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Do you sing from Memory?

M.Ted 22 Nov 07 - 03:45 AM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 22 Nov 07 - 03:04 AM
GUEST,Ermintruder 21 Nov 07 - 12:18 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 21 Nov 07 - 11:55 AM
M.Ted 21 Nov 07 - 11:06 AM
M.Ted 21 Nov 07 - 10:13 AM
GUEST,Young Buchan 21 Nov 07 - 08:38 AM
GUEST 21 Nov 07 - 08:33 AM
GUEST,Santa 21 Nov 07 - 05:43 AM
My guru always said 21 Nov 07 - 05:02 AM
Barry Finn 21 Nov 07 - 02:22 AM
M.Ted 21 Nov 07 - 12:16 AM
Ferrara 20 Nov 07 - 11:09 PM
PoppaGator 20 Nov 07 - 03:27 PM
Joe Offer 20 Nov 07 - 02:51 PM
M.Ted 20 Nov 07 - 01:03 PM
M.Ted 20 Nov 07 - 12:15 PM
Barry Finn 20 Nov 07 - 11:32 AM
Ian 20 Nov 07 - 08:14 AM
M.Ted 20 Nov 07 - 08:02 AM
Ian 20 Nov 07 - 07:56 AM
jonm 20 Nov 07 - 07:46 AM
Keith A of Hertford 20 Nov 07 - 06:41 AM
GUEST,LTS pretending to work 20 Nov 07 - 06:35 AM
GerryMc 20 Nov 07 - 04:32 AM
Joe Offer 20 Nov 07 - 04:23 AM
GUEST,Fall of the Roman Empire 20 Nov 07 - 04:18 AM
Barry Finn 20 Nov 07 - 02:55 AM
M.Ted 19 Nov 07 - 02:19 PM
Barry Finn 19 Nov 07 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,Rog Peek 19 Nov 07 - 11:28 AM
M.Ted 19 Nov 07 - 11:02 AM
the lemonade lady 19 Nov 07 - 10:30 AM
GUEST,Young Buchan 19 Nov 07 - 09:36 AM
jacqui.c 19 Nov 07 - 08:49 AM
M.Ted 19 Nov 07 - 07:56 AM
GUEST,Flatpick 19 Nov 07 - 05:09 AM
eddie1 19 Nov 07 - 04:04 AM
GUEST,Jim Carroll 19 Nov 07 - 02:57 AM
M.Ted 18 Nov 07 - 11:54 PM
Ron Davies 18 Nov 07 - 06:59 PM
Alan Day 18 Nov 07 - 05:45 PM
Liz the Squeak 18 Nov 07 - 05:15 PM
Richard Bridge 18 Nov 07 - 04:59 PM
Don Firth 18 Nov 07 - 04:23 PM
lamarca 18 Nov 07 - 04:16 PM
Marje 18 Nov 07 - 02:08 PM
Ferrara 18 Nov 07 - 01:48 PM
Barry Finn 18 Nov 07 - 01:22 PM
Mysha 18 Nov 07 - 12:19 PM
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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 03:45 AM

I would say that the traditional singers that you are referring to would be much akin to the epic singers, both as fine artists and as stewards of a cultural trove. I am speaking of folksingers either of the sort that we find in contemporary song circles and such places, or of the sort that sang informally and socially in the past (though many were valuable repositories for folk songs).

In my mind, everyone and anyone may sing a song, but only a few skilled and gifted people are the active bearers of any given performance tradition. The greatest voices are echoed in every heart, as the prophet said.

I love both story and song, so I like epics, and tend to think of the epic as the essence of literature, theatre, and music.--and must confess that Young Buchan's broaching of the subject caused me to dig out a copy of "The Battle of Kosovo" and to thumb through it when I should have being doing chores today.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Nov 07 - 03:04 AM

"Young Buchan: Epic bards are not fto be confused with folksingers. The epic singers are meticulously schooled in their art, and are held in the same regard as fine artists and historians."
Do you believe that at the height of the tradition, traditional singers weren't? Hmmm!

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Ermintruder
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 12:18 PM

I reckon that about a quarter of the people who sing regularly at the singaround I attend use lyric sheets but this doesn't stop it from being a tremendously enjoyable night. The fact that it's all free and easy encourages people who have just popped in for a drink, to try a song (often by borrowing someone's songbook). As M Ted said, it's all about the community experience. It's not performing, it's sharing songs.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 11:55 AM

By all means, use your memory. I can't think of much to add to Don Firth's take on this. I always felt that the audience deserved to see a performer who appeared to truly care about the content of the songs he or she chose to sing. In a way, singing with feeling and respect for the content is also acting. I have seen singers - vocal groups seem more guilty of this - that do a very polished and professional act that looks and sounds exactly the same every single time. They have memorized the material, but to what end?

It takes a lot of preparation and practice to look at ease and comfortable on stage and with the performance. That preparation should also give you the freedom to improvise and vary your performance enough so that it doesn't become stale for you or the audience. Also, I personally like to see performers who don't appear to take themselves too seriously - who seem to really LIKE what they are doing and are happily sharing it with the audience.

