fund and some infrastructure to care for indigent people. This took the burden of caring for the poor off the church, and became the first welfare system. The laws undoubtedly were helpful to people who could not work, but were no doubt devastating to folk musicians of the day. The English laws became a model for similar statutes in other European countries and the Americas that targeted itinerant people as much as they assisted those in need. It was decreed that all persons who were capable of work should do so, and minstrels were apparently not considered to be working when they plied their trade. It was deemed fine for injured or crippled people to be cared for or to beg, but someone begging who was otherwise capable of work was referred to as a “sturdy beggar” and was to be punished. It might have made sense to working people that if they were going to be taxed to support those who needed help, they were not happy about paying for some troubadour to wander around and sing or play the fiddle when they could be plowing a field or making shoes. The public presumably enjoyed the music, but was not happy about being taxed to pay for musicians to have fun, drink, play tunes and sing songs. (Musicians seem permanently doomed to be regarded as indolent and not really working for a living.)

It was again decreed in 1572 in England that any minstrel who was unlicensed or did not belong to “an honourable person of great degree” was “to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about.” Yes, those are the words of the law. “Rogues” and “vagabonds” were also specifically targeted. In 1597, under Queen Elizabeth I, this punishment was lessened to merely jail time and whipping, but during the reign of her father Henry VIII (1509-1547) I found an estimate that 72000 people were executed to enforce these laws, including no doubt many minstrels and troubadours. William Dauney said in 1838 in his book “Ancient Scottish Melodies,” “Honoured and revered during a barbarous age, it was the singular fate of this class of men, at a period when the world became more enlightened, and the arts which they professed better known and more highly cultivated, to be thrust into juxtaposition with the very dregs and refuse of society, and stigmatized as rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.”

It wasn’t just musicians who were targeted; English society became publicly harsh on the lower social classes. Along with the Poor Laws a series of Acts of Apparel were enacted in England beginning as early as 1363. These so-called “sumptuary laws” were repealed by Parliament in 1604, but for over 250 years it was forbidden for English people to wear clothing that was not associated with their social class. The 1509 An Act Against Wearing of Costly Apparel said that only the king and his immediate family could wear purple silk or gold, while lesser nobles were allowed to wear some other less costly fabrics. “None shall wear in his apparel any silk of the color of purple, cloth of gold tissued, nor fur of sables, but only the King, Queen, King’s mother, children, brethren, and sisters, uncles and aunts; and except dukes, marquises, and earls, who may wear the same in doublets, jerkins, linings of cloaks, gowns, and hose; and those of the Garter, purple in mantles only… Cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with any gold or silver: except all degrees above viscounts, and viscounts, barons, and other persons of like degree, in doublets, jerkins, linings of cloaks, gowns, and hose.” They even stipulated that a lengthy list of materials such as, “gowns of silk grosgrain, doubled sarcenet, camlet, or taffeta, or kirtles of satin or damask” could not be worn, “except the degrees and persons above mentioned, and the wives of the sons and heirs of knights, and the daughters of knights…” and even went so far as to regulate how much money per year each social class was allowed to spend on clothing. Queen Elizabeth I issued no less than eight proclamations of this sort, which included the outlawing of wearing woolen caps on certain days, and even prohibited the wearing of some types of imported wool fabric.

Misunderstanding and Scorn of Peasant Music Deepens & Evolves
The widespread derision and lack of respect from the upper classes toward the music of the common people is unfortunately quite well-documented, and lingers in lesser forms to this day, though it is no longer actually coded into law like it was a few centuries ago in Europe. It’s not enough to merely mention or describe the writings where the scorn and aversion occur; it’s worth devoting some ink, paper and electrons here to quoting the sometimes laborious ways they expressed it. Composer Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829, and said about the Scottish music he heard, “Infamous, vulgar, out-of-tune trash… It is distracting and has given me a toothache already… altogether their music is beyond conception.” Similar quotes from the writings of the scornful upper-class abound, with the question lingering of whether the laws punishing musical peasants were caused by the scorn or if it was the other way around. A 1677 treatise on music by Sir Francis North detailed his aversion to the sound of open strings on the hammered dulcimer, in a typical anecdote from the period when peasant music was viewed negatively: “Therefore instruments that have nothing to stop the sounding strings, make an intolerable jangle to one that stands near, as bells to one that is in the steeple and hears the continuing sound of strokes are coincident with the memory of the dissonant tones; such is the Dulcimer.” Now that droning open strings are so fashionable, and lie at the heart of much of the realm of “low” music, it is hard to imagine “educated” people going out of their way to express how much they dislike that sound. Sir John Hawkins published a massive trilogy of books in 1776 titled “A General History of the Science and Practice of Music” where he tried to describe everything about music, including popular music of his day: “The humour of the words was more regarded than the goodness of the metre, justness of thought, propriety of expression, or any other the requisites of good poetry…. The sentiments contained in these poetical compositions were in general not very favourable to good manners, for if they were not satirical, they were in general, exhortations to riot, dissipation, or incentives to lewdness, to drinking, and smoking tobacco, in a vein of humour adapted to a tavern or an ale-house.”

Peak Scorn
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans seem to have reached “peak scorn” for “lower” music, following an earlier tipping point. The “higher” music of the “great composers” was in full flower, and the combination of racist, elitist and colonialist perspectives from the “educated white men” apparently made it so that they were unable to enjoy “lesser” music or see it as anything comparable, equal or parallel to “higher” Western fare. To them it was obviously worse, and far more primitive than their beloved hymns, symphonies, operas, piano sonatas and string quartets, and they spared no words describing how bad it was. I collected these adjectives from old accounts of what the “high” music advocates had to say about what they perceived as “low” music of commoners or primitive people. I am sure I didn’t find all the terms.
“Crude, primitive, pernicious, wretched, profane, base, odious, unclean, seductive, uncouth, lustful, undeveloped, grotesque, strange, disorderly, quaint, orgiastic, foul, putrid, effeminate, bawdy, ribald, wicked, rude, insignificant, vulgaris musica, trifling, disdainful, rudimentary, trash, abhorrent, trivial, abominable, lecherous, corrupt, impious , despicable, coarse, oafish, simplistic, inconsequential, archaic, infantile, tasteless, antiquated, loathsome, awful, barbaric, vulgar, unrefined, intolerable, uncivilized, cacophonous, peculiar, barbarous, indolent, tedious, irksome, lascivious, licentious, ungodly, unpleasant, revulsive, filthy, scurrilous, dreadful, lewd, savage, artless, brutish, wanton, crass, and ignorant.”

Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1824), an eminent music historian of that era, explained that “Music is pursuing her slow and steady course towards taste, elegance, simplicity, and invention, under the guidance of judgment and science.” Choron, a French author, said, “Within the space of three centuries, all parts of the musical system, namely, the melody, the principles of musical construction and design, and every kind of composition, have arrived, successively, at a degree of excellence, which it seems, can hardly be surpassed…” There appears to have been a widespread general feeling among the “educated” that Western music had successfully shed its roots in primitive and vulgar folk musics, to where it had reached a kind of perfection exemplified by the great composers, and that this new music was superior in all ways and should replace all filthy and primitive fare. The inability or unwillingness of the colonial Europeans to see any value in the music of other cultures is startling to modern sensibilities, though admittedly what we think of and might enjoy as “world music” today is much more Westernized than what they were hearing then. In 1696 John Francis Gerrelli Careri wrote about Chinese music, calling it, “a sort of musicke which has not variety of tones, nor keeps any rule of time or notes, nor knows any rules of concord or harmony, or the difference of treble, alt, or tenor, base, and other varieties which compose the delight of musicke. Their scale for instrumental music is very imperfect; and their military and theatrical bands are horrid.” Dr. Burney pronounced Chinese music to be “natural to a people of simple manners, during the infancy of civilization,” even though Chinese civilization is vastly older than European. A Lord Macartney had his English military band play for some Chinese to show them what “real music” was, after hearing some “awful” Chinese music. The Chinese observed that it was “not made for Chinese ears,” and waxed quite eloquent in their rebuttal, saying, “Our melodies go from the ear to the heart, and from the heart to the mind; we feel them; we understand them; but the music which you have just played we neither feel nor understand– it does not move us.” The Chinese observer went on, “Music is the language of feeling; all our passions have their corresponding tones and proper language; and therefore music, to be good, must be in accord with the passion it pretends to express.”
William Stafford’s 1830 “History of Music” devoted nearly a dozen chapters to detailing just how awful, primitive and unlistenable the music was from Arabic, African, Asian and several indigenous cultures, without a hint of understanding that maybe European music sounded equally bad to those people. In 1801 Joseph Endelin de Joinville, a French surveyor-general to the government wrote about what today would be referred to as “world music” in his “Essay on the Religion and Manners of the People of Ceylon.” He reported that “Nothing, however, can be more unpleasant than the Singalese airs, whether sung or played on either kind of their guitars. Their trumpet produces the most annoying sound I ever heard; yet they are fond of it to distraction.” It is interesting that as early as 1801 he used the word guitar, and noted that the people were singing with more than one version of it.
In “Early Metrical Tales,” David Laing makes the point that Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and King James I were known to be fans of popular “metrical romances” such as the “Romance of Fierabras” and “Eger and Grime.” Laing took it to be sign that the poetry was especially worthy because it appealed to the ruling class as well as being popular with the peasants. This is evidence and verification that at some time in the distant past, upper and lower classes enjoyed the same music and other forms of entertainment. Shakespeare’s plays were sometimes presented at royal palaces to the upper-class, but also to the popular masses for a penny. Chappell remarked that “Violins had long been the favorite instruments for dancing, whether with common fiddlers or at court. They were probably first included in the Royal band, under the name of violins, in the fourth year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1561).” This marks an early point of divergence, where the violin began to replace the fiddle in upper-class society. He explains further that “the music played was in close counterpoint, of limited compass for each instrument, and in from three to six parts, every visitor being expected to take a part, and generally at sight. The frets of the viols secured the stopping in tune.”

Musicians have not been the only victims of prejudice and scorn, and their struggles may have been part of widespread patterns of Anglo-Saxon upper-class power and dominance. In “Witchcraft and Gay Culture” in 1978 Arthur Evans took an extreme and controversial position that “the story of human history in the West has been the sickening spectacle of increasing patriarchal power, first gradually in the Bronze Age, then with a sudden leap in the triumph of Christianity, and finally overwhelmingly with the onrush of industrialism. Corresponding to this rise has been a fall, first in the status of women, then of rural people, then of Gay people, then of non-white people. Everywhere the old nature cultures are gone. The Celts are gone, conquered by Caesar. The peasants of Europe are gone, having been murdered, enslaved, or transformed into an urban proletariat. The Indians are gone, wiped out on orders from the Pope and from Washington. The Third World has been going every day. They are all gone, and in their place has come that son of the city of God, that all-conquering Leviathan, the new industrial state. And that’s how it happened that straight white males got control of our lives.” It’s another lens for looking at history, and whether or not it is all true or exaggerated, it should remind us to never be surprised when any group of people anywhere is targeted, scorned or punished by other groups.

Cultural Nationalism, Pastoralism, Shepherds, Milkmaids and the Beginnings of “Folk” Music
Though the mindset was established in the 1600s, the 1700s brought a tidal wave of the “science of music,” the perfection of the “principles” and “rules” of harmonization, the often-strict practices of “voice leading,” plus more general ideas like the “art of composition” and widespread celebration of “great composers” who implemented the “superior” ideas in their work. These principles became bedrock in the teaching of music in class-conscious Western Europe, that was already divided in its uncertainty about how much to admire or shun the music of the lower classes. The appearance of operas, pipe organs and symphonies were no doubt more than a bit daunting and overwhelming to folk fiddlers, lullaby-singing nursemaids or potato-peeling ballad singers. These new and wonderful “great composers” were almost entirely white men, the wünderkind of the new mindset that led nearly everyone in music toward being trained, skilled and very industrious at the orchestration and creation of complex, organized music.

By the mid-18th century the relationship between folk music and the work of the composers contained a built-in paradox, where the pushing down and scorn for the primitive nature of “lower” music was also connected to the concept that peasant music was also pleasingly “natural,” “rustic” and “pastoral.” Many of you might remember from school days about how the concept of the “noble savage” swept through European intellectual circles during the Enlightenment, celebrating the idea that “simple people,” such as farmers, shepherds or fishermen possessed something natural and special that “higher” art or culture could admire and draw from. The idea of the innate goodness of humanity, uncorrupted by civilization, showed up in numerous popular books like “Robinson Crusoe,” as well as in theater, art and music, even as European colonialism was busily conquering and exploiting primitive cultures everywhere it could. This was the era of fabulous paintings of shepherds, sparking the word “pastoral” to become a buzzword, as if the peasant element were a magic ingredient. The idea became widespread that what we think of as “folklore” consisted of two basic categories: the simplistic or unsophisticated but sometimes nice creations by unschooled common people, and also the degenerated and improperly preserved remnants of earlier creations that came from the educated and enlightened. This bore some similarities to the fascination in early 20th century America with Hawaiian culture and music, the popularity of Italian music in England in the 17th century, or even with many elements of the folk and blues revivals of the mid 20th century. Any student of musical culture can assemble a long list of fashion trends that come and go, often involving foreign influences, from British Invasion rock to Afropop worldbeat dance music.

Rationalist efforts to organize and quantify music ran into problems as they tried to explain creativity, folk or “national” musics and genius, all of which eluded scientific thinking. Dryden, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Herder and others came up with convoluted theories to explain how peasants who were somehow connected to nature and something large and important, could create their endearing folk musics while being ignorant of “proper” musical techniques. Peasant music obviously lacked the trendy new rules of harmony and composition, and had little complexity or organization, being instead about rhythm, words and melody rather than polyphony, harmony, arrangement or structure. The explainers struggled with the idea of “genius” that led to their favorite classical music; somehow Mozart, Handel, Beethoven and other creators were able to break rules and to conjure up amazing music that obviously wasn’t the product of cookie-cutter recipes or reproducible science. The idea emerged and remained into the 20th century that composers should be “inspired by” folk musics and borrow freely from the melodies and tonalities of peasant music around them, so they could connect themselves to this pure peasant natural music, while building their elaborate compositions around that core. Fabian Holt (p.152) refers to the situation as one, “with art music as the primary domain and folk music as a repository from which composers could appropriate raw materials.”

