Cecil Sharp House, a folk arts centre located in Camden, is home to the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.
Mission and activity
While Cecil Sharp House was founded in 1930 as a memorial to the folk music and dance collector, Cecil Sharp, the EFDSS has a longer history. Founded in 1898, the Society has remained faithful to its mission: to preserve and promote the best of folk. Through various programmes and events EFDSS provides access to folk music, song and dance to people of all ages and backgrounds. The organisation distinguishes between three areas of activity:
· Learning and participation: everyone from small children to elderly people can benefit from classes, courses, projects and events run by the Education Department of the EFDSS. One can drop in to an Irish dance class, learn to play banjo or sing in a choir. The organisation also works with schools, community groups, etc.
· Performance and artists’ development: providing training and development support to artists at all stages of their careers through showcases, including the EFDSS’s emerging Folk Rising platform. There is also an international programme that helps to promote the work of English folk artists overseas.
· Advocacy: the English Folk Dance and Song Society works with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Folk Arts to help raise the profile of the folk arts within the Palace of Westminster through events and by inviting the members to folk events around the country.
As well as the various programmes and projects, EFDSS also publishes the Folk Music Journal aimed specifically at scholars and the English Dance & Song magazine. Members of the EFDSS benefit from free access to both, while the general public can get access through a relatively cheap subscription system.
The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library is also part of Cecil Sharp House, for it once used to be Cecil Sharp’s personal book collection. It is now England's national collection of folk music and dance. Recent projects include Take 6, implemented in 2007, which saw the Library digitise six major manuscript collections, and The Full English - a learning programme of workshops, lectures, training and community events in nine regions of England involving the world’s biggest digital archive of English folklore, song and dance manuscripts.
A short documentary about The Full English training programme can be found here:
Cecil Sharp House is run by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), a registered charity which receives about 70% of its funding through subscriptions and donations from 3000 individuals and 800 organisations, as well as ticket sales and venue hire. The rest of their funding comes from Arts Council England (ACE), beginning at £400,000 per annum in 2009. This funding was reduced to £300,000 in 2012. However, as of this year, ACE has announced a huge increase in EFDSS’ funding, to £432,046. In a statement coinciding with this decision, ACE pointed to the commercial success of bands such as Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, who trade under the folk music banner. Here ACE is backing a winning product in the globalised music industry, rather than concerning itself with abstract ideas surrounding the preservation of cultural heritage. Many academics, as well as members of folk music communities, define folk music by its non-commodified or commercialised nature, and may be troubled by ACE’s rhetoric.
It has, however, secured vital funding for EFDSS: this funding is being used in educational and outreach projects such as a national youth folk ensemble, as well as expending operations in Cecil Sharp House.
Other projects include digitalising the Vaughn Williams Memorial Library of folk songs, located in Cecil Sharp House, and making the archive available for free online. This project, funded through a lottery grant, is an enormous step in returning this music to the public domain, and dispersing it on an international level. Interestingly, success in the globalised music industry, which is so often seen as damaging to traditional music, helped draw attention to EFDSS and secure funding for their conservation work.
In 2013, the society became involved in cultural diplomacy, by forming an association with the British Council’s ongoing ‘Folk Nations’ project in Kolkata, India. This involved bringing performers of each county’s traditional music and dance together for a week-long residency, culminating in a collaborative concert. The British Council runs these projects all over the world, so it is perhaps a missed opportunity for the EFDSS only to be involved in curating one residency. EFDSS also facilitates exchanges of musicians in Canada.
Is the organisation doing enough to provide access to folk music, song and dance?
How should national folk traditions be managed in a globalised context?