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GUEST,SteveT What makes a new song a folk song? (1710* d) RE: What makes a new song a folk song? 30 Aug 14

Thanks for an interesting thread. The general principle that words may mean different things to different groups of people is not uncommon. As an ex-biologist I could give you many examples where the "true" scientific definition of a scientific term is quite different to the way it is used by the general public. Surely that's what's happening here. If you work in a specialised field you need precision in your terminology; the layman doesn't need this precision. I wouldn't classify the record industry (or whatever it is now there are no records) as "specialist" in terms of folk (or even music). They're there to make money and if a term like "folk" will make them money, they'll co-opt it. I would suggest that this is where the terminology problem originated. Before companies started to use the label to sell a product the "specialist academics" who had invented the term (largely in the wake of the development of "folklore" studies") had a clear understanding of the term they'd invented, based probably around the understanding of the "folk" from whom they collected. (See Jim Carroll 30 Aug 14 - 03:45 AM) So, really, before any discussion on this topic it might be wise to decide if it's to be a specialist or layman discussion.

One interesting point that comes out of the discussion seems to be one that's been raised in the past. If you take the "academic" approach to what makes a folk song (which is closer to my own viewpoint) then the process of documenting is one thing that tends to freeze the "folk process". I do believe, however, that the process is continuing – for example I learn plenty of songs "by ear". I don't read music so the tune comes out perhaps a little different and I won't sing it until I've learned it "by heart" so the words will come out slightly different. I have the privilege of going to several singarounds where this is true of most of the singers. Originally I learned songs by hearing them over and over again: now the "process" is being stalled because it's too easy to look up a written version of the words (on Mudcat?!) and go to You-tube to listen to the tune. This reduces the amount of variation so the evolution of the song is interrupted. So the folk process is, I believe, slowing but not yet dead. Is this slow but continuing evolution of songs happening in a cultural context (akin to the "traveller" communities)? Not quite the same but to some extent the "folk world" has developed its own community. (I seem to be arguing that, in the modern world, the nature of "community" has changed?)

To address a couple of specific points:

"These new songs (and/or tunes) written using traditional forms are certainly not pop, rock, rap, jazz etc etc if we can't call them 'folk' then what do we call them?"
For most of the songs concerned, why not "Pop songs"? They are recently written presumably with the aim of becoming popular. They bear more similarity to the very wide genre called pop than they do to the previously narrowly-defined group called folk. (Or "folkish" see P.S.)
"I quizzed him over a song he "collected." he (Fred Jordan) said the final few verses were his own work, as the words to what he learned weren't any good...." – surely a perfect example of the folk process; how else do folk songs evolve?

(P.S. I've "written" (I use the term loosely) some songs which I sing at singarounds. I'd love them to become folk songs one day but they're definitely not folk songs now. I've got them on Soundcloud – I called them "folkish". A couple have even been taken up by others, which is pleasing, but what I really want is to hear someone who doesn't know me, and has learned it by ear, sing one in their own way – or someone hear me sing one and tell me I'm singing it wrong and that they know the correct "traditional" version. If that ever happens perhaps they'll be on their way to becoming a song folk one day.)

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