The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #114016
Posted By: Sandy Paton
13-Sep-99 - 09:37 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
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.