Preparing for Your First Song Presentation

American Roots FYS


The first presentations will be on February 7 and 9.  Your presentation will be scheduled on one of those two days; everyone’s written report is due in class on the 9th.  For the first report, it’s OK for students to work in pairs, but each person has to turn in a report written in his or her own words.


For this report, I would like you to find a folk song or tune that is either anonymous or at least one hundred years old, or both.  Please read E. Martin Pedersen’s article “Factlore, Fakelore, or Folklore: Sorting Through Folk Song Origins” about folk songs and some of the challenges—and interesting anecdotes—involved in trying to discover their origins.  The article might also give you some ideas about what song to choose.  You can also look in Rise Up Singing! for anonymous or old songs.


Please read the article and email the name of your song or tune to me ( before class on Tuesday, January 31st.


Finding sources. First, read E. Martin Pedersen’s article “Factlore, Fakelore, or Folklore: Sorting Through Folk Song Origins” to get an idea of what documenting a song history entails.  There are a number of folk song resources in our library, plus a lot of original sources online. I often start with Wikipedia and use it to search for original and secondary sources.  To search in Drexel Library, set the search to Keyword and try things like “folk song,” “ballad,” “Child ballad,”  “Spiritual,” “African American music,” “childrens folklore,” etc. It might not be possible to find all of these sources, but do your best to find the following:

Š      The earliest printed version of the lyrics (bonus points if you can bring a photocopy or print a facsimile).  Be sure to include bibliographic information.

Š      The earliest printed version of the tune.  Try to find a facsimile or make a photocopy.

Š      The earliest audio recording that has survived.  Be sure to include bibliographic information.

Š      A field recording of the song (doesn’t have to be the earliest recording).  Again, cite your source.

Š      A few versions of the song that are noticeably different from each other.  Folk song transmission is like a giant game of telephone, so it’s rare to find two lyrics that agree with each other completely. You should find at least three sources that have different versions of the song.


Essay.  In addition to the presentation, you should turn in a 1-2 page typewritten essay summarizing the history of the song or tune and the sources you found (either recordings, printed lyrics, or sheet music).  Comment on anything noteworthy about the sources. Please also attach all the versions of the lyrics or sheet music that you found (lyrics don’t count in the page total).


Bibliography.  Attach a bibliography of all the sources you used, using APA or Chicago citation style.


Presentation. You should give a two-minute verbal introduction to the history of your song, then perform it.  If you want the class to sing along and the song is not in Rise Up Singing!, please email the lyrics to me in advance or bring at least six copies for the class.


Grading.  These performances will not be graded on musical ability; rather, I expect you to demonstrate that you have put thought and effort into the presentation. One way you can demonstrate effort is to memorize the lyrics or tune. Students who are already proficient in one style will be encouraged to challenge themselves by learning a new instrument or unfamiliar style; they will not receive credit for something they already know how to do.  In contrast, students who are new to music making may ask the class to sing along with them, or present a dance or children’s game. You could also choose to present a tune—an instrumental melody—if you play an instrument.  If you play a backup instrument such as guitar you can ask a classmate or me to play the melody.