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Welcome to The Balladista Archive and Blog!

My name is Rebecca Comerford, otherwise known as The Balladista. I am a vocalist, pianist, actor and poet. My background is in opera and classical music. I hold a Masters Degree from Manhattan School of Music and Bachelors Degree from the Eastman School of Music, where I majored in vocal performance. I write and perform in a wide variety of styles, but I am consistently inspired by the storytelling found in a great ballad.

Ever since I was a youngster, I've been held spellbound by the lyric poetry of Yeats, Poe, Kipling and Stevenson. My father would recite The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service, to my siblings and I on cold winter nights around the fireplace in Maine, until each stanza was emblazoned upon our memories.

My Dad was from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where the Scotch Irish traditions of Celtic fiddle music stay infused in the very bones of its native sons and daughters. This is music made for dancehalls and storytelling, a traditional music that insists that life is to be celebrated, passed down and preserved. There are stories within these songs that serve to capture a place and its people before they are lost to modernity or the ravages of time.

Due to its relative isolation, Gaelic stayed the mother tongue for many islanders up until the 20th Century and the oral traditions of its music and storytelling have remained strong to this day. One can hear this reflected in the songs of The Rankin Family singers and the prodigious playing of the MacMaster Family fiddlers. My grandmother, Ishbel MacIntosh, grew up singing Maritime songs and ballads with her brother Jim and sister Celia and insisted I know the refrains to songs like Cape Breton Lullabye and Mo H-Ingheann Dhonn in Gaelic as a youngster. Many years later at my father's wake, I found myself singing Cape Breton Lullabye once again to my own sisters and brothers as we celebrated my father's passing and it felt like we were conjuring not just the people and place of our ancestors, but a state of being.

With time, I have become fascinated with the first known ballads of 12th Century troubadours and trobairitz. As I grew into a professional musician I would find myself singing the jazz ballads of The Great American Songbook, alongside folk ballads and adaptations of Kurt Weill, Woody Guthrie and many others who have perfected this specific art of lyrical storytelling.

My father ultimately passed from Alzheimers disease in 2019, but he could still remember "The Cremation of Sam McGee" just months before his passing. He couldn't remember my name or where he was living, but he could still sing the Catholic mass in latin just weeks before he died. Musical memories are always the last to go in a patient with Alzheimers. They are stored in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes sound and emotion at a deep intrinsic level. It is this deep processing, this unyielding connection we as humans have to speak music to memories that makes a ballad so essential to our sense of history and the people we love. As long as we can write a ballad, we can sing our stories. And as long as we can sing our stories, we can remember them.

This archive aims to explore what constitutes a great ballad, across all genres and epochs of music and poetry. Universally, there is something about this desire to pay tribute to someone, to a moment, with searing vulnerability that has remained a compelling part of ballad writing all these years later. And within that tribute, there is often a love worth fighting for, or a life worth honoring, or a moment too important to forget, which needs memorializing. It needs to be set to music, lest the person or the story be forgotten.

I write ballads now for friends, family, strangers... people I admire from a distance and the lives that inspire me. They are my little love letters to the human condition. To all those who wish to honor their heroes, The Balladista will serve as both a podcast and a musical archive honoring the legacies of loved ones and strangers, past and present and all the musicians who have claimed them as their own. May each story continue to live on, long after we are gone.

My father with his brother Jim on Cape Breton Island circa 1940


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