Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafesj

Post to this Thread - Printer Friendly - Home
Page: [1] [2] [3] [4]


folk process: tune evolution?

Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 12:04 PM
Richard Mellish 07 Jan 16 - 02:20 PM
Brian Peters 07 Jan 16 - 02:49 PM
Lighter 07 Jan 16 - 03:52 PM
Brian Peters 07 Jan 16 - 05:41 PM
GUEST 07 Jan 16 - 06:50 PM
Jack Campin 07 Jan 16 - 08:45 PM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 04:51 AM
Lighter 08 Jan 16 - 06:50 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 06:57 AM
Lighter 08 Jan 16 - 07:05 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 07:42 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 11:13 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 11:18 AM
Brian Peters 08 Jan 16 - 12:41 PM
Steve Gardham 08 Jan 16 - 03:25 PM
GUEST,Gibb Sahib 11 Jan 16 - 06:43 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 16 - 01:40 PM
GUEST,Stim 12 Jan 16 - 02:14 PM
Jack Campin 12 Jan 16 - 02:39 PM
Steve Gardham 12 Jan 16 - 02:50 PM
Lighter 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
Gibb Sahib 24 Nov 17 - 05:00 AM
GUEST 24 Nov 17 - 12:11 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 02:17 PM
GUEST 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 PM
Jack Campin 24 Nov 17 - 04:12 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 04:15 PM
Steve Gardham 24 Nov 17 - 05:08 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 24 Nov 17 - 05:19 PM
Brian Peters 24 Nov 17 - 05:44 PM
leeneia 24 Nov 17 - 06:26 PM
Richard Mellish 25 Nov 17 - 12:55 AM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 25 Nov 17 - 05:16 AM
Lighter 25 Nov 17 - 08:45 AM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 25 Nov 17 - 10:55 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 11:04 AM
Jack Campin 25 Nov 17 - 11:28 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 11:37 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 25 Nov 17 - 12:13 PM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 08:46 AM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 08:50 AM
Lighter 26 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM
Jack Campin 26 Nov 17 - 09:55 AM
Steve Gardham 26 Nov 17 - 10:23 AM
GUEST,Richard Robinson 26 Nov 17 - 12:35 PM
Brian Peters 26 Nov 17 - 12:48 PM
Pamela R 26 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 26 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum Child
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:













Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 12:04 PM

Heh.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 02:20 PM

I'm not entirely convinced about the difference between plagiarism and the folk process being whether the change is deliberate and conscious or unconscious. I'm not even convinced that there was/is much difference at all in the absence of copyright law. Shakespeare took many (most? all?) of his plots from existing literature. His work is respected because he picked stories that were good ones and because he told them very well.

The evolution (yes, I do think it's a perfectly appropriate term) of Barbara Allen into umpteen versions surely involved many instances of broadside writers or printers making changes (deliberately for good or bad reasons or inadvertently) and many instances of singers misremembering, misunderstanding or deliberately making changes that they regarded as improvements.

I do think that inadvertent changes tend to be for the worse and deliberate ones for the better, but those are merely tendencies and there are plenty of exceptions.

And the making of new versions has not stopped. In recent times participants in the folk song revival have quite deliberately made completely new versions of some of the classic ballads; e.g. Leslie Haworth's rewrite of The Frog and the Mouse, Bob Coltman's "Son of Child" series and Brian Peters' version of Our Goodman.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 02:49 PM

Going back for a moment to 'The Unfortunate Rake'...

Lighter wrote: "St. James Infirmary" is only a very distant relative. The situation is barely comparable and the tune is entirely different. The main point of commonality may be the appearance of "St. James" in the name of the hospital.

Pamela has already partly answered this, but to me the most significant feature is in the funeral arrangements that she mentioned. Compare:

"Get six jolly fellows to carry my coffin
And six pretty maidens to bear up my pall"

with:

"Get six gamblers to carry my coffin
Six chorus girls to sing me a song"

That sequence of six men (carrying a coffin, in both) followed by six women has to be more than convergence.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 03:52 PM

> has to be more than convergence.

It may just as easily be borrowing, either from "The Streets of Laredo" branch (brought to public attention in America by Lomax in 1910) or else from "The Unfortunate Lad/ Rake and a Rambling Boy" song; which, of course, may have borrowed the idea from the "Rake." Or vice versa?

As I say, the "Blues" is an "offshoot," not a lineal descendant, and surely it's the result of almost total recomposition.

