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Threads on the meaning of Folk

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Alice 17 Aug 99 - 12:06 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 12:21 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 02:06 AM
GeorgeH 17 Aug 99 - 06:58 AM
Allan C. 17 Aug 99 - 11:10 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 11:32 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 08 Sep 99 - 06:26 AM
Art Thieme 08 Sep 99 - 08:52 AM
GeorgeH 08 Sep 99 - 09:02 AM
JedMarum 08 Sep 99 - 09:16 AM
Frank Hamilton 08 Sep 99 - 01:43 PM
poet 08 Sep 99 - 07:02 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 12:51 AM
katlaughing 09 Sep 99 - 01:05 AM
catspaw49 09 Sep 99 - 01:22 AM
Frank Hamilton 09 Sep 99 - 09:41 AM
Joan Sprung 09 Sep 99 - 12:05 PM
JedMarum 09 Sep 99 - 12:16 PM
Mike Regenstreif 09 Sep 99 - 03:10 PM
poet 09 Sep 99 - 07:43 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 09:24 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 10:28 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 11:15 PM
dick greenhaus 09 Sep 99 - 11:42 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 11:48 PM
Val Sommerville 10 Sep 99 - 12:53 AM
Frank Hamilton 10 Sep 99 - 05:22 PM
dick greenhaus 10 Sep 99 - 05:58 PM
Art Thieme 10 Sep 99 - 10:19 PM
Art Thieme 10 Sep 99 - 11:19 PM
Joe Offer 11 Sep 99 - 05:52 AM
Wally Macnow 11 Sep 99 - 08:26 AM
Nancy-Jean 11 Sep 99 - 02:43 PM
Frank Hamilton 11 Sep 99 - 06:01 PM
catspaw49 11 Sep 99 - 10:01 PM
Joan Sprung 11 Sep 99 - 10:46 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM
Joan Sprung 12 Sep 99 - 12:38 PM
Frank Hamilton 12 Sep 99 - 12:55 PM
Sourdough 12 Sep 99 - 12:59 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 01:44 PM
Mike Regenstreif 12 Sep 99 - 03:22 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 08:37 PM
Mike Regenstreif 12 Sep 99 - 08:54 PM
Mulligan 12 Sep 99 - 10:49 PM
dick greenhaus 12 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 11:18 PM
Stewie 13 Sep 99 - 12:34 AM
Rick Fielding 13 Sep 99 - 01:00 AM
Charlie Baum 13 Sep 99 - 02:54 AM
Frank Hamilton 13 Sep 99 - 12:29 PM
Bert 13 Sep 99 - 01:08 PM
Charlie Baum 13 Sep 99 - 01:33 PM
Art Thieme 13 Sep 99 - 01:35 PM
Bert 13 Sep 99 - 01:52 PM
lamarca 13 Sep 99 - 03:44 PM
Rick Fielding 13 Sep 99 - 04:04 PM
sophocleese 13 Sep 99 - 04:19 PM
lamarca 13 Sep 99 - 04:27 PM
Sandy Paton 13 Sep 99 - 06:16 PM
Frank Hamilton 13 Sep 99 - 06:47 PM
Alice 13 Sep 99 - 07:14 PM
Sandy Paton 13 Sep 99 - 07:25 PM
Alice 13 Sep 99 - 07:56 PM
lamarca 13 Sep 99 - 08:06 PM
Art Thieme 13 Sep 99 - 08:28 PM
Sandy Paton 13 Sep 99 - 09:37 PM
dick greenhaus 13 Sep 99 - 10:02 PM
Stewie 13 Sep 99 - 10:17 PM
Harvey Gerst 14 Sep 99 - 12:29 AM
JedMarum 14 Sep 99 - 02:01 AM
SeanM 14 Sep 99 - 03:24 AM
Vixen 14 Sep 99 - 09:12 AM
Rick Fielding 14 Sep 99 - 10:50 AM
Frank Hamilton 14 Sep 99 - 11:42 AM
Bert 14 Sep 99 - 12:56 PM
Art Thieme 14 Sep 99 - 01:14 PM
Alice 14 Sep 99 - 01:48 PM
Sandy Paton 14 Sep 99 - 01:49 PM
Alice 14 Sep 99 - 01:55 PM
Alice 14 Sep 99 - 02:00 PM
Frank Hamilton 14 Sep 99 - 03:30 PM
Harvey Gerst 14 Sep 99 - 04:23 PM
Stewie 14 Sep 99 - 08:14 PM
Alice 14 Sep 99 - 08:34 PM
Frank Hamilton 15 Sep 99 - 07:59 PM
Art Thieme 15 Sep 99 - 10:51 PM
Barry Finn 15 Sep 99 - 11:20 PM
Frank Hamilton 16 Sep 99 - 11:25 AM
Alice 11 Mar 00 - 01:06 PM
The Shambles 12 Mar 00 - 06:38 AM
Alice 17 Feb 01 - 12:43 PM
toadfrog 25 Mar 01 - 05:01 PM
Joe Offer 16 Dec 01 - 03:07 PM
Amos 16 Dec 01 - 05:23 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 30 Dec 01 - 11:16 AM
Art Thieme 31 Dec 01 - 07:31 PM
Alice 16 Jan 02 - 08:14 PM
Alice 19 Mar 02 - 10:56 AM
Alice 16 Apr 02 - 12:02 PM
Alice 20 Sep 02 - 09:31 AM
Alice 09 Jan 03 - 06:47 PM
Art Thieme 07 Dec 03 - 11:54 PM
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Subject: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 12:06 AM

This thread is a location for links to the many discussions on the Mudcat regarding the meaning of folk music, the folk "process", what is a folk song, definitions, etc. If you have any threads to add, please add them. I found as many in a forum search as I could, but I know there are others that did not have obvious thread titles.

alice in montana
----

click What is a Folk Song?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2224

click Acceptable in Folk Club
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2225

click How to Create a Folksong (FS for Dummies)
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2624

click young folkies?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=3532

click Methodologies
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4110

click Methodologies - - who writes the songs?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4215

click The demise of Folk Music
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4255

click The demise of Folk Music, Part II
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4914

click Oldest Folk
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4913

click Shortest Definition of folk
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4892

click Old Folkers
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=8373

click Mudcat's Future
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=8715

click Brand new folksongs available
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13012

click Art Thieme, Allan C.
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13044


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 12:21 AM

You will now see a new category for links called "Memorable Mudcat Threads". I am off to add "Spancil Hill". -alice


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 02:06 AM

As I went back looking for these threads and reading them, I was struck by how much more thoughtful the posts seemed to be in 1997 and 1998 compared to recent months. In the thread regarding the Mudcat's Future (Jan 99), we were anticipating the forum being deluged with requests for pop lyrics, but we did not anticipate the type of chat room transformation the threads have developed. Max has created a good method of sending personal messages, in addition to the forum, as well as alternative chat room. I hope to see more of the type of insightful and memorable discussions we have had in the past. Yes, I enjoy the fun of some of the threads, don't get me wrong, but there is a difference between memorable BS threads and BS threads that are only fluff. It's hard to know what will change from fluff to memorable as the thread creeps, but I think if you go back and read some of these discussions, you will see what I mean. no offense intended


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: GeorgeH
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 06:58 AM

Commendable work and bravely spoken, IM(newcomer's)O, Alice. Thanks.

G.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Allan C.
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 11:10 AM

Good job of collecting, Alice! You may want to add: Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 11:32 AM

Thanks, Allan, you just added it. The link is to this thread, so any more that start or were missed can just be added here.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 06:26 AM

Think this needs a refresh!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 08:52 AM

Dave Para,

Is this really what you wanted to see?

Art ;-)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: GeorgeH
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:02 AM

For anyone interrested in these discussions (#1), currently over on uk.music.folk there is an enormous thread on the subject of "Folk wannabes" which has digressed into "what is (English) Folk" - in a very thoughtful and intellegent way. Mainly talking about folk music (it the traditional sense) vs. art and religious music rather than "is folk and if not why" stuff.

As I said, it's a large convoluted thread; if you want to find the interresting branches you could scan the messages from Jack Campin (posting as BogusAddress) and Pete Wilton.

George

#1] Generally I'm not, but the messages referred to have almost changed my mind . .


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: JedMarum
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:16 AM

You may also want to add Is Lyric Creep a Sin?, since it is a discussion on the evolutionary 'facts-of-life' of folk music.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 01:43 PM

I am still wading through the voluminous amount of posts on this thread. I think I may have more to add. Definitions seem to indicate anomalies. There are exceptions to rules. When you nail down a definition there's always "well what about this?" that may not fit but must be considered.

I am interested in why this discussion is so important. I co-founded a School of Folk Music in Chicago and spent six years teaching there. This discussion was on my mind every day because people were coming into the School to learn something. Even today, there is a dialogue taking place at the School and it's affecting it's direction for the future. I've devoted a good deal of my life tracking down what I considered to be folk songs. At age 65, I'm still tracking 'em. I've had to ask myself many times why I continue to do this.

Here's something I found. People who are interested in folk music want to be a part of it. This informs their arguments about what it is. I think that it's a good thing that people want to be a part of what they think is folk music. But they see it in terms of how it relates to their participation in it and not always for what it is.

I wrote to the president of the Board of Directors at the Old Town School and said this. "It's important to see what it is and not be concerned to much about what it isn't." How do we find out what it is? Well as in any subject worth it's salt, we need more information about it, not just emotional opinions and subjective views. For example, does anyone really know who coined the term "folk music"? Do people who define the music for themselves know about the range of the music and have a working knowledge of all of the performers in the field? One might know of the role of the Kingston Trio but how many people know of say, for example, Vera Hall or Obray Ramsey, Horton Barker or the repitiore of "Blind" Lemon Jefferson? In short, all of the people who have such heated opinions on the subject need to give us information rather than just opinions. This requires a good deal of study in the field. There are damn few people I know who really have studied this field carefully. Bess Lomax Hawes is one I know. Sam Hinton is another one. Pete Seeger knows a good deal about it but is reluctant to get into a discussion of this kind. There are many folklorists, song collectors, musicologists, anthropologists, as well as "revivalist" researchers like myself who have spent a long time on this question. It's not an easy topic to come to hard and fast conclusions about but it's an important one because it brings the light to bear on the subject and what we need to know about it. Why is it important? Because there is a world of wonderful song material that has been handed down from generation to generation and young kids in the public school system are rarely exposed to it compared to the pop music on the boom box. We are paving over the cultural landscape with the cement of limited musical tastes. Has someone noticed what's happening to the NEA these days? What does it say about a country when the NRA is more powerful than the NEA? Can we afford to turn our back on our heritage?

There is a role for the folk song "revivalist" in this picture. And there is an intersection that takes place between popular music and folk music that can't be denied or neatly segregated. This needs to be cleared up by information, not opinion. For example, a student of mine by the name of Roger McGuinn researched folk songs at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He developed a 12 string guitar technique by listening to Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson and had some acquaintance with what Leadbelly did with it. He learned many traditional folk songs and much of this information was carried with him when he did his first recordings with the Byrds. There are other intersections that show the marriage between folk and pop. This is what we need to be talking about. What about a Pete Seeger? Who did he listen to? Why did he decide to become "America's Tuning Fork"? Rather than concentrate on what folk music isn't, let's educate as to what it really is and show us examples.

Stepping off the soapbox, now.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: poet
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 07:02 PM

Frank
Here in England Folk Music is regarded as a continuation of the early Newscast System wherin travelling players etc went from town to town crying the news of the day, It then Became easier to put the news to a simple tune. Hence most early Folk songs were about memorable events. Bards of the time also considered it their duty to put to music the history and lessons of their world.It has grown since then into a far wider concept than can be explained by anyone. I believe Folk Music can only be recognised by its Intent and not its style.

Graham Hyett (Guernsey)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:51 AM

I thought I'd simply quote a note that was sent to the FOLKDJ-L. I'm sure the author won't mind, since he went public with it there. Apologizing, and explaining how he managed to post a "private" note to a public forum, he said:

"It's just that I was distracted. I was talking on the phone and typing the e-mail at the same time and another call came in on the call-waiting and I pressed the send button when I shouldn't have and besides that it's hot and the air-conditioner is broken and Sylvie has a cold and the second phone call was from a singer-songwriter whose over-produced CD, a CD-R really, I really didn't like and I tried to be nice to her and then she said she thought the real folk songs on the CD would be perfect for my show and I said that I didn't notice any real folk songs on the CD and she said that meant I probably didn't really listen to her album because it was quite obvious which ones were the folk songs. So I said what exactly do you mean by "real folk songs?" And she said her "folk songs" were the ones on which she played acoustic guitar and didn't have drums and I said that she and I must have a different concept about what a folk song is and she said something like thanks for nothing and hung up and that's when I hit the send button when I shouldn't have."

Hope this amuses you as it did me.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: katlaughing
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 01:05 AM

LMAO, Sandy! That was great!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: catspaw49
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 01:22 AM

LMAO too....and it's too damn late to be laughing like this!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 09:41 AM

Hi Graham, I agree that intent does influence folk song singing. And this in turn affects the style. For example, if Frank Sinatra chooses to sing a folk song in his inimitable manner, the folk song remains a folk song but the singer's style is antithetical to it's application in the tradition of the music. Nelson Riddle's orchestrations are not specifically related to the musical style of the tradition.

