In 1965, the classically trained musician and composer, Kenneth Peacock, published a three-volume work, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, based on six years of collecting folksongs in that province on behalf of the National Museum of Canada.
Now the Faculty of Arts’ ISER Books has published Folksongs and Folk Revival: The Cultural Politics of Kenneth Peacock’s Songs of the Newfoundland Outports. Dr. Anna Kearney Guigné’s book considers the cultural politics of the day, such as National Museum policies and directions, and, in particular, how the growth of the Canadian folk revival during the 1950s and 1960s influenced Mr. Peacock’s work.
A singer in the 1970s, Dr. Kearney Guigné had used Mr. Peacock’s publication as background for her own performances and developed relationships with fellow musicians who had known him. After taking a folklore course, Dr. Kearney Guigné decided to do a paper on the collection. That lead to a thesis which in turn lead to an ISER fellowship to publish the book. At the time of writing the initial paper, Mr. Peacock was still alive and Dr. Kearney Guigné was able to speak to him at great length about the experiences and motivations behine his project.
“Meeting some of the people Peacock actually interviewed – and hearing them perform songs and talk about their experiences (with Peacock) and making music – was one of the many highlights of this project,” said Dr. Kearney Guigné, who holds a PhD in Folklore from Memorial. “In particular I remember Becky Bennett from Gros Morne talking about learning songs in her community. The Bennetts are especially interesting in terms of who they learned their music from (Mr. Peacock lists approximately 120 songs from that family alone) and how their music was spread by the amount of traveling they did.”
Dr. Guigné’s own particular favourite song from the collection, “Green Shores of Fogo,” was coincidentally one of Mr. Peacock’s as well. “To me it’s a really haunting melody combined with lovely romantic lyrics about Fogo,” she noted. “Peacock loved it so much he recorded himself singing it.”
Mr. Peacock’s work continues to be of crucial importance to musicians and lovers of folk music, said Dr. Kearney Guigné.
“It’s pretty much considered the bible of Newfoundland folksong. Anyone performing Newfoundland folk music today – and that includes Pamela Morgan, Jean Hewson, Figgy Duff, Ryan’s Fancy, Great Big Sea, and such choral groups as the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Choir, to name just a few, know the Peacock collection and have been able to draw on it for their performances by putting their own slant on the songs.”
Between 1951 and 1961, Mr. Peacock collected 766 songs from 118 individuals in 38 communities across Newfoundland – 638 of the songs were tape recorded, 128 were written down. He eventually published 546 songs under 411 song titles. When Outports was published in 1965, it was the largest collection of folksongs ever released by what was then the National Museum of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization).
Dr. Kearney Guigné hopes that her book sheds new light on Mr. Peacock by presenting him together with the product of his research in the context of the Canadian folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
“This man made an immense contribution to both Newfoundland and Canada folklore, in both a scholarly and, of course, a musical way,” she said. “I hope that my book will allow both musicians and researchers to make greater use of the material he so diligently collected for posterity.”
Dr. Kearney Guigné’s book Folksongs and Folk Revival: The Cultural Politics of Kenneth Peacock’s Song of the Newfoundland Outports, will be launched on Thursday, Nov. 27 at the Music, Media and Place (MMaP) Gallery in the Arts and Culture Centre.