Of course, at Don's age and mine, you start to become more and more grateful for retaining the ability to memorize anything longer than your driver's license number...


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 11:06 AM

Young Buchan: Epic bards are not fto be confused with folksingers. The epic singers are meticulously schooled in their art, and are held in the same regard as fine artists and historians.

As relates to this discussion, I've heard of a person who took his gusle to a sing around and endeavored to perform excerpts from "The Battle of Kosovo"--in spite of the fact that he knew the text as if it were his own child, and bowed his instrument with a firm and confident hand, he was cut off, and asked never to return. So much for multiculturalism;-)


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 10:13 AM

The session Barry describes seems to be considerably more tolerant and open a place than he allows--they seem, in fact to allow people to practice, learn, and play--to fit in whatever way they want or can.

It isn't, as Santa seems to think, about "stepping up and showing what you had learnt"--it is about sharing, and taking part in a community experience. People who have songbooks are, after all, simply trying to participate, in the best way that they can. Good leaders find ways to include people--songbooks aren't the only way, but they work.

I mentioned this discussion to a neighbor who said, "I sing from a songbook in church. If it's good enough for God, it ought to be good enough for the Folklore Society of Greater Washington."


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Young Buchan
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 08:38 AM

Sorry. The last contrib. was from me.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 08:33 AM

This may sound like pedantry, especially since we are a folk network rather than The British School At Athens, but I think there is a relevant point:
PoppaGator says that the enormously long Homeric epics were memorised. It is probable that this was true only in the last and most degenerate stage of their pre-written transmission. Until then it is likely that the process was as described by Milman Parry and others as still surviving in the Balkans well into the twentieth century, namely the epic bard memorized a number of 'set scenes' e.g. fights of different kinds and with different numbers of participants, and full lines, also a vast number and variety of part lines. The skill of the bard lay in improvising a story by e.g. starting with details of a character or an action, and then pulling out of memory an appropriate scene, line or end of line if at any point his ability to improvise in the correct metre started to run out. It is exactly this creative change in telling a story which I have argued in a previous contribution to this string is both the best feature of folk music and the one most completely destroyed by reading.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Santa
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 05:43 AM

I don't think I've ever actually encountered a club that forbade singing from the page, but think that they would be well within their rights to do so, if that was their approach to music. It is not as though there was only one club in the land, one place to play/sing, and some overall gauleiter was dominating the land. It isn't that way, and to argue it is can only weaken whatever case is being made.

I go to a club to hear singing and/or music. I believe that the relationship between the performer and the audience, from the highest professional to the most embarassingly amateur, is part of the performance. I don't believe that you do get the same quality of performance if the performer has to consult the words. I do believe it shows arrogance by the performer and is derogatory to the club audience. (I don't need to learn, I can do my practicing here, the audience doesn't matter a **** anyway.)
I thought the whole point was to step up and show something you had learnt, something you could do, not one step in the learning process. Is this the "me, me, I want it NOW" generation in action? Or just everyday selfishness? You want the public acknowledgement of performance, the respect, then you have to learn it and earn it. Not that the ocassional example (whether through age or whatever) is going to destroy traditional music, or any such nonsense, any more than any single poor performance is, but a widespread adoption would.

As for closing your eyes to tell them apart - well, I might if the sound was particularly good, but why should I? The performance is more than just the sound produced.

Art isn't paint-by-numbers. If I want to see people reading I would go to a reading club.

Tonight is a singer's night: I'll see if anyone reads from notes whilst singing/playing.

re the Romans: it is a gross misunderstanding to suggest they were rigidly unchanging. Archeologists can detect different periods in the Empire from the pottery, or from the Army's uniform and equipment, to name but two visible areas. Change was slower in those days than nowadays, but it certainly still existed. If you wish to quote an attempt to freeze society, then perhaps Japan's Samurai culture was one notable attempt.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: My guru always said
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 05:02 AM

That sounds like a fantastic session Barry & one I'd like to spend an evening in though I'm not a musician. You also make some really good points there about each person being driven by their desire to improve their art, and this type of session would actively encourage people to practise, practise, practise!!

For sure, there are different types and 'levels' of Sessions, Singarounds, Song Circles, Campfire sessions and Folk Clubs in the UK, USA or anywhere else in the World. Again I see that we are all different and that is shown strikingly in this thread. Each person has his/her own reasons for singing or playing music, whether it be a love or talent for the songs or music, a desire to offer those songs, stories and pieces to others or a need to spread the word about their own particular joy and lifestyle and hopefully encourage others to join them.

If we're talking about Performers, whether paid or not, surely it is only right that they should be practised in their Art? To entertain or perform in front of others a person should be capable of doing so. Certainly an aide-memoire could be to hand (and a set list) but I feel that the performance should be done from memory as a matter of course, unless exceptional reasons, such as failing memory for aging performers, prevents this.

Where singing or playing music for sheer pleasure amongst your friends or peers, then surely the 'book/cribsheet' question would have been answered during previous enjoyable evenings.

If one is visiting another club or singaround then is it fairly normal to either check first as to what is normal for the participants regarding the standard of performance and one can make the decision whether to join in their 'methods' - preferential to 'rules'.