This model has persisted for a very long time, where “higher” art admits that it draws significantly from “lower” forms even as it purports to be superior. Beethoven took important parts of his Pastoral Symphony and even Ode to Joy from folk tunes, and Handel was said to have borrowed quite a number of Croatian folk melodies as the basis of his compositions. This was not considered “stealing” or “cheating,” and if you are interested, there are long lists that have been compiled over the years of known instances where celebrated composers took ideas from folk music. Composer Béla Bartok elucidated this strategy in his writings, and helped formalize the procedures of taking ingredients from folk musics and reworking them into composed pieces of “formal music.” When American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) embedded William Stepp’s Kentucky version of the fiddle tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat” into his ballet Rodeo in 1942, and variations and elaborations of Shaker hymns, including “Simple Gifts,” into his 1944 ballet and orchestral suite “Appalachian Spring,” he was following a protocol that had been established as normal and proper by European composers. Copland’s work garnered a lot of acclaim, since it supposedly showed that America not only had some nice folk tunes, but a mature and skilled composer who could use them properly. There weren’t any folk music magazines at the time to review it, so it was never subjected to criticism from outside.

German pastor, writer, philosopher, folksong collector and theologian Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), often credited as being the founder of ethnomusicology, was one of the loudest and most respected voices in the 18th century who believed in folk art and the value of the creations of the common people. He was attracted to instinctual lyrics and music, saying that “poetry could become so great and strong through a natural instinct without any art or rules,” even proclaiming artists to be the shamans of Western civilization. We’ll return to that idea. Herder wrote a tremendous amount on many subjects, and his work, though little-known today, inspired a flood of both criticism and support. He famously sparred with Kant, and his writings appear to have sparked Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to pursue his near-obsessive lifelong efforts to connect art and creativity to mysticism. Herder coined the term Volkslied (people’s song) and strove to break Europeans from their obsessive rationalism and determinism, though his ideas about art being a manifestation of Kraft, the universe’s underlying dynamic energy, could easily have led rationalists to dismiss him as too far out. Herder’s ideas penetrated European discussions of folk music and art, but ultimately by the 19th century, peasant music had been largely marginalized and remained there for some time.

The Scotch and Irish Exceptions
During the 18th and 19th centuries, European culture also saw a celebration and fashionability of “Scotch songs” and “Irish melodies,” especially among those who were enamored with the white male composers and their “high” music. Anglo-Saxon men celebrating the new classical music fixated considerably on Irish and Scottish folk songs and tunes as being some kind of an exception to the otherwise rather blanket rejection of “primitive” or “peasant” music being made by Orientals or dark-skinned “savages.” There were a startling number of 18th and 19th century academic works and lengthy discussions about Irish and Scottish folk music being special, amid general dismissals of the crude or primitive nature of “national music” or “folk melodies.” The “shepherds and milkmaids” theories from that period about the origins of traditional music are both tedious and a bit comical to us now; they argued at great length in their stiff and wordy language about whether or how ignorant people could possibly have created the folk music of a nation. Attempts to reconcile the love of many white Englishmen for Scottish folk songs led scholars like Charles Burney and Alexander Campbell to devise elaborate theories about “national” music created by peasants and “artful” music created by bards and minstrels, as being subclasses and slightly less-odious types of the vulgar music that was not created by the hand of a true composer.

The modal and pentatonic scales commonly found in peasant music really bothered these elitists, and some of them struggled to lump Oriental, foreign and “primitive” British Isles music together as somehow “natural” but infantile. Once the “science of music” mindset was solidified, the idea that many of us now accept that there might be a pentatonic or modal melody that can’t readily be made into a coherent symphonic or large-scale choral composition caused a rejection of those folk melodies as being “trivial,” instead of a questioning or admitting of weaknesses in the newly-deified ideas of harmony and composition. Haydn and even Beethoven himself ended up in the middle of this controversy as they experimented with harmonizing folk melodies and tonalities in their compositions. Scottish publisher George Thomson (1757-1851) actually hired Beethoven to create arrangements of Scottish folk melodies, which ultimately numbered nearly fifteen dozen, to somehow prove that they had musical worth, especially after being graced, improved and legitimized by the hand of a celebrated and presumably white male German composer. Those settings have provoked controversy to this day, with neither Scottish folk fans or Beethoven admirers agreeing on their value, or whether he should have imposed his German ideas of composition on Scottish folk songs. Beethoven reportedly charged double his normal rate to write them, and may have been just trying to make some money to fund his other composing. (A chunk of them from 1818 are often called “Opus 108” if you want to learn more about them.)

Fans of “higher music” clung to the idea that folk music was a developmental stage, and that folk musics were some sort of musical “living fossils” that went through their own version of natural selection. Some of that music was considered by the nationalistic writers to be excellent or naturally beautiful, and they didn’t want their own beloved folk melodies lumped together with the obviously barbaric music of other cultures or countries. It was also around this time, as we saw earlier, when French nationalist historians gained greatly in their efforts to celebrate French national and folk music, especially the troubadours of the Middle Ages, who were touted as being primarily from southern France. In later centuries Charles Bordes, Julien Tiersot and others continued the French resistance to German hegemony in classical music, with their pushback against the dominance of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, who were German, and Austrians Haydn, Mozart, Strauss and Schubert. (Austria has always shared a language and a great deal culturally and politically with Germany.) Fortunately, in the last half-century or so there has been good progress by the world of “higher music” in respecting the beauty of modal and pentatonic folk music and of world music in general, but there still isn’t anything I would call a level playing field where diverse kinds of music from different places, times and cultures are all respected and treated as equals without the big shadow of “higher” music looming over the “lower.” Even amid Western culture, we troubadours still live under this old shadow.

Class Warfare and Music
In his 1855 book with the prodigious title, “Popular Music of the Olden Time: A Collection Of Ancient Songs, Ballads, And Dance Tunes, Illustrative Of The National Music Of England With Short Introductions To The Different Reigns, And Notices Of The Airs From Writers Of The Sixteenth And Seventeenth Centuries. Also A Short Account Of The Minstrels,” William Chappell gave us many accounts of the interplay between the upper-classes and the peasant musicians in past centuries, when those lingering prejudices may have been cemented. He quotes a M. Gosson who wrote in 1586 that “London is so full of unprofitable pipers and fiddlers, that a man can no sooner enter a tavern, than two or three cast (i.e., companies) of them, hang at his heels, to give him a dance before he departs…” and that “in James’ reign [James VI was king from 1567-1625], musicians not actually in employ presumed so far upon the license, that their intrusion into all companies, and at all times, became a constant subject of rebuke. Ben Jonson’s Club, the Apollo, which met at the Devil tavern, chiefly for conversation, was obliged to make a law that no fiddler should enter, unless requested.” Chappell follows by saying that “Nevertheless, they were generally welcome, and generally well paid; more especially, at merry-makings where their services were ever required.” It’s interesting to me that as a modern musician, one of the few places where we are routinely hired and treated well is for weddings. Accounts from the time of Mohammed, and also from Europe long ago often specify how important it is to sing and dance merrily and hire peasants to perform at weddings and celebrations. Speaking of ballad music, George Puttenham (1529–1590) wrote thickly:
“The over busy and too speedy return of one manner of tune, doth too much annoy, and, as it were, glut the ear, unless it be in small and popular musicks… where they have none other audience than boys or country fellows that pass by them in the street; or else by blind harpers, or such like tavern minstrels, that give a fit of mirth for a groat; and their matter being for the most part stories of old time, as the Tale of Sir Topas, Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwick, Adam Bell and Clym of the Clough, and such other old romances or historical rhimes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people at Christmas dinners and bride-ales, and in taverns and alehouses, and such other places of base resort… Also they [these short tunes] be used in Carols and Rounds, and such like light and lascivious poems, which are commonly more commodiously uttered by these buffoons, or vices in plays than by another person.”

