The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #114547
Posted By: Frank Hamilton
15-Sep-99 - 07:59 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
How can you successfully talk about music without getting minunderstood? One way is to be specific. What makes the traditional folk music different is it's application of scale patterns not found in other music, it's singing style, it's commonality with earlier forms with similar traditional music which might span decades. Take bluegrass, for instance. The singing style is a high pitched hard-edged metallic sound that is sometimes characterized as a "high lonesome sound". There are specific vocal ornaments used in thsi style of singing that go back to Southern Mountain styles of unaccompanied vocals and a decidedly "untrained" production of the voice which is not permitted in the so-called classical "bel canto" style of singing. Many of the earlier balladeers from this tradition have impecable diction because the need to communicate the story is important to them. The popular music singer/songwriter "whine" is a contrasting style. It is often not a full voice that was geared to outdoor singing or unamplified production as is the traditional folk singer. The traditional Appalachian sound is not what could be characterized by some as "pretty". It has an intended harshness that is full in timbre allowing for nasal, as well as guttural tones. The melodic content of the traditional balladeer's song is much more interesting than the flattened out melodies warbled and crooned by the singer/songwriter pop style. Most of the traditioal folk tunes when they are taken down correctly by skilled annotators contain far more interesting interval leaps than the less-traditioned based singer. The vocal styles employ intended cracks (ie: Almeda Riddle)and microtonal (quarter tone) differences which to the unitiated ear sounds out of tune. Much of this is because of the musical overlay of earlier modality (scales) found in earlier music upon the newer chordal instruments such as guitar and banjo. Because of these musical characteristics, the fretless banjo can match the older singing style by not playing precisely on the kind of pitch that people are generally used to. This style of singing is found in earlier examples of bluegrass and has been watered down as bluegrass loses touch with it's traditional base. The newer bluegrass seems to borrow more from the pop music areas by prettifiying the harmonies, introducing lyrics that are derivative of the pop format by actually quoting lines found in some sixties rock and roll. The encroachment of the popular music industry has affected bluegrass music and is robbing it of it's association with the mountain music of the past. The contemporary singer/songwriter styles of singing and their melodies tend to even out music to become redundant quite easilly to fit a popular music format. They are "pretty" for the public. This is not traditional folk music but a hybrid of pop and accoustic sounds that are labeled folk by record companies.

Frank Hamilton