We are a diverse world-wide Music Community, I am minded of an old saying: You cut your coat according to your cloth.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 02:22 AM

This past Monday I attended an Irish session, I do this weekly. From 7:00 pm to 9:00pm it's a slow session (no singing ever happens here) after that it's a regular session. There were plenty of teens, maybe 5 or 6 all very good, plus a number of college kids (Boston College is close by) 1 an all Ireland junior fiddler, sometimes there may even be a couple of good to very good pre-teens (the average # is probably 20-25 playerss at the height of the session). They get called on to lead or lead as they see fit & play with their elders (the oldest regular, a bones player, probably in his 90's) who treat them as musical peers. Musicians that can't keep up with the session either wait until there's a tune they can keep up with or sit back for a slow air otherwise, they only play in the slow session. As for singers, you sing when you get invited, once a woman used a sheet, she was never asked again. The older group are musicians that are maily Irish born & bred & learn their music in the old way, some are from the old Dudley Street dance tradition of the 40's & 50's.
I bring this Irish session into the discussion because I believe what I'm presenting is the norm, at least for Irish sessions (except for the age) in the USA that I've heard of. Why is it that this is common & OK for Irish sessions but some think it's not ok for singing sessions? What are the different dynamics? Irish sessions are a bit closer to a living tradition, no? Do those sessions retain a higher quality of musicianship while encouraging players to practice at home & to learn their music in a traditional oral way while not discouraging them at the same time. Suppose they encouraged beginners to bring in sheet music & they can learn as they go, how would those sessions survive? They would not!
The more you have books & notes, the more the singing session becomes a practice or a learning session, a little is ok, sometimes in someplaces, IMHO, maybe in many cases but not all, to much & you drive out the backbone and you end up dumbing it down. Is it fun when it becomes a learning or practice session? Fun for who? Want a teacher, where do you go to find one? At a session? Is that where they teach? Where do you go to learn or practice at a session?

Barry


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 Nov 07 - 12:16 AM

I am appalled at these "ideas"---and I have heard them before, and not from Pete Seeger.

"A community of strong singers who like spontaneity do not have an obligation to encourage weaker or less spontaneous singers at their session.."

"BTW folk music has probably always had an element of exclusivity. (I've talked about this before, I think.) In many musical traditions and groups, the "junior" people were supposed to be seen and not heard until they were formally recognized by the "senior" people."


You make folk music sound elitist and paternalistic. I hope you have simply expressed your thoughts too hastily.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Ferrara
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 11:09 PM

From M. Ted:
It isn't about books, Barry--it's about groups of people who do have the "My Way or the Highway" rule--it's about "This is what we do, this is how we do it" and it's about "if you do things differently, you're not welcome".

It's about narrow-minded people, entrenched people who have made up a lot of reasons for not accepting others--


You know, I think I've said here, in a number of ways that I believe a firm "no song sheets" rule, no exceptions no matter what the context or venue, doesn't make sense and I do not support it. I've named a number of situations where I think it's fine and disagree with people who want to prohibit it across the board.

Now I want to say that "This is what we do, this is how we do it" is a perfectly legitimate sentiment. If I give a singing party and someone wants to divide everyone up in groups and play Trivia and Monopoly, I have the right to say, "Sorry, that's not what we're here for." Similarly, I hope the folks who started a venue and are regulars there have the right to say "Sorry, that's not what we're here for" to folks who want to read songs.

It's a matter of community in a way. A community of strong singers who like spontaneity do not have an obligation to encourage weaker or less spontaneous singers at their session.. Their community formed because of a certain commonality of approach and they have the right to keep it that way.

BTW folk music has probably always had an element of exclusivity. (I've talked about this before, I think.) In many musical traditions and groups, the "junior" people were supposed to be seen and not heard until they were formally recognized by the "senior" people. It hasn't destroyed folk music yet.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 03:27 PM

The reason that so many of the ancient story-song ballads were written in rhyme and set to music in the first place was to facilitate memorization. Shared folk culture, or "lore," survived only because the bards or troubadors within a society held the words within their minds and were able to pass the material on down, generation after generation.

It boggles the mind to realize that even tremendously lengthy epic poems (like the Iliad and the Odyssey) survive to this day only because successive generations of pre-literate balladeers were able to commit them to memory.

Of course, in today's world, we all have way too much stuff cluttering up our brains to even consider learning such humonguous texts verbatim. Also, precious few of us seem to be in a position to make a full-time profession out of preserving and performing traditional song.

