Cecil Sharp

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Most commonly remembered for collecting and preserving folk songs and dance tunes in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.
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Although he started his career practicing law in Australia, Cecil Sharp would become the central figure in the English dance and folksong revival early in the 20th century. Born in London in 1859, Sharp attended Uppingham and Clare College, Cambridge, and then immigrated to Australia. In 1889, he would change his career from law to music, working as the assistant organist at Adelaide Cathedral and as the co-director of the Adel College of Music. He returned to England in 1892 and became music master at Ludgrove Preparatory School (1893-1910); later he would also work as the principal of the Hampstead Conservatory (1896-1905). Two central events would turn Sharp's attention to English folksongs and dance. On Boxing Day in 1899, he witnessed a performance of Morris dancing, a traditional dance of ancient origin, in Headington. The second event would transpire during the summer of 1903, when he overheard his gardener singing the traditional "The Seeds of Love." These events led Sharp to realize that there was a wealth of traditional dance and folksong material that needed to be preserved. He would devote the remainder of his life doing just that.

He published his first work, Folk Songs from Somerset, in five parts between 1904-1909 and founded the English Folk Dance Society (later Folk-Song Society) in 1911. Between 1916-1918 he would make three trips to the United States to study the English folksong in the Southern Appalachians. Sharp would spend 46 weeks in remote communities collecting some 1,682 tunes, many of English origin, and others -- such as the square dances -- of American origin. These song-finding trips would also have a great impact on American universities, encouraging them to become more active in collecting their own folk culture.

Sharp's legacy as a collector and promoter of folksongs and dances would echo throughout the music community in a number of ways. His labor laid the groundwork for a revival of Morris dancing and he would influence English art composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and George Butterworth. In 1930, six years after his death, the Cecil Sharp House was founded in London, dedicated to the preservation of folksong and dance.