Song For a Tradesman Choir, 2011

scratch performance and promo video

A small group of tradesmen were brought together in one evening to perform a folk song for the present day. The majority of folk songs derive from ways of verbally attracting customers to buy their wares and services. The new song combined issues from contemporary life and trade, and seeks to function as a surreal advert for the individuals’ skills. Song for a Tradesman’s Choir is an appropriation of traditional folk music as a ‘promotional mix’ campaign for real tradesman operating in Camden today.

Song for a Tradesman’s Choir combine the styles of the sea shanty and antiphon which both employ call-and-response musical patterns – which has evolved from speech patterns in human communication. The word ‘shanty’ derives from the French word chanter, meaning to sing. Shanties served a practical purpose on ships by providing a rhythm to synchronize the movements of the sailors as they toiled at repetitive tasks, and was a pleasant social activity undertaken during long periods at sea.

The antiphon was a popular mode of song used in the mystery plays of medieval Britain: plays that were originally performed in churches in the tenth-century to recount biblical stories, which later became popular forms of entertainment carried out on the streets. The plays were originally acted out by communities of guildsmen, who were employed by the church as readymade acting troupes before the rising professionalism of players. The name ‘mystery plays’ is believed to have derived from the term ‘misterium’, meaning craft; a play performed by craft guilds.

As part of her residency at Camden Arts Centre, Eldret researched the social landscape of the Camden area and its folkloric and trade histories. Eldret’s A Song for a Tradesman’s Choir continues her interest in exploring the practices of everyday life and work, and how art and life can mirror and enrich each other.