Updated 22 December 1995

EF/hm Magrini article

6. Ballad summary

Male and female ballad traditions can be compared and contrasted by the different emphasis each gives to two components of ballad singing, narrative and multi-part singing. It is likely that these different attitudes relate to different social functions ballad singing had for women and men. Comparisons must consider historical sources for women's ballads and lack of historical sources for men's ballads. One can attempt a reconstruction of a past world of women's ballads, while admitting that no female practice of ballad singing survives today as a common form of making music in everyday life. For men's ballad singing, we have only recent documentation, for a world different from that of women's ballad singing in the past. Comparisons and relationships between male and female ballad traditions are problematical.

In spite of these difficulties, one can find similarities, for example, parallel melodies in thirds, typical of women's group singing and of male choruses, where they enrich the two-voice structure. It may be argued this similarity of the musical structure favored exchanges between men's and women's repertoires, leading to further occasions for the diffusion and transformation of ballads and for joint performances, such as the one quoted by Nigra (Nigra 1974:403). Unfortunately, we lack documentation for this question (10). Men's and women's styles reveal the associative character of music-making and show that men and women appreciate cohesion of individuals in a group. Associative practices of singing prevalent in Northern Italy contrasts with the importance of individual singing in most of the musical traditions of Central and Southern Italy (11). These associative musical practices of Northern Italy may be related to the collective attitude that Putnam finds in Northern Italians. Putnam maintains that the deep differences between economic and social conditions of Northern and Southern Italy have their roots in different degrees of "civism." In the North, one can find evidence of civism beginning with the Middle Ages in the intensive forms of co-operation such as guilds, confraternities and other peer associations.

Association in singing seems to be gender-restricted. Cases of mixed singing are not common, in keeping with the traditional division between men's and women's activities and environments inside and outside the home.

Thus, a limited study of Northern Italian ballad traditions can relate this repertory to gender roles in the peasant world of the past, finding gender "both in and around music as expressive of society's arrangements as to power and authority" (Shapiro 1991:7). A larger study would include all aspects of ballad, for example, the dramatic representation of ballads (Del Giudice 1990). Because ballad singing as a common performance practice died long ago in Northern Italy and ethnographic work is scarce in this field, we lack information essential for a thorough understanding of this musical activity.

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