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NPR: folklorist Barre Toelken & group sings

Desert Dancer 07 Jan 12 - 01:28 PM
Desert Dancer 07 Jan 12 - 01:32 PM
Acme 07 Jan 12 - 01:33 PM
GUEST,SteveG 07 Jan 12 - 02:43 PM
Desert Dancer 08 Jan 12 - 12:25 PM
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Subject: NPR: folklorist B. Toelken & group sings
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 01:28 PM

On NPR: Group Singalongs Provide Comfort For A Livelihood Lost

For the past several years, a group of friends has gathered every week in the living room of a suburban home in Logan, Utah, to sing long-forgotten songs. It's a fun way to spend the evening, but it's also therapy for a dear friend.

Until several years ago, Barre Toelken was a folklorist at Utah State University. He'd spent much of his life preserving sea shanties and other antique songs, but then he had a stroke and was forced to retire.

"I used to know 800 songs," Toelken says. "I had this stroke, and I had none of these songs left in my head. None of them were left."

But, Toelken says, he soon discovered that, with a little positive reinforcement, he could remember some of the forgotten music after all.

"A little bit at a time, I realized I still had the songs in my head," he says. "So now I meet with this group of friends once a week a week, and we sing.

"This group doesn't use any musical instruments, because I can't play the guitar since the stroke hit me," Toelken says. "And they did that as a sign of respect, I think. But they've all said how much they've learned about the songs since they quit using the guitar because instead of concentrating on their hand moving, they have to concentrate on the words."

"Climbing High Mountains", Barre Toelken and friends sing a traditional number at one of their weekly gatherings. (NPR player for audio)

Barre Toelken: Folklorist of Culture and Performance, by Matthew Irwin (Westminster College)

From the above short biography, it's interesting (for me, now that I've spent over half my life in the American Southwest) to read this:

In his 1987 article, "Life and Death in the Navajo Coyote Tales," he distinguished four levels of meaning for these narratives: those that he calls entertainment (level I), moral worldview (II), medicine (III), and witchcraft (IV). And he concluded:

Even if I reject [the Navajo] warning that there is danger in deeper inquiry into the stories, for me to actually do further work would necessitate a repudiation of Navajo beliefs and values—treasures that I feel ought to be strengthened and nurtured by folklore scholarship, not weakened, denigrated, or given away to curious onlookers.

Just as a folklorist needs to know where to begin, so one needs to recognize where to stop, and I have decided to stop here. My intention is to deal with Level IV of the Navajo stories not at all, beyond acknowledging here that it exists and that it is considered dangerous by those in whose world it functions. Level III, while fascinating, involves such heavy implications for Level IV that I think it should also be left alone by outsiders; the present essay is the fullest statement I anticipate making on it.
(pp. 399-400)

In these respects, Toelken contrasts markedly with many scholars, some of whom have urged him to collect and write about materials that the Navajo consider sacred or not to be shared with outsiders or limited to particular seasons of the year. He has said forthrightly that he has doubts about journalists and anthropologists who advocate "quick fixes and fast theories." And, in "The Yellowman Tapes, 1996-1997," he recounts his decision to pack up and mail to the Yellowman family his entire collection of tape recordings of Coyote stories, some thirty years' worth, knowing that they would be destroyed by the family because of the potential dangers if the tapes were played in the wrong situation or at the wrong time of year.

Understanding and respect seem to have been the outcome of his studies.

Best wishes to him, and glad that song brings him comfort.
~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: NPR: folklorist B. Toelken & group sings
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 01:32 PM

Sorry I didn't make it clear - the NPR online text concludes just before the "Climbing High Mountains" link. There is also a link to full audio of the story at my first link to the NPR page. There's always a bit more in the audio than their text transcripts. It's a nice ~4-minute listen.

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: NPR: folklorist B. Toelken & group sings
From: Acme
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 01:33 PM

I've published links and information here before about Barre Toelken. He's really quite an amazing fellow. Such a loss, a stroke that steals songs!

His work with Navajo language is very important. I remember one day speaking with a professor in graduate school about Barre, that I'd heard him in concert - there is such a difference between these two interests that the professor didn't have a clue. He's a singer himself and was going to meet Barre at a Native American lit/culture conference. I urged him to engage him in a discussion of folk songs, that he'd probably be amazed. I think he was.


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Subject: RE: NPR: folklorist B. Toelken & group sings
From: GUEST,SteveG
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 02:43 PM

Please please, give my sincerest regards to Barre. I've never met him and I suppose I never shall but I have a deep respect for his writings. On my desk in front of me is a copy of his definition of folksong. 'Morning Dew and Roses' is one of my favourite books.

Fond regards,
Steve Gardham in Yorkshire

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Subject: singing and stroke
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 08 Jan 12 - 12:25 PM

refresh (with alternative thread title to help searches)

His entire first name now also appears in the thread title to help searches

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