The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #77728   Message #1392214
Posted By: John P
29-Jan-05 - 09:58 AM
Thread Name: What is wrong with being a purist?
Subject: RE: What is wrong with being a purist?
I've met with lots of purists -- I've been called a purist lots of times -- but I've only met the music police three times in the 24 years I've been performing traditional folk music. And two of the police were medieval music police, so maybe they don't count for this discussion. But all three confronted me loudly while I was performing, so they were very memorable. One of them was a drunken medievalist musicologist in a tavern . . . it was great. Most eveyone I've met is happy to talk about what they like and don't like, but don't expect anyone else to go along with their tastes.

I agree with Bill D that if we are going to talk about folk music, and put CDs in genre-labeled bins, and write "folk" on concert posters, we ought to have some agreeement about what we are talking about. And I agree that it is easy to tell the difference between traditional music and other music, and calling singer/songwriters "folk artists" and calling Bob Dylan "traditional folk" is so much piffle.

That said, I suspect Bill and I would disagree on some of the fine points of the meaning of traditional. I'm happy to call any traditional song, no matter how it's played, a traditional song. If I have to, I'll further concede that it was not played in a traditional manner, but electric guitars, didgeridus, djembes, and saxophones do not change the fact that a song or tune is traditional. My biggest interest has always been in the melody and the words more than the style of performance.

As a performer, I've usually been somewhere in between definitions -- the rockers and the s/s crowd think I'm hopelessly stodgy and traditional because 95% of the music I play is very old traditional folk music. But the purists tend to think I'm too rocked out for their tastes because I do a bit of mixing and matching of instruments and rhythms to achieve what I personally think is the best sound for each individual song. One of the music police that attacked me was complaining about me using a guitar on a traditional Bulgarian dance tune because "that's not the way they do it". The funny part was that a week later a very old Bulgarian woman walked up to us with a big smile on her face while we were playing the same tune. She remembered the tune from her childhood and was amazed and happy to hear it being played in public in Seattle. She didn't even seem to notice that I was using a guitar.

The point of all this is to say that I play traditional music because that's what I love more than any other sort of music. But I don't play it to please purists or musicologists. I play it to please myself and my audience. I'm happy to have long conversations about which aspects of my performance are historically rooted, and which are borrowed from other cultures, and which I just made up. But 99% of the people I play for would be bored to tears by that conversation and don't have the knowledge base needed to be involved it in anyway. But a few of them hear me playing tradtional music and get all turned on by a type of melody and lyric they've never heard before and ask me questions about it and leave the performance with longs lists of CDs to try. Some of these folks even go on to become purists . . .

John C, I have to agree with whoever said that calling everyone who isn't a purist the "Anything Goes Brigade" is sort of insulting. Maybe you should investigate the nuances a bit more. I'm certainly not a member of the AGB -- if someone claims to be playing folk music, I damn well want to hear folk music -- but I don't much care what instruments it's played on or how it's arranged, as long as it's well played with integrity and passion.

John Peekstok