Sandy, this illustrates the point perfectly. The intent of the young lady singer/songwriter was to write what she thought was a folk song. That intent, however, influenced her singing style. Since she didn't know about the tradition of folk music, her style was inappropriate for the content of the music. There are those who might enjoy a rock and roll version of Mozart. I might even like it for fun. But I don't confuse rock and roll with Mozart even if I thought it was a fun idea. Musical style dictates a different approach, an acknowledgement of the tradition of the music otherwise known as folk music. If a performer wants to do something else with it, that's fine.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:05 PM

Here's another topic that's dear to my heart. Saw a newspaper article about a local "folksinger" who is in demand in the area as an entertainer. When questioned about how she chooses the material she uses, she said she writes folksongs using subjects that people never tire of...like Love, for instance. It seems that people don't not equate "folk" with aurally/orally transmitted song from a particular region, consciousness or time. As Sandy mentioned, anything that's accompanied on an accoustic instrument is often designated: "folk." The perpetrator of this music is frequently unaware of ballads - native and naturalized, old time string bands, collections of family songs that document other times and events, blues and kidsongs. etc., etc.. Question? How do people get exposed to the real thing? Through cultural visits to schools? Community concerts? More programs on the media using trad. music as themes? Hmmm. Joan


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: JedMarum
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:16 PM

People gain exposure to folk music through many means ... primarily the artists who play these wonderful tunes, ie. those of us here who perform at clubs and acoustic music venues all around the country ... most of us a play a mix of traditional folk and contemporary ... most audiences cannot see the difference, and, in my humble opinion; that's OK!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 03:10 PM

Sandy,

The author of the note to FOLKDJ-L does not mind that you reposted it here.

Mike Regenstreif


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: poet
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 07:43 PM

To Liam Devlin
A true story but off the subject. I once had the honour to present Liam O'Flynn at my small but Freindly Folk Festival, and i announced him perfectly remembering all the credits and honours due this top Irish piper. Then in front of a rapt Irish Audience I said "now please give a wonderfull Guernsey welcome to LIAM DEVLIN" amidst the horrified silence Liam was heard to say, "you read too many Jack Higgins Books" and my Embarrassment was complete. A Great talent and a gentleman also.

Graham Hyett (Guernsey)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 09:24 PM

To Mike Regenstreif:

Mike, m'lad, if I'd known you were the author, I'd have given proper credit. I saw the note only as it was appended (without your name attached) to the reply that added: That's okay, as long as you weren't talking on a cell phone in your car at the same time" (or words to that effect). That's a great piece of writing, Mike! You oughta forward it to SING OUT! I think Mark Moss would love it, too. I'd even suggest contributing it to "Life in these United States" at Reader's Digest, but for the fact that you're in Canada and the editors of Reader's Digest wouldn't understand your point at all.

I see you're gonna have Rick Fielding on your show next month. Be sure to remind all these Mudcatters when it's gonna happen. They'll sure want to tune in.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 10:28 PM

Frank,

I dunno about the settings. I knee-jerk to agree with you about Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. But what do I do about The Weavers with Gordon Jenkins? Or The Norman Luboff Choir? They sure had an influence on me when I was a kid. I figure they're all bridges. Just as the Kingston Trio leads to Frank Profitt and Peter, Paul and Mary lead to Rev. Gary Davis.

And some of the songs of Earl Robinson's and Yip Harburg's that moved into the folk idiom. Did you know that "Free and Equal Blues" was supposed to be the opening number in "Finian's Rainbow"?

If you listen to the cuts on "Songs For Political Action", it's all so unclear. Maybe Pete's "All Mixed Up" should really be our theme. I guess I just go by my gut.

My problem with most contemporary "folksingers" is that they've never heard traditional music. Many of them are third or fourth generation now and "roots" to them means Bob Dylan or Paul Simon.

I'm sputtering out on my soapbox too.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM

I read the FOLKDJ-L posts of playlists every day, Wally, and I must confess that I don't understand what these people mean when they refer to "roots" music. Is there some sort of recent re-definition that I've missed? I'm sure I know what you mean when you use the term. But these guys...??

Somewhere, Frank, you talked about playing Almeda Riddle for a class of rock fans to illustrate traditional music. Their reaction was negative. Maybe you challenged them with too great a leap for the first step. I love Almeda Riddle, but what might have been their response if you had played Vera Hall singing "Another Man Done Gone" (A Treasury of Field Recordings from the Library of Congress), or Bozie Sturdivant singing "Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down" on the same CD, or Alfred Karnes singing "Called to a Foreign Field" on (Traditional Music of Kentucky, Volume 1), or Laura Henton singing "I Can Tell the World About This" (How Can I Keep from Singing, Volume 1) or if you'd played that fabulous cut of the Pace Jubilee Singers singing "Oh, Death" on the second volume of How Can I Keep from Singing from Yazoo? Or almost anything ever recorded by Mississippi John Hurt?

Perhaps we should let our students take smaller steps. For an audience used to strongly African-American influenced popular culture, some of the superb non-professional African-American artists that represent the "roots" of that music would be more apt to win their admiration. (Karnes happens to be the only non-African-American artist in the above list.) One small step could lead to another.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:15 PM

Sandy,

I gave up reading them. They had no meaning for me. Toward the end of the period when I had my radio show, I also stopped posting them 'cause I thought no one but Paul Stamler had an interest and I can email him directly.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:42 PM

Listen up- There is NO meaning to the word folk in "folk" music. There are many many meanings, all of them valid: a continuation of a musical tradition, a musical style, an expression of ethnic identity, an un-amplified performance,a song at least XX years old with an unknown composer, a song that has been changed in the course of oral/aural transmission, a song that's performed by amateurs only, a song that's sung to members of the same cultural group as the singer,anything that's heard at a folk festival....There's also no agreement, so these discussions, besides becoming teejus, tend to resemble the blind men's discussion of the nature of an elephant (who, like a horse, doesn't sing folk songs),

If anyone cares, the Digital Tradition's definition of a folksong is anything anyone likes enough to send in. It's not necessarily my definition, but wotthehell.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:48 PM

Ah, Dick, you're a party pooper. Some of us just need to BS about something serious like late teenagers talking about how they'd solve the problems of the world.

I bid you goodnight.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Val Sommerville
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 12:53 AM

It seems to me that Folk is any music that folks like to play or listen to. So rock and roll is folk muic to some.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 05:22 PM

Sandy, you're right. Should have played something more accessible for those students. But there is something to be said for the shock value of it all. They had to realize that there was something unfamiliar than what they thought they knew. The idea that folk music could mean something else to them besides the Kingston Trio or Joni Mitchell at least opened a door whether they liked the music or not. And Almeda Riddle was memorable to them whether positive or negative in their reactions. Some of them may think it over later and decide there was something there. My point was to underscore just how important it is that the "Almeda Riddles" become recognized by the general public. Why? Because it's our cultural resources that have value just as our American history is important.

Dick, I know that you think that the word "folk" is too vague to represent any decent discussion on this issue. But we're not just talking semantics, here. I feel folk music and I know it's different in it's primary source (original traditional folk singing) than it is in it's secondary source (popular "folk revival" singers.) I know that Alan Lomax and many other collectors such as Harry Smith, Ralph Rinzler, Mike Seeger and the many other people who have devoted their lives to collecting this music know the difference between Iron Head Baker and the Weavers. And there is a cultural difference that is shown in the music. All you have to do is hear it to know that.

The original purpose of the "folk revivalists" were to bring this kind of music before a public, albeit a limited one at the time. Then it became a vehicle to eexpress the values of a political left. Who knew it would become "pop folkie"? Pete traveled a year with Sonny Terry because he wanted people to hear this folk musician. As it was, there were many who might have come to hear Pete and came away with an appreciation for Sonny. Bonnie Raitt did this with "Sippie" Wallace later. I submit to you Dick that you didn't travel to Ashville or anywhere in the South to hear Harry Belafonte, Limelighters, KT or Joni, Dylan, PP and M, Weavers or any of the secondary sources ("folk revivalists"). If you don't want to call that kind of music "folk" I can see your point. Call it anything you want to but it is different than the singer/songwriter in the coffee house, the professional entertainer/performer on the concert stage who sings folk songs, the newest profundities from the abstruse navel gazer who puts words together to convey life's deepest meanings. Sometimes the music overlaps into the pro entertainer's domain such as Uncle Dave Macon, or Leadbelly on his college concert tours but the music is different because it reflects a cultural connection with a sub-society that has existed and developed a tradition base.

Wally, the Weavers with Gordon Jenkins were a fine example of the "folk revivalists" who learned the music from primary sources. A lot of what they did was folk music and some were composed songs or popular songs of earlier days. This doesn't at all invalidate what they did. They were the popularizers and what's wrong with that?

But the Mad Tea Party approach that says "Folk music is what I choose it to mean and nothing else" is doing a disservice to a kind of music that has it's own value and is different than popular music or popularized folk songs.

Hangin' on.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 05:58 PM

FRank- To quote Bert Lloyd: If The Cruel Mother is a folk song, then we have to find something else to call Four Pence a Day.

I'm delighted to discuss folk music with anyone, if we can precede the discussion with at least a rough definition of terms. From a cultural anthropology viewpoint, Pete is certainly not a folksinger (something he used to make a point of stating); The Weavers were even less so. From a musical style viewpoint, you could make a case that he is.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 10:19 PM

Frank Hamilton hasn't been around Mudcat long enough to get burned out on this topic yet. I'm just about at that point. It's enough for me to know that Frank is correct. My intention was to stay out of this--yet another "what is folk" discussion. But Jeff Davis wrote a great "TRADITIONAL" column in the recent Folk Alliance Newsletter. Among other pretty brilliant observations was this to end his column:

"What we need is artists who, like the iconographers of the Eastern Church, labored on works that were themselves sacred.The job was to keep things for the next generations. The art and the icons (the songs) were greater than the artists. It was art done with great passionate care; art done with a God watching over their shoulders. In our culture (whatever that is) recovering the word icon for a greater meaning might not be a bad idea. With iconographers we might treat the old texts and singers with the respect they deserve. (my italics) In these times of disregard, plastic, trash, over-packaging, asphalt, junk mail, junk food and junk music perhaps we will find, beneath the rubble and wrappers, that the spirit of the old singers and songs has not died but has simply been buried alive."

I called Jeff Davis today to see if he'd mind if I post his entire column. He wasn't there. But I suspect he's out doing what he ought to bring his songs to the fore. And he does that the same way I always hoped I was doing it---by putting the songs and where they came from way before the guy who was singin' 'em.

Uniquely, whether it was intentional or not, nowhere in that entire column did Mr. Davis need to use the word "folk".

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 11:19 PM

Dick,

Of course there are many different definitions of folk now. What some of us are saying is that seeing the scene that way is completely WRONG. We are STILL trying to re-educate those that have gone astray into newthink. They're young & don't know any better. You just sound so tired of the argument. I am too! But I've got nothing but time on my hands now. You are most likely very busy with real life but I might as well try to educate somebody here & there as to what this is all about. I probably won't change very many set minds, but I do know that I'll be correct and they won't be.

When I first came here to Mudcat I posted some things where I said---yes, everything is folk". I was trying to, as they say in TWELVE STEP PROGRAMS, "ACT AS IF". I thought that I could re-train myself to lose my trad views and join the 90s, if only I could act as if everthing really is folk music, then that'd actually be the case. But if I'm to be true to all of what I know to be true, I simply needed to go with my original and, I think, correct feelings about the truth of our side of this divisive argument. Trying to be a people pleaser was not good for my self esteem. As Gordon Bok has told me, "Is what is!"

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 05:52 AM

Maybe arguing about labels is useless, but I do think this sort of discussion can help train us to direct our focus. What we need to do as musicians is to find, preserve, and create "music which will endure." I think it's a sacred mission.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 08:26 AM

Frank,

I hope you didn't mistake my meaning. The Weavers with Gordon Jenkins and orchestra or early Burl Ives "popular" music releases acted as bridges and helped in time brought me to seek out traditional and traditional style singers. I think the first folksong recordings that I heard, when I was quite small, were of Richard Dyer-Bennett and Tom Glazer. I was fascinated by this music that seemed to me to be so different from most popular music of the forties.

On a similar theme, do you think that many of the popular artists of that period had closer links to the "trad" music than today's singer-songwriter "folksingers"? I don't mean the black artists like Billie Holiday who were steeped in the tradition but the white singers like Frankie Laine who recorded songs like "Rocks and Gravel" or Guy ? who recorded a version of "The Fireship" that made it onto the hit parade. When I have the occasion to talk to today's young singer-songwriter/folksinger, I find that often they've never heard a "source" singer.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Nancy-Jean
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 02:43 PM

Heard on the radio this morning, "a folk song is a song which does not have a definitive version". It gets passed around, fooled around with, changed, arranged every which a-way. Pretty broad definition, eh?

Perhaps some of us would like to talk about traditional ballads and traditonal ballad singing. That narrows the style definition, doesn't it? When you add, for example, piano background to what was intitially a simple traditional ballad and the text plays less of a role than what is being done to embellish the tune, I question whether the presentation remains "traditional ballad".


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 06:01 PM

Great thread! Now we're getting to the real issues. Yes Wally, I think that when Jo Stafford recorded Red Rosy Bush she was closer to understanding the folk tradition than many of the contemporary songwriters of today. She knew what a source singer was.