I believe that mainly a past generation folklorists would insist that the jazz song and the rake song, with their differing scenarios and melodies, are somehow "the same song."

Most everyone else would only say, "Yeah, there *is* a resemblance. I wonder why. Unless it was like plagiarism."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 05:41 PM

It may just as easily be borrowing, either from "The Streets of Laredo" branch (brought to public attention in America by Lomax in 1910) or else from "The Unfortunate Lad/ Rake and a Rambling Boy" song

'Rake and a Rambling Boy' is a different song ('Flash Lad' etc) but, yes, I agree it looks like a borrowing (and 'Streets of Laredo' is a good candidate) - but isn't borrowing one of the processes we're talking about here? If it is a recomposition it adheres to the original template quite closely.

As I say, the "Blues" is an "offshoot," not a lineal descendant, and surely it's the result of almost total recomposition.

If recomposition means it's not a 'lineal descendent', where does that leave the 'Elfin Knight / Cambric Shirt / Acre of Land' family, for example?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 06:50 PM

Hi Brian,
A lineal descent can easily be traced between members of the Elfin Knight family albeit some of the links are quite scarce. I suppose it could be argued that 'Acre of Land' is a separate song because it only utilises half the original and has changed the purpose of the song completely. But with the 'St James Infirmary the odd isolated bits only make up a small part of the new song, almost commonplaces or motifs.

We have toyed with the idea of giving the various oikotypes of the 'Unfortunate Rake' family separate numbers or some sort of separate designation but it's not really feasible at the moment.

We have done this with the even more difficult and ancient 'Died for Love' family, i.e., given them separate numbers.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 07 Jan 16 - 08:45 PM

Something that might be relevant for analyzing tune relationships. Look at the display here:

http://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/420691/tune-a-day/0433

The graph at the right shows relationships with other tunes known to the ABC corpus. I haven't really used it but it might be worth trying to understand what it does. (Probably not enough - maybe Pamela can improve it?)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 04:51 AM

A lineal descent can easily be traced between members of the Elfin Knight family albeit some of the links are quite scarce. I suppose it could be argued that 'Acre of Land' is a separate song because it only utilises half the original and has changed the purpose of the song completely. But with the 'St James Infirmary the odd isolated bits only make up a small part of the new song, almost commonplaces or motifs.

I accept that 'St James' is a new creation, but not that it's just a 'very distant relative'. If Tom Sherman is part of the lineage then we can add 'Old Joe's barroom' to the list of common features that Pamela suggested above and to which I added the six plus six mourners. Apologies to Lighter, however, for dismissing 'Rake and a Rambling Boy', which in it's British antecedents does of course have similar funeral arrangements.

As for Child 2, you could argue just as well that the impossible tasks are 'commonplaces' (the riddles in Child 1 certainly are). Is a battle for a mortal's soul with a supernatural being an identical scenario to a bit of idle banter between lovers, mediated by a third party on the way to some fair or other?

We have done this with the even more difficult and ancient 'Died for Love' family, i.e., given them separate numbers

Well, good luck untangling one!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 06:50 AM

> Is a battle for a mortal's soul with a supernatural being an identical scenario to a bit of idle banter between lovers, mediated by a third party on the way to some fair or other?

Obviously not. It's been a long time since I examined this song family. Do we have enough texts to show a slow, continual evolution - or sudden leaps that could be explained by either "evolution," intentional recomposition, or independent development from a common folkloric (non-balladic) source?

It may be that such questions aren't fully answerable. Frustrating.

One more suggestion for Pamela: the tune of "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" is a major version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," which is also used for most "Three Crows" versions of "The Three Ravens." (Some people actually find the tunes hard to distinguish, which is surprising to me.)

Patrick S. Gilmore, composer of "Johnny," acknowledged that he'd picked up the unnamed tune from someone else. In other words, it was already a traditional tune, though of indeterminate age.

In shameless self-promotion, let me recommend "The Best Anti-War Song Ever Written," available from Dick Greenhaus at CAMSCO Music. It appears that the "Johnny" tune is a direct descendant of the original "Three Ravens" via "John Anderson, My Jo."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 06:57 AM

"The Best Anti-War Song Ever Written," available from Dick Greenhaus at CAMSCO Music.

I can add my own recommendation to this fascinating piece of work.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 07:05 AM

Brian, you are too kind.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 07:42 AM

On a slightly different tack, here's an example of 'evolution' (or whatever we prefer to call it) in action.