A telling anecdote describes a scene from England in about 1690, where Queen Mary herself wanted to hear her favorite folk song that begins ‘Ise gae with thee my Peggy.’ Her royal organist was the venerated composer Henry Purcell, who was appalled that she would rather hear a “vulgar song” than his music. [Hawkins]:
“This tune was greatly admired by queen Mary, the consort of king William; and she once affronted Purcell by requesting to have it sung to her, he being present: the story is as follows. The queen having a mind one afternoon to be entertained with music, sent to Mr. Gostling, then one of the chapel, and afterwards subdean of St. Paul’s, to Henry Purcell and Mrs. Arabella Hunt, who had a very fine voice, and an admirable hand on the lute, with a request to attend her; they obeyed her commands; Mr. Gostling and Mrs. Hunt sang several compositions of Purcell, who accompanied them on the harpsichord; at length the queen beginning to grow tired, asked Mrs. Hunt if she could not sing the old Scots ballad ‘Cold and Raw’, Mrs. Hunt answered yes, and sang it to her lute. Purcell was all the while sitting at the harpsichord unemployed, and not a little nettled at the queen’s preference of a vulgar ballad to his music…”

Chappell sympathized a bit with the peasants, and he wrote, “The great musicians of Elizabeth’s reign did not often compose airs of the short and rhythmical character required for ballads. These were chiefly the productions of older musicians, or of those of lower grade, and some of ordinary fiddlers and pipers… The scholastic music then in vogue was of a wholly different character. Point and counterpoint, fugue and the ingenious working of parts, were the great objects of study, and rhythmical melody was but lightly esteemed.” He also outlined two things that helped lead to the persecution of musicians in 17th century English society. The struggle between the Puritans and the Cavaliers, as the non-puritan Anglicans were known, was significant, and lasted quite a long time. James Donaldson explained in “An Essay on Scottish and Hellenic Minstrelsy” (1886) where he described the divide between religious and non-religious sectors of society, something that he says grew from the Reformation, and persists to this day as strongly as ever. He spoke of,
“...two great classes into which the Scotch have been divided since the Reformation, called, at the early period of Scottish song, the Covenanters and the Cavaliers. The one party bowed before religion, most scrupulously abstained from all worldly pleasures, and regarded and denounced as sin, or something akin to it, every approach to levity or frivolity. The other party was a wild rebound from this. Sanctimoniousness was hateful in their eye; and not being able to find a medium, they abjured religion, and rushed into the pleasures of this life with headlong zest. The poets, in accordance with their joy-loving natures, allied themselves to the latter class. There was thus in Scotland a deep, dark gulf between the religious and the poetical or beautiful, which has not yet been completely bridged over….a foreigner, taking up a book of Scottish songs written since the Reformation, and judging of the religion of the Scotch from them alone, would be prone to suppose that, if Scotland had any religion at all, it consisted in using the name of the devil occasionally with respect or with dread. The Cavaliers, in their most energetic moods, swore by him and by no other; while the Covenanters had no songs at all, scarcely any poetry of any kind, and doubtless would have regarded as impious the tracing of any but the most spiritual pleasures to God.”

Philip Stubbes, in his Anatomy of Abuses, first printed in 1583, (and so popular with the Puritans that four editions of it were printed within twelve years), devotes an entire chapter to railing against music. He says that from, “a certain kind of smooth sweetness in it, it is like unto honey, alluring the auditory to effeminacy, pusillanimity, and loathsomeness of life.... And right as good edges are not sharpened, but obtused, by being whetted upon soft stones, so good wits, by hearing of soft music, are rather dulled than sharpened, and made apt to all wantonness and sin.” Stubbes complained of music, “being used in public assemblies and private conventicles as a directory to filthy dancing,” and that “through the sweet harmony and smooth melody thereof, it estrangeth the mind, stirreth up lust, womanisheth the mind, and ravisheth the heart.” Speaking of the minstrels who had licenses from the justices of the peace, and lived upon their art, Stubbes went on: “I think all good minstrels, sober and chaste musicians (I mean such as range the country, riming and singing songs in taverns, ale-houses, inns, and other public assemblies), may dance the wild morris through a needle’s eye. There is no ship so balanced with massive matter as their heads are fraught with all kinds of lascivious songs, filthy ballads, and scurvy rhimes, serving for every purpose and every company.” Yet the minstrels persisted, as oppressed people often do. Sieur de la Serre, a French historian, reported in 1638 that when he traveled in England, “in all public places, violins, hautboys (a type of oboe), and other sorts of instruments are so common, for the amusement of particular persons, that, at all hours of the day, one may have one’s ears charmed with their sweet melody.” Chappell reports, “The number of superior musicians thus added to those who habitually performed at taverns, rendered them places of great resort, and brought a rich harvest to the tavern-keepers.”

In the Cromwell era, when the Puritans took over England, it was not just music that was outlawed, as theaters were closed, and people were even forbidden from archery, leaping and vaulting as pastimes. In 1656 Oliver Cromwell’s government passed a strict and specific act against “vagrants and wandering idle dissolute persons,” in which it was ordained that “if any person or persons, commonly called fiddlers or minstrels, shall at any time after the 1st of July be taken playing, fiddling, and making music, in any inn, alehouse, or tavern, or shall be taken proffering themselves, or desiring, or intreating any person or persons to hear them play or make music in any of the places aforesaid, shall be punished accordingly.” It thus became illegal not only to play peasant music in public, but even to ask people if they wanted to hear some. After the theaters were closed, taverns were the only public places in which music was to be heard. Hawkins tells us (p.88), “the singing of ballads was then but lately become an itinerant profession. The ancient printed ballads have this colophon: Printed by A.B., and are to be sold at the stalls of the Ballad-singers; but Cromwell’s ordinance against strolling fiddlers, printed in Scobel’s collection, silenced these, and obliged the ballad-singers to shut up shop.”

During this tumultuous time in the 1600s in England, pipe organs were even removed from churches. There are some very entertaining accounts by French travelers who were astounded to find people in London drinking and singing along with pipe organs, which had simply been moved from the churches into nearby taverns. The outlawing of music and the closing of the theaters must have had a huge effect on the livelihoods of musicians, and it appears that private events and taverns were the only places it was allowed for some time. The hottest music venue in London for quite a while was the 2nd floor of Tom Britton’s coal shop, and Hawkins’ colorful description of it is worth sharing here (Vol. II: p.221), especially for those who might have attended a modern house concert and listened to a brilliant musician perform in someone’s living room or back yard.

“The first assembly of the kind deserving the name of a concert in London, was established under circumstances that tended rather to degrade than recommend such an entertainment, as being set on foot by a person of the lowest class among men in this country, in a suburb of the town, difficult of access, unfit for the resort of persons of fashion, and in a room that afforded them scarce decent accommodations when they had escaped the dangers of getting at it. In short, it was in the dwelling of one Thomas Britton, a man whose livelihood was selling about the streets small coal, which he carried in a sack on his back, that a periodical performance of music in parts was first exhibited, and that gratis too, to the inhabitants of this metropolis. The house of this man was situated in Aylesbury-street, leading from Clerkenwell green to St. John’s-street; the room of performance was over his small coal shop, and, strange to tell, from the year 1678, when he first began to entertain the public, to the time of his death in 1714, Tom Britton’s concert was the weekly resort of the old, the young, the gay and the fair of all ranks, including the highest order of nobility.”