I agree that the role of the "revivalists" were as bridges to connect people to the understanding of the traditional singers and their heritages.

Joe, I agree wholeheartedly. Point to the music.

Dick, I think that Pete is more eclectic than a traditional folksinger musically. For example, he uses thirteenth chords in his accompaniments and sophisticated counter-lines in his bass notes. He messes with the musical traditions by interjecting his own musical personality and there's nothing wrong with this. I do it myself. But this in my view keeps him and me from ever being a primary source for the music, at least not today. His style of banjo playing is his own. I guess Pete's closest influential primary source might be Pete Steele, coal miner of Hamilton, Ohio. Pete Seeger is reputed to have learned to love the five-string from the playing of Aunt Semantha Baumgartner, the octegenarian folk singer and banjo picker when he was exposed to her at the Ashville Folk Festival as a youngster. He was brought there by his parents.

Nancy-Jean,

There is a danger in accompanied ballads on the piano. People who set the arrangements often come from a classical music background. The danger with a song in printed form is that as it is being annotated for expedience, the "rough edges" are often lopped off or time signatures smoothed out to accomodate standard 4/4 or 3/4 time or 6/8 time and the asymetrical rhythm patterns are deemed incorrect and changed to conform to accepted "classical" music standards. Many traditional singers particularly true of the Appalachian tradition do not sing strictly in a major or minor tonality. Almeda Riddle is a case in point. There are bent notes, and vocal nuances that often are missed in their musical annotation. Sometimes, such as in the case of John Jacob Niles, the tunes are changed delibiberately (and copyrighted). This may or may not be part of the folk process because a lot has to do with the musical elements of the tradition and whether or not the singer or musician who changes the tune does it naturally as a part of that musical tradition or is doing it self-conciously as was done to many of the popularized variants of folk music. One of the giveaways of the self-conscious approach is that the tunes were changed to be smoothed out for public consumption. Hedy West's "500 Miles" comes to mind. Or what the KT did with Tom Dooley.

As an example of the tasteful handling of a folk musical tradition blended with more eclectic musical styles, I recommend Jean Ritchie's new album, "Mountain Born". In my opinion one of the finest recordings of it's kind.

So, to ignore the elements ot musical traditions of folk cultures is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Art,

I think that there is value to show the range of music that can be encompassed in the definition of "folk". I agree with you that there is an issue, here. The reason that it's been circular is that the real issues of the music itself and the texts have not been specifically addressed. As a result, public perception is that a certain kind of marketable music is called "folk" these days. To change, amend or alter that, we need knowledgeable people like all of you here on Mudcat to tackle the issue, not through pointless opinions but observations based on your personal experience with the music. Please bring specific examples and show how they relate to the topic. IE: Pete Seeger's harmonies or "classical" piano settings to traditional ballads.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: catspaw49
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 10:01 PM

I'm just kinda' soakin' it in here........"Mountain Born" is a tremendous album, and I've been listening to it a lot lately juxtaposed to Sandy's recordings of her sister Edna. Relates well to your discussion here.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 10:46 PM

This thread is getting more intersting as it pays out. Great that many responses are coming from those who have spent a lot of years listening to those primary sources and assimilating the sound and feel of the old songs. It's a treat to soak up the singing and playing of people who learned the old songs and tunes from family and neighbors, and if we didn't get our music that way, then we can hear what collectors preserved for us by taking those recorders into the field or transcribed collections in books--like your grandmother's work, Nancy-Jean. I've been lucky to have gotten to hear with my own ears some of the early musicians who are now dead...but anyone can still get to hear what they sounded like via recordings. And to be sure, they made a big impact on me, and influenced my singing in subtle ways. The point is, if a wannabe "folksinger" has never listened to the old stuff, the songs they choose to sing and even write themselves aren't likely to have the feel of old stuff. This sounds a bit corny, but I think we all filter the songs we like to sing through our individual "paintboxes" and it comes out with the colors that are in there. I'm about to leave Vermont for a week for a visit with daughter, and will come home with a new Mac G3--terribly exciting, but may be off line for a bit. I'm looking forward to checking Mudcat with a lot more speed when I get back--keep this fine thread going. j


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM

Well, friends, I thought I'd just sit this one out. These debates do get a little old, don't they? But then I got to thinking about the contribution to the discussion that Val made a few days ago, and I felt I ought to address it from my point of view.

I can think of no good reason to scuttle taxonomy. It may mean nothing to you, but some very dedicated scientists have spent a lot of time and study trying to draw distinctions that may prove to be important. I recall the story of the city feller who bought a place in Vermont. He saw his neighbors tapping the trees in their woodlots, so he went out and did the same. His syrup didn't turn out so good, since he was tapping elms instead of maples. "What the hell," he said, "they're all just trees, aren't they?" He would have done better if he'd done a little homework and learned to draw the distinction.

Let's create another scenario: You're walking hand-in-hand with a six-year-old daughter through a lovely garden. She points with delight at a beautiful rose and asks, "What's that, Daddy?" You, in your role as her source of all things profound, reply, "That's a plant, dear." "What kind of a plant, Daddy?" "What the hell, honey, they're all just plants. If you want to draw some silly distinctions, that's a flower." "What kind of a flower, Daddy?" "Aw, flowers are all just flowers, aren't they?" Yes, and trees are all just trees, but if you don't know the difference between a spruce and an oak, I don't think I want to buy the guitar or the violin you build.

A lot of very wise people have spent a lot of time drawing similar distinctions, sorting and classifying all kinds of things, describing their differences and identifying their special qualities. . It helps us to communicate, helps us understand one another. Let's look at literature: is there no difference between a novel, a math textbook, and a collection of poems? Nah, they're all just books. Next time you want to woo a lovely youg maiden, try reading some of those math problems to her. And we can take it a bit farther than that by opening the book of poems. Is their no difference between, say, a nursery rhyme and an elegy, or between the sonnet and the haiku? Of course there is. When your English professor assigns you the task of writing a sonnet, you'd better not turn in a haiku! Some people study the use of language, pointing out the functional differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Unimportant? Not if you want others to understand what you're saying. These scholars take it even beyond that, distinguishing between, say, a simile and a metaphor. When they discuss literature, such distinctions enable them to actually understand one another.

And so, at last, we come to songs. It may not seem significant to you, but to those who study folk music seriously, there is a difference between a ditty from Tim Pan Alley, an omphaloscopic melodic ego trip, an orally transmitted occupational song, and a classic traditional ballad from the 15th century. Right now, in another Mudcat Forum thread, some very knowledgeable folk are discussing the differences between delta and piedmont blues. Unimportant distinctions? Not to them! Is it wrong for them to care about the differences? I don't think so.

What I'm trying to say, in my long-winded, old fogey way, is that distinctions can be very important. Some radio people call any slow song a "ballad," which demonstrates their ignorance so plainly that it ought to embarrass them. When Elvis sang "Love Me Tender," he wasn't singing a ballad, no matter what the DJs called it. Look up the definition for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Perhaps I can put it in a way that everyone can understand. If you're talking about voting rights, yes, all people are just people. But if you're trying to make a baby, you'd damned well better be able to distinguish between male and female.

Sandy (finally tired of anti-academic nonsense)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:38 PM

Analogy city, Sandy! I think the operative word is "homework." Listen AND hear. Hugs to you guys. j


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:55 PM

I see taxonomy as kind of a tool, Sandy. I was wading through Bronson's scale analysis when out visiting Sam Hinton in La Jolla. I found it fascinating. I think that Alan's Cantrometrics is a useful tool as well as Charlie Seeger's "mellotron" (his notational graphic machine to measure microtones. Regarding the accompaniment of traditionally unaccompanied songs, I think that it can be handled tastefully but not necessarilly as an element of that tradition. Bringing a guitar or banjo into it may change it somewhat from the original tradition of the music. Then it becomes a re-interpretation of the original which is OK by me. Alan Lomax had a lot of problems with it though when it strayed too far from the musical traditions, enough so that he was vocal about it. An aesthetic in the re-interpretations is set up sometimes. An example of a violation of this is the lack of understanding that would cause some coffee-house "folkie" performer to play Waltzing Matilda in three-quarter time. (As a waltz). I think that maybe Richard-Dyer Bennett's interpretation of John Henry might be questionable but his rendering of early English and Scottish ballads in the traditon of the Elizabethan Troubadour (ala Campion or Dowland) I believe is interpretively on the mark. Dyer-Bennett is a classically trained singer and guitarist so he would interject this eclectic approach into his music. But he would never refer to himself as a folk-singer or attempt to convey that he was a part of the traditions of the songs he sang. Now what happens when a singer or musician attempts to imitate the primary source folk singer?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sourdough
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:59 PM

Sandy,

I'm glad you didn't "sit this one out". Your essay on taxonomy is a gem.

Every so often, I am really stunned at the quality of what gets posted here.

Sourdough


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 01:44 PM

My apologies, guys. I guess I'm getting grumpy in my old age. And, dammit, I STILL can't proof-read on a monitor. I should make myself print out everything I write before I post it, giving poor Joe a rest.

Frank, you'll remember Dyer-Bennett always referred to himself as the "20th Century Minstrel," drawing exactly the sort of distinction you express. I once reviewed a concert he gave in Burlington, Vermont, suggesting that he might do well to pass by the "John Henry" interpretations and stick to the Elizabethan songs he did so professionally. He took it well, and we had a very pleasant chat.

As for Lomax, while I have the greatest admiration for his lifetime of work collecting and publishing folk music, his adamant rejection of what those of us who were not born to the tradition might do in taking a traditional song into our repertoire was undermined, somewhat, by his release of Raise a Ruckus Tonight with the doo-wahs of Dupree Family backing him up. That was in "Hootenanny" times, and Alan was clearly moved to take a little economic advantage of the fad. I'll bet that recording embarrassed him for years! (Actually, I thought it was kind of fun!) As for the headnotes to many of the songs published in his books, well... Read D. K. Wilgus' Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship Since 1898. You'll see why many serious academicians have reservations concerning the use of those books for their research. Alan was offering us some wonderful songbooks, for which we should be grateful, but they were not, and weren't intended to be, scholarly publications.

I thought for a long time that we ought to emulate our traditional sources through what amounted to imitation (or mimesis, as Cantwell prefers to call it - means the same damned thing, just sounds more important). Then I decided that old Petronius was right. We should be true to ourselves. I was never going to be Frank Proffitt when I grew up, couldn't hope to be. Forget it, kid!

So let's sing 'em 'cause we love 'em, folks, treat them with the respect they deserve, but let's not be ashamed of who or what we are. Those great old songs might live longer, and be loved more widely, precisely because we made them more accessible to others. And I think that would be a good thing. It could even improve the quality of our contemporary popular culture, and I know that would be a good thing.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 03:22 PM

Sandy,

You wrote:

"What I'm trying to say, in my long-winded, old fogey way, is that distinctions can be very important. Some radio people call any slow song a "ballad," which demonstrates their ignorance so plainly that it ought to embarrass them. When Elvis sang "Love Me Tender," he wasn't singing a ballad, no matter what the DJs called it. Look up the definition for yourself and you'll see what I mean."

But, it's not just the DJs. The 1991 edition of the Random House Webster's College Dictionary that sits on my desk near the computer gives the following definitions of *ballad*: "1. a simple song; air. 2. a simple narrative poem, esp. of folk origin, composed in short stanzas and adapted for singing. 3. a slow romantic or sentimental popular song."

So when traditional music people use the word ballad to describe a song like "Matty Groves", they're consistent with definition 2. The DJ describing "Love Me Tender" is just as consistent with definition 3.

Seems to me that "ballad" is just an example of a word that has different meanings depending on the context. For example, until I travelled through Pennsylvania, I always thought the "Dutch" were people from (or descended from people from) the Netherlands. But the "Pennsylvania Dutch" are of German extraction.

Mike Regenstreif

Of course, the melody to "Love Me Tender," is "Aura Lee" which many people assume to be a traditional folk melody. However, one recording that I have of it lists it as an 1861 composition by G.R. Poulton.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 08:37 PM

Right you are, Mike, and I have been hoisted by my own petard. I forgot that dictionaries are regularly revised to keep up with contemporary usage. I humbly retract my offensive reference to DJs, and apologize.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 08:54 PM

Sandy,

Personally, I wasn't offended. I'm one of those DJs who use the word "ballad" when referring to songs that tell a story.

Mike Regenstreif


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mulligan
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 10:49 PM

Well, I come late to this party....and i know that the subject has already been pretty thoroughly exhausted, but I have my own thought on what makes a song a folk song.

I believe that folk music is the music that people play.

Some of my favorite folk tunes are also "rock and roll." Some are also "Classical." Some are "Celtic." Some are "Country."

Some tunes become "Folk" by becoming a part of the cultural consciousness over a period of years. Other tunes are born "Folk."

"Folk Song" is a label that describes a state of being rather than a style. I think that is where the confusion lies.

Dan Mulligan


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM

Has anybody noticed how "slavish imitation of sources" leads to its own breed of folk-processing? I submit that a really accurate imitation is well beyond the capabilities of just about anybody (especially myself); try comparing a recording of, say, The New Lost City Ramblers or Jeff Davis with one of their sources. The difference between the Ramblers or Jeff and, f'rinstance, Syer-Bennett or Pete Seeger is that, IMO, they've immersed themselves much more thoroughly in the musical traditions of their sources, and are trying hard not to let their more-sophisticated musical background color the music. On a more personal level, I learned much of what I learned about banjo playing from a gentleman named Rufus Crisp. So did Stu Jamison, and Woody Wachtel and (to a lesser extent) Pete Seeger. We each took from Rufus' music the aspects we liked; none of us play banjo in even a similar style.

Re taxonomy: I think it's very valuable...if there's some attempt at definition of terms. Otherwise, you wind up with interminable arguments like "Is it colder in the living room or on Thursday?" or even "Is it really folk music?"


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 11:18 PM

I knew that, Mike. I read your playlists. When literary people talk about ballads, definition #2 is the operative one. When the milieu is the world of "pop" music, the new definition obviously applies. And we all know that the "pop" world outnumbers our folk world exponentially. Out of curiosity, how many of the DJs posting to that listserv do you feel comprehend or are even aware of the folk and/or literary definition? (No names, of course, just an estimate.) If you prefer, I'll be content with a private reply. ;-)

I guess I've made it pretty obvious that I'm reluctant to see our language change so rapidly and without serious thought as to the consequences in terms of meaningful communication. I'd rather our dictionary editors put up a stronger resistance to the influences of common usage. My old Oxford doesn't include definition #3 at all. Neither does my favorite, the old Century, but I'll have to admit that one's obsolete (even though it's the later, 1897 edition). That's probably why I love it!

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Stewie
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 12:34 AM

I have no wish to join this rather tired debate. As Leonard Cohen once said: 'Let's sing another song boys, this one has grown old and bitter'. However, I mention some pertinent articles on the subject are available on Rod Stradling's Musical Traditions site: http://www.mustrad.org.uk. In particular, Enthusiasms No 3 has a paper by John Moulden entitled: 'Sing us a folk song, Mouldy'. Fred McCormick's excellent article on the Hammonds Family also has some insights for those who have the inclination to pursue these matters. Enthusiasms No 1 [Traditional?] includes some thoughts from Dick Gaughan.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:00 AM

Being of sound mind (and questionable body) I really wanted to stay out of this since there are so few of us who actually care about rather narrow definitions of folk music, and it's the same folks sayin' the same things over and over again. For what it's worth, my definitions haven't changed much over the years. Folk songs were sung first and written down later. Folk singers were the people who sung 'em before the advent of records and radio. Balladeer and Troubadour seem to me to be more accurate terms to describe most folks who sing those songs today, but how many average people would use either term even once in their lifetime? They've heard the term "folksinger", know it means "not as loud as a rocker",so they call the music "folk music". When someone jumps into mudcat with this (hardly surprising) outlook, they might get taken to task (I've done it..albeit gently) or not, depending on who they encounter first. I DO find a surface approach to the music I love greatly annoying, just as I find the folks at a ball game who shoot their mouths off without knowing beans about the history, the statistics and the stategy equally annoying.

These days you have a huge number of people who were influenced by lyrical (basically) solo singer-guitarists from the late 50s to the mid-70s. Perhaps the most influental ones were Dylan, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Neil Young, and James Taylor. Each one of these performers has earned millions of dollars for their work, and I doubt would ever take up valued concert space to encourage their followers to explore the history of the music before starting to write their own songs. Why should they? I doubt their ambition was to teach. More probably it was to express themself musically, period. I really don't expect ANY current singer-songwriters under 30 to care a whit about the past. When it appears that someone does, I'm surprised and gratified. What I DO expect however, is skill, originality, and minimal "attitude". I don't hear too much of that. (especially the second) Every major "Folk" Festival these days counts on performers of original music with "attitude" to bring the average citizen in off the street.

Sandy mentioned a dictionary that was long out of date. I've got a set of Encyclopaedia Americana, that I bought used about 30 years ago. I still read it for enjoyment, but like the music I love, it's hoplessly out of date. Once, on a resume, I wrote (under my name) "Purveyor of Unpopular Songs". Heather insisted I remove it immediately, reminding me that people rarely get my idea of humour. Hmmmmm, she thought it was a joke?

Rick


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 02:54 AM

I've spent enough time studying linguistics and semantics (shades of J.L. Austin!) to enjoy the problem of taxonomy as stated by Sandy Paton (and clarified by Mike Regenstrief). "Ballad" does, indeed, have several meanings, but in order to have a philosophical debate on the problem, we need to state precisely which definition we mean when we use the term. Around Mudcat, we can probably assume that references to "ballad" mean ballad2 rather than ballad3 in the Random House Webster's College Dictionary.

"Folk music" also gets used in many ways. I grabbed the Websters New World Dictionary, which just happened to be sitting on my desk. (Lisa used it under the mouse pad to raise the mouse to an ergonomically better level for her.) It says: folk music music made and handed down among the common people--but then it has a two-pronged definition for "folk song":
folk song [after G. volkslied] 1. a song made and handed down among the common people: folk sons are usually of anonymous authorship and often have many versions 2. a song composed in imitation of such a song —folk singer

Now, while definition 2 is perfectly acceptable of folk song under some circumstances, for our purposes, the traditionalist Mudcatters will want to use definition 1 (or some further honing thereof), and once we agree on that definition, we can then ask questions about under what context a song or performance crosses the line into definition 2. But we need to get definition 1 right, because definition 2 is in imitation of referents of definition 1. It's one thing if we allow a Bob Dylan original, which is in imitation of a song from a source singer in definition 1, to be considered a folk song (definition2). But then a song in imitation of that Bob Dylan song is a second-level imitation, and we can be precise about our taxonomy--a singer songwriter who imitates a revivalist is a second-level imitation folk singer. Hence the generation who imitate Joni Mitchell or James Taylor, and think they are writing and/or singing folk songs. They are several levels removed. We may enjoy their music (or not), but when we're trying to have a serious discussion of folk song in the traditionalist sense, it's good to have a philosophical tool by which we can exclude these new songs from consideration.

It's way too late/early in the morning, and I hope I;ve made some sense.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 12:29 PM

Sandy,

You are so right. When we try to become something we're not by immitating we do damage to that which we mimic, I think. It becomes an artificial and pretensious exercise like that of a bad actor.

You're undoubtably right about Alan's inconsistencies. Here's a guy who's done so much for folk music and has developed Cantrometrics, a complex measurement of cataloging musical styles by musical styles and musical organizational forms (stringbands et. al.). My big problem with Alan is that in order to know what falls into the category of "art" or "classical" music and what remains as traditional folk, one would have to know the difference between them by studying both. A rudimentary knowledge of basic musical education can help. So, here, Alan might be on shaky ground. As to the text scholarship, Alan is more of a catalyst to show us the music rather than an academician to analyze it. Alan is not a musicologist nor a scholar as Wilgus, Hand, Dobie, Archie Green and others are. He's a great collector and presenter and we all owe him for this.

Mike, I go with the folk music definition of ballad too.

The confusion is with the word "Deutsch" which means German in German. It got corrupted to "Dutch."

Dan, A vauge and amorphous definition of folk music doesn't allow for any discussion of the music. If folk music is all kinds of music that people play it's a tautology that people play all kinds of music. Hence folk music as you define it includes Arnolod Schoenberg twelve tone rows, hard be-bop, Mozart, Led Zeppelin and Spike Jones. I disagree and point to traditional folk music styles of singing and playing. One needs however to be aware of them before dismissing them as being unimportant.

Stewie, It becomes apparent that you have no desire to join this tired debate. I submit that the only thing that makes it tired is tired thinking. You cites Leonard Cohen as an authority on American folk music. I don't think so. He's a wondeful popular singer with some unique poetic gifts but not too knowledgeable on the subject of American folk music. As to the references you suggest, that might be instructive since it would open the doors open to more discussion on the subject. But tired is as tired does (or thinks) in my view.

Charlie, The dictionary definitions are important because that second definition has become more the norm than the first in the field. This is the problem.

Rick, I think that because people have been saying the same things over and over it's time to add more specific examples to this debate. The amalgam of instrumental musical styles that incorporate rock, fingerpicking guitar styles, African-American vocal techniques, modal chord structures, electronic instruments mixed with accoustic instruments, and highly rhythmic and rigid tempos (not rhythms but tempos) have simmered into a stew of popular music that imitates itself more than it tends to deviate from a commercial musical format. The lyrics tend to be derivative depending on the popularity of the theme, much of them borrowing from other "hits". There are notable exceptions such as early Mitchell, Simon and Dylan as well. But these guys are pop. That's the game they're playing. It's about getting a bullet on the charts. That being said, it's an interesting topic how folk music intersects with popular music and we need to know this in order to get to the issues in this debate. Lonnie Donegan pops on "Rock Island Line". The KT do on "Tom Dooley". The Weavers were out to do just that, but bring to the table some substantial fare. The Weavers were an extension of Pete's banjo and musicianship, Freddie Hellerman's arranging skills which encompassed much of the popular music of the forties, and Lee's traditional singing style. None of the Weavers really cared whether they were traditional or not.

Dick, I think you are right on. Mike and the Ramblers were closer to the traditional music styles and as a result were influential in creating the term "Old Time Music". Their "sophistication" in folk music was in their knowledge of what it was and how to differentiate it by actually studying it through learning to play vocal and instrumental patterns on recordings and eventually from going out of their way to meet the carriers of the tradition. I guess a person who sings traditional folk songs owes it to themselves to become a kind of folklorist or musicologist as well as performer to better understand the material.

I've said enough for the moment.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Bert
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:08 PM

I used to be of the same opinion as Mulligan, "Folk music is what folk are out there singing". However, apart from us two, no one else seems to accept that definition. So I have a question.

Just what do we call what we ARE singing?
See The last 10 songs thread to get an idea of what Mudcateers are actually singing now. I was surprised to see how little old stuff there is and also how few duplicates.

If it's NOT FOLK then what is it? It's not POP. But it IS what's happening out there NOW. If Mudcatters don't sing folk music then just what the.......

Bert. (mutter, mutter, mutter...)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:33 PM

I guess, Bert, that we want to have our cake and eat it, too.--We want several definitions of "folk" depending on our context, and we'd like to be able to distinguish between them. We want a fairly general definition to cover all of the many interests of Mudcatters, from Horton Barker to Ani DiFranco to Moondog. Then, we'd like another more restrictive definition that allows us to exclude the singer-songwriters for whom "folk" is just rock without the drumkit. Then, we'd like yet another very restrictive word that refers to poeple who learned the music from their parents in some deep dark hollow, but excludes even the revivalists like Pete Seeger, for academic discussions. In each of these contexts, "folk" has a different utility, yet we wind up with a homonym that makes it difficult for us to be precise. They're all "folk" but they're different kinds of "folk"s.

Sandy--the problem with decrying mimesis is that Frank Proffitt became Frank Proffitt by imitating the other people on Beech Mountain where he grew up. Mimicry is the way we learn. So you need to distinguish between the mimicry that allows members of a community to learn the style of their community and whatever it is you don't like that the revivalists aren't doing well.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:35 PM

Bert,

I submit that much of it is just that----pop.

Frank,

You're amazing. Completely true from where I sit. But still we sing--whatever we call it. Once again, I need to quote a good singer/songwriter (but not a folksinger), Bob Franke: "As long as sentimental super-salesmen tell it wrong and make it big, I will make it small and tell it right!"

Art


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Bert
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:52 PM

I'm not sure about that Art. I think that if The Mudcat Cafe was dedicated to Pop Music instead of Folk then a "Last 10 songs" thread would probably turn up many more recent songs.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: lamarca
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 03:44 PM

Once more into the breech! I actually enjoy this discussion/argument and never really get too tired of it.

One of our big problems in these discussions is separating the definitions for "folk song" from definitions of "folk singer". I would hazard a guess that most of us are well-educated (whether formally in school or well-read and intelligent), middle-class people who have a love for older styles of music and song. We ourselves tend toward a definition of "folk song" that describes the music that came out of a particular community tradition and was passed down through the years orally or instrumentally among members of that community.

And there's the rub. We love this music, we think the tradition is important, we think the songs are wonderful, but we are NOT and never can be real members of the communities from which it came.

I am not Irish, but I love Irish lyric songs. I have never worked on a sailing ship for 5 years voyage, needing to use shanties to make me stay in the rhythm of my work - but I love the songs. I am not black, I didn't grow up within the culture; but I love singing St. James' Infirmary. Most of the songs we love to sing and want to perpetuate are from cultures outside our own in one way or another.

A lot of the confusion in the arguments in these threads arises from this distinction between the material and the people singing it. If I learn a ballad from Peacock's "Songs of the Newfoundland Outports", how is that different than my learning "Cheap Is How I Feel" from the Cowboy Junkies? The song in Peacock was collected from a member of a particular community by an outsider, printed in a book, and then learned by me, another outsider. When I sing it, I have no idea what the original source sounded like. Is the song the way I sing it still a folk song? I learned the Cowboy Junkie song from a recording by its author. I know what it's supposed to sound like, I learned it by rote from the recording, listening to her sing it (today's equivalent of oral tradition), and I am a member of the "community" that this song was created for (young-to-middle-aged depressed females). Is this more truly a folk song?

