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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Frank Hamilton So what is *Traditional* Folk Music? (409* d) RE: So what is 'TRADITIONAL' Folk Music ? 11 Dec 06


Soldier Boy, I want to address your ideas.

"1.When I started this thread I intended to raise a question and not to challenge your attitudes."

I think that this is a valid point and the discussion is a worthy one.

"2.I do not believe that "TRADITIONAL" Folk Music means that the original authors must be both unknown and dead or out of copyright. This is just symptomatic of the age when they were spawned without todays advantage of instant recording and down loading via CD/DVD and internet etc."

One of the problems is that CD, DVD, Internet may get in the way of finding traditional folk music because of its inordinate commercial influence on a "folk culture". There have been articles written by ethnomusicologists and folklorists on a kind of "music imperialism" that tended to dictate a choice of music because of the media.


"Levels of education,literacy and the ability to communicate to the masses was very poor so only the most "popular" and therefore handed down songs survived. These songs survived because they were 'catchy', had a strong CHORUS and expressed shared and meaningful feelings and emotions of the time. So it is a 'filtering' process."

To the degree that these songs were evolved through a teaching experience in a given folk sub-culture this is true. Where it breaks down is when the word "popular" is used. We know that "popular music" has become a business which has as its goal selling songs to the public through a commercialized marketing technique. This is antithetical to how songs are transmitted in a living folk sub-culture. In the latter, the media becomes incidental and the marketing irrelevant.

"3.I do also think that "Tradition" is a process of evolution and is not dead. It really is a stream of continuous motion and is timeless. Many of todays "contemporary singers/Traditional-style singers and composers" will create the TRADITIONAL Folk Music of the future. Just because something is "New" does not mean it is not of value. They will live on to form part of the "tradition" for generations to follow."

The "filtering process" that you refer to is happening now in spite of what the media offers as "popular" music. Under our noses, there is a rich folk sub-culture taking place now that we as "folkies" don't even know about. Maybe it involves rap music or other sub-culture-based music.

"The definition of 'traditional' is indeed starting to creak. It is time for a re-think. Why do we love and embrace the past so much yet feel unwilling to equally embrace the present and the future?"

It's not that the past is the focus. It's more about the evolution of a folk-based musical sub-culture that many of us were highly motivated to seek out and discover. For example, the blues. This was an outgrowth of a rural community of African-Americans in the South that eventually found its way to the big city. Why is say "Blind Lemon Jefferson" or "Son House" so important? Well, you don't hear them on the major media but they tell us about the history of African-Americans in our country. The blues tradition goes on today in spite of the media and like the Griots of old, they tell of what happened to our country at various times of our history. This is not necromancy but an attempt to understand our "roots" as a musical nation.


"We owe it to our desendents to express the here and now with our heart felt emotions and observations with less of the seemingly heart felt need to cling,limpit-like, to comfort-inducing images of the past - e.g rather sad, in my view, churning out songs about fishermen,plough boys,milk maids, farmers, hunters,old battles,fair maidens,harvesting,love lost and love gained etc."

Here I agree and disagree at the same time. The "churning out" of songs about fishermen etc. is not really done these days. Many have been collected and rediscovered and in so doing their value is inherent. There are many songwriters writing in a folk-style without being part of a "folk" sub-culture that's isolated or homogenous. It's not that these songs are not important. It's just that the emphasis is different. The "traditional" songs are unearthed through collections and study by those who are interested and can't be replaced by contemporary singer-songwriters who by in large are more influenced by the popular music of the media. There are exceptions such as Jean Ritchie for example who writes beautiful songs but reflect a rich folk heritage that spans generations.


"We always seem to give value to "traditional" and see contemporary as cheap. This is indeed a time warp that needs to be finally shot dead and terminated. Our emotions and feelings are just as relevant today as they were 300 years ago."

Here I emphatically disagree. No self-respecting folklorist or ethnomusicologist would see all contemporary songwriting as "cheap". This is a huge generalization. Our emotions and feelings are different than they were 300 years ago. This is why there is such a fascination for wanting to discover how people felt historically through the tradition-based music.

"Otherwise we create a black hole and our contempory age gets sucked into oblivion."

Respect for tradtion-based music (historical connections), folk sub-cultures will not create any black holes except for the hide-bound poseur who hasn't taken the time to listen to traditional culture-based music handed down through the centuries. There will always be those who have a "folkier-than-thou" attitude about the music and they can be found dressed in anachronistic clothes and insular and self-conscious about their music.

"Nuff said and many thanks for all your very valuable and very well considered input. Please keep it coming if I haven't already turned you off"

Your questions are valid and this opens a door to discovery which is always a good thing.

Frank Hamilton


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