Special Scorn For the Guitar
For a confluence of reasons, the guitar family of instruments seems to have attracted more than its statistical share of derision and revulsion from the European establishment, in at least three fundamental ways. Perhaps because it had Arabic, Spanish and even gypsy origins it was associated with dark, foreign people with strange ideas about music, love and religion; it allowed anyone to make home-made music without teachers or formal training– and it may have been especially feared because it connected those people to rhythm and even to states of mind in ways unlike the other common instruments. Since it wasn’t taught in schools or used in churches, it could only be learned from those gypsies, prostitutes or dark-skinned foreigners, further cementing its bad reputation.

M. Jorevin de Rocheford, who printed his travels in England at Paris in 1672, says, “the Harp was then the most esteemed of musical instruments by the English.” As early as 1204 Archbishop Baldwin reported that in Wales, “in every family, or in every tribe, they esteemed skill in playing on the harp beyond any kind of learning.” According to the medieval Welsh “Laws of Howel” only gentlemen could own harps, and playing the harp was even a gentleman’s duty. The established instrument for accompanying songs in much of Britain was the harp, and it took the guitar several rocky centuries to arrive and then to reach a dominant position. Chappell asserts that “The Guitar was reported to have been brought into fashion in 1662, by Francisco Corbeta, ...The king’s relish for his compositions had brought the instrument so much into vogue, that every person played upon it, well or ill; and you were as sure to see a Guitar on a lady’s toilette, as rouge or patches.” The grand piano was not invented until 1777, and did not start appearing widely until the early 19th century, though smaller keyboards, including harpsichords and virginals had been used earlier to accompany songs. Part of the reason the guitar prospered was simply because it was versatile, portable and durable, and cost much less than a piano. People bought them in spite of their lower rank in the pecking order of musical instruments. Though the world of “higher guitar” views the guitar’s success through its own lens, the survival and eventual dominance of the guitar as an instrument in the 20th century can also be seen as a victory of the common people and of unschooled music.
Few in those centuries past seemed to have much of anything nice to say about the guitar. In Spain the instrument was still a common pastime of the upper-class, and was not as stigmatized as it was in the rest of Europe, but remember that Spain was under Muslim rule for over 700 years, beginning in 710, and was not culturally or economically connected to the rest of Western Europe until much later. Hawkins says about a celebrated musician named Jean-Baptiste Lully,

“To the guitar, a trifling instrument, Lully retained throughout his life such a propensity, that for his amusement he resorted to it voluntarily; and to perform on it, even before strangers, needed no incentive… The guitar is an instrument of small estimation among persons skilled in music, the power of performing on it is obtained without much difficulty...” He continued, “This instrument Mersenne says is but little used, and it is held in great contempt in France as indeed it had been till very lately in this country. The English appellation for it is the Cittern, notwithstanding it is by ignorant people called the Guitar, the practice on it being very easy, it was formerly the common recreation and amusement of the women and their visitors in houses of lewd resort. Many are the allusions to this instrument in the works of old dramatic poets; whence it appears that the Cittern was formerly the symbol of a woman who lived by prostitution. Another proof of the low estimation in which it was formerly held in England is that it was the common amusement of waiting customers in barber shops.”
G. Jones in the Encyclopaedia Londonensis gave us an insight into the guitar’s place in the 1700s in England:
“The English Guitar was frequently in favor, and about 1770 its vogue was so great among all ranks of people as nearly to break all the Harpsichord and Spinet makers. The ladies disposed of their Harpsichords at auctions for one-third of their price, or exchanged them for Guitars. Kirkman, the harpsichord maker, succeeded in changing the fashion by purchasing a number of cheap guitars and presenting them to milliner girls and street ballad-singers. These he taught to play a few chords, and so accompany themselves. The ladies were disgusted; the rage for the Guitar passed…”

There is no follow-up on what happened after the commoner women started playing guitar. I guess they are still at it. In Volume III Hawkins says,
“In Morley’s time and for many years after, a lute or viol, or some such musical instrument, was part of the furniture of a barber’s shop, which was used then to be frequented by persons above the ordinary level of the people, who resorted to the barber either for the cure of wounds, or to undergo some chirurgical operations, or, as it was then called, to be trimmed, a word that signified either shaving or cutting and curling the hair; these, together with letting blood, were the ancient occupations of the barber-surgeon.… The musical instruments in his shop were for the entertainment of waiting customers, and answered the end of a newspaper. At this day those who wait for their turn at the barber’s, amuse themselves with reading the news of the day or week; anciently they beguiled the time with playing on a musical instrument.”
In Samuel Pepys’ famous diary he talks quite a bit about music, and speaks graciously of how much he enjoyed hearing fiddlers playing while he dined. He mentions the Dolphin Tavern as having “an excellent company of fiddlers,” and his being there, on more than one occasion, “exceeding merry till late.” But a year or two after, being invited to dine there by Mr. Foly, and an excellent dinner provided, he tells us, “but I expected musique, the missing of which spoiled my dinner.”

In 1676 Thomas Mace self-published a quirky, nearly handwritten book in London that has proved to be one of the best historical sources of information that modern lute enthusiasts have from the time when that instrument dominated European music. Mace was an accomplished lutenist and teacher, and his “Musick’s Monument; or a REMEMBRANCER of the Best Practical Musick both DIVINE and CIVIL that has ever been known, to have been in the World” was one of the few sources from that era that had anything nice to say about peasant music. He wrote that “Common tunes... are to be known by the boys and common people singing them in the streets…” and said that “among them are many very excellent and well-contrived.” It is also telling that he spends several pages refuting common misconceptions about the lute, and it seems clear that he was feeling a good deal of “anti-lute” scorn. Mace claimed emphatically that the lute was not the hardest instrument to play, that it was not as costly to own or maintain as a horse, and on page 46 he really got into answering what he calls the “five Aspersions” against the lute, even revealing some early feminism in his views:
“The Third Aspersion upon the Lute is, that it causeth Young Folks to go awry… in my whole Time I yet never knew one Person, Young or Old, that grew awry by that Undertaking…. It shall be impossible for any person to go Awry by Lute-play.” He went on: “The Fifth Aspersion is That it is a Womans Instrument. If this were true, I cannot understand why It should suffer any disparagement for That; but rather that It should have the more Reputation and Honour…. I deny it to be a Woman’s Instrument so, as by That means It shall become less Fit for the Use of a Man. For it by That Saying They would insinuate, That it is a Weak, Feeble, Soft Instrument, as to the sound; what can that signifie whereby to make it a Woman’s Instrument more than a Man’s?… But whereas first they say, It is the Hardest Instrument in the World; that shews They Contradict Themselves in This particular; and conclude by Saying, It cannot so properly be called a Womans Instrument, in regard They are the Weaker Vessel; and therefore not so Fit to set upon and attempt the Mastery of Things of such Difficulty. There if still They will needs put it upon the Woman, I say, the more shame for Them; And so much for That.”
He finished that section with a great sentence: “Thus having (I hope) to full satisfaction explained the Matter, I doubt not but the Lute henceforward will be more look’d after and esteemed than of late years it has been.” Maybe it is high time for someone to similarly publish and refute the various and sundry “Aspersions Upon the Guitar.”

