AMERICAN MINSTREL MUSIC


AUSTRALIA AND ITS TRADITIONAL MUSIC – a brief overview

 

 

AMERICAN MINSTREL MUSIC

 

© Warren Fahey

One area that has interested me as a musical historian is the major influence of American minstrel music. I have only come to this realisation over the past couple of years as I located more and more references to travelling minstrel shows, from America and ‘black face’ Britain, and local ‘nigger minstrel’ troupes. This would account for songs like Gumtree Canoe and Gentle Annie entering our song catalogue however I have also located many parodies of American songs. A good example of this is ‘We’re All Travelling’ which is a parody of We’re All A-Nodding’.

 

Jim Cargill sings ‘The Gumtree Canoe’ recorded Randwick, NSW, 1973, by Warren Fahey. Followed by the Australian Bush Orchestra playing ‘The Gumtree Canoe’.

 

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MUSICAL INSTRUMENTATION

 

The musical instrumentation popular in the bush is also relevant to the interpretation of the songs. One of the most important aspects was that the Australian song tradition tended to be an unaccompanied tradition. This isn’t to say songs were never accompanied, for they were occasionally to be heard to the accompaniment of concertina, mouth organ etc but the general performance appears to be unaccompanied. There are a number of reasons for this including the isolation factor, the situation of usual performance, and the storytelling nature of the songs and, most importantly, the timeframe of their popularity.