To hit a greyer area, suppose a young member of an modern old-time band (good oxymoron, eh) learns a song from a CD re-release of one of Charlie Poole's commercial recordings. Did Charlie Poole write it, or if not, is his particular version unique (they usually were...) Is this a traditional song? Is it a folk song? Charlie Poole wasn't passing this song on to future generations on his back porch, he was recording it to make a few bucks. However, it probably evolved from a song he DID sit around playing with other members of his community just for fun. Does this change things?

I am just playing Devil's advocate here, a bit. I do believe that there is a body of traditional songs and music that we need to preserve. I also believe that a portion of that work probably started out as a "commercial" creation of a singer/songwriter of its day. Because the means of propagating songs were so much slower in the past, Darwinian selection took a hand, and only the strongest, best crafted, most memorable songs survived.

This means of selection is diluted today by the more widespread broadcast of music on the air and by commercial recordings, but over the years, people will still be singing the best songs of today's songwriters, whether they're classified as "Folk", "Rock", "Reggae" by record dealers (Digression: a friend's son just released a CD of hammered dulcimer tunes. On it was the instruction "File under New Age/Celtic". Huh?!?)

We, as singers and instrumentalists, will learn the songs and tunes that most strongly attract us for one reason or another. We are truly fortunate to have the opportunity to learn songs from outside our own narrow community (Ballads of the DC Suburbs doesn't really grab me, ya know?) and to sing them with the joy they give us, and thus help preserve them for others. I wish there was a way to present them to a wider audience (extend the range of the species, as it were). But remember, widening the gene pool always leads to genetic variation. Pockets of static inbreeding will remain, but diversification is needed if the species is to survive; that's the way evolution works (trust me, I'm a biologist). In the words of British SF author John Wyndham (stolen by Jefferson Airplane) "Soon you'll achieve the stability you strive for, in the only way that it's granted, in a place among the fossils of our time...Life is change - how it differs from the rocks."

So have a bit of tolerance for the us folk-rockers playing the Albion Band at loud volume (an example of hybrid vigor). Have pity for the singer-songwriter whose angst-laden solo screed can never be reproduced by anyone else - don't worry, it won't be! Do your bit to get the traditional repertoire you treasure off the Endangered Songs List by playing or singing it, or encouraging your local folk club to book those that do, or clamoring for public radio or air time in your area for the treasure-trove of early recordings now being re-released. You probably won't convert the crowd that listens to "The Beastie Boys", but people who listen to some of today's alternative rock and, yes, the dreaded singer/songwriters, may actually find they, too, enjoy Almeda Riddle or Joseph Spence or Victoria Spivey or Dock Boggs...


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 04:04 PM

Frank, I didn't mean to give the impression that because "the same people were saying the same things..." it isn't still fascinating to discuss. I guess I find trying to make folks like Stewie (please, no offence) have fun with it, just becomes an excersise in futility. It's like a belief in a diety. If you're an independent thinker and you haven't had that personal "cataclysmic awakening", no amount of convincing from the devout is going to make you see it their way. Having said that, I accept that my point of view on politics, and most other things can change (sometimes) daily. Every new student I work with gets my subtle (and not so subtle) push towards the tradition, til I sometimes feel like a folkie evangelist! When someone wants to play like Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia or James Taylor (or even on occasion, your buddy R. McGuinn) I try to expose them to the folks that their heroes learned from. The difference of course is that they're paying me to be their guide! If they're open to "positive conversion", I'm happy to oblige. Then I try to get them to check out Mudcat!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: sophocleese
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 04:19 PM

lamarca

Thank you. You've said a lot of the things I was thinking about but not able to quite get out. Folk-singer may be becoming an obsolete term, we'll have to go with People-who-sing-folk-songs, which is something of a mouthful.I meant to write more but I'm having difficulty thinking at the moment as I'm listening to P.D.Q. Bach's Oratoria Oedipus Tex and it muddles me. It is a wonderful modern parody of Baroque music. An example perhaps of bizarre genetic diversity.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: lamarca
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 04:27 PM

I myself enjoy PDQ Bach's "The Abduction of Figaro", although I haven't yet managed to see the production of it that was presented years ago on the Bravo! network...Peter Schickele does a wonderful public radio show called "Schickele Mix", in which he plays many musics, new and old, to illustrate musical terms and themes that are universal from Baroque to Be-bop to Bothy Ballads. He's one of my heroes of musical miscegenation...


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 06:16 PM

I guess I simply can't understand how "folk music" can encompass "rock & Roll," "classical," "celtic" and "country" (as listed in an earlier post to this thread) and remain a genre of its own. When we say "let's talk about folk music," are we supposed to discuss all of the above? That just doesn't make sense to me.

Many of us, for years, insisted on calling ourselves "singers of folksongs," rather than folksingers. We felt it best to reserve "folksinger" for the traditional singers from whom we learned our songs, the Horton Barkers, Frank Proffitts, Almeda Riddles, etc. I used to produce recordings of people like us with an advisory sub-title: "Interpreters Series." This was to let potential buyers know it was not a field recording from one of La Marca's "dark hollows" (I've clambered up a few of those in search of songs). Eventually, I gave up the battle. I may wince when people call me a "folksinger," but I don't make a scene anymore.

I'll depart the discussion with this:

A delicate riposte to defend my honor (grin):

From my Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged Edition):

Ballad n 1. A simple, often crude, narrative poem of popular origin, composed in short stanzas, esp. one of romantic character and adapted for singing.

2. any poem written in similar style.

3. any light, simple song, esp. one of sentimental or romantic character, having two or more stanzas, all sung to the same melody.

4. the musical setting for a folk or literary ballad.

That's all she wrote. No room, even in #3, for the standard pop music "bridge," I guess. Of course this edition was published in 1971 (one of my newer dictionaries!) before all those pop music DJs corrupted our language and led the poor editors astray. (best to add another grin here)

Old folk fogey, tilting at windmills.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 06:47 PM

Bert,

I think that some of the songs the Mudcatters are singing are traditional folk songs. Othere are popular songs of bygone times, show tunes, some early rock tunes and a pot pourri of styles and ranges. I think we'd have to take a look at each song to determine how it fits in trelationship to traditional folk music. Your query piqued my curiosity so I checked out some of the tunes on the thread. Yours seemed to range from music hall to composed songs with one traditonal folk song, Liverpool Judies. Judging from the list, there seems to be eclectic examples of all kinds of songs some written recently. I think that when pop music is mentioned, it's assumed that it means popular music of the last few decades. Popular music is part of the music business that goes back at least to the 1atter part of the 1800's whereby one of the first big sellers was a chart buster called "After The Ball Is Over".

Iamarca, I agree that we can't be part of the tradition that many of these songs come from. That's OK. We can still sing them, reinterpret them and do what we want. In answer to your question, "Is the song the way I sing it still a folk song" I think it depends on the individual song. In the case of Charlie Poole, the song may or may not be traditional but the only way to find out is to chase it down. And this process is important to the music. For example, a classical musician who plays Beethoven would want to know about the man, the style, the period of time and it's history, the musical nuances that were prevalent at the time, the other output of music that he composed, and other salient factors. Why should the study of folk music be any different? Maybe the folk song started out as a "commercial" creation or maybe not. But did it go through changes? Did it have other variants? Was it adapted to fit different cultural traditional situations? I agree that many of the songs on the radio today may be sung in the future. Some may become folk songs if they go through the changes and the associative cultural traditions that guide it. I agree that biological and cultural changes take place. There is an assumption that one who studies folk music has no tolerance for other forms of music. I can't speak for anyone else but I listen to all kinds of music and appreciate them. The important part of this for me is to extend the range of what we know in music by introducing traditional folk music as part of the pallette of musical colors. I am much more optimistic about the crowd that "listens to the Beastie Boys". But they need to know the difference. Then they can begin to appreciate it.

Rick,

I think that it's about knowledge. Traditional folk music exists whether we evangelize it or not. I, like you, would love to see a larger extension of musical education in this country that would accomodate an interest in traditional folk music. It can be done.

Sophocleese,

Before we abandon the word "folk" I think we have to know what it means. I think it has a specific meaning when appled to traditional American folk music that is not Peter Schikele who I have worked with and admire very much. I can assure you that he knows the difference between that which is trad folk and not. What we're talking about here is not some kind of religion. It's a process of identifying music by it's musical and literary content, history, style, and performance. Some songs fit into this realm and others don't. "Genetic diversity" in music produces some interesting hybrids such as rock and roll Mozart or Acid Jazz but it ain't folk and ain't gonna' be folk unless it goes through a lot of changes in the hands of many people through many years.

Charlie,

Interesting point about "mimises". But to imitate successfully, one needs to know about what one is attempting to imitate. Frank Warner did a lot of research and collecting as he imitated the sounds of the people he collected songs from. Same with the Ramblers and others. Ramblin' Jack is another who learned through imitation and is an extraordinary mimic. There is value in learning this way as long as it's not a surface performance by someone who hasn't studied the music. Imitation without love of the music and knowlege about it becomes pretensious and sometimes downright embarrasing when for example some singers attempt a black singing style or Irish brogue. Or try to assume an "image" that is not part of their heritage. If it works, we can call it good show business.

Hangin' On,

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 07:14 PM

To add to this, here is a quote from a book that I received today via internet used bookstore, "Mary O'Hara A Song For Ireland".

"Until the middle of the last century, Gaelic was the spoken language of the majority of Irish and there was a remarkable variety of popular poetry and music in the country. I've always thought it interesting that the old Gaelic musicians and scholars regarded all music as falling naturally into three categories: suantrai, music to make one sleep; geantrai, music to make one laugh, and gultrai, music to make one weep..."

She goes on to describe the background of the song My Lagan Love, which one Mudcatter described as always seeming to him to be a song that should be sung in the parlor with hands folded. I thought that was a particulary amusing statement, because the song does come across that way, if sung in the classical style of the Hamilton Harty arrangement recorded by Mary O'Hara and Charlotte Church. O'Hara notes that the words to My Lagan Love were written by the same author as The Gartan Mother's Lullaby, Joseph Campbell, who used the name Seósamh Mac Cathmhaoil, since it became fashionable to change Anglo names to Irish at the time.

"...The Lagan is that well known river on which Belfast is built and so people are apt to assume that 'My Lagan Love' comes from County Antrim in the north-east corner of Ireland. However, some argue that the Lagan in the song refers to a stream that empties into Lough Swilly in County Donegal, not far from Letterkenny, where Herbert Hughes collected the song in 1903. Hughes first heard the tune played on a fiddle and traced it back to a sapper of the royal Engineers working in Donegal in 1870 with the Ordnance Survey of Ireland... As a combination of exquisite lyric and noble air, the song, though not technically a 'folk song', must be admitted to that genre which some people cal the 'high songs' of Ireland, or amhrán mór, in Gaelic."

So, every community and era has its attempt at categorizing genre of songs and music. Our English being less poetic than Gaelic, we did not come up with labels like sleeping, laughing, weeping, and high songs. Other languages describe music in different ways. We borrow 'folk' from the German people. We shorten popular to pop and tend to measure it on charts of how much money it made this week.

I smile when I think of the irony of our session last night here in Montana, a gathering of people playing our interpretation of Irish and Scottish music. None of us having been to Ireland, we are in the US Rockies, trying to express ourselves with music that we all love in some way. We love it whether our ancestors came from Ireland or not, and we learn it from a distance through recordings and notation and the chance meeting with people who can trade songs. Last night we were joined by a Breton who plays the wooden flute. Being the one among us who has travelled all over the world playing traditional music with many musicians, he was the 'expert'. People were asking him, how do we play this tune, do we play it faster or slower? He could tell us what type of dance it went with, how the dance was done, where it came from. Here we are, teachers, hospital workers, travel agents, artists, retailers, not professional musicians who get together in little groups to play this music, far from the countries of origin. He, the one who was the recording artist and professional, kindly provided a link to the original communities. When a friend of mine mentioned at an academic conference to a professional colleague from Ireland that back in Montana, there are people who meet to play Irish folk music, he laughed and said that was good. "Tell them to keep it up. It helps to increase the tourism to Ireland." OK, so I am rambling now, I'd better stop.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 07:25 PM

"My Lagan Love" entered oral tradition, becoming folk in the process. Just listen to Margaret Barry's rendition. Raw and powerful! No folded hands in the drawing room for her. She sang in the streets, at the hiring fairs, and in some pretty wild pubs like the Bedford Arms in London.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 07:56 PM

Sandy, exactly. I could sing My Lagan Love in the classical style, but I don't. It just sounds too artificial that way, although I do appreciate O'Hara's and Church's performance. For myself, I let the most of the Italian training go with that particular song, because it just gets in the way of the feeling. It makes it sound stilted. More 'raw' is better in that case.

Isn't it typically American that our society values a song by how well it sells and how many trophies it gains (based on how well it sells)? I think that is one of the things that is the appeal for folk music. It isn't that fluffed up prize show dog, the pure bred with all the fancy titles and breeding on the hit parade. It's the song I sing while sitting around with friends, a connection to my emigrant Irish grandfather, a scruffy mongrel that has taken on the changes that came from me and everyone that came before me who sang it. It's the song that has an old family history, but feels right when I add a verse that comes with a twist from my own life.

