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Cecil Sharp

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Cecil J. Sharp


Information: Cecil James Sharp, researcher, teacher, and author of books about European dance history and international dance.

Cecil was born on November 22, 1859. He was the founding father of the folklore revival in England in the early 20th century, and many of England's traditional dances and music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them.

Sharp was born in Camberwell, London, the eldest son of James Sharp (a slate merchant who was interested in archaeology, architecture, old furniture, and music) and his wife, Jane née Bloyd, was also a music lover. Sharp was educated at Uppingham, but left at 15 and was privately coached for the University of Cambridge, where he rowed in the Clare College boat and graduated B.A. in 1882.

On August 22, 1893, at East Clevedon, Somerset, he married Constance Dorothea Birch, also a music lover. They had three daughters and a son.

Cecil Sharp, along with eight others, formed The Folk-Song Society, founded in London in 1898, and which focused on collecting and publishing folk songs of Britain and Ireland.

Sharp taught and composed music. Because music pedagogy of his time originated from Germany and was entirely based on tunes from German folk music, Sharp, as a music teacher, became interested in the vocal and instrumental (dance) folk music of the British Isles, especially the tunes. He became interested in traditional English dance when he saw a group of Morris dancers at Christmas 1899. At this time, Morris dancing was almost extinct, and the interest generated by Sharp's notations kept the tradition alive.

At a time when state-sponsored mass public schooling was in its infancy, Sharp published song books intended for use by teachers and children in the then-being-formulated music curriculum. These song books often included arrangements of songs he had collected with piano accompaniment composed by Sharp himself, arrangements intended for choral singing. Although it has been alleged that, had they heard them, traditional singers (who in England virtually always sang unaccompanied) might well have found Sharp's piano parts distracting, the arrangements with piano accompaniment did help Sharp in his goal of disseminating the sound of English folk melodies to children in schools, thus acquainting them with their national musical heritage.

In 1911 Sharp founded the English Folk Dance Society, which promoted the traditional dances through workshops held nationwide, and which later merged with the Folk Song Society in 1932 to form the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The current London headquarters of the EFDSS is named Cecil Sharp House in his honor.

During the years of the First World War, Sharp found it difficult to support himself through his customary efforts at lecturing and writing, and decided to make an extended visit to the United States. The visit, made with his collaborator Maud Karpeles during the years 1916–1918, was a great success. Large audiences came to hear Sharp lecture about folk music, and Sharp also took the opportunity to do field work on English folk songs that had survived in the more remote regions of southern Appalachia

Cecil Sharp attended meeting of the Espérance Club, but did not become associated with the organization which became known as the "Association for the Revival and Practice of Folk Music." Both he and Mary Neal seem to have agreed that the actual cobecting of the dances would not be a function of the Association. A disagreement between Cecil Sharp and Mary Neal came about gradually – he being somewhat worried about the standard of dancing and teaching of the Espérance girls, and keen to uphold what he felt were artistic standards. She evidently felt that he was too pedantic on the subject and was more interested in the songs and dances as a source of amusement and happiness for her girls and for others. The arguments between Mary Neal and Cecil Sharp and their respective followers have echoed down through the years, and the philosophies represented by these are in a sense at the root of many of the present day arguments about how 'Folk' should be promoted (if indeed it should at all).



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