I agree with MTed ~ live and let live ~ but while I encourage tolerance of singers' rights to use notes or not, I do think we should all repect and be conscious of the notion that learning and knowing songs is part of folk-music tradition and history, and that visibly reading either words or music, while entirely normal for classical performance, choir singing, etc., can justifiably be seen as inappropriate in many folk-music contexts.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 02:51 PM

Hi, Barry-
I'd agree with Ted: it isn't about books. It's more about the quality of singers. Many of the people in my song circle sing once a month - I sing every day, and that makes a difference. I usually show up late for the Sacramento Song Circle because it's a 40-mile drive from my home. I have to admit that many times when I walk in the door, the singing is pretty lame. The real singers show up late, and then stay to the bitter end. There may be only half a dozen singers left at the end of the evening, and the singing can get really good. But in the meantime, we've given a number of nonsingers a chance to sing. In the 15 years I've sung with the Sacramento group, I've seen a number of people become pretty good singers - and a number of other people are just as hopeless as they've always been, but they have a good time.
And having a good time is what it's all about, I think. I believe that if we singers really believe in "folk" music, we have an obligation to include and encourage everyone, no matter what the quality of their singing. Sometimes, that takes patience and tolerance. We also need to work hard to improve the quality and variety of singing in our groups, so they are gatherings where both singers and nonsingers can feel comfortable. Chantey sings work perfectly for that, but not everybody wants to sing sea songs.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 01:03 PM

Incidentally, to be fair, I don't really know if people here are really as cold as some of the comments would indicate. And I don't know if your groups and circles are really as intolerant as you make them sound. Maybe some of you are just venting frustration--maybe you are overstating things to make a point--I hope so.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 12:15 PM

It isn't about books, Barry--it's about groups of people who do have the "My Way or the Highway" rule--it's about "This is what we do, this is how we do it" and it's about "if you do things differently, you're not welcome".

It's about narrow-minded people, entrenched people who have made up a lot of reasons for not accepting others--


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 11:32 AM

Ted, thanks for letting me in on your secret & the spelling of "acceptable", you're a sport.

You haven't heard me claim or complain that folk music numbers are dwindling nor that I'm upset with the folk sing scene, have you? I don't find that to be true where I frequent.
A suggestion M Ted. When there's a club or venue that doesn't like book singers leave your book at home & go out anyway & when it's "acceptable" by all means bring your book. But don't spite yourself by staying home because you don't agree with those that find reading from books unacceptable.

I do, once in a great while pull out the words to a new song I'm working on, espically if I just wrote it but still not in a place where the written worte in not "acceptable" & I do ask & warn all before hand.

Hi Joe
I figured I'd be hearing from you about RUS. I'm not against RUS or groups singing mostly from books or the printed page, I only mind it when they come into another club/venue & desire to create the same atmosphere. There are lots of groups & people that leave those sings because it's not for them. You had the same situation out in San Francisco, yrs back. The folk society there had many very talented singers within their ranks. When I lived there I frequented those sings religously. Then came the books & all your talent left & orginized their own session. When I attended that sing last June no one I knew from the old days was there but I did find them across the bay & elsewhere & the old sing I attended was awful, it was painful to see what had happened. What would happen at your SF Shantey sing if they all started bringing in books? A cheat sheet here & there, ok.
Same thing happened in Boston. Their sings are just as painful. What was once a lively & colorful sing went boring & stagnant. It was a matter of bringing the sing down to the lowest common denominator instead of firguring out how to,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.
Joe, the next time I have the pleasure of singing with you I'll want to borrow your penthouse for a peek, didn't see it this last time, you are good.

There are places that I go where some folks use books or pages, I don't care. Some of them are learning, some feel better doing it that way, I don't care. I like to hear the new kid on the block, one can always learn from them & the older kid owes I to them to help them along if they want the music to continue.

I also attend some sessions where the written word is the "kiss of death". I've never been to an Irish session where if asked to sing you'd ever get asked again if you sanng from a sheet.

Once every 5 or so yrs I attend a book session. At a "book session"
the group absolutly offers no incentive for the sessioned singer to come back, they've bored them to tears & they never lave room for their own improvement.

So you can have it in 3 ways, your choice. I settle for 2 of those.

Does anyone care to dicuss how they think that these different singing worlds could meet & co-exist, where all could live & grow hapilly together instead of how we can exist apart?
New thread anyone?

Barry


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Ian
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 08:14 AM

To add to my previous.
There is no need now ever to forget words or tune. Just record your self on an i pod and put the ear piece in (suitably hidden under long hair)and press play. As you just sing along with yourself you can pause to suit your performance or prompt your self with an introduction.
Eye sight and memory probs solved in one.

I know what you are going to say; the only draw back is that as you get older along with eye sight and memory goes the hair. Theres no hiding place for the wire.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 08:02 AM

I'll let you in on a secret, Barry--I can generally sing, or play along with anybody, without benefit of notation. I am tired of hearing people who claim to love folk music get all upset because their numbers are dwindling. This is why--

And by the way, the word is "acceptable"--


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Ian
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 07:56 AM

Im sorry but Im a bloke singer. I can not multi task ie read and sing at the same time so I mentally practice the songs I choose to sing prior to singing them. I do usually have a word book to refer to if in doubt of an odd line or verse order.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: jonm
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 07:46 AM

The ring-binder seems to be the most common accessory at sessions now.

I have only twice sung in public from the printed words and hated it (even when I knew the lyric I was drawn to the printed page and lost connection with the performance), although I do prepare cheat-sheets with lyrics and chords for three purposes - 1. to fix in my own mind what I am playing; 2. to act as a reminder when I revisit a song after a few years, and 3. as an aid to anyone who may be joining in with me (there are a number of people I trust to do this without rehearsal, and we NEVER have time to rehearse together). I have a rolling repertoire of about 60 songs from a total list of 200+ which I think are within a couple of hours' practice of being OK.

