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Degrees of Folk

Uncle Tone 08 Sep 16 - 02:26 PM
GUEST,jim bainbridge 08 Sep 16 - 03:12 PM
Allan Conn 08 Sep 16 - 07:00 PM
Phil Cooper 08 Sep 16 - 10:31 PM
GUEST,Allan Conn 09 Sep 16 - 02:57 AM
Mo the caller 09 Sep 16 - 04:23 AM
Howard Jones 09 Sep 16 - 04:54 AM
GUEST 09 Sep 16 - 06:01 AM
Howard Jones 09 Sep 16 - 07:18 AM
Johnny J 09 Sep 16 - 07:39 AM
Allan Conn 09 Sep 16 - 07:48 AM
Mo the caller 09 Sep 16 - 08:34 AM
CupOfTea 09 Sep 16 - 11:16 AM
Allan Conn 09 Sep 16 - 11:33 AM
GUEST,FloraG 10 Sep 16 - 03:39 AM
Will Fly 10 Sep 16 - 04:06 AM
Johnny J 10 Sep 16 - 04:57 AM
Johnny J 10 Sep 16 - 05:02 AM
Uncle Tone 10 Sep 16 - 05:32 AM
Acorn4 10 Sep 16 - 09:35 AM
Mo the caller 10 Sep 16 - 01:13 PM
The Sandman 10 Sep 16 - 01:39 PM
Marje 10 Sep 16 - 04:21 PM
The Sandman 11 Sep 16 - 08:03 AM
GUEST,carrington 11 Sep 16 - 11:12 AM
GUEST,jim bainbridge 12 Sep 16 - 06:43 AM
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Subject: Degrees of Folk
From: Uncle Tone
Date: 08 Sep 16 - 02:26 PM

I think this has been touched on in another thread, but more and more I am receiving promos for albums by artists who have achieved a degree in performance arts or the historic traditions of music.
Dear old Cyril Tawney did it the other way round. He became famous first, then did his masters degree in Naval Folklore afterwards!

They are usually very good of course, (they ought to be) but I am wondering if a more valuable approach is to absorb the music and song at the feet of others in the family group or local folk community, if there is one.

I do seem to find that the academic approach has an element of showing off how clever the artist is, rather than making the best of the song. The song tends to be a vehicle for the artist's skills, rather than the artist being the purveyor of the song.

Maybe I'm totally wrong about this. There is obviously some cross-over too, but I would be interested in the thoughts of other Mudcatisti.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST,jim bainbridge
Date: 08 Sep 16 - 03:12 PM

Ed Pickford has an excellent song on this subject- it's on YouTube- look for 'Folk Degree'


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Allan Conn
Date: 08 Sep 16 - 07:00 PM

I know various people from our area who went on to do their degrees at Newcastle, mostly fiddlers rather than singers, but they were already well into the music and had been coming to local clubs from an early age and were absorbed in it and did and still do learn and share from older local players.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 08 Sep 16 - 10:31 PM

My experience in the US is that people who perform that have degrees in folklore, etc, are not necessarily the best performers/presenters. A concert is not a class room. The people who are able to get past the lecture thing do much better. I've never understood what was so wrong with just liking the music so much that I wanted to perform it.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST,Allan Conn
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 02:57 AM

There is nothing wrong with just liking music and wanting to perform it - but likewise music is just as valid a subject to study as Art, Dance, history or whatever and why should folk music itself not be worthy of study? The curriculum for instance at Newcastle is not just about performance (though you do get one to one tuition from the likes of Kathryn Tickell) as it delves into the history of folk music throughout the world with modules perahps on the Renaissance or Indian folk music or music and cultural theory modules or compostional techniques etc. If you were interested in music then what is wrong with wanting to study it? Though obviously your perfromance skills are