Pamphlets and Broadsides
Among the weapons used by the political resistance long ago, especially in the British Isles, were the pamphlet and the song. Sarcastic broadsides and ballads lampooning political figures appeared everywhere, and seem to have been a serious force in shaping public opinion, essentially a form of social media in those times that was well-known to have continued into colonial America. A man named George Thomas secretly collected 30,000 pamphlets, now in the British Museum, known as the King’s Pamphlets, giving us an idea of how widespread and large-scale this form of media had been. One of the songs in the King’s Pamphlets appeared shortly after his execution, dated 23rd April, 1649, is titled “A Coffin for King Charles: A Crown for Cromwell: A Pit for the People; ” and the direction is that “you may sing this to the tune of Fain I Would If I Could.” The King even retaliated against dissent by hiring writers of his own, and a man named John Wade was described as “a ballad-writer employed on the King’s side,” and author of “The Royall Oak, or the wonderfull Travells, miraculous Escapes, strange Accidents of his Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second.” Chappell quotes dozens of the ballads and pamphlets in his very thick book, and even describes the fear of being “balladed” in the seventeenth century. He said, “The political importance of songs and ballads in aiding great changes, whether reformatory, revolutionary, or otherwise, has been proved not only in our own country, but in almost every other.” In the mid 1600s, songs were apparently a powerful force of dissent, and they commonly appeared in the streets as “broadsides,” which were single printed sheets of paper with song lyrics, typically new words to a known melody. The new songs were parodies or new sets of words written to tunes that were widely known. The idea of creating both words and music, as modern songwriters commonly do, is a more recent development.

Music became much more than mere entertainment, and when you dive into the endless accounts of what rebellious songwriters were doing, it gets easier to understand why some music began to be outlawed. A Presbyterian graduate of Oxford named Thomas Weaver wrote a pamphlet that was deemed “seditious libel against the government, and a capital indictment founded upon it,” which meant that he was marked for execution. On Dec. 13, 1648, a Captain Betham was appointed Provost-Martial, “with power to seize upon all ballad-singers.” The printing press created a grass-roots communication system not unlike modern social media and email, and it appears that after a certain point there were enough printing presses, ink and paper that it was not possible to stop people from printing and disseminating their ideas. The American Revolution was fueled similarly, and Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” famously contributed to fomenting rebellion a hundred years after the English ballad-wars. Ballads and printed broadside sheets of song lyrics also circulated widely in the American colonies, providing entertainment as well as fuel for both anti-British and anti-Royalist sentiments.
Chappell reminds us that social class remained a dominant issue in the persecution of musicians. There is undoubtedly plenty of data that could correlate bad economies and wars to the appearance of beggars and street musicians trying to feed themselves. Upper-class people grew tired of being pestered by peasant musicians begging for money everywhere they went. He continued, “From the restoration of Charles II may be dated an entire change in the style of music till then cultivated in England. The learned counterpoint and contrivance of madrigals and motets in vocal music, and of fancies in instrumental music, fell gradually out of esteem, and were replaced by a lighter and more melodious style of air; such as could be better appreciated by uncultivated ears. The viol, hitherto the chief instrument for chamber concerted music, was gradually replaced by the violin, and the supremacy of the lute in vocal music was then first contested by the guitar.” The King sang duets on the guitar with Mr. Gostling, of the Chapel Royal, with the Duke Of York, (later James II) accompanying them on the guitar. Charles II was Scottish, and was known to enjoy and be familiar with “peasant music.” Chappell describes the dumbing-down of the music as a consequence of its popularity, “The cultivation of music among gentlemen began to decline in the reign of Charles II, slowly but progressively. The style of music in favour in his day required less cultivation than the contrapuntal part-writing of earlier times. Playford remarks that of late years all solemn and grave music has been laid aside, being esteemed too heavy and dull for the light heels and brains of this nimble and wanton age.”

In 1656 the first opera opened in London, and the split between “high” and “low” musics reached what seems to have been a critical juncture. The arrival of symphonies and opera must have been a key factor in pushing troubadour music into the shadows, where it remained until the 20th century. Sight-reading was becoming very important in the large ensembles playing carefully composed parts, and the ability of a musician to walk into a situation and sight-read seems to have replaced the old troubadour skill of playing music from memory. A man named Roger North wrote on March 4, 1656 about a violin player named Thomas Baltzer, saying that “there was nothing, however cross and perplext, brought to him by our artists, which he did not play off at sight, with ravishing sweetness and improvements, to the astonishment of our best masters.” Also in this era Italian music and the grand spectacle of opera became hugely popular in England and other Western European countries. An Italian named Giovanni Battista Sammartini is credited with writing in the early 1700s what might be the first symphony. The size and complexity of orchestras meant that musicians had to be trained in sight-reading, and the simple joys of enjoying a good song or a nice dance tune were increasingly overwhelmed by the volume and grandeur of large, organized music played in glorious music halls. The growing presence and dominance of the symphony and the opera could be likened to the cultural power of Hollywood, radio and television in the 20th century. This had to result in a reduced appreciation for small, unorganized music not made by the powerful or educated.

A 1725 book that the Robert Burns Encyclopedia calls, “the first important collection of Scots songs,” and the source Burns learned many of his melodies from, was William Thomson’s “Orpheus Caledonius.” It is now understood to be important and valuable, but Sir John Hawkins said of it in 1776, “The editor was not a musician, but a tradesman, and the publication is accordingly injudicious and very incorrect.” Thomson was a genuine folk musician, from a musical family who played traditional music and understood the local lore, yet his collection of folk music was immediately scorned and dismissed by the “educated.

Black Jack Davy and Musical Ne’er-do-Wells
Muriel St. Clare Byrne tells us in her treatise on Elizabethan life that thieves often posed as musicians, or worked with them as accomplices to trick or rob people. In Jelly Roll Morton’s fascinating autobiography “Mister Jelly Roll” (1950) he describes how he used his role as a musician to cheat people at cards and gambling. My own grandfather was a traveling con man who was born in Liverpool but plied his trade in America, and my father did not want me to play music because the only musicians he knew while growing up worked with his father to cheat people and even pick their pockets. The old ballads known as “Gypsy Laddie” and “Black Jack Davy” (among dozens of other names) told the story of irresistible traveling men who stole women away from their husbands. Even our Duke of Aquitaine, the French nobleman known as the First Troubadour, boasted of being a serial womanizer. The fear that a charming and talented musician might steal away or seduce your wife or daughter could not have helped traveling musicians earn respect in society in eras past, and no doubt continues to contribute to the dark shadow hanging over modern musicians, despite the significant gains we have made in respect in recent decades.