The recently-released double CD 'Early Ballads in Ireland', which it's my pleasure and privilege to have in my review pile right now (spoiler alert: it's wonderful, and essential to any fan of the Child Ballads) includes two versions of the vanishingly rare Child 87. One of the singers learned the ballad directly from the other, yet there are several differences:

A melodic variation in the second line.
Substitution of vocabulary ('cask of wine' for 'bottle', etc).
Alteration of the text to achieve a rhyme.
Two verses (poetically powerful but tangential to the story) omitted.
An additional verse created using an existing verse as template.

And that's just at one remove down the chain of Chinese Whispers!

Thread here:
Early Ballads in Ireland


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 11:13 AM

Hi Brian,
I suspect you guessed that the 6.50 post was mine sans cookie.

Sorry, but you certainly could not argue that the riddles in Child 2 could be classed as commonplaces. In order to be such they would have to appear in other ballads and they certainly do not. The fact that the meaning of the ballad changes from period to period in Child 2 does not take anything away from the fact that they are all easily demonstrated points in an evolution. The biggest break in the continuum in my opinion is when a version of Scarborough Fair lost its first half and the riddles were deliberately changed into a very popular little country ditty some time in the 19thc. However there are sufficient elements in Acre of Land that are linked very closely to a few variants of Scarborough Fair to make the relationship close and obvious. The fact that these elements were afterwards added to is neither here nor there.

No luck needed. Already untangled. Check up-to-date Roud Index.

happy New Year, SteveG


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 11:18 AM

Regarding 87, I think it's a Scott concoction. Child very kindly described it as 'this very slender tale'. It's full of commonplaces and the language in all 4 versions is somewhat suspect. But I am a
a noted skeptic I do accept.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 12:41 PM

Happy New Year, Steve - yes, I had guessed.

"you certainly could not argue that the riddles in Child 2 could be classed as commonplaces. In order to be such they would have to appear in other ballads and they certainly do not."

My point was the slightly facetious one that they did appear - as a job lot - in three separate ballads, Elfin Knight, Cambric Shirt and Acre of Land. If there is a demonstrable lineage linking those three, presumably at some point a major recasting occurred that banished the Elfin Knight and brought in the herbal refrain? If so, I don't see why the jazz rewrite of 'Laredo' (which retained the basic scenario and three separate textual elements) is any different in principle.

"Regarding 87, I think it's a Scott concoction."

It's your field, not mine, and you may well be right. Although it does strike me as a lot of trouble for Motherwell to have gone to, to make two substantially different rewrites (87 B & C) and create fake sources for them. Anyway, whatever the origin, it doesn't alter my point about changes to the ballad occurring between the two Dublin singers.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jan 16 - 03:25 PM

Agreed. As I've said many times literary ballads often go into oral tradition pretty quickly. Good example is 'Bonny Lass of Fyvie'.

I'm not really qualified to comment on jazz pieces but I've never heard of anyone trying to separate Elfin Knight from Scarborough Fair before. The loss of the supernatural elements is a common occurrence at this period and the refrains jumped around from ballad to ballad willy-nilly. For instance there is cross-over between refrains of Child 277 Wife wrapt, and Robin-a-Thrash, but we now know these 2 ballads had separate origins and evolutions.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Gibb Sahib
Date: 11 Jan 16 - 06:43 PM

Quite simply, one can theoretically approach the study of something however one wishes. To reiterate and/or clarify, talking about "tune evolution" _under the rubric of ethnomusicology_ simply presents a problem because, historically, scholars in the field have taken issue with the application of ideas of evolution to musical forms.

One quick fix, as I'd mentioned is to simply disclaim ethnomusicology as the field of reference. Say it's Folklore or English Lit. or something (might work -- I can't speak to how those disciplines would react).

Once clear, however, of any claim that the topic is one covered by ethnomusicology, one might still be interested in the potential insights from ethnomusicology.

I don't have time to go over the history of ethnomusicology's position. It's in the references I gave. I will only mention that just mention of the word "evolution" is enough to raise the hackles of ethnomusicologists. Whether or not one thinks this is justified, it is helpful to know that this will be the case.

Does this mean that someone may not use the term "evolution" in an ethnomusicology-based course, or, more substantially, that one may not apply ideas from biological evolution to the study of musical forms? No, it does not. It means that if one chooses to do so, one is fairly obligated (by the "rules of academia," if you will!) to demonstrate knowledge of the past discourse on the issue and to explain why, despite common objection, one thinks this idea is worth reconsidering.

I happen to think that "old" ideas ARE worth reconsidering, and have faith that others, being people of good faith, will be open to hearing about it. To make a crude analogy, if you chose to refer to Black Americans as "colored people," the response would not be favorable. You could go on to explain why, for some thoughtful reason, you chose to say "colored people" and, hopefully, reasonable people would hear you out. But to remain oblivious to peoples historical objection to "colored people" would not be wise.

Ethnomusicology as we know it was a field configured in the wake of WWII, and its founders (who tended to come out of anthropology) were reacting to the way that ideas from biological evolution had been applied to culture. These were people who had either escaped or been exiled from Nazi Germany, or were the students of such people. It was thought that the misapplication of ideas of evolution to the study of culture was, broadly speaking, a forerunner of Nazi racialist ideology. One may make of that what one will, but the fact remains that the school of anthropology with which ethnomusicologist allied themselves was anti-evolutionism.

Leaving aside the politics and historical trends within the field, ethnomusicologists are disinclined to think about "tune evolution" (since the mid-20th c.) because they don't think about music as an object. As such, there is no "thing" to undergo evolution.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 01:40 PM

Wow!
Thanks for the explanation, Gibb.
Fortunately not all ethnomusicologists this side of the pond are so touchy about the way folk music evolves. We only come across them in academic circles but those I have met and talked to have been very helpful and interested in the ways we study folk music. Sheffield University Musicology Dept in the past have been very helpful in hosting Traditional Song forum meetings and their students have attended and taken part in our meetings.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:14 PM

Really, Dr. Gibb? Comparing her with Nazis and racists? I think you've lost your compass here.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:39 PM

There was an idea which you find in a lot of music-appreciation books that music evolves from primitive music to better music - perhaps this reached its fullest expression in Wagner's circle. This was associated with a whole lot of proto-fascist ideas, and it wasn't just academic ethnomusicologists in the US who had a problem with it. (Victor Zuckerkandl's "Sound and Symbol" - cheap paperback from Dover, if you're curious - argues an anti-evolutionist standpoint which he presumably formulated when living as a Jew under the Nazis. He's surprisingly quiet and moderate about it, considering).

The evolution of tunes (or temporal change, to be more neutral about it) doesn't carry anything like those associations. You don't need to see it as a progression from the primordial pentatonic slime to ripplingly muscular blonde beast sonata forms pulsing with Dynamic Tension and kicking sand in the faces of music from inferior cultures, and hardly anybody does.

What the categorization of tunes (and other musical elements) does sometimes help with is decoding their history. Bartok did that and wasn't anybody's idea of a Nazi. The conclusions you get from that sort of comparison, as with DNA sequencing of modern populations, don't help the nationalist case one little bit. Usually everything comes from somewhere else and you pinched it from the smelly gits you most despise.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 Jan 16 - 02:50 PM

I like that, Jack. Neat!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 23 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

Folk process factoid:

A character in the movie "Hell or High Water" (2016) briefly sings the first stanza of "Get Along, Little Dogies" to the "Streets of Laredo" tune.

He keeps the original tune for the chorus, however.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:00 AM

How about the evolution of a Mudcat thread?

I have no idea how a couple of the last posters in this thread got the idea of talking about song researchers as "Nazis." I mentioned WWII and Nazism in my comment and then you just go free association with the term??

Bartok was not an ethnomusicologist.
There have been folklorists who deal with songs. They are not ethnomusicologists.
My posts explain how ethnomusicology developed after WW2.
None of this stuff is static; what people were doing in 1950s vs.today, and vs. anything before that that you might presume to call an antecedent to ethnomusicology, is vastly different. Likewise Biology.

I had only made the point that if one is using the language of "evolution," one is not speaking the language of ethnomusicology, which roundly banished the term in the 1950s.
In the 1960s-70s, some people found it glamorous, for some puzzling reason, to link themselves to the term "ethnomusicology" without actually practicing it, but rather presuming that if one did anything -- studying, playing, recording -- with any music outside Western art music and commercial popular music then somehow you were "ethno" (lol).

As I've mentioned many times on this forum as well, ethnomusicologists also tend to avoid the term "folk," except when referring specifically to a a cultural group may use that term.
Plenty o hucksters out there who hope some of the academic quality of the term "ethnomusicology" will rub off on them. Oh the irony—if they were actually ethnomusicologists, they'd probably be wanted to distance themselves from that term and from academic artifice.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 12:11 PM

Did ethnolmusicologists of the 1950's apply concepts from evolutionary theory, as mentioned in the first post, correctly ? Did any of them have the "ascent from the slime" misunderstanding that may have given it a bad name.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 02:17 PM

Gibb, that is the clearest description I've heard yet of what ethnomusicology is, and how it differs from what the folklore people do. Thanks.

Like Pamela I come from a biology background, and I do have some difficulty applying the Darwinian model to temporal change in folk songs. Of Cecil Sharp's three folk song characteristics, 'continuity' and 'variation' are easily observable, but 'selection', though obviously a factor in that some songs survived and others didn't, is rather distracting because it does suggest some analogy with Natural Selection which is much more difficult to demonstrate.

FWIW, Sharp was no great fan of Darwin anyway, according to a letter of his that I once read.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 03:41 PM

because it does suggest some analogy with Natural Selection which is much more difficult to demonstrate.

Does it have to be any more than that songs that people like most get sung more and spread and less popular ones don't and tend to fall by the wayside? That small changes that make the song work better for listeners tend to be kept? That verses that don't make sense because they have been mis-heard or include words that have fallen out of use are dropped or changed?

I know more about paleontology than folk songs so maybe there is something I don't 'get'.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 04:12 PM

Bartok was not an ethnomusicologist

Neither was Newton a physicist.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 04:15 PM

"That small changes that make the song work better for listeners tend to be kept? That verses that don't make sense because they have been mis-heard or include words that have fallen out of use are dropped or changed?"

That's what Sharp thought, with his 'pebble smoothed by the waves of the sea'. The problem is to demonstrate that there actually was a steady 'improvement' in the songs as they were passed on down generations. I think there is evidence that some of the awkward edges of broadside lyrics were smoothed away in oral tradition, but on the other hand lots of songs were collected that were garbled and contained nonsensical and/ or misheard words.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:08 PM

But then 'selection' was arguably the most important of the 3 descriptors. Both 'continuity' and 'variation' are also major factors in the print tradition.

'Continuity' in the sense that the most 'popular' continued to be printed in large numbers by the broadside presses.


'variation' I hope to demonstrate at tomorrow's conference was a major feature in the print tradition particularly with those ballads that later entered oral tradition.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:19 PM

Why the need for 'improvement' in order to demonstrate the influence of something analogous to natural selection on the diversity of forms songs and tunes can take? It may have been Sharp's (and by the sound of it 1950's ethnomusicologist's) understanding of evolution but it's not the way Pamela R refers to it in the first post and, so far as I recall, it wasn't Darwin's either.

It's not really helpful to speculate about the pebbles crushed to sand in the waves or the offerings of broadside authors that a printer wouldn't waste ink on. But are there no examples of song variants being selected for survival and collection because of the way they fitted a particular cultural or linguistic niche?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 05:44 PM

"It's not really helpful to speculate about the pebbles crushed to sand in the waves"

I'm not speculating, and didn't mention pebbles being 'crushed'.

The actual quote from Cecil Sharp is:

"Many, perhaps all of [the folk song's] most characteristic qualities, have subsequently been acquired during its journey down the ages, and represent the achievements of many generations of singers. Individual angles and irregularities have been gradually rubbed off and smoothed away by communal effort, just as the pebble on the sea shore is rounded and polished by the action
of the waves."

Sharp was describing improvement in the songs. Darwin would have said 'better adapted to their environment'. Pamela has already made it clear she was describing only 'change'.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: leeneia
Date: 24 Nov 17 - 06:26 PM

More than once I have seen (I mean heard) the interesting, distinctive bits in an old piece of music be thrown out by people who play by ear. They change everything they hear to match the conventions of their own era.

I would call it the opposite of tune evolution.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 12:55 AM

Leeneia >I would call it the opposite of tune evolution.<
No, it's the opposite of "improvement"; but evolution (biological, musical or any other) can go in any direction. For example some breeds of dogs that have evolved by artifical selection can have serious anatomical problems. They have evolved to be best fitted for the show ring and ill fitted for an ordinary life.

Can Gibb please come back and explain
a) how the ethnomusicologists on the 50s understood and used "evolution" and
b) what the present generation use instead?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 05:16 AM

@Brian Peters. Misunderstanding. I wasn't that suggesting you were speculating. I was making the point that in an evolution analogy the pebbles that didn't survive are part of the story and anticipating an obvious criticism that we don't know what didn't leave a trace.

I am a visitor here following in interesting discussion by knowledgeable people. However, I can't resist sticking my oar in.

The discusion was started by a biologist who knows about evolution "as used in biology today" and who finds "that many of the phenomena that are observed and questions that arise in collected folk songs are analogous to phenomena and questions also studied in biological evolution (or really, population genetics). The context is teaching, not ethnomusicalogical research.

Pamela R gave a very clear response to Gibb Sahib's post, which may be have been a fair warning if she was writing an academic paper rather than teaching*, but it still reads very like 'get off our patch'. Despite Jack Campin's excellent post the discussion keeps coming back to a popular miss-representation of evolution and we don't know if Sharp (if he really was appealing to "Darwinian principles") or the 1950's ethnomusicologists were applying ideas from evolution in a way that biologists today would agree with (whos 'patch' is it anyway?).

* I own up to a hard(ish) scientists frustration with branches of academia that need to always go back to the literature of the first time a subject was ever mentioned in their discipline. If it's accepted enough to be in the textbooks or rejected enough to be in the books on the history of the subject why go over it again if nothing has changed?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 08:45 AM

Some participants in this thread may not realize that "evolution" has more than one accepted (and acceptable) meaning.

In addition to several other senses, including the Darwinian, Oxford gives:

"A process of gradual change occurring in a system, institution, subject, artefact, product, etc., esp. from a simpler to a more complex or advanced state. Also: a gradual and natural development as opposed to a sudden or instigated change (often in contrast with 'revolution')."

Printed examples go back to the early 18th century, long before Darwin.

According to this definition, folk tunes and songs commonly "evolve." It's one reason they're considered "folk."

Academics may want to avoid the words "evolution" and "evolve" because they could be misunderstood as meant to suggest "survival of the fittest" or "continual improvement or increased complexity," but those connotations are not essential to the meaning of these familiar words.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17 - 03:41
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 10:55 AM

Academics may want to avoid the words "evolution" and "evolve" because they could be misunderstood as meant to suggest "survival of the fittest" or "continual improvement or increased complexity," but those connotations are not essential to the meaning of these familiar words.

Some academics might want to clarify their understanding of terms. Pamela R made clear what she, a biologist, meant. In the first post and then later. Rejecting a line of inquiry because some people don't understand, or other people in the past, may have mis-applied it, is akin throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There is also the possibility, though I think it's unlikely, that the 1950's ethnomusicologists attempts fell down because what then for almost a century had been a big "non-no" in biological evolution - the inheritance of acquired characteristics - clearly does happen in folk songs and tunes. However, within some constraints, it is back on the menu of concepts and might, I suppose, have something to offer in the way folk song changes in time are thought of.

It is, after all, only an analogy that might be an aid to critical thinking.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:04 AM

"I occasionally try to morph tunes I really detest into something else" (Jack C) - I've finally got sick of the never-ending demands to play "Stranger on the Shore", and have decided it's time to turn it into something I want to play (probably a hornpipe, which I shall call "Charlie Stewart's").

I have yet to actually do it, mind ...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:28 AM

(Welcome back, Richard!)

The reason tune evolution is not of much interest to ethnomusicologists is probably because they have other fish to fry. They're mostly concerned with how music fits into social phenomena, and the social role of music is governed by dialectical rather than evolutionary processes. It doesn't take adaptation of a melody to suit it to becoming a football anthem or an "Oh Jeremy Corbyn" or a wedding request, it takes a certain kind of familiarity.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 11:37 AM

Re tune comparisons :- another possible approach is to use abc2midi, mftext (supplied with abc2midi) and a scripting language, to extract the bare pitch&duration from a (ABC) tune and then turn that into something that can be compared using fuzzy text matching (Levenshtein). It doesn't work spectacularly well, but nor does anything else. The quality of the input ABC is a major drawback, as someone already pointed out. Variant repeat structures are a particularly misleading PITA.

Pamela, thank you for a fascinating thread.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 25 Nov 17 - 12:13 PM

Hi, Jack, I'm only very occasional here. Has anybody made The Old Git's Lament For The Death Of Usenet yet ?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 08:46 AM

Misunderstanding now cleared up, 'Guest of 24'. I don't think there's any disagreement on the issue of selection in the sense of the body of material that never took hold on the public imagination. The archives are full of unsung broadsides, for one thing.

I felt that Gibb was quite reasonable in the flexibility of his personal position, and simply pointing out that a class described as 'Ethnomusicological' might attract criticism if it ran counter to the tenets of that discipline. I found the reasons for the evolutionary concept having been rejected in the 1950s very instructive, but of course that doesn't mean that we folksong people necessarily have to reject it as well.

So, to return to the original question:

Lighter: "A process of gradual change occurring in a system, institution, subject, artefact, product, etc., esp. from a simpler to a more complex or advanced state. Also: a gradual and natural development as opposed to a sudden or instigated change (often in contrast with 'revolution')."

The second of those is more likely to be applicable in the case of folk songs. Sharp and others of his era found modal tunes so aesthetically pleasing that they must have arrived at that state as the result of improvement through evolution. At the same time they were well aware that in the real world the old songs were dying out in the face of competition from the music hall and elsewhere. The asteroid had struck, and they were struggling to survive in the altered environment.

There are several problems with Sharp's analogy of the pebble being polished to perfection. First, the songs he collected were in many cases insufficiently old for gradual evolution to have occurred across many generations. Second, even he was well capable of identifying numerous variants they found in the field as 'degenerate' or 'corrupt'. As for demonstrating the process at all, it's difficult to find much hard evidence of change in tunes over the previous hundred years, simply because most of the collecting went on between the late 19th and early 20th century. I can think of a few examples of changes occurring between one singer's rendition and that of the person who learned it from them, but demonstrating the process over additional links in the chain would be very difficult with the data we have.

As it happens, the topic of change in folksong tunes came up at the Songs in Tradition and Print conference in Sheffield yesterday. You can certainly identify examples of clearly related, but interestingly different (in respect of mode, for example) tunes in the old collections, the degree of difference sometimes reflecting their geographical separation. What is not at all certain is whether the changes that did occur were voluntary or involuntary, whether individual singers were even aware of, say, the distinction between a sharp or flat seventh, and whether the collectors were able to notate accurately the sometimes ambiguous intervals they were hearing.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 08:50 AM

"Sharp and others of his era found modal tunes so aesthetically pleasing that they must have arrived at that state as the result of improvement through evolution."

At the same time, Sharp believed that modal scales were an ancient form that folksong had somehow preserved, so there's another contradiction there.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Lighter
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:27 AM

Brian, as I see it, in this context,

ALTERATION: voluntary

EVOLUTION (in either sense): involuntary

Or is this a distinction without a difference?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:36 AM

ALTERATION: voluntary

EVOLUTION (in either sense): involuntary

I wouldn't disagree with that. Voluntary vs involuntary is not critical in discussing whether songs evolved or not (Darwinian evolution is involuntary); it's just an additional complicating factor in determining how the songs might have changed.

'Involuntary' might cover mishearing of the source, misremembering it later, or inaccurately reproducing it in performance. I'm not one of those people who believe that traditional singers never sang a wrong note.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 09:55 AM

it seems an odd idea that a tune might float around the tradition for centuries before settling on a definitive mode (though it does occasionally happen). The way people think about mode in Middle Eastern music applies to a lot of Western tunes too: you create new tunes by assembling phrases characteristic of a particular mode (consciously or not). The mode comes first, and the modal system is fairly static. Tunes emerge from it like new plants budding off a cactus.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 10:23 AM

I spend a lot of time looking at the evolutions of particular songs and song families. I've never looked on using that word as any qualitative description as a researcher. I accept that one meaning of 'evolution' implies improvement, but 'improvement' is most often an opinion. One man's improvement can be another man's degeneration.

On a more personal aesthetic level generally I see the evolution in oral tradition as an improvement, if that's not a contradiction. The songs I choose to sing are generally those that have spent many generations in oral tradition and I wouldn't dream of adding to them from a broadside unless in extreme cases where a broadside version actually makes more sense.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,Richard Robinson
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 12:35 PM

"most of the collecting went on between the late 19th and early 20th century".

The advent of software, followed by the internet, has made it so much cheaper to publish tunes that there is now a lot of material available going back considerably earlier than that. Try the Village Music Project, for example, and Jack's website.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 12:48 PM

I was talking there about song collecting. Instrumental music is interesting in its own right, but the OP was asking about songs. There is source material pre-1880s, just not enough as far as I know now to make meaningful comparisons, e.g. between singers of several generations in the same family or village.

You could also argue that song collecting went on post 1920 as well, but the picture then gets complicated by records, radio and so forth.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: Pamela R
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:14 PM

As a professor of biology who teaches in a science-focused university, I have found it instructive to use the analogy of Darwinian evolution (which my students in general know) to inform a discussion of folk process (which in general is a foreign concept to them). What I learned from my initial post here is that within the folk music community, understanding of the theory of evolution is so uneven that the analogy only causes confusion, at best.