My method of remembering is practice, and lots of it. It's amazing how many songs my kids know all the words to simply because I've sung them to sleep - should have avoided the rude ones! I do recognise that I have a good memory and am very adaptable musically - it feels like a lot of what I do is being developed "live" as I do it, not just going through the mechanical motions - so I do not wish to criticise those who feel the need for the ring-binder crutch. Does that sound like a piece of bondage equipment?

However, I feel that in order to establish an emotional connection with the lyrics, I need to have them in memory.

If I have been asked to do something special for a particular occasion at short notice, I may use a lyric sheet with just key words, say one per verse plus one from any lines I find I forget, hidden on the floor (in BIG print!) as an aide memoire. Plus, of course, for any gig, I will have a written set list. Not that I ever stick to it....


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 06:41 AM

I never use a sheet, for all the reasons already given, plus one.
If you are singing from memory, who can complain if your memory plays tricks.
So if you are singing someone elses song, and you think a line might sound better with a slight alteration...


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,LTS pretending to work
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 06:35 AM

"you really can't sing from pieces of paper at a campfire"

Actually Joe, you can, but it does tend to make the bonfire bigger!

LTS


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GerryMc
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 04:32 AM


I know the words to about 70 songs but can't go on stage without a set list!

Gerry :-)


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 04:23 AM

I'm a choir singer. I've sung in choirs since fifth grade, usually twice on Sunday and once or twice during the week. I sing from hymnals, and occasionally from sheet music. I've never been expected to sing choir songs from memory, although I know many of the songs I sing by heart.
So, that's what I'm used to. I don't look at the music all that much, but it does give me a measure of security. I think it makes me a better singer, not to have to worry about screwing up the words.

I've also always sung campfire songs, and you really can't sing from pieces of paper at a campfire. So, I sing those songs by heart, and make up lyrics to fill in what I forget. In my community, a Sacramento suburb with a population of 70,000 people, I was known as "that guy who sings."

But about fifteen years ago, I started going to song circles. The first one used the Rise Up Singing songbook, and I soon became the dominant singer in the group because legend has it that I know all the songs in the book (I think it's more like 3/4 of them).

After I started posting at Mudcat in early 1997, I found out about other song gatherings in my area and in various places in the U.S., and I found myself in an environment of people who looked down on singers who used a book or even a cheat sheet. They were quite tolerant of people who'd forget a song midway and have to start over three times, but they firmly believed their doctrine that a person who uses a book, can't sing well. Well, I have to say I find that doctrine intimidating and unfair - and usually I do my best to ignore it. Out of self defense, I keep my Rise Up Singing book hidden - I've been tempted to conceal it inside a copy of Penthouse or something. Usually, I sing from large-print sheets I keep in a black folder that looks like what I use for choir.

I guess I have to admit that the pressure to sing from memory has made me a better singer, because I've learned to look at my notes only when I really need to - but I'm glad to have the security of those notes.

I do the same thing as a public speaker - I get nervous if I don't have my yellow legal sheets of notes, but I rarely look at them. So, forgive me, but why not judge my singing on how it sounds, and not on whether I'm holding a piece of paper or not? Over ten years, I've learned a lot - thanks in great part to the majority of people who didn't get huffy about my shortcomings as a singer.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Fall of the Roman Empire
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 04:18 AM

Do you know why the great, world dominating Empire of Rome collapsed?

It failed to change, adapt and move with the times.

Archealogical finds from the beginning of the Roman Empire show great technological advances from bridge building to ballistics, communications to city planning.

Finds from the end of the Roman Empire show that they were using the same equipment as at the beginning, despite there being radical differences in lifestyle and behaviour.

It's all very well saying "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" but the same is also true: Just because something isn't broken, doesn't mean it should never eveolve.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 20 Nov 07 - 02:55 AM

Stay home then Ted, because if the group/venue is a place where it's been established that they don't tolerate singing from the page
(some trad clubs are like that) then follow what's already been set. If it's exceptable, that's fine too. Doesn't matter if you're a good singer or not. When in Rome do as the Romans do......don't come in & change it on your account.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 02:19 PM

I'll tell you what, Barry, I'll stay home. Because I don't go where I am not welcome. But I am as good a singer as most, and can play as well as most. If I'm not welcome, most aren't welcome.
And if most are not welcome, it isn't folk music, is it?


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 01:49 PM

Know your own limitations. If you want to sing from pages go sing where that's exceptable, if you want to sing where they don't do that don't bring your notes or just go to sing along with the choruses or just don't sing until you can do as the Romans do.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Rog Peek
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 11:28 AM

Yes.
Unless I am really sure of the guitar however, I'll sing a cappella (of course, as a man I find multi-tasking difficult). I still make the odd mistake even then. Only once have I gone completely blank, it still haunts me.

Still, a man once said to me "the man who never made a mistake, never made anything". I guess this can be applied to singing a song.