Alice Flynn


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: lamarca
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 08:06 PM

First, an apology to Sandy and Frank - I am suddenly struck by my chutzpah in arguing the meaning of folk with two people who have made it their lives. I have not studied folklore, and am abysmally ignorant of most of the literature, theories and research into folk music. But I love to argue; it's in the Sicilian half...Also, I have been very long away from Mudcat, and am really enjoying jumping back in with my feet firmly planted in my mouth. Nonetheless...(you see, I said I love to argue).

Sandy, I didn't mean to say that rock, reggae, country et al. were all folk. What I meant is that I believe the songs that we today call traditional probably started out as some sort of popular songs in their time, known to more than just one isolated family, else they probably would have died out. While a particular version or variant of a ballad may have been handed down by one family or small group of people, the existence of many versions of a song suggests that it was more widespread in the past (again, similar to genetic divergence and drift). So, too, in the future, long after our demise, people will probably still be singing some of today's "pop" songs, no matter what classification the songs fit into now. If it's a good song, people will hang onto it. (I guess I'm repeating Frank's response to me a bit...)

I still have trouble, though with the ability to define what is a "folk" song or a "traditional" song because of the influences of song collecting and the availability of recordings of songs. My impression of collectors such as Cecil Sharp, Helen Flanders, Lucy Broadwood, et al is that these were educated people who went out into the communities of working-class people, and collected songs from individuals. The way a source(Aunt Sue, say) sang that song on that specific day, in front of a stranger from outside the community, was written down and published in a book. We now call this a "traditional" version of the song, and set it in stone.

But what if Aunt Sue had learned it from her mother, who bought it as a penny broadsheet in town and liked it and sang it around the house a lot? Is it less traditional because it was in print one generation before Aunt Sue? How about 2 generations?

This gets more confusing (to me, at least)once we reach the early years of commercial recordings, when record companies weren't shy about putting out a song by a complete unknown, from Greek rembetica to "hillbilly" music to mandolin orchestras to a black blues singer. People bought them, passed them around, learned songs from them, changed them. Other performers (as opposed to back porch singers) made still other recordings based on earlier ones; this happened a lot in blues music, for example. What's folk here? What's traditional? Who's a folksinger?

It seems a bit easier to narrow definitions when dealing with the cultural background with which I am most familiar, the Anglo-American well of songs, but what happens when cross-cultural mixing starts in, and African cultural elements enter in? In blues, is Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" traditional, composed and/or folk? How about Cajun/Zydeco, where you have a crazy mixed up jambalaya of Anglo, French, African and what-not influences? How do we, as outsiders from that culture, decide what is folk? One more example, from more recent years: Jody Stecher and his partner recorded the Pinder family singing a Bahamian rhyming song they titled "I Bid You Goodnight". I have heard a number of people who have dutifully learned it, word for word, from that recording. But the cultural tradition for rhyming songs was to improvise over a refrain, so that, IMO, a really traditional version of this song should have the singer's own words floating over the repeating chorus. Then it turns out this is a Bahamian version of an English fishing village funeral hymn. Help! which one is a real "folk" song?

Finally (yes, I do go on...)I think the biggest danger to the survival of traditional music is the increasing perception of song and music as something you listen to paid entertainers doing, rather than an enjoyable activity in which everyone can be an active participant. I think taking music classes out of public schools when it's budget-cutting time is one big reason for this - but this can be a topic for a new thread, "Why Johnny Can't Sing..." I rest my soapbox - my feet don't taste so good anymore...


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 08:28 PM

This is a grand discussion---one trhat we do get somewhat tired of---but we keep on coming back in spite of our protests that we, truly, intend to never again post to a thread like this. I can sure see that I have some need to say what I think on the topic. No letter to the editor of any magazine would get all around the world so quickly and to so many who care about the specifics of our topics. And I really do enjoy reading all the strongly held opinions of so many people I truly respect---even the folks I don't necessarily agree with. Thanks for putting up with my instincts that I put forth as truth way too often. They're just opinions, after all, and not anything carved in stone. Even rocks and diamonds eventually wear away. Right now I'm just pretty thankful to be able to be a part of a damn good discussion via all of these threads where we have had all these chances to rehash, rethink, adopt and adapt our too certain pronouncements. And thanks to Max for providing this site--this forum--this place to form my opinions by publicly making a fool of myself on occasion, but hopefully, not too often.

Art


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 09:37 PM

Mary, my dear:

It was not your post I was referring to when I spoke of "rock & roll, classical, etc." It was one that got sandwiched in between my "dictionary" exchanges with Mike Regenstreif. Was it from Mulligan? Anyway, I can see your point about the various strains of what we call folk becoming more aurally transmitted (via recordings, radio, etc.) than orally (direct contact with another singer, usually within a particular locale and/or cultural milieu). The impact of the printed broadside texts was particularly strong among more literate communities (the Maritime Provinces, for example, down through Maine and into lower New England) and yet changes continued to take place, for whatever reasons (deliberate creativity, faulty memory, mis-hearing, or what have you). I've told the story elsewhere, but Marie Hare, in New Brunswick, recorded a song for me and wrote the text out with the final verse beginning "And now before I padd away..." That was how she had copied it down from a broadside printing years before. The "padd" was a typo. It was supposed to read "pass." The point is that the songs continued to be processed by the singers who passed them on to other singers.

Most of the traditional singers from whom I've collected songs tried very hard to learn their songs exactly as they originally heard them. Witness Frank Proffitt continuing to sing "Gyps of Davey," as his Aunt Nancy Prather had sung it, even after he realized that "Gypsy Davey" was probably what she had originally heard, or mis-heard.

I figure a folk song is still a folk song even when you or I or George or Frank or Art sings it. It remained a folk song when Helen Hartness Flanders captured it and put it into one of her books. She may have caught it only in that fleeting moment of its life, but it doesn't become less folk as a result, and it probably continued to be processed after she heard it.

We may be "singers of folk songs," but among the songs we sing, many are still folk in origin, and they remain so, regardless of how we interpret them. Most of us fit them in among contemporary songs we also enjoy singing, and if the new songs can compare favorably with those that have been "Darwinized," their makers can be proud.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 10:02 PM

Frank:

Before we abandon the word "folk" I think we have to know what it means.

I disagree. Unless there's some agreement as to what it means, it doesn't mean anything in a discussion. What I meant with my earlier post comes down to what happens when two people try to discuss ballads, when one accepts definition 1 and 'tother goes by definition 2.

Why not just pick a neutral term (like Glub music), define it and go on from there?


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Stewie
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 10:17 PM

Frank

Talk about creating a straw man! You assert that I cited Leonard Cohen as 'an authority on American folk music'. What a load of bullshit! I did no such thing. I quoted a remark from Cohen, made in a totally different context (as an introduction to song), simply because it seemed pertinent to my feelings about this kind of debate. If I wished to cite authorities on American folk music, I would refer to people like Tony Russell, Archie Green, D.K. Wilgus, Charles Wolfe, Bill Malone, Karen Linn, Ivan Tribe, Kip Cornell, Neil Rosenburg, Paul Oliver etc. As you say, Cohen is a poet and popular singer who has little, if any, connection with 'American folk music'. If you believe my thinking is tired because I see little point in pursuing a debate that has gone around in circles for decades, so be it.

Rick

I have been collecting, listening to and reading about folk music (mostly American) for almost 40 years. I have had more than my fair share of 'fun' over the years, debating these issues ad nauseam. I believe there is simply too much great music to be explored to waste time on this. Have you read 'Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined' ed by Neil Rosenburg? Some of the papers therein reduce the subject to meaningless gobbledegook. Despite its excellent information and insights, I defy anyone to deny seriously that a good deal of Robert Cantwell's 'When We Were Good: The Folk Revival' is anything but meaningless, pretentious drivel. If that's where it all leads, you can have it! You talk about people's 'heroes'. Well my heroes are people like Uncle Dave, Charlie Poole, Buell Kazee, Virgil Anderson, Kelly Harrell, Fiddlin' Doc Roberts, the Mississippi Sheiks and others - and for them, a good song was a good song whatever its origins. I am a devotee of traditional music, but I also love the music Steve Young, John Prine, Richard Shindell, Kevin Welch, James Talley, Dick Feller, Townes Van Zandt, Kimmie Rhodes, Claire Lynch, Chris Smither, Jackson C. Frank, Bob Neuwirth, Tom Russell etc etc - but, Frank, I am under no delusion that they are 'folk' artists.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Harvey Gerst
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 12:29 AM

Since nobody has asked me, let me point out one thing.

When I walk into a music store, I go to the "FOLK" bin (if they have one), and start to browse. The record store doesn't have smaller bins labeled "Traditionalist", "Revivalist", "Interpreters" - they just have one wonderful bin labeled "Folk".

And in it, I find great, and wonderful music - by Pete Seeger, the Clancy Brothers, Bud & Travis, Brownie & Sonny, New Lost City Ramblers, the Weavers, Eric Darling, Doc Watson, Jean Ritchie, and yes, even the Kingston Trio, PP&M, and a host of other wonderful records, and now Frank Hamilton's newest record (small commercial plug).

So am I listening to a "manufactured song"? For the most part, yes. Somebody went into a studio and recorded the music in the hopes of selling records. But is it honest? As far as I'm concerned, it's "Folk Music", because of the intent on the part of the performers to show me songs that they love and may have collected over the years.

Besides, it's in the "Folk" bin, so it must be folk.

--Harvey


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: JedMarum
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 02:01 AM

Right on Harvey!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: SeanM
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 03:24 AM

I've always been fond of the (probably misattributed) quote from Woody Guthrie...

"Folk music is what the folks listen to"

I'm nowhere near qualified to joust with the likes of Sandy, Art, Joe, or probably just about any of you out there. I'm a barely scraping by musician, working office jobs in a vain attempt to get by until my "real job" finally starts to make money... We've had something of this same discussion (albiet through a 3-6 Guinness each haze), and we finally decided to drop the "folk" part of our description entirely.

It's just too broad of a category. The music we play varies from "western expansion", "irish drinking", "civil war battle", "music hall", and pretty much anything we enjoy up to and including a song from the Memphis Jug Band. We've learned these songs from many sources, some from books, some from recordings. Our set retains some of the influences we learn from, but we put it through the unique process of alteration that happens whenever a group of musicians tries to agree on arrangements for anything.

I'd like to think we remain true to the soul of the music. We may abuse our artistic license on occasion, but we enjoy the music we make, and the folk who watch and listen to our show seem to enjoy it as well.

I don't know if there's a point to this. Perhaps it's just that "folk" (to me) is too big of a tent to label people under. Perhaps it's not. I'd still like to think that "Folk" music is the music of the "folk", and changes and thrives because of that.

Adopt, adapt and improve...

M


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Vixen
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 09:12 AM

For What It's Worth--

When I teach students Creative Writing, they often come in with the notion "I'm a poet." (occasionally, they're correct!) I ask them to list the poets whose work they have read and enjoyed. Most of the time, the only poets they can remember reading are themselves and the only poems they recall are their own. I then ask them to define what type of poems they write. They usually say "free verse." When I ask them to define any other forms, they rarely know of anything other than haiku and sonnet. So my next questions to them are, "How do you know you're a poet if you don't know any poets well enough to know their names or their poems?" and "How do you know what you write are free verse poems if you only understand that they aren't sonnets or haiku?" I then like to to give them Archibald MacLeish's "Ars Poetica" and ask them to write a poem of their own that defines their poetic sensibilities. The ensuing discussion enables me to facilitate their education.

What's my point? Well, we are all part of the cultural traditions that we have experienced. We can't (usually) effectively contribute anything to those traditions until we are conscious of them and examine them some. My confusion about folk cleared up a great deal in the discussions referenced above as I developed definitions of Traditional, Folk, and Contemporary Music. As I see it, we Mudcats are examining, at great length, our collective cultural traditions, and seeking a harmonious, consensual, (love that word!) taxonomy so we can communicate clearly with each other without unintentional offense. May the discussion continue!!!

V (casually tossing another $0.02 into the hat and stepping off the soapbox!)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 10:50 AM

Stewie, I owe you a HUGE APOLOGY! I did not give your post enough attention, and used your point of view in a very flippant way.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 11:42 AM

Alice, Lagan Love is a wonderful example of how an "art" song intersects with the folk tradition. It would be interesting to find out how many changes were made from it's original form. The song "I Will Twine Mids't The Ringlets" was a composed song in the 1800's (I don't have the exact information as to the authors at hand) until it became Wildwood Flower in the folk tradition. (Still trying to figure out what the "pale aranautus" is.) Having been to Ireland a couple of times, I recommend the tourism your friend suggests. Great country!

lamarca, Charlie Seeger's definition of a folk song according to Sam Hinton is that when you see it in a book or hear it on a record it's a photograph of a bird in flight. The beauty of folk songs to my view is that they're not set in stone.

Sam Hinton also suggests that Barbara Allen was saved as a folk song in oral (aural) tradition because it was found in a book. He says that if it had not been recorded it would have gone out of circulation in the tradition.

In reference to the recorded material by record companies, I think that as they documented the music they became part of the process. But the tradition was in place for each form of music you mention. In the case of Robert Johnson, the style is definitely a folk style. The song may be composed or it may be pieced together from other forms in the blues tradition. It, nonetheless, emanates from that tradition. Cajun/Zydeco is a melange of different cultures intersecting as you suggest. These traditions are traceable. Cajun from Acadian (French Canada), the African-American Zydeco adaptation and as outsiders, it may be easier for us to spot their antecedents. Re: "I Bid You Goodnight", that it is an intersection of specific musical folk traditions. I would guess that a note-for-note reconstruction of the song would be less a folk song performance of folk song content. This would be how a "revivalist" or "interpreter" would deal with it who was not part of the tradition. The Pindar family obviously are a part of that tradition. Their version would reflect their visceral understanding of their musical tradition.