Country music historian Bill Malone devotes a whole chapter in his brilliant book “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’” to what he calls the “rambling man” archetype that has long been inhabited by musicians as well as other outlaws, social outcasts and wayfarers. Malone reminds us that “In Europe, professional musicians were often viewed or defined as rambling men by legal statute or church prohibition… They were viewed as irresponsible or ‘masterless men’ who posed threats to society. Even older superstitions holding that fiddling was a black art, and that, in fact, the Devil himself was a fiddler… reinforced these ‘official’ views in the public mind.” Malone explains at length how the idea of being a musician became intertwined with darkness in both real and symbolic ways: “Poor people often suffered from the wiles, schemes, or brutalities of sharpies, hustlers, gamblers, bandits, highwaymen, thieves and assorted con artists on the lonely roads of the British Isles where robbers lay in wait, or at the county fairs and other public gatherings where such characters preyed upon the gullible and ignorant. Musicians, likewise, could be rascals who used their art, or were used by others, to deceive or ensnare naive listeners…. While people appreciated their talents and rewarded them in certain ways, they were also looked on with disfavor as ne’er-do-wells or irresponsible types.” The fact that professional musicians have always needed to travel to make a living by seeking new audiences has not helped them to become upstanding citizens, and no doubt has reinforced the negative stereotypes involving drinking, gambling, avoiding work and womanizing.

Scorn For Peasant Music Crosses the Atlantic
Europeans have long been more class-conscious than Americans, and the English seem to have been almost unbeatable in their ability to look down their noses at those they considered beneath them. The dominance of English culture in the American colonies appears to have brought with it some of that scorn for lower classes. There were a handful of accounts by observant upper-class or educated musicians who took a favorable view of the music of slaves or commoners, but those are few and far-between, and negative comments dominate. The first English settlers who came to North America in the early 1600s and founded the American nation came from a world where strict regulations against folk music were established and commonplace, so presumably the streets and taverns of colonial America, especially in New England, were not filled with the sound of fiddles or ballad singers. The schoolbooks still tell our children that settlers came to America to “escape persecution,” but there was plenty of it here, both imported and home-grown. The idea of “peasants” or “common people” happily providing music for the community seems to have been little-known in colonial times, though theoretically there was much less class structure in the colonies than in Europe. It would be another 150 years after the first settlements before the new country’s government was formed, with a constitution that tried to establish a more level playing field than Europe had offered, and one that was not so stratified economically. There was no longer a stark division between the House of Commons and a House of Lords as segments of the government, and the emphasis on individual liberty and equality must have imprinted at least to some extent on the music. We modern viewers now see the hypocrisy of those lofty ideas about freedom and equality excluding both slaves and women from having rights, but somehow that seemed fine to even the educated and somewhat compassionate white men who formed the new government. Even in New England there was some slavery, and during the 74 years that elapsed between the establishment of the new government and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, 11 of the 15 presidents who preceded Abraham Lincoln were themselves slave owners. America was certainly no utopia where all classes of people were considered equal and enjoyed equal freedom and rights; since peasant musicians were so little respected in England it’s difficult to imagine that it was much different in the colonies.
Presumably the fires of folk music burned hottest on the lawless frontier and in proximity to the influence of African-American and slave culture in the South. There were even some laws in early America expressly forbidding fiddle playing, especially on the Sabbath day. No doubt many people secretly sang ballads and played fiddle tunes, though it was frowned upon and even punished. The Rev. Cotton Mather, who was in the thick of the Salem witch trials and persecution of women in the late 1600s, was also deeply involved in church music, and argued strenuously against using instrumental music in the worship of God. I am curious if Mather was involved in punishing fiddlers, since he wrote of detesting the hurdy-gurdy and called it an “instrument of torture.” This means that there must have been enough of them around to annoy him and to provoke him into mentioning them. There seems to be no end to anecdotes that are illustrations of scorn and persecution of “illegitimate music” at the hand of the “legitimate” during the four centuries that troubadours were essentially wandering in the desert in exile. In “America’s Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present,” Gilbert Chase says tersely, “In the 18th century, professional musicians were not considered gentlemen,” and he further clarifies that much music was played by a class of performers known as “gentlemen amateurs,” who did it for the love but not the money.

Vagrancy and Loitering
Gypsies and traveling people have often been feared and persecuted. Nearly every European country and every state in America has had some kind of law against vagrancy and loitering, which is defined as, “the act of remaining in a public place for a protracted time without an apparent purpose.” Society has long felt threatened by traveling or homeless poor people, and has punished them throughout history in myriad ways. Millions of people may have been arrested over the centuries. In 1824 it formally became illegal in England to “sleep rough” or to beg. An internet search for the words “vagrancy” and “loitering,” yields a staggering list of old laws that essentially outlawed freedom and independence, and basically gave any law enforcement officer anywhere permission to arrest anyone they wanted to for not having a “fixed address” or for not having a “visible means of support.” Even here in “The Land of the Free,” you could be found guilty of breaking a law and punished, sometimes quite severely, by merely standing on the street doing absolutely nothing, with your precious 4th Amendment right against arrest without probable cause ignored. Vagrancy was a crime in all 48 states and Washington, D.C. in 1949, and it was not until the 1970s that such laws began to be overturned (notably by the Supreme Court in 1972 in Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156). At that same time, vagrancy and loitering laws in Wisconsin, Ohio and New York were also voided by courts. Americans waited for a long time to earn the right to stand on whatever street corner they wanted to for no apparent reason, in pursuit of liberty or happiness. Incidentally, 1972 is the year my friends and I first started playing street music, and I can recall an awkward feeling in the air about the legality of what we were doing, though at the time none of us had any idea that a law had been recently changed. We suburban white kids playing bluegrass rarely got hassled, but I remember some of the veteran street musicians and travelers I met in those days being very wary of police. As I remember, the hobo code of ethics was quite bohemian, and there was a nice camaraderie and sharing between the real street people and the newcomer hippies.

African-Americans and other minorities were undoubtedly targeted the most by vagrancy laws in America, with itinerant musicians basically in the same situation as in Elizabethan England. Their ears were not burned through with a hot poker, but no doubt many a black musician on a street corner was dragged away in handcuffs. Street musicians have been arrested, fined and regulated almost everywhere for as long as there have been police forces. In the Jim Crow South, even an arrest for a minor crime could lead to significant time in a dreadful county jail or a brutal stretch on a chain gang or work farm. A well-known blues musician spent a surprisingly long time on a chain gang for the crime of playing cards on a train. In the Galveston (Texas) Daily News on Oct 1, 1904, a newspaper editorial titled “A Lot of These Loafing Guitar Pickers Ought to Be Transformed Into Active Cotton Pickers” said harshly, “Music...when it comes out of a guitar or mandolin… seems to soothe all desire for labor which the young negro who can pick these instruments can possibly have. The guitar comes from a lazy climate. In Spain, where they have never worked since olden days…and in Mexico, where labor is a punishment, this particular musical instrument was ever in high favor…. It is a lazy person’s delight, and a bore to the man or woman of action. In the hands of a negro between 16 and 30, dressed in big-leg, striped pants, it lulls all desire to work.”

The Southern Barbecue
Bill Malone made another interesting point that in the American South, a tradition grew whereby the wealthy landowners occasionally threw lavish parties called “barbecues” (or barbeques) where they invited, fed and entertained the local population. These events are still a big part of holiday celebrations and church life in the South. The purpose of the original barbecues was primarily political, with the parties being an affordable and effective way of securing the goodwill and therefore the votes of the local citizens. The Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 was a way for slave states to gain more power in Washington by allowing the slaves to be partially counted for purposes of determining seats in the House of Representatives. After 1863, when freed slaves could vote, the wealthy whites needed to court them, though as we now know they also devised numerous ways to prevent them from voting. Barbecues became a rare type of mixing of the social classes, and in the South, involved rich and poor whites as well as slaves and emancipated slaves, who often provided the recipes, cooks and music. There were speeches and music, and sometimes a fiddle contest, which have been credited with spreading musical ideas around as musicians traveled to try to win prizes. Barbecues may have been a type of breeding ground for the spread of “peasant music” and for the mixing of European and African musical ideas that ultimately bore such important musical fruit. The populations of local voters would likely not have wanted to hear a string quartet, opera or “highbrow” music, and written accounts and letters describe situations where an educated, upper-class white person for the first time heard African-Americans and rural whites playing violins and banjos and singing their own songs.

