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Onestopenglish is a teacher resource site, part of Macmillan Education, one of the world’s leading publishers of English language teaching materials. This article is about English folk music. It is not to be confused with ethnic group from England. The folk music of England is tradition-based music, which has existed since the later medieval period. It is often contrasted with courtly, classical and later commercial music.
Folk music has been preserved and transmitted orally, through print and later through recordings. In the strictest sense, English folk music has existed since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon people in Britain after 400 CE. While there was distinct court music, members of the social elite into the 16th century also seem to have enjoyed, and even to have contributed to the music of the people, as Henry VIII perhaps did with the tavern song “Pastime with Good Company”. In the 16th century the changes in the wealth and culture of the upper social orders caused tastes in music to diverge.
By the mid-17th century, the music of the lower social orders was sufficiently alien to the aristocracy and “middling sort” for a process of rediscovery to be needed in order to understand it, along with other aspects of popular culture such as festivals, folklore and dance. It was in this period, too, that English folk music traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and became the foundation for and main ancestor of American traditional music. In the colonies, it mixed with styles of music brought by other immigrant groups to create a host of new genres. With the Industrial Revolution the themes of the music of the labouring classes began to change from rural and agrarian life to include industrial work songs. Technological change made new instruments available and led to the development of silver and brass bands, particularly in industrial centres in the north. From the late 19th century there were a series of movements that attempted to collect, record, preserve and later to perform, English folk music and dance.