- Marge’s Fancy by Marge Steiner
Marge Steiner, who hails originally from Long Island but has for many years called Bloomington, Indiana, her home, is a folklorist and singer whose extensive fieldwork—focusing primarily on traditional song—has included major projects in Northern Ireland and New Brunswick, Canada. Her work in Ireland led to her dissertation for Indiana University, Bloomington, entitled “Aesthetic and Social Dynamics in the Folksong Tradition of a Northern Irish Community” (1988). In her own words, this study “was an ethnography of singing of a border community in Northern Ireland, in which I wrote about how both Catholics and Protestants in the community use singing as a means of conflict management” (http://danny.oz.au/communities/anthro-l/biographies/Steiner). She has also published articles on this subject as well as on the traditional song community of the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, Canada, including an essay in Edward Ives’ book/CD project Wilmot MacDonald at the Miramichi Folksong Festival (Maine Folklife Center, 2002).
Steiner’s early interest in traditional song was apparently sparked by the folk song revival, and over the years she has combined her scholarly work with her creative undertakings, as attested by her live performances and two CDs: Marge’s Fancy and a previous self-produced album entitled Homage (2012; I have, however, failed to locate it). While her repertoire reflects her folk revival background, if this CD is any indication, it has been more profoundly influenced by her fieldwork interests, especially her work in Northern Ireland and New Brunswick.
The former is represented on the CD by “The Sea Apprentice,” learned from the repertoire of the late Co. Antrim singer Joe Holmes and the very much alive Armagh singer Róisín White, and “Lurgan Stream,” learned directly from Mary Anne Connolly of Co. Fermanagh, whose singing can be heard on anthologies like The Hardy Sons of Dan (Musical Traditions 329, 2004) and The Hidden Fermanagh (Fermanagh Traditional Music Society, 2004). The New Brunswick tradition supplies five tracks to the album: “The Lumberman’s Alphabet,” a version of the “Sailor’s Alphabet,” learned from Miramichi lumberman and singer Wilmot MacDonald; “Round Her Mantle So Green,” learned from Miramichi singer Marie Hare; “Peter Emberley,” associated with both MacDonald and Hare; and “My Good-Looking Man,” learned from the southern New Brunswick singer Angelo Dornan.
On closer inspection, of course, the distinction between these two song traditions collapses to a fair degree, since the Miramichi tradition is heavily influenced by the Irish tradition in both repertoire and singing styles. The two make a fascinating combination on this album, highlighting both the similarities and the differences between the Old and New World traditions. For me, the similarities are particularly compelling, and they (I can only speculate) form a large part of why the song traditions are attractive to Steiner. For example, “Round Her Mantle So Green” was a mainstay of the famous Irish ballad singer Margaret Barry, whose open-throated, declamatory style was that of a street singer. You can hear a sympathy of style with Barry’s approach in both Marie Hare’s and Steiner’s deliveries, and since so many songs in both repertoires were sold as street ballads, this is perhaps more than an accidental resemblance. “My Good-Looking Man” is another broadside ballad with Irish connections, learned from Angelo Dornan, whose “leisurely, highly-ornamented singing of the come-all-ye [End Page 246] ballads popular in lumber camps stands,” as Northwoods song scholar Brian Miller comments, “side by side with the singing of great Ulster singers such as Paddy Tunney and Geordie Hanna” (http://www.evergreentrad.com/tag/angelo-dornan). While Steiner doesn’t employ melismatic ornamentation on this track, she performs it with a lilt completely in keeping with its jig-time melody. On “The Lurgan Stream” and “The Sea Apprentice,” she lightly and effectively ornaments the melody, sounding wholly comfortable within this performance idiom. Her approach to the “Lumberman’s Alphabet” is more dramatic, after Wilmot MacDonald’s own rendition, with...