Letter from Cecil Sharp to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 

Dear V. [W].

It is really most good of you to go through my MS. so carefully.  I see the force of nearly all your contentions, but I do not wholly agree with one or two of them.
For instance, your objection to my remark about the grammarian seems to me to be a misunderstanding.  What I mean is that while folk music was constructed according to rule and law, the folk-singers were unconscious of them.  The “advent of the grammarian” marked the time when these rules were for the first time consciously observed and codified and that surely synchronized with the beginnings of art-music.  There were no pedants among the folk song creators, because they were wholly unconscious of any musical law or even of the fact that they were creators.  My point, however, is that the rules were there all the same, though unobserved or systematized and that therefore folk-music is just as scientific as art music - perhaps the difficulty is that I have not made this clear.
When I have referred to “voice production”, I have had [in] mind the highly technical science about breathing, physiological questions about the larynx, shield cartilages, etc., talk about which occupies a great part of the music lesson in schools.  In the forthcoming reprint of the Suggestions, I don’t know how many pages are occupied with this subject. I quite agree that teachers should pay attention to the quality of the singing tone, but this, I contend, can be done very easily and simply by general direction such as looking after the words, insisting upon a good round tone and suppressing shouting.  And this I had intended to say in a concluding paragraph giving the teacher instructions how to teach folk songs.  Personally, I believe that this voice production craze - largely the result of the preparation of songs for competitions is doing infinite harm in the elementary schools, because it prevents the children from letting themselves go and expressing themselves naturally when they are singing.  I agree that I have not made this clear enough, but I am convinced that the value of the folk song in the schools will become nil, if this ridiculous attention to voice production is expended upon them.
Do you really mean that harmony is just as spontaneous [as] folk melody?  Think of the pedantic rules which hampered the early harmonists!
Surely the rule of one note one syllable is the general use.  I am aware, of course, that there are exceptions, but are not the greater number of these apparent and not real, i.e. the result of the publication of one version of the tune to all the stanzas?  It seems to me that this is the most obvious and patent technical distinction between folk and art song.  I have, perhaps, put the point rather too dogmatically and I will modify it: but I do not think I ought to cut it out altogether.
So sorry you couldn’t come down to-day.  It would have been so much jollier to have discussed these questions together.  Some of them are very important and I should like to know all your arguments.  Hope you will have a good time abroad.  I envy you the quiet.  I live in a whirl and often wonder how I go on without more intervals for recreation.  Everything I do nowadays is done against time.
The rehearsals of “The Dream”2(!) begin on Tuesday and I am ill-prepared.
Yours ever

1.  A performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Granville Barker which opened on 6 February 1914 (ex inf UVW).  Sharp arranged the music and dances.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/2, ff.117-119
General notes: 

This letter is written in reply to VWL388.  The text is taken from a typewritten copy of the file copy of Sharp’s letter in UVW’s files.

Original database number: