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It's not folk, it's vernacular

McGrath of Harlow 14 Feb 13 - 04:47 PM
dick greenhaus 14 Feb 13 - 05:07 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Feb 13 - 05:34 PM
Lighter 14 Feb 13 - 06:29 PM
GUEST,jJack Sprocket 14 Feb 13 - 06:43 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Feb 13 - 07:31 PM
meself 14 Feb 13 - 08:16 PM
Gibb Sahib 14 Feb 13 - 08:36 PM
Marje 15 Feb 13 - 03:56 AM
Steve Gardham 15 Feb 13 - 10:50 AM
dick greenhaus 15 Feb 13 - 08:32 PM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Feb 13 - 09:44 PM
MGM·Lion 16 Feb 13 - 01:38 AM
Gibb Sahib 16 Feb 13 - 01:42 AM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Feb 13 - 08:19 AM
GUEST,John Foxen 16 Feb 13 - 10:46 AM
MGM·Lion 16 Feb 13 - 10:57 AM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Feb 13 - 11:08 AM
Bill D 16 Feb 13 - 12:01 PM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Feb 13 - 12:40 PM
Lighter 16 Feb 13 - 12:45 PM
MGM·Lion 16 Feb 13 - 12:57 PM
MGM·Lion 16 Feb 13 - 01:00 PM
MGM·Lion 16 Feb 13 - 01:00 PM
Bill D 16 Feb 13 - 02:10 PM
Lighter 16 Feb 13 - 02:36 PM
Bill D 16 Feb 13 - 03:05 PM
Lighter 16 Feb 13 - 03:51 PM
Steve Gardham 16 Feb 13 - 04:54 PM
Airymouse 16 Feb 13 - 05:37 PM
MikeofNorthumbria 16 Feb 13 - 06:25 PM
Lighter 16 Feb 13 - 08:52 PM
Bill D 16 Feb 13 - 10:39 PM
GUEST 17 Feb 13 - 05:13 AM
Dave Hanson 17 Feb 13 - 05:23 AM
Steve Gardham 17 Feb 13 - 09:01 AM
MikeofNorthumbria 17 Feb 13 - 12:51 PM
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Subject: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 04:47 PM

While reading something about Newfoundland separatism, I came across this passage which struck me as rather neatly offering a way of sidestepping the endless arguments about what and isn't folk song:

http://www.ucalgary.ca/hic/issues/vol4/1#1
History of Intellectual Culture at University of Calgary
Volume 4, No. 1

Vernacular Song, Cultural Identity, and Nationalism in Newfoundland, 1920-1955

...The term "vernacular song" is used here as having survived longer than its initial spell of popularity, and has entered oral tradition, thereby demonstrating its appeal to more than one generation. Such songs vary in character: some are traditional (in the case of Newfoundland, anonymous songs that were brought by immigrants from their original homeland), some have new words set to traditional tunes, some are broadside ballads (the authors of which are usually although not always unknown), some are the work of (known) singer-songwriters, and some are texts set to music by a composer other than the writer. To become a vernacular song, a composition must not only possess a good tune (a "vital melody,", to use Frank Kidson's phrase), but also have words that strike a chord in the hearts and minds of listeners. Because they have stood the test of time, vernacular songs can tell us something about the beliefs, values, and opinions of those who were drawn to them sufficiently to keep them current for generations.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 05:07 PM

It's a nice definition, but one could also use it for "folk", which has
3 fewer syllables and 5 ewer letters.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 05:34 PM

The trouble is "folk" has a range of meanings. That's where the disputes arise as to which meaning should be sanctified - a broad one equivalent to vernacylar here, or a more restricted one, and which restricted one, 1954 or whatever. "Vernacular" doesn't invite that.

I suppose we still might get arguments about whether some song that nobody has heard of which gets resurrected would count. We like arguing...

I suppose this use of vernacular is analogous to that in architecture, where it's about buildings put up without an architect interfering with the way buildings are generally put up in that part of the world, even if it's an architect who might design a particular building.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 06:29 PM

I've known this term for years; it looks like it goes way back to the 1830s - making it older than the phrase "folk music" itself!

As McGrath says, it's useful for avoiding the contentious or tendentious term "folk" and including everything that is in any sense "popular." It neatly excludes neoclassical and experimental music.

I don't doubt there are many "borderline" cases even so.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: GUEST,jJack Sprocket
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 06:43 PM

Listen, listen, hark to the soft guitar
Vernaculi vernacular, vernaculi vernacular vaernaculiiiiiiiii...


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 07:31 PM

Of course there's another use for the word, to indicate using colourful language. Twinned with 'the demotic'


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: meself
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 08:16 PM

I believe that should read something to the following effect: ' ...The term "vernacular song" is used here TO MEAN SONG THAT HAS survived longer than its initial spell of popularity ... '

Otherwise, it seems to be the term itself that has "survived longer than its initial spell of popularity ... ", which is the meaning I took on first reading.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 14 Feb 13 - 08:36 PM

I have used "vernacular" is a similar way in published writing and teaching about music in India and Pakistan. "Folk" is just has too many connotations— and its use differs between the people's whose music I am describing (they often use the English word "folk", or the native equivalent, "lok" [="people"]) and between my English-speaking audience. Natives to the music tend to use "folk" for anything sung in the regional language...unless the music has some features (like a disco rhythm) that make it seem too foreign to the "folk" concept.

It's more about effective communication of a concept, within a given context, rather than creating universal or "air-tight" definition.

Another possibility is that "vernacular" is used as a broader category, under which "folk" is subsumed, a sub-set.

I don't think "vernacular" replaces "folk." It's just another term that can be handy for grouping things.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Marje
Date: 15 Feb 13 - 03:56 AM

There are times when it could be an appropriate word to use when there's a need to make the meaning clear (e.g. when the definition of "folk" is questioned, over-extended, or derided). It's just a pity that it's a rather clumsy, Latin-derived word that isn't in everyday use, and it wouldn't be readily understood in all contexts.

But it does have the huge advantage of not being open to unhelpful generalisations and extensions of its meaning in the way that "folk" does, and yet it has a wider application than "traditional". No one's going to say, "Well, it's all vernacular music, isn't it? I ain't never heard a vernacule ...aw, forget it."

Yes, it's useful word to keep up one's sleeve for future discussions.

Marje


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 Feb 13 - 10:50 AM

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
The music moguls will hear you and immediately appropriate the term.

Then there'll be lots of vernacular festivals, clubs, sessions, dances, etc.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 15 Feb 13 - 08:32 PM

The only thing that will make a sensible argument possible is if the arguers first agree on what they're arguing about.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Feb 13 - 09:44 PM

Now sensible arguments are great. It's a pity they tend to be quite uncommon, even when they start off that way.

Vernacular is a bit of a mouthful. In the event the term got the kind of use Steve dreads I suppose it would be cut down - " Nackler" or maybe "knackler" would seem the logical way to do it in the English tradition. Ozzies I suppose might go for "Verno"...


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 01:38 AM

I think the whole argument is idio[ma]tic...


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 01:42 AM

If there is an argument somewhere in this thread, I'm not seeing it.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 08:19 AM

Actually there is, in the meaning of the word which the dictionary I've got here gives as the primary meaning - "reason advanced; reasoning process."

"Debate esp heated one" is only the secondary meaning given.

Perhaps the fact that we tend to use the word mostly or exclusively in the secondary meaning is an indication that we live in a very tetchy time. And the Mudcat reflects this.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: GUEST,John Foxen
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 10:46 AM

I think it's a very useful term which could be applied, for example, to "You'll Never Walk Alone" which is a composed song that has entered the vernacular of Liverpool (I remember someone in another thread quoting AL Lloyd as saying this song was "folk by usage but not folk by form").
And I have heard the term used in a folk club. A gentleman with a thick Wiltshire accent came up to me and said: "I like your songs. You write them in the funicular." It did take a moment or two work out what he meant but I'd like to think he's right.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 10:57 AM

That quote is from my interview with Bert Lloyd, The Donkey & The Zebra, in Folk Review Sept 1974. The actual words used were "Folk in function but not in form".

~M~


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 11:08 AM

Funicular - that's great. I think it should be generally adopted.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 12:01 PM

My thesaurus has for vernacular: "Being or characteristic of or appropriate to everyday language...or the characteristic language itself"

and lists as synonyms as:
argot
cant
jargon
lingo
patois
slang

It seems to me that it is a stretch to use the obviously awkward word in another attempt to explain "folk/traditional."


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 12:40 PM

Thesauruses aren't dictionaries. A word is likely to turn up in different places according to which of its various senses is in play.

Folk is a handy word, but when you start trying to shoehorn all the different types of songs we sing into it it is liable to burst at the seams.

"Folk by function" is good. We could have "folk by function" nights in the function rooms at pubs where the clubs used to meet, if we could still find functional pubs...


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 12:45 PM

Don't know about your thesaurus, but the OED thinks this usage (more or less)of the adjective "vernacular" is just fine: "Of arts, or features of these: Native or peculiar to a particular country or locality."

Current usage is perhaps a little broader.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 12:57 PM

As a noun, "the vernacular" suggests idiomatic or informal language, acceptable but hardly to be used on occasions of strict formality.

~M~


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 01:00 PM

... an example would be or customary use of "The Cat" to refer to this site whose formal and correct name is The Mudcat Cafe.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 01:00 PM

our customary use, buggerit!


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 02:10 PM

It is precisely the difference between dictionary 'definitions' and thesaurus usage and paying attention to whether one precedes it with a definite article ["the vernacular"] that causes me to hope that this usage not be widely perpetrated accepted.

I see why they try, I just don't relish one more ambiguous term tossed into the mix. (Yes, I see that they explain the context...and IN that context, if I am reading an article where the word is used, I will translate in my head for the duration.)


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 02:36 PM

I like "vernacular" because in some ways it's *less* ambiguous. When somebody says "folk music" without any context, I don't know what the heck they're talking about. If they say "vernacular music," I know the following:

1. It's "popular music" in every sense of the word - not just the commercial sense.

2. The person using "vernacular music" is likely to have a clear idea of what he's talking about and what he isn't. There hasn't been any influence from press agents, singer-songwriters, etc.

3. It includes everything describable as "folk," whereas "folk," by way of contrast, seems to be specific but has various applications.

If you need to be more specific, you can then revert to "traditional" or "R&B" or "show tunes" or whatever. But you don't confuse the issue from the outset by saying "folk."

Just a suggestion.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 03:05 PM

Hmmm... I'll think on that, Lighter. It has a certain logical sense, put that way... but I doubt it will gain wide use, except among those who need to differentiate in scholarly debate.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 03:51 PM

And we're the only ones who want to.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 04:54 PM

So far I've only heard it used in scholarly circles, and perhaps it should stay that way. As several have said, it is an unwieldy word. Vic Gammon uses it quite a lot in his books and scholarly writings.

I only tend to use the dreaded 'F' word with mixed audiences nowadays, and by mixed I mean scholarly and non-scholarly. I find it better to use a whole range of words for more precise description.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Airymouse
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 05:37 PM

It is true that the meaning of a word may change. For example, "budget" used to mean "packet" as in the old song, Revolutionary Tea: "and so the old lady her servant called up and packed up a BUDGET of tea, and eager for threepence a pound she put in enough for a large family". But sometimes the meaning of a word is appropriated, and that is what has happened to "folk". Anyway whatever your terminology, we are talking about what people in maths call a non-degenerate equivalence class. It is a collection of tunes and words handed down lovingly from generation to generation, and any reasonable person who hears one set of words and one tune and a second set of words with a second tune would say, "the words are different, the tunes are different, but it's the same song."


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MikeofNorthumbria
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 06:25 PM

Hi Kevin, good to hear from you again! I think you've introduced - or rather revived - an idea that deserves further discussion.

