Song collecting has been practised around the world for many years: in Britain in the Victorian era by pioneers such as Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, Frank Kidson, Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood, Maud Karpeles and in the twentieth century in Britain and Ireland by Hamish Henderson, Tom Munnelly, Peter Kennedy, Mike Yates, Séamus Ennis and many others.
Their recordings of source singers have helped to inform the repertoires of many other singers. However the practice of collecting has seen a significant decline due in part to the belief that there are no more living sources of traditional songs. The recordings on this website are proof that there is a tradition of oral culture is very much alive but nonetheless dwindling. In what may be the twilight of traditional oral culture in Britain and Ireland, never more has the need to explore and document the repertoires of living keepers of old lore been more pertinent.
It must be stated early on that song collecting is not for everyone and not everyone should feel they should do it. The SCC has many ways that people can be involved in the collection process without having to perform the front line work of collecting. It requires a bold mixture of personal skills including courage, consideration, humility, knowledge of your subject, diplomacy, patience, charm, tact, organisation and perseverance. It takes time to find and develop the relationship with people. It requires strong self-awareness of the impact you have on the communities you meet and consideration for all the implications of entering a home or a family to record, and the many ways that can be interpreted or appreciated.
Your role as collector is that of a trust-maker and to ensuring that contributor’s well-being remains paramount.
It is often said that the richest material is often found in the most out-of-reach and impenetrable locations. Due care is needed when intruding into anyone’s private life to inquire about some of the most personal aspects of their life. The past is littered with examples of bad practice in the field and situations where trust has been compromised.
The following chapters are a guide written by the song collectors of the SCC to encourage safe, considerate, legitimate collecting etiquette with practical advice as well as suggestions on personal conduct. If all these points are considered and you exercise your sense of caution and diplomacy well then you should be rewarded by many great experiences and meetings with some of the finest people in the world. You will find worlds opened up to you and be taken on journeys that will stay with you for life. If recorded at good quality and with all necessary permissions, you will then be able to share these experiences for the greater good of future generations.