What is Cantaria?

This place is our attempt to preserve and promote the living folk song tradition, centered around songs of western European origin, roots and style, particularly those from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and immigrant North America.

Started in 1995 with a handful of songs recorded by ourselves and friends, Cantaria has slowly grown in quantity and quality with the participation of many singers around the world.  

Traditional songs are best learnt by ear, from other traditional singers, to hear the variations, ornaments and subtleties that are unique aspects of traditional singing. Though printed notation is fairly readily available,  it doesn't convey the performance qualities of the songs.  Listening is imperative.  Since 1995, our vision for Cantaria has been to provide example recordings, lyrics (with variations), background/historical information, and staff notation for songs -- an online songbook with the benefit of oral tradition.

Most of the songs in this collection are traditional, meaning they are old, in the public domain, and have handed down through generations of singers. Some have known authors, but many do not. We've also included some newer songs that are written in traditional style and have entered the repertoire of traditional singers and been accepted as such. Additionally, there is a group of songs written for and by medieval/renaissance re-enactors, some are specific to the Society for Creative Anachronism. They have developed out of a modern tradition, but are inspired by history.

Some of the very oldest ballads, such as Hind Horn and The Twa Sisters, have far too many distinct versions to include here. In such cases that will be noted, and references cited for further research. Comments and historical notes from singers and research sources about the songs are included when available. We continue to add and update these background notes as we find or are sent new information. We're very grateful to the singers and folklorists who continue to assist in this effort

We welcome any additional information you may have about any of the songs included in Cantaria. Citations from documented sources are especially helpful. Use this form to contact us.

Image: Cantaria minstrels


In medieval Latin Cantaria means "chantry." Flourishing throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, chantries were endowments for the singing of masses for the souls of the dead. Endowed as either separate institutions or chapels attached to a parish church or cathedral, chantries often provided for a priest in perpetuity whose sole function was to pray for the benefactors' souls. Chantries thus represented permanent repositories of song and memory.

The recordings

The audio files in Cantaria have mainly been digitized from tape or CD. In the beginning we maximized compression to keep file sizes small, but as high-speed connections have become dominant, we've used 128bit recordings for better quality. We're gradually going back and re-sampling the older recordings (when we can find the cassettes).  All recordings are now available as MP3s that play in your browser using a Flash player (requires flash). (no more wav or rm! whew!) All files are virus-scanned before we upload them to the server.  You will NOT get a PC virus from any of our content!

Who is Cantaria?

Cantaria is designed and maintained by Kate Akers and Scott Jernigan. It is a recreational endeavor, completely supported by the designers, and by sales of CDs and books in the Chivalry Music Store.

Scott, a bard of many years in the Society for Creative Anachronism (known there as Andrew Scarhart), has provided many of the digital recordings for Cantaria. He studied Medieval and Renaissance History at the University of Houston, although he left after attaining his M.A. to pursue a job with his other love - computers.

Kate has a passionate interest in Irish and Scottish traditional music and dance, with a particular obsession for traditional songs and their historical context.  Her fascination is researching the origins of songs and finding their connections to other songs as well as historical places, facts and people.  

She has been doing Web site design, architecture and tech support since 1993 and for University of Missouri Extension since 1996.  She is also the face behind Chivalry Music, which offers web site design, marketing and promotion services to independent folk musicians.

In combining their talents to create Cantaria, Scott and Kate hope to provide a valuable resource for traditional folk singers who enjoy and wish to keep alive the traditional music of western Europe. 

If you enjoy Cantaria and find it a useful and valuable resource, tell us! Or, if you find problems or have suggestions for improvement, tell us that, too -- but please try to be helpful, not just critical.  We really do appreciate helpful feedback.  Nothing keeps us motivated to keep adding to the collection like "warm fuzzies!"  :)

Thanks!  Kate and Scott