The Modern Inheritance of Musical Prejudice
We modern troubadours, though not as feared or shunned as some of our musical forebears, have nonetheless inherited the lingering vestiges of a long tradition of mistrust and disrespect. Many an American family has scolded their child for wanting to play guitar and sing songs, and tried to steer them away from a life of minstrelsy. How many musicians today have been teased, scorned or belittled for not having a “real job”? How many modern troubadours have felt pushed by society to go a school and learn to play “legitimate” music? Ongoing associations with sexuality, alcohol, drug use and reckless living have been connected since antiquity to the persona of the musician, especially the ones who sing and play guitar. Musicians are actually now in an era where we are achieving respect not seen in nearly 700 years, but it’s not universal. I have personally felt a measurable degree of being an “outsider” or an “outcast” in my own 45 years as a traveling musician, even though I am an articulate, college-educated white man from a middle-class family. I remember those fearful looks from the fathers of girls I dated long ago, and I am reminded of the reputation of my profession whenever I am pulled over by the police, apply for a bank loan or even sing a song in church. I have also felt a subtle but tangible musical scorn my whole life from musical people who use the term “legit” to describe their skill sets, and to set themselves apart and above those who they see as the opposite, which mostly means those of us who don’t choose to or need to read music.

When rock and roll burst forth in the 1950s, it brought with it a surge of popularity of the guitar in general, especially the newly-powerful electric version. Tim Brookes argues the point in his wonderful book “Guitar: An American Life” that it was the Beatles in the 1960s who finally broke through the regionalism and prejudice against the guitar that was still stubbornly embedded and palpable, even after Elvis, rockabilly and early rock music had widely popularized the instrument. Handsome, young, urbane and wildly popular “British Invasion” foreigners were playing all sorts of compelling music on their guitars, and it became instantly fashionable and universally acceptable for anyone to play guitar without fear of its long association with sin or disrepute. The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 23, 1964, remains to this day the largest television audience event in history, with 73,700,000 people reported to have watched. I wasn’t personally among those spectators that night, but large numbers of people, including me a few years later, became empowered after that to ride the guitar-driven musical wave. Manufacturing and sales of guitars exploded very quickly; by about 1970 the guitar was no longer just the best-selling instrument– Brookes also claims that its sales were reported to have at that time become as large as all other instruments combined.

There was at first considerable resistance to rock & roll and guitar music from the established bands and orchestras that trained and booked musicians. Bandleaders relied on musicians who could read music and play in an organized ensemble at a wedding or party, and the new rockers, no matter how much popularity was involved, struggled to be accepted as musicians. Music schools and private teachers didn’t stop what they were doing and instantly retool to meet the needs of the new rock & roll musical wannabes. As the guitars forced their way into the bands, they pushed out the accordions and horn players, who had been the stars of the big band era and the featured soloists for nearly a century. Horn players did not appreciate being elbowed off center stage by the long-haired singers and guitarists who couldn’t even read music, and being relegated to providing back-up riffs and fills. Even jazz guitarists, who generally have some training in theory and sheet music, and who themselves fought to be accepted into the world of the big bands and popular orchestras, didn’t welcome the new guitar tsunami open-armed. To this day jazz musicians are not always friendly or accommodating to the folksinging fingerpickers who provide their own rhythm and bass lines, or to the legions of guitar strummers who slap on a capo and don’t even know or care what key they are playing in.

Beginning in the first decades of the record business, uneducated and untrained musicians began to sell records at very high levels, commanding at least economic respect, even if no one was yet inviting hillbilly fiddlers to play at Carnegie Hall. Texas singer Ernest Tubb was the first country musician invited to play there, which happened in 1947 when the hall was 56 years old. In the 1950s folk singers were suspected of being communists; many were summoned by Congress during the McCarthy era, and some were blacklisted from jobs in the industry for spreading “radical ideas.” When folksinger Pete Seeger was hauled before Congress on Aug. 18, 1955 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, it was not that far removed from Edward I’s vicious attack on the bards of Wales nearly seven centuries earlier. The transcript of his testimony and of the rather ridiculous questioning he was subjected to can be found online, and is quite compelling and in the light of seventy years, even entertaining, though few were laughing when it happened. Seeger was actually sentenced to ten years in prison for contempt of Congress (which was rescinded), and accused of “practicing his profession” as a folk singer, allegedly at Communist Party meetings. (If they had burned him at the stake and martyred him it might actually have done more long-term good in building public awareness of the persecution of minstrels.) Benny Goodman wasn’t called in, nor was Rosemary Clooney; no, it was the troubadours that were under suspicion for “subversive activities.” This is a powerful illustration of how nearly 400 years after the Poor Laws, it wasn’t hard to whip up the public against “the profession” as the Congressional committee members called it. It would be interesting to try to determine what general public opinion was at that time on Seeger’s situation, perhaps interpreted as evidence that public perception of troubadours has improved dramatically in the intervening years. People today might be surprised to hear that this even happened. In troubadour history, Pete Seeger’s story could be seen as being as vital as Paul Revere’s ride was to American patriots two centuries earlier.

The exciting “roots” music of America that underlies modern folk, country, blues, jazz, rock and rap music, that we now love to celebrate, apparently grew out of sight, like weeds outside the garden, fueled largely by the cultural collision of music traditions of the European settlers with those of the huge numbers of African people who were brought here against their will. It seems to have flourished far more in the South and West than it did in regulated and staid New England, where even now in my life I can feel the palpable and lingering disrespect of being a musician who is not allied with a powerful family or “honourable person of great degree.” The “low” musics of jazz, country and blues infiltrated our culture by virtue of radio and recordings made by companies who were trying to sell records and record players. It has probably only been in my lifetime that a modern minstrel like me could travel around by themselves playing music without being arrested regularly, and I am white and college-educated. Now with the arrival in the last decades of portable sound systems and cell phones, there are an uncountable number of nearly-itinerant troubadours playing gigs, making and selling recordings and engaging in troubadour activities on the fringes of the music business, and outside of chambers of commerce or other government business regulation. I am probably in a very small subset of modern troubadours who pay sales tax to the state, and who file income tax returns documenting troubadour income and expenses. If not for capitalism, and the all-American desire to make money, we might all still be standing in church singing the Psalms of David a capella, and the ballad singers and fiddlers might still be clapped in the pillory in the public square with children throwing tomatoes at them. In 2017 Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature, and the following year rap artist Kendrick Lamar was given the Pulitzer Prize for his art, signaling perhaps a long-overdue acceptance and respect for the troubadour arts that we can only hope will continue.

Read Chapter 10

Read Chapter 14

I'm trying to raise issues, questions and awareness in the world of modern troubadours... I want people to find this in web searches and to read it.  I don't have a way for you to comment here, but I welcome your emails with your reactions. Feel free to cheer me on, or to disagree...

Chordally yours,