The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #113877
Posted By: Frank Hamilton
13-Sep-99 - 12:29 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk

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