Rog


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 11:02 AM

If folk music is being killed off, it is because it has become exclusive, instead of inclusive--which, given the fact that it is supposed to be "The People's Music", is slightly absurd.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: the lemonade lady
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 10:30 AM

Yes I do and with my eyes wide open I hasten to add.

Sal


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Young Buchan
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 09:36 AM

Once upon a time there was an oral tradition. In it the songs evolved because people developed or improvised bits if they couldn't remember exactly what was missing but instead came up with something they could live with. This usually took one of two forms. Either they made up rubbish which sounded like what they remembered hearing: so Queen Jane became our neighbour for six days or more, Sir Hugh found that it rained, it rained American corn, or Johnny Faa cast his grandma in the corner-o; alternatively, and most often, they came up with a sensible seamless correction which passed easily into the tradition. This was much of the charm, and much of the distinguishing quality, of folk music. Then the working class learned to read and everyone said that that tradition would die because the book version would become set in stone. But it didn't happen because even though some people learnt from books, and even though Harry Cox allegedly had a box of broadsides under his bed, no singer (except perhaps the Coppers) would think of taking the written text with them to the pub; and so they all made sure they had learnt their songs inside out before they tried singing them in public, and the adrenalin rush, if they did forget something, helped them use the same strategies as before. Then radio came in; and it was predicted the broadcast versions would drive out all variation; and when it failed to happen the same prognostication was made regarding records and tapes and CDs. And it didn't happen, for the same reason – at the point of performance, singers were still operating on their own. Then one day a folk singer walked into a club with the words of his songs, and used them to sing from. And noone told him to go away and not try again until he'd learnt the song thoroughly. And so every time he sang the song it was exactly the same.
And the tradition died.
And our generation killed it.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: jacqui.c
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 08:49 AM

Agreed M.Ted.

I've only been involved in folk for the last seven years and have got rather greedy over the number of songs I want to sing. There are too many songs, not enough time. I just haven't had the time to commit to memory all the songs I want to sing.

It is possible to use a crib sheet and maintain eye contact with the audience - I try just to flick the eyes down to glance at the next line and then sing it out to the audience. There are certain songs I can do from memory right now, but those I haven't sung for some time can escape me and I do like to try a have some diversity when I'm at a song circle, which is generally the only place I get to sing.

I've certainly never been paid for singing, nor do I ever expect to be. I sing for the love of it and would avoid like the plague any song circle that laid down rules for the use of crib sheets.

That being said, I have been at song circles where someone has been reading the words straight off the page, without any attempt to sing the song or make contact with the audience. In a couple of cases this had been someone who has been singing for many years ans has never got around to learning the songs - that is not really acceptable. There are others who have such a small repertoire of songs that the same ones come out time after time after time after time..............


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 07:56 AM

This amazing level of hostility toward people that don't know as much as you do, or think you do, is horrifying. Flatpick, tell us more about your monthly gathering. It sounds like a must to avoid.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Flatpick
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 05:09 AM

If you have to read the words then it's childishly simple:
You don't know the song, go home and practice and learn the damn thing.
Do not go out and inflict your inabilities on others.
You just aren't ready with this song yet, no shame there, just try harder.
I'm 65, been singing and playing 47 years in folk clubs, bars etc.I know about 900 songs at the last count and have never ever used a songsheet, worked with anyone who used one and won't allow them at my monthly gathering.
My opinion...


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: eddie1
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 04:04 AM

Try listening to a few concerts/floorspots/singarounds with your eyes closed then decide who was singing from a cribsheet or not. Check with a friend.

Eddie


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: GUEST,Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Nov 07 - 02:57 AM

"they are about sharing and having fun."
They are that, but they are much, much more; they are certainly far more than reiterating the words.
The best of our older singers were able to re-live the songs each time they sang them, often long after their technical ability had deteriorated. Sam Larner always gives me the impression that he was singing his songs for the first time; don't see how you can do that from a crib-sheet.
Personally, I always find anybody reading their text unconvincing; as if they are reciting something somebody else has written for them.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: M.Ted
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 11:54 PM

If this is supposed to be all about "the people, singing the people's music, in the people's voices" why are some of you setting ridiculous and arbitrary rules about what is acceptable?

Better singers than any here use crib sheets. Better musicians than any here read from music. Better entertainers than any here break all your "rules".   The thing is that song circles and singing sessions are not about being "better", they are about sharing and having fun. Let's stop excluding people and abusing them because they need a little bit of prompting.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Ron Davies
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 06:59 PM

Mary and some others have basically covered this topic.

In general the worst possible situation is a "Rise Up Singing" singaround--where there is absolutely no reasonable expectation that the singer will even have seen the song two from the bottom on page 34--but will insist on guessing on the tune and plowing through all 11 verses on the page.

We call the book "Sink Down Moaning".

Anything is better than that.

I certainly understand how people may forget words. But the solution (by Dick?) earlier--is the best--just make them up. Or skip to a verse you remember.

Most people would, I'd think, have a good idea of what they planned to sing--and could make sure they had it memorized in advance. If singing a ballad, it's more important to keep the story moving than to remember every word. And chorus songs--my preference by far--gives you a chance to remember the next verse.