I think "Why Johnny Can't Sing" is a wonderful thread idea. Spectator sports have replaced the baseball sandlot.

Art, I'm with you man.

Sandy, the traditional singer's attempt at accuracy in learning a song is something to think about. Mondegreens and typos are apparently part of the process. Sometimes could it be that these changes occur because the cultural references of the singers are superimposed on the song as when Barbara Allen in America finds herself walking the "highway" home? But as to singing style and musical tradition, this may be hard to make "typos" about in my view. The "Darwin" analogy works for me.

Dick,

Agreement may never be reached in terms of precise definitions but I believe that the discussion is still fruitful. Semantics can be dealt with by offering a point of view. This is a valid form of communication. These views may differ but the exchange is important. Information that is valuable gets passed back and forth.

Stewie, If Leonard Cohen is pertinent to this debate, then I have a right to question his authority. If he speaks for you then I have a right to question that as well. I wish that you would have cited Russell, Green, Wilgus, Malone, et. al. and then we could stay on topic. If you feel that this debate is tired, then please don't feel obliged to pursue it. I, for one, don't want to waste your time. There are other threads that may be of more interest to you.

I agree with you that Steve Young, John Prine et.al. are not folk singers although they all have something worthwhile to recommend them. Cantwell's book had something of a romantic view of the traditional singer in my view. I thought it was Rousseau-like. I don't think that this is where our discussion leads. I haven't read Neal Rosenburgs essay. Where can you find it? A good song is a good song, agreed. But they are not all folk songs. Why should anyone care? Because a folk song tells the story about it's patterns of culture through it's musical nuances, subject matter, style of performance, and association with history of a country. It's different and important for these reasons. Also, it usually isn't devised to make a buck.

Harvey,

Thanks for your point. The record store would sell a lot more records in my opinioon if they didn't dump everything into the "folk" bin. As a consumer of music, I look for specifics and "narrowcast" my interest. If the record store had a bin labeled "traditional folk" and meant it, I would pour over it for hours as I used to do at places like Briggs and Briggs in Cambridge. As to the wonderful music you suggest, we're in total agreement about that. Maybe there ought to be a bin for "wonderful music". I'd spend time there too. :)

More later.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Bert
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 12:56 PM

Frank, I love your expression "popular songs of bygone times". I don't think I've seen a better definition for what most of us are singing. Of course if you extend the term "bygone times" further back into the past then you'd include "traditional folk music". (Also, I think that, if a song is no longer in some commercial chart or other, then it is also "bygone". But I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.)

You also say...The song "I Will Twine Mids't The Ringlets" was a composed song in the 1800's ....until it became Wildwood Flower in the folk tradition.
Could we also say that "British Workman's Grave" went through the same process when it was taken up and made fairly popular by a certain Irish group? Maybe it isn't folk but I think it falls under your "popular songs of bygone times" label.

Alice Flynn, "a scruffy mongrel" another good desription for songs that have changed and are changing.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 01:14 PM

The book by Neil Rosenberg, _Transforming Tradition_, is from the University of Illinois Press. It's a collection of papers by various accademics and folkies on how the nature of folksong, the traditional points of view etc., have been transformed as time has passed. Cantwell has an essay in that book. Judy McCulloh, a great person even if they did reject my J.F.K. songs collection for a book idea, ;-) is behind the U. of I. Press.

I enjoyed Robert Cantwell's book --_When We Were Good_(Harvard University Press). He was wrong on several points---i.e. that Leadbelly's actual first name was "Hudson" and not Huddie. That's preposterous, outrageous and wrong (I hope). But he gave credit to revival singers for being sometimes good at what they had done with the music. At that exact point when I was reading his book, it sure did feel nice to hear those words coming from a fairly serious book from the Harvard Press. I needed to hear that right then. We most certainly didn't got few sanctions or testimonials like that from the National Endowment For The Arts.

Those page and a half long sentences of Cantwell's were pretty humorous too. Had to read 'em 3 times to figure which phrase referred to which.

Here's a quote from the book that illustrates the best ond worst qualities of the volume simultaneously:
"All of this suggests, finally, that in the folk revivalist herself, by reason of upbringing, experience, training and temperament, genteel and revolutionary ideas divide imagination between them; it suggests that the social fault lines around which the idea of the folk coalesces also map the particular transit of possible ideas and experiences that shape the revivalist---suggests, finally, that the capacity to identify, to imitate, to invent, and finally to love the folk is a particular genius arrising out of the revivalists effort to unify a psyche divided by deeply opposed affinities, tendencies, and aspirations. It is a kind of sixth sense, capable of discovering where the arts of the poor, with what is often a curious precision, meet elite standards of taste, momentarily releasing in them what custom and convention have dulled, the emacipatory gleam."

The book ends with this: "...That is close to what, when we were good, we somehow understood; it is what our youth movement, our revival, was all about."

Strangely (but maybe not) I understand what Cantwell is saying--or trying to say. I enjoyed the book thoroughly---even the parts I thought a bit beyond the pale. I generally found things to smile at while reading the tome. Cantwell put them forth seriously, but with a debt to irony, I found I was often laughing out loud.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 01:48 PM

Regarding My Lagan Love (which is discussed in another thread that I have not hunted up today), the tune was traditional. Previous words sung to the tune were 'The Belfast Maid'. Hamilton Hearty created the classical arrangement that we hear recorded today. Here is a website with more about Sir Hamilton Hearty. quote: Sir Hamilton Harty has been called "the Irish Toscanini" because of his gifts as a conductor. In addition to his colorful Irish art-songs, he composed several large orchestral works and concertos for violin and piano.

This discussion of the folk process of change reminds me again of the memorable Spancil Hill thread, in which we began with the assumption that it was 'traditional'. Although the tune may have been traditional, lo and behold, the original lyrics and story came to light which contradicted not only the lyrics in the DT, but all the lyrics I had heard recorded and seen in print. The original lyrics and the true story behind it was much more rich and touched me more than the newer mongrels. I find it rewarding to have this ability now to connect through the internet to information that puts meat on the bones of words and tunes I previously knew only from recordings. This ability to tell the story (Joe Heaney - Say the song) adds to the experience of the music. To be able to sit around a group of singers and talk about the song connections adds to the richness of singing the songs. To be able to join a world wide discussion on the internet adds to the experience for me, especially in my rural isolation.

Alice Flynn


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 01:49 PM

Whoa, there! Mongrel, maybe, but "scruffy?" No way!

Stewie: I second the motion regarding Cantwell. Someone pointed out that he's an "adjunct professor" of "American Studies," trying with all his might to convince the administration that (1) he ought to be a full professor and (2) American Studies should be accepted as a genuine academic endeavor. I found myself marvelling at the pretentious language and writing style. Then I realized I was actually enjoying it! Read a few of those page-long sentences to friends who decided that he had lost the period from his typewriter and had to substitute semi-colons. I wonder if my writing to this thread emulates him via mimesis.

Rosenberg was a student at Berkeley High when I first met him. (I sang for their folksong club in 1957.) I've watched his career with great interest ever since he went off to Oberlin.

Harvey: I'd hate to think that the kids working at Strawberries are the ones now qualified to define folk music for us. With that in mind, I think I'll get off of this pin and go dance somewhere else.

ALICE! Look what you, in your sweet innocence, have wrought!

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 01:55 PM

Sandy! Define Scruffy!! you and I may disagree on the term ;-> to me it is endearing. (Isn't this fun.)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 02:00 PM

yes, the dictionary defines it as contemptable... I am reminded of all the strays I have been tempted to take in because they were considered contemptible by other, not worth bothering with. So, those songs that are considered too worthless to bother with by commercial standards are the ones that attract me the most.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 03:30 PM

When I read Cantwell's book, I thought of a time in Cambridge and Boston where there was a flurry of interest in folk music on an academic level. I remember such places as the Club 47 on Bow Street (before it's new location and name Passims) and the Cantabridgia Book Store with it's collection of folk song books and scholarship, and places like Old Joe Clark's House, a haven for Harvard types who were interested in folk music. Cantwell gives a nod to the Folkways Anthologies, Vol 1-3 edited by Harry Smith as being a pivotal recording in stimulating interest in traditional music in the young people of the time. I think Cantwell caught that spirit in his book quite well. The interest at that time did get pretensious as there are instances in some of the local coffee houses where if folk revivalist guitar/singers didn't do the traditional version of a Carter Family tune note-for-note, certain "officiandos" would raise their hands in protest. Cantwell reflects the time and the attitude that went with it about folk music. It was part of the "revivalist" scene. It became a poseur thing for many of the young college kids at that time where the image was more important than the music. Blue jeans became fashionable along with cute little vests and rustic accoutrements. But there was something in the music that spurred this activity, a kind of genuineness, honesty and integrity which was different than what could be heard on the radio or TV at the time. Cantwell relates the effect of this music on the young would-be exurbanites in language and in mood. I thought it was almost tongue-in-cheek but with a great deal of love for the time and people that he knew.

Art, regarding the NEA which was presided over many years by Bess Lomax Hawes, her position was that she was not at all interested in the "folk revivalists" and wanted to focus her attention as an anthropologist on the source music. She felt that this was the proper way to spend taxpayer's money. The Lomaxes are still in that mind set and it's a good thing that they are because they discover for us many of the traditional folk performers that would have been lost in the folkie show biz of the fifties and sixties. So Bess felt the "revival" or "folk scare" would take care of itself. The problem we had at the inception of the Old Town School of Folk Music was how can we bring the public into the process of appreciating traditional folk music. Bess didn't feel that this was germane to what she was doing, although the School owes a debt to her for inaugurating a class approach to learning folk instruments and songs, something that was not done before she applied this appproach to folk music education in Boston in the forties and later in Los Angeles in the fifties.

Alice, the information on Spancil Hill sounds fascinating. Do you know who the original composer of the song was and can you tell us how is was changed or point us toward a cource where we can find information about it? You mentioned that the tune may have been traditional. Are there antecedents of the tune that you know of used with different lyrics?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Harvey Gerst
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 04:23 PM

Perhaps my comment was a bit too glib and simplistic. I don't think the folk idiom lends itself to much examination because there are too many outside influences at work when it comes to passing down songs from generation to generation unchanged. Someone learning a song that calls for an F major chord has small hands, so they play a 3 string Dm instead. No big deal in and of itself, but it changes the feel of the song.

Plus as you well know, blues people especially are fond of adding their favorite licks to anything they play. Hell, Frank and I are guilty of the same thing. (He's just much better than I am at doing it.)

Good case in point: I forgot the words to an old song Brownie McGee once showed me called "Livin' With The Blues". I remembered the chords. Mary Katherine Aldin sent me a copy of a the song on cassette. Sure enough, it was Brownie singing it with a band, but the chords were completely different!!

I remember Flatt and Scruggs hitting the stage with Earl feeling devilish, and he kicked off "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" so fast, most of the band couldn't keep up that night. Sounded like a 45 played at 78. Was it "untraditional"? Would purists hear it and say that's not the correct speed? If the guy that writes it doesn't play it the same way everytime, which is the "correct" version, worthy of preserving for all time for future generations?

Frank Hamilton does an interesting little chord turnaround on "Red Rosey Bush" that breathes new life into that song for me. His "Buffalo Skinners" has a dark undertone to it which I love, compared to Roger McGuinn's somewhat lighter version in his Folkden. Both Frank and Roger are skilled musicians, and they're gonna bring those skills into play on ANY song they choose to play.

Attempts to trace linage absolutely, or to freeze music at some point in time, are a pointless exercise, or so it seems to me, simply because the mists of time obscure our vision when we try to go too far back, and freeze drying, as we all know, loses much of the fresh flavor.

-Harvey


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Stewie
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 08:14 PM

Rick, apology accepted.

Frank

I had no intention of suggesting that Cohen was 'pertinent to the debate'. My apologies - it was an offhand quotation that simply sprang to mind. My purpose in contributing was simply to draw attention to some material of which people engaged in this debate may not have been aware. However, you may perhaps forgive me for detecting in your response the faint scent of sanctimony.

Art has given the reference for the Rosenberg collection. It contains some very worthwhile material. However, some contributors quickly lose the reader in a mire of conceptualising and doublespeak. Isn't the purpose of writing is to communicate? Some writers do it very well. For example, wonderful books like Tony Russell's 'Blacks, Whites and Blues', Karen Linn's 'That Half-Barbaric Twang', Jeff Titon's 'Early Downhome Blues' or Bill Malone's 'Singing Cowboys and Musical Mountaineers' draw one back to read them again and again. On the other hand, it seems to me that writers like Cantwell get carried away with a sense of their own importance. Greil Marcus is another prime example. In the booklet to the reissued Anthology, I for one derived far more benefit from the pithy contributions of John Fahey and Peter Stamphel than from Marcus' rather abstuse essay. He does the same in the introductory booklet to the great Dock Boggs reissue CD on Fahey's Revenant label - I sometimes think he's on a different planet to the rest of us. With that, Frank, I will take your advice and follow other threads.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 14 Sep 99 - 08:34 PM

Joe, Max, or anyone who can fix it, I added an extra http:// to the link to Spancil Hill under the Memorable Mudcat Threads link category. Can you fix it? thanks.