'Revived?' Well, yes. Because I did suggest something similar in an article entitled 'Do We Still Need the F-Word?' which appeared in Living Tradition magazine in 2006. Quotation follows:

"Consider what happens when an informal gathering of people, most of them well acquainted with each other, launch into a song which most of them have known for some time. This activity has been going on in private homes and public houses for centuries.   We find vivid descriptions of it in the reminiscences of many people, including Flora Thompson, Bob Copper, and Richard Hoggart. And we have recordings of it from pubs in Sussex, Suffolk, Yorkshire, and various other locations.

The activity itself is clearly traditional, in one sense. But if many of the songs being sung are of recent origin and known authorship, it may be misleading to describe it as 'traditional singing'.   There are several possible alternatives.   'Vernacular singing' is technically accurate, but sounds a bit pompous. 'Community singing' is nearer the mark, but carries some awkward historical baggage along with it. So why not bite on the bullet and call it 'folk singing'?"

Seven years on, I'd still like to believe that ordinary people might one day liberate the word 'folk' from the music industry, and make it truly their own. But this outcome seems improbable while the media keeps using 'folk' as shorthand for 'indie rock band with at least one acoustic instrument, fronted by singer-songwriter seeking to transform self-pity from a hobby into a career'.

It may well be, then, that Kevin is right, and 'vernacular' is the way to go. Time will tell – though we oldies may not live long enough to find out.

Wassail!


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Lighter
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 08:52 PM

> 'indie rock band with at least one acoustic instrument, fronted by singer-songwriter seeking to transform self-pity from a hobby into a career'.

I love it! (I mean the description.)


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Feb 13 - 10:39 PM

Great description! Ranks right up there with "A young girl singing her diary."


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Feb 13 - 05:13 AM

This is from an article - "Wonderfully Curious" - that Mike Yates wrote for Musical Traditions:

During the Late 1940's and 50's a number of labour historians began to reassess Sharp's definition. Were folk songs, they asked, really the exclusive domain of the rural class (or peasantry to use the term that Sharp preferred), or could folk songs also be found in urban societies? And, if so, were these songs still passed from generation to generation in the manner that Sharp had suggested? And, why only study the so-called folk songs, when singers were singing many other types of songs? In 1967 A L Lloyd published his influential book Folk Song in England which contains many urban - Lloyd called them industrial - songs, thus leading the way for the American folklorist and historian Archie Green to come up with the all-embracing phrase vernacular songs, thus eliminating the need for discrimination when it comes to the repertoire of folk singers.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 17 Feb 13 - 05:23 AM

I'm going to a vernacular session this afternoon, one on Tuesday night and maybe a vernacular club later in the week.

I may go to Whitby Vernacular Week in August.

Dave H


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Feb 13 - 09:01 AM

Hi, Mike
Is that your own phrase? Like Jon I love it.

Bill, where did yours come from? Conjures up images of Phoebe on 'Friends'!

Perhaps we should make a collection.


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Subject: RE: It's not folk, it's vernacular
From: MikeofNorthumbria
Date: 17 Feb 13 - 12:51 PM

Hi Steve,

Guilty as charged - the phrase is my own coinage. But I should qualify it a bit by saying that:

1) I have no grudge against people who play rock music on acoustic instruments - Michael Chapman, for one, has been a favourite artist of mine for decades

2) I can also appreciate introspective songs when the author is someone with the talent of a Paul Simon or a Joni Mitchell

BUT I grow weary of hearing mediocre attempts at either/both being hyped by the music media as 'the next big thing in FOLK!'

In my book, 'folk' and 'the next big thing' don't belong on the same page, let alone the same sentence. Some of the works of our contemporary singer-songwriters may eventually be absorbed into the collective consciousness and become 'folk'. But it will be a decade or three before we know which ones have made the cut.

Terry Pratchet had a relevant word to say about this. When asked in a radio interview whether his books were 'literature' he replied:

"...literature is clearly the result of a vote, taken probably after you are dead. I don't think I write literature. I think I write - I hope I write - entertaining books that are good value for money. If they are read in 50 years time that will be a bonus but it's not something that has to worry me very much."

Or as T S Eliot put it, when thinking aloud about the poet's craft:

'For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.'

Wassail!

Mike


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