The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #2224   Message #427403
Posted By: John P
28-Mar-01 - 08:29 AM
Thread Name: What is a Folk Song?
Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
Whistle Stop,
I never said I didn't like singer-songwriters -- I just said I don't think most of that music is the same genre as folk music, or traditional folk if that is what we must call it now. Musically and lyrically it is mostly pop music or country music. I like a lot of it, but I don't usually call it folk.

I agree that the modern singer-songwriter tradition in some ways grew out of a genuine folk process. The same is even more true of rock music and especially rap. For the purposes of discussing genres of music this still doesn't make them traditional folk music. It is also traditional that electric blues is played on a Strat. It is traditional that a string quartet consists of two violins, a viola, and a cello. There are lots of traditions floating around, and lots traditional processes. In order to come up with a definition of traditional folk music that works for me, I've had to separate out the traditions from the music. That was the point I was trying to make -- melodically and lyrically, it sounds different. That's where I draw the lines for myself. The whole folk process thing of polishing the melodies and words by having them pass through many sets of hands creates specific types of melodies and words. The process itself, and the historicity of the tradition, can be separated from the actual physical characteristics of the music.

I'm not really concerned about tradtitions. I don't much pay attention to them when playing traditional folk music. Oh, I find it interesting to know about where a song came from, and why. I am fascinated by being able to trace different versions of a song across the centuries and continents. It gives me something to talk to the audience about during song introductions. But I try to avoid allowing the way that someone in the past in some other place played a song have any affect on how I play it. I play traditional music but am not a traditionalist.

Perhaps this is why Folk Roots magazine started using the the term "roots music" instead of "traditional music". And this is one of the reasons why I dislike having singer-songwriters included in the definition of folk music. If I say "folk" everyone thinks Joni Mitchell, Greg Brown, ani defranco, Bob Dylan, etc. -- that word is meaningless as a description of a genre of music these days. If I say "traditional folk" everyone hears the word "traditional" and thinks that implies lots of things about where, how, why, and on what instruments the music gets played. That word carries a lot of freight that doesn't have anything to do with the melody or the words of the song.

A few words on cross-genre music making: I could conceive of a rap band doing a traditional folk song. I think it would remain a traditional folk song. Steeleye Span plays traditional folk music. The dreaded classical soprano singing a traditional folk song all wrong doesn't stop that song -- melodically and lyrically -- from being a traditional folk song. I've been fooling around with an arrangement of the beginning of Beethoven's 6th symphony for acoustic guitar, fiddle, djembe, and didgerdu. This ruination of a perfectly good symphony isn't going to stop it from being classical music. And if throw a Beatles song into a set of traditional British ballads, it is still going to be a 60s pop song.

I hope some of this makes sense. It's 5:00 in the morning . . .

John Peekstok