In 1951 musician Kenneth Peacock (1922–2000) secured a contract from the National Museum of Canada (today the Canadian Museum of History) to collect folk songs in Newfoundland.
As the province had recently joined Confederation, the project was deemed a goodwill gesture, while at the same time adding to the museum’s meagre Anglophone archival collections.
Between 1951 and 1961, over the course of six field visits, Peacock collected 766 songs and melodies from 118 singers in 38 communities, later publishing two-thirds of this material in a three-volume collection, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports (1965).
As the publication consists of more than 1,000 pages, Outports is considered to be a bible for the province’s singers and a valuable resource for researchers.
However, Peacock’s treatment of the material by way of tune-text collations, use of lines and stanzas from unpublished songs has always been somewhat controversial. Additionally, comparison of the field collection with Outports indicates that although Peacock acquired a range of material, his personal preferences frequently guided his publishing agenda.
To ensure that the songs closely correspond to what the singers presented to Peacock, Anna Kearney Guigné, adjunct professor, School of Music, has prepared the collection by drawing on Peacock’s original music and textual notes and his original field recordings.
The collection is far-ranging and eclectic in that it includes British and American broadsides, musical hall and vaudeville material alongside country and western songs, as well as local compositions.
It also highlights the influence of popular media on the Newfoundland song tradition and contextualizes a number of locally composed songs. In this sense, it provides a key link between what Peacock actually recorded and the material he eventually published.
As several of the songs have not previously appeared in the standard Newfoundland collections, The Forgotten Songs sheds new light on the extent of Peacock’s collecting.
The collection includes 125 songs arranged under 113 titles along with extensive notes on the songs, and brief biographies of the 58 singers.
The Forgotten Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, is published by Ottawa University Press. The collection was recently awarded a bronze medal in the Canada East — Best Regional Non-Fiction in the 2017 Independent Publisher Regional and E-Book Awards.