However, as this thread continues, I feel obligated to clear up a very common but extremely mistaken view that seems to be persisting here. In Biology "evolution" does not in any way imply "improvement" nor progression towards any higher form. That is simply not part of the theory as presently understood.

For those who care to know what the basic theory actually is, I will give a brief and necessarily incomplete summary. It's really a simple logical inference. But to make all the points necessary to usefully compare AND CONTRAST folk process to biological evolution would require several lectures, which is too much to type here.

Proposition 1: Variation. Members of a species are not all identical.

Proposition 2: Heredity. Some of the characteristics that vary among individuals are heritable - obtained as some kind of "copy" from one or more previous copy, which we call its parent(s). Therefore an individual's trait is more likely to resemble its parents and also its closely related relatives (siblings, cousins, etc) than it resembles a randomly selected individual of the same species.

Proposition 3: Selection. Some of the characteristics that vary among individuals have consequences for the chance of the individual surviving long enough to leave behind copies (offspring), or affects the number of copies made, or chance of those copies surviving.

Logical inference: IF a trait varies, AND is heritable, AND has a consequence for the chance of survival, then those variants which increase the probability of survival will by definition tend to be more numerous in the next generation. Because this iterates, the population composition tends to change gradually over time.

That's the essence of it.

Some things to note:

"Evolution" only means "gradual change" - in any direction good or bad, by any process.

"Evolution by natural selection" means gradual change in the composition of a population due to the factors mentioned above.

The variants that increase in representation are not necessarily more complex or "better" in any way; they are merely the ones that increase in representation. Value judgments are a human construction that have nothing to do with this.

Evolution does not tend toward perfection and there is no top to any pyramid, no such thing as a higher life form. From bacteria to fruit flies to humans, everything surviving on earth today has evolved to an equal extent. Arguably the flies have evolved more, and bacteria the most, because they have had so many more generations than mammals.

So *to the extent that*
~not all versions of a folk song are identical (variation)
~one person's version is obtained as a copy of one or more previous versions (heredity)
~some versions have attributes that make them more likely to be sung or copied by others (selection)

It follows by analogous arguments that some versions in generation N will be more prevalent in generation N+1. Not necessarily *better* versions. But the influence of selection could help explain why prevalent versions share certain characteristics.

Of course that's not the really interesting part of the conversation. Many other issues that come up in folk process have also been intelligently grappled with by biologists -- are mutations random events, or are they directed toward a goal, and how can we know that? How do we assess this process when we have limited or no access to what the earlier variants were? what about traits that are not heritable, or that have no survival advantage? why does one variant sometimes take over completely? why are different variants found in different locations? what about the fact that the conditions for survival keep changing over time? how do some lines go extinct? how do new ones come into existence? How does "unnatural" selection (criteria imposed by human intervention) relate to, and interact with, natural selection?

The answers to these questions may be the same or different for folk process vs. biology, indeed the answers are different for different biological examples, and probably different for different folklore examples. The point of drawing on analogy is it allows us to leverage human learning - in both directions. Great ideas are hard to come by and it's likely each discipline has insights the other hasn't discovered yet. The transfer of knowledge doesn't come free, however. One must first truly understand an idea within its own field, and then critically evaluate whether or not and in what specific ways it applies to another field.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: folk process: tune evolution?
From: GUEST,of 24 Nov 17
Date: 26 Nov 17 - 02:29 PM

I think so far as 'voluntary' versus 'involuntary' change is concerned it depends how you want to apply a 'natural selection' analogy. I was thinking of it as the song that was undergoing selection and it wasn't doing anything voluntarily.(and they hate anthropomorphism :-))

For example, it has been suggested that organisms can retain apparantly useless features at times of 'low selection pressure'. If the environment changes there may be a competitive advantage in losing the features or they may turn out to be an advantage. So maybe corruptions in a song could persist for a long time if they didn't bother the audience or singer and there were no preferred versions around. Along comes 1960's vinyl as a potential 'ecological niche' and a singer or producer may decide to tidy it up to suite a wider audience. Conversly, a corruption making something slightly mysterious (Residue, sing residue ...) may make it a succeed with a new audience where a pristine original would not.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
Next Page

  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 29 January 9:06 PM EST

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 2022 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.