Here is the description at the memorable category and a link: The Mudcat at its best, a question from Montana is answered from Ireland, with the surprising story of the true author of Spancil Hill, Michael Considine. Thank you, Frank McGrath, from Alice Flynn in Montana.
click here-> Where is Spancil Hill


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 15 Sep 99 - 07:59 PM

How can you successfully talk about music without getting minunderstood? One way is to be specific. What makes the traditional folk music different is it's application of scale patterns not found in other music, it's singing style, it's commonality with earlier forms with similar traditional music which might span decades. Take bluegrass, for instance. The singing style is a high pitched hard-edged metallic sound that is sometimes characterized as a "high lonesome sound". There are specific vocal ornaments used in thsi style of singing that go back to Southern Mountain styles of unaccompanied vocals and a decidedly "untrained" production of the voice which is not permitted in the so-called classical "bel canto" style of singing. Many of the earlier balladeers from this tradition have impecable diction because the need to communicate the story is important to them. The popular music singer/songwriter "whine" is a contrasting style. It is often not a full voice that was geared to outdoor singing or unamplified production as is the traditional folk singer. The traditional Appalachian sound is not what could be characterized by some as "pretty". It has an intended harshness that is full in timbre allowing for nasal, as well as guttural tones. The melodic content of the traditional balladeer's song is much more interesting than the flattened out melodies warbled and crooned by the singer/songwriter pop style. Most of the traditioal folk tunes when they are taken down correctly by skilled annotators contain far more interesting interval leaps than the less-traditioned based singer. The vocal styles employ intended cracks (ie: Almeda Riddle)and microtonal (quarter tone) differences which to the unitiated ear sounds out of tune. Much of this is because of the musical overlay of earlier modality (scales) found in earlier music upon the newer chordal instruments such as guitar and banjo. Because of these musical characteristics, the fretless banjo can match the older singing style by not playing precisely on the kind of pitch that people are generally used to. This style of singing is found in earlier examples of bluegrass and has been watered down as bluegrass loses touch with it's traditional base. The newer bluegrass seems to borrow more from the pop music areas by prettifiying the harmonies, introducing lyrics that are derivative of the pop format by actually quoting lines found in some sixties rock and roll. The encroachment of the popular music industry has affected bluegrass music and is robbing it of it's association with the mountain music of the past. The contemporary singer/songwriter styles of singing and their melodies tend to even out music to become redundant quite easilly to fit a popular music format. They are "pretty" for the public. This is not traditional folk music but a hybrid of pop and accoustic sounds that are labeled folk by record companies.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 15 Sep 99 - 10:51 PM

Frank,

I've never understood the ideas behind cantometrics. All I remember about it is that Alan Lomax developed it. Using it he could analyse and document on paper a singer singing in just about any style in the world. That song could then be reproduced with all it's subtleties, nuances, slurs and slides, intensities and grace notes, emotions and decibel levels, by someone who could read it right off the paper---and on top of that, he could tell if the singer from whom the song had been collected had had sex within 3 hours of their performance.! Is that possible? Is it true? This might put DNA testing way on the back burner. You could have a student in school sing "Happy Birthday To You" or "In A Gada Davida" or "Why Do You Bob Your Hair Girls" or "Lord Lovel" and they'd know, instantly, if he brought his arsenal to school and hid it in his locker. What a boon to the world on so many wondrous levels!!

Art


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Barry Finn
Date: 15 Sep 99 - 11:20 PM

Hi Frank, I only go back as far Club 47 on it's present location as Passim's on Palmer St. but the reason I'm responding is that I thought that you might not know but would get a kick out of knowing that Old Joe Clark's is still there being upheld by folkie Sandy Sheehan (sp?). I believe the Boston Folk Song Society has some of their weekly sings there, by the grace of Sandy's roommate & president of the society Don Duncan. Sandy has old timey sessions at his music store weekly & has loooong been a steady & strong supporter of folk in the area. As for Passim's, I saw LaMarca's post about no one singing along to Bill Staines, it's gone through a number of changes over the year. At present it's almost exclusively showing the talents of local rising singer/songwriter stars (I think that may explain the non singing along atmosphere. If you remember the Plough & Stars (Cambridge), Spider John koerner just played there I probably last saw him there 20 odds yrs ago. Some of the older folkies from the 50's are still around singing. I don't know if you know these people but they probably were in the area at the same time frame from you discriptions. Alice & Saul are still strong supporters (Alice is the FSSGB 's Historian) Florence Brunnings & Rob Joel have been gone for awhile now. The Irish musicians that you mentioned in the past are all still playing strong. Thought that if this was a trip down memory lane you'd enjoy it, if not hit the deleate button. Barry


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 16 Sep 99 - 11:25 AM

Art, Alan's Cantrometrics might have some theoretical application but I don't think there's much to replace the human ear when it comes to taking in emotional information. Alan had this theory about cultures that have freer sexual mores than others and how it affects their singing styles. The Appalachian styles are supposed, according to him, to be highly repressed and sing in a tight, high-strung vocal style. The Mediterranean styles of singing with a full deep relaxed vibrato are supposed to indicate a sexually gratified society. Some called Alan the Darwin of folk music and some of us humorously referred to him as the Freud of Folk. African-American communal styles of singing were supposedly freer and less repressed than the Anglo solo styles which contained attitudes of distance from others. A lot of this is conjecture, I think. The notational measuements might be useful to a point and if they were able to be read might give vocalista and instrumentalists an insight to in muscal intricacies of traditional folk music. Charlie Seeger's mellograph (?) was an interesting annotational machine that could measure pitch distances by lines such as on an EKG.

Barry, Thanks for reminding me of that time. I remember Sandy well as I once taught in his music store. He is a great guy. Even sang in one of his produced concerts. I remember seeing Koerner at one of the FSSGB's folk concerts. Didn't know those folks too well at the time. I sang in the chorus of one of the John Langstaff's "Revels" at the Sanders Theater. I frequented the Idler Back Room in those days to see what was happening on the "Fast Folk Track". My favorite place was Briggs and Briggs where you could find trad folk recordings.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 11 Mar 00 - 01:06 PM

Here we go again, March 11, 2000, BS: What is folk music? click here http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=19126


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: The Shambles
Date: 12 Mar 00 - 06:38 AM

If I may add (yet)another. Oringinal Music That Sounds Traditional.

Good try Alice. I see that this one turned in to (yet) another one, a good one too. There will be many more I'm sure.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Feb 01 - 12:43 PM

Since What Is Folk and What Is Traditional continues to be discussed in email lists, newsgroups and forums, I noticed this definition posted today in the Irish Traditional Music list (where the topic doesn't die, as on Mudcat). The topic was defining "traditional" once again...

QUOTE IRTRAD-L Feb. 16, 2001
From: Deirdre Sullivan & Paul de Grae
...It may be useful to quote a definition which was adopted by the International Folk Music Council in 1954, after a great deal of debate; they use the words "folk music" where we would say "traditional music":

"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives."
....- Paul.

So the International Folk Music Council, I think had a good conclusion that I would sum up like this:

1. Process of oral tradition
2. Present linked to past
3. Creative variation
4. Preserved by a community

not the final word Alice


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: toadfrog
Date: 25 Mar 01 - 05:01 PM

FOLK MUSIC, WHAT?
My definition

Try this one and see what you think. I'd be very interested to hear responses.
The best approach I ever heard was by Earl Robinson, in or about 1956, who said something like this:
(1) Folk music is music which has been smoothed over time by passing from one individual to another, each making a small contribution, until the music is perfected in ways no individual composer could achieve.
(2) In order for the folk process to work, the people involved must understand the music they perform. They must either be raised in a musical tradition, or must pay careful attention to it and follow it.
(3) Robinson, who composed the "Ballad for Americans," "Sandhog" and "Joe Hill," among other things (and was very proud of it) did not call himself a composer of folk music. He said he had heard changed versions of "Joe Hill," and thought it would evolve into a folk song.
(4) Robinson thought that classical music was great only to the extent it derived from folk roots. He argued, this is why Bartok is a greater composer than Schoenberg. (I'm not sure whether I agree, but it is an interesting point.)
(5) These were political points Robinson was making, as he considered folk music to be the property of the Left.

In the same vein, I heard Bess Hawes say that she had taught a course in singing folk songs. One week, for an exercise, she had all her students choose a well-known singer and imitate him/her as closely as they could. When the class met, no one could tell who it was that anyone was trying to imitate. But ALL the students sang better than they ever had before. In other words, they improved because they had to think about what they were doing.

That being said, I suggest the following, and ask for comment:
(1) Folk songs are SIMPLE songs. Because folk songs do not have a lot of complicated instrumentation, chord progressions, etc. they derive their force from very small things, like small variations in rhythm and vocal inflection. The best folk recording I have ever heard is "Alabama Bound" with Leadbelly and the Golden Gate Quartet. All either a capella or with a single guitar line, but the rhythm and phrasing are perfect.
(2) The best folk music is performed by people who are raised in a tradition and stick to it. Good folk music requires that the performer at least treat the tradition with respect. There are trained opera singers who patronizingly include a few simple folk songs in their repertoire. No matter how magnificent their voices are, they rarely sound good.
(3) The best folk music is moving because of a nuanced combination of words, tune, rhythm, vocal inflection, and instrumentation (if any). A folk singer raised within a tradition may understand these things without needing to think about them. An outsider who wants to sing the songs should think about them very carefully. That is why Leadbelly is better than Odetta, and Odetta is superior to Judy Collins. That is also why Prof. Child was wrong when he said the words of a ballad are more important than the tune. He was wrong because it makes no sense AT ALL to think about the words in isolation from the tune, or even in isolation from the singer's accent and phrasing.
(4) Songs composed by singer-songwriters may be good, but they are not folk music. And the more complex the composition gets, the farther it probably is from anything that could be called folk music.
(4) The idea of creating "fusion" music, or bringing all the traditions together to create something to unite mankind, is wrongheaded. Homogenized music is like Kraft homogenized cheese. The idea of "liberating" music from rules is wrongheaded. Traditional music is good because it is traditional. Traditions are local and have rules.
(5) Although folk songs are associated with the Left, Songs of Protest are not necessarily folk songs. And a bad song does not become a good one because the sentiment is good, or politically correct.JWM


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Dec 01 - 03:07 PM

Here's a new one: Can a Newly Composed Song Become a Folk Song?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Amos
Date: 16 Dec 01 - 05:23 PM

Someone mentioned above that they would like to believe we stayed true to the spirit of the music.

Folk etymology, taxonomy, chronology, derivation, attribution and all these myriad facets of this wonderful, rich argument, arise from this one common core: the particpants recognized what was happening in the songs themselves. That's the hook. That is the addiction. Some experience it as time-travel. Some experience as a connection to a period when reality was more solid and less worrisome. Some see it as a cascade of musical and literary threads handing off from person to person, supported by folklorists' documentation.

But under it all there is that one magic transformation. You don't get it when you hear Doris Day do Que Sera but you sure as hell get it when you hear a Portuguese trawlerman sing some sailor's song of which you can't understand a single word ! That spark is the same, transforming moment of the heart whether it is inspired by the Weavers, or Blind Lemon, or even sometimes the much debated Mister Dylan Zimmerman, master of folk opportunity and rhyme.

Unfortunately, the language falls short in providing in words a unique and unambiguous differentiation between that event and all the other flying scraps of meaning which have kept this thread and its cousins rolling on so long!!

Warm regards,

Amos


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 30 Dec 01 - 11:16 AM

Found a periodical called the Canadian Journal of Traditional Music. Found in one of their archived issues, is an article on Folk Music, which gives a nice definition:

Issue 2, article #5


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 31 Dec 01 - 07:31 PM

George---that's a valuable link. Thanks for keeping this a folk music forum. I'm glad you are here with your always enlightening postings as we head into 2002. Wish I knew you in person.

All the best in the new year.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 16 Jan 02 - 08:14 PM

Considering that people are talking about their favorite "folk artists", I thought this thread may be due for a refresh.

Alice Flynn


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 19 Mar 02 - 10:56 AM

adding another:

Click Here What's wrong with 'Folk Music'


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 16 Apr 02 - 12:02 PM

interesting.... a new thread with the same title as the very first one I link to in 1999.

Another link on the thread
Click Here What is a folk song? (not thread #2224, but thread #46575!)
(http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=46575)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 20 Sep 02 - 09:31 AM

This thread is for links to other threads. Please don't add discussion here.

What is a folk song, version 3.0 http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=51652


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 09 Jan 03 - 06:47 PM

Click here
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=54029
Folk Music

If you are new to the forum I think you may enjoy going back to read some of the earlier threads on folk music.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Dec 03 - 11:54 PM

Alas, the year is nearly gone and this thread hasn't been around since last Jan. 9th. i.e. another refresh...

Art


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 11 Aug 08 - 10:05 AM


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: GUEST,Tony
Date: 02 Sep 08 - 08:38 AM

Hi Graham

Is that really you, alive and still ticking ... like me?

Cheers from

Tony
www.tonythorne.co.uk


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