'Burd Ellen,' performed by Ruth Perry

Ruth Perry, at right.

Ruth Perry of MIT has written a chapter for a volume being edited by Ellen Pollak, A Cultural History of Women in the Age of Enlightenment, to be published by Berg/Palgrave. This work will be part of an illustrated, six-volume Cultural History of Women being assembled with a general audience in mind. Ruth Perry's topic is Anna Gordon Brown, whose repertoire of English ballads was the first to be tapped and written down by antiquarians and literary scholars in the eighteenth century, at a time when scholars feared that the oral tradition was in danger of disappearing forever. It turns out that Ruth Perry, aside from being an eminent scholar of the ballad tradition in English, is a talented ballad singer herself. As of today, PennSound has added to its "Classics" page a studio recording of Perry performing “Burd Ellen,” generally deemed to be one of the most beautiful of Brown's ballads. Ruth transcribes “Burd Ellen” in her forthcoming chapter, and discusses it as well. It is the hope of Ellen Pollak that the published book will refer to the PennSound URL so that readers can have easy permanent access to the recording, without the need of a CD inserted into the book. We at PennSound are happy to help with this project and any similar endeavor.

Here is a brief excerpt from Ruth Perry's chapter: “What follows is a transcription of one of the most beautiful of Anna Gordon Brown's ballads, taken down from her singing or recitation by her nephew, Robert Scott, in 1783. This magnificent ballad cannot be fully apprehended if one simply reads the words on the page. The pace set by the melody, the restlessness of the tale, the stately way it unfolds, the way the language rhymes and reverberates — these require it to be heard rather than read.”