The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #113473
Posted By: Frank Hamilton
11-Sep-99 - 06:01 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
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.


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.


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