Above all you want to bond with your audience--and it seems to me the best way to do that is to have them sing--a chorus or refrain-- with you. And the bonding will never happen if you are reading off a sheet--with no eye contact with your listeners--or worse, out of a book. Though I'll have to admit, if the song is good enough, even reading out of a book (except RUS) is not a disaster necessarily. There are very few songs or performers it is worth listening to who sing "folk" from a book or off a music stand--but they do exist.

And I would think it no problem for the performer in an informal, non-paid, gig, to hold the lyrics in the hand if necessary--just as a talisman. It would be good however not to look at them while singing.

Classical music, I agree, from singing in choruses for over 20 years, is vastly different--especially since the precision required is extreme--both in words and notes, and in such aspects as duration of note, cutoffs of words, dynamic variation, etc. Totally different kettle of fish.

I belonged to a madrigal group for about 15 years. That's probably between the two worlds. I pushed hard for the group to memorize pieces--and it was wonderful when we did.


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Alan Day
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 05:45 PM

If it is the choice of hearing someone sing ,but with a crib sheet or not,I would choose the singing.
Hope the concert goes well LiZ.
Audience participation Liz with The Twelve Days of Xmas is well recommended.
Al


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 05:15 PM

Ah, but do you mean oral or aural? Both are equally valid. It only ceases to be oral/aural when I just give you the piece of paper with my song on it.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 04:59 PM

Of course there is the argument that folk music is the oral tradition, so if you always sing from a text you are denying the essence of folk music.

Did you know I was going to say that sooner or later?


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Don Firth
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 04:23 PM

Lamarca, I'd say you've zinged in on the essence of the matter. Well said.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: lamarca
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 04:16 PM

If a song really grabs me, it starts to "sing me" - spinning around in my head, making me sing the same two lines I can remember over and over until I'm forced to learn the whole thing by heart in self-defense!

I've found that as I get older, the songs that stay in my memory are the ones I learned because they really spoke to me. Songs that I learned to fit the topic for the monthly song-swap or because they were "clever" fade quickly - probably because I don't love them in the same way, and thus don't keep singing them. If I'm sitting around with friends, swapping songs, I'll sometimes try to dip back in the mental archive to retrieve one of these songs if it fits the mood, but frequently will go up on the words, laugh and let someone else sing instead. Or, if I'm in the grips of New Song Fever, but haven't quite got it down yet, I'll tell my friends that this is "a work in progress" and use a cheat sheet.

But when I and my husband are performing, we sing from memory, and have practiced what we're going to sing. Even Yo-yo Ma or Placido Domingo wouldn't dream of going on stage to perform a piece they hadn't rigorously practiced. While many folk performers have a large repertoire, and don't always have a firm set list for a given performance, they'll frequently stick to songs they've run through within recent memory. I've often requested that a performer do a song from his or her "back catalog" in the second set, and been told "I'm sorry, but it's been so long since I've sung that, I don't think I can do it justice..."

That said, I've watched the late, great Helen Schneyer put the booklet from one of her Folk Legacy recordings on the piano, and sing a song she recorded 20 years ago with the same passion and vibrancy. The difference is that she HAD learned those songs by heart, and they had left an imprint in her soul that she remembered and could make the audience feel again, even though she needed help with word retrieval in her later years. I've seen other folk performers do the same thing, and I've also seen some that should have, but didn't bother, and instead showed the audience the disrespect of launching into repertoire they hadn't practiced and couldn't remember, not just for one song, but repeatedly.

My feeling is that if you want to be a performer - that is, get up on a stage and have people pay to hear you (Whether you're getting directly paid or you're performing for free at a festival the audience paid to attend), you owe them three things:

1. A love of your material so great it leads you to learn it and make it your own.

2. A desire to communicate the essence or story of the song to others, so that you learn as much about the song as you can - where did it come from? what is it about (people, place and time period)? why do you love it?

3. Enough respect for your audience to have practiced your material so that you can give them as good a performance as you can.

If you can't do these three things, you're not ready to be an interpreter or communicator of songs to a dedicated listening audience. It's better to sing socially, share songs with friends or at group sing-arounds and enjoy the music. Not everyone has to be a "performer" - making music with friends is what folk music is about!


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Marje
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 02:08 PM

In (rather late) response to Liz above: I was once in a choir where one elderly woman knew Messiah by heart and used to it without the score. A new conductor came and ordered her to use the score, his argument being that each performance had different nuances (dymanics, tempo, where to breathe, how to enunciate particular words, etc) and if she didn't have this pencilled on her score she'd miss a lot of the interpretation.

So there's a very different tradition in classical music, for all sorts of sound reasons. I'm now in a folksy sort of community choir where everything is leared by ear and we are not allowed word-sheets for performances, only little crib-cards if necessary. I've really enjoyed learning by ear and performing without a score in my hand.

In pop music it's inconceivable that a singer would get up with a word-sheet or music stand - learning your material is just part of your craft. If all those X-factor contestants can do it, I'm sure we can do it to.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Ferrara
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 01:48 PM

Barry, your long post [18 Nov 07 - 01:13 AM ] is fantastic. Somehow you put into words all the magic of a great singing session. Wow. Very, very well written IMO.

