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26 July 2008
People would once pay a penny or half-penny to listen to one in taverns, homes or fairs. Nowadays people pay thousands just to hear their favourite band perform one. Traditional, literary, modern, popular or power – whichever your prefer – ballads, or poems set to music, have been around for centuries.
Leading academics, performers and enthusiastic ‘laypersons’ from all over the world have arrived at the School of Welsh to study the ballad and traditional song as part of the 38th International Ballad Conference of the Kommission für Volksdichtung (the ‘International Ballad Commission’).
Hosted during the year in which the School of Welsh and the University alike celebrate 125 years of teaching, the conference was formally opened by the First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who welcomed the delegates to the School of Welsh, the University and to Wales and congratulated the School and the University on its anniversary.
Professor Sabine Wienker-Piepho, President of the Kommision für Volksdichtung also welcomed the guests and the opening session was given by Professor Prys Morgan, President of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion – and brother of the First Minister.
During the Conference, which ends on Saturday 2 August, in the region of 60 papers will be delivered by experts from across the globe – from Sweden to Turkey, Belarus to Brittany, Canada to South Africa, dealing with themes of identity; ecology; the role of women; occupational songs; and the relationship between the written ballad and oral performances. The ballad tradition in Wales will receive special attention in a series of papers delivered on Thursday.
Dr E Wyn James of the School of Welsh, the organiser of this year’s Conference and a leading authority on Welsh ballads and folk-songs, said: "In recent years the Conference has been held in Belgium, Latvia, Texas, Germany and the Ukraine and this year is the turn of Wales to play host.
"It is highly appropriate that the School of Welsh is responsible for organising the Conference this year ‑ not only due to the School’s significant contribution to the world of folklore and ethnological studies over the years."
The First Minister said: "Wales is famous as the Land of Song – we often think first of hymns and great choral music as what comes naturally to us. But we do have plenty of singers who are masters of the traditional and modern ballad in both the Welsh and English languages. I commend Cardiff University’s School of Welsh for organising this conference and congratulate them for bringing together so many experts from every corner of the world."
The Salisbury Library – Cardiff University’s renowned Welsh and Celtic library – holds one of the most important collections of Welsh broadside ballads. In 2006, Cardiff University Library created the ‘Welsh Ballads Website’ under the editorship of Dr E. Wyn James of the School of Welsh, which includes digital versions of a cross-section of the ballads in the Salisbury Library collection.
At the 2008 National Eisteddfod, Dr E Wyn James will be admitted to the highest order of the Gorsedd of Bards, in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the cultural and academic life of Wales.
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