I agree that someone trotting out a song sheet in the atmosphere you describe would be the kiss of death. There is nothing like a spontaneous sharing of songs that flows naturally and lets everyone flow with it.

Groups who actually prefer to sing out of RUS are self selecting. Someone wanted to start an official FSGW group like that in the DC area, where song sheets were passed out, etc. I said, "Fine, if you will organize and lead it. No one else I know who has the experience to make it happen would be able to stand sitting through at a sing-around like that every month." Of course it never happened. But. There are groups like that in this area, some are quite nice as I understand it. The people who wanted to spend time like that organized it for themselves.

Also, singers with a big enough repertoire to enjoy the give-and-take kind of session Barry described, tend to have enough knowledge of folk music to get really, really irritated when some jerk with a copy of RUS tells them they "aren't singing the right words." So for the most part the twain don't meet.

Our local FSGW Open Sings are Open. So we encourage people to come and try their wings even if they have to have the words. A couple of people have really grown as singers by taking this approach. But the Open Sing is a "sheltered" environment. It can be very good overall but it's not likely to be magic. First and foremost, it's a sing-around. That kills the kind of give-and-take Barry was describing; each person sings whatever they came to sing. In a specific order. Different purpose, and very different experience from a good spontaneous singing session.

I know which I prefer BTW....
Rita F


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 01:22 PM

RUS (Rise Up SInging) is a song book that's really swept the US song circle crowd by storm. There are many folk society sings that use these books in mass (hence refered to as the Bible). I've been to sings (which I'll never return to) where someone will take their turn, request that everyone turn to page $#@% and sing. Some places this is the soul (pun intended) source. A few societies that I used to frequent which back in the 70's-80's were fantastic, took up these hymnals & treated them as the only worthy source to sing from & to top it off none has to learn any songs so they forever read to each other.


My musical protest to that (RUS)

Rise Up Screaming by Barry Finn
Tune: Jack In The Green by Martin Graebe

A pub session or a party is a very strange thing
They're all out of fashion no more do they sing
For they read from a book or copy a tape
They imitate sounds no mortal should make

There's no sound in the kitchen, no sound in the hall
There's a murderous screech that plays off the walls
Where is the music, where are the songs
In the mouths of monsters where no sound belongs

Dead pan they look as they sing in your face
They'll spit out the words and the tunes they'll disgrace
A song will be beat o'r and over to death
And in a round robin they'll resurrect it again

No more will be heard a version that's lost
Or a variant that's rare or two songs were crossed
The borrowing or sharing of a tune or a song
Will be according to the Bible all else will be wrong

And now for the future, it's bleak for the song
No young mortal will dare to carry it on
They'll be none around who without books can sing
Or swap without tapes or rise up singing

Copyright Barry Finn 1996

Barry


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Subject: RE: Do you sing from Memory?
From: Mysha
Date: 18 Nov 07 - 12:19 PM

Hi,

Well, I myself, I sing from memory. That's a matter of (in)ability. I've sung both classical and close-harmony, at some times even at the same event, but for classical I can't read notes fast enough and for popular I can't read text fast enough. Folk I only sing at sessions, and out of habit I sing it from memory. If I'd try to do otherwise, I expect I'd be unable to find any given point in the text fast enough for texts to be of any use.

From an audience point of view, I'd say this is about the combination of ability and audience. I've been in the audience of a club in Paris once, one song each, where one of the performers broke a snare while tuning. We had ample time to see how nervous he was while he replaced it, and his performance, once he started playing, wasn't very good either. But I guess we all felt he was courageous for trying anyway. To make matters worse, another snare broke while he was playing, and he had to sort of improvise his chords around that. If there's an absolute scale of performance, his piece can't have been very high up, but we as an audience we considered him playing as well as he was able to at that time, and he got one of the loudest ovations of the evening.

I can't recall whether he had music in front of him - probably not, or he would have knocked it over - but the point is that the audience wants you to perform to what it considers the best of your ability. Folk is an oral tradition, but that's not by choice; it's simply that folk music didn't have the money for writing, where court music did. If you give an audience the best performance when singing from paper then you'll have pleased the audience to the best of your ability. It's only if you do considerably less than that, that you will insult the audience.

Note that I didn't write "sing", but "give performance". Some folk audiences will cling to "tradition" so much that having music in front of you will weigh heavily against your performance, and to them you might in fact be superior when you have no paper and skip a verse you can't recall, or show you're human and gesture to the audience for help. Nor did I write "sing the words". Those in the audience that notice will usually understand an occasional honest slip, but will appreciate that you keep performing, whatever your way of coping. Even restarting a song, though it absolutely degrades your performance, can be forgiven if you redeem yourself in that second try.

Yes, some people sing poorly from paper, but they might sing even worse from memory. Yes, some people set up standards a little late, and a few whispers might go a long way towards speedier future sessions. No, sing-a-longing and folk-song performing don't get along too well, regardless of whether paper is involved. Etc.

But it's a matter of ability and audience. So if you're the artist, think about whether the best you're able to perform for this audience is with paper or without it. And if you're in the audience, consider in what way everyone would appreciates the performance of this artist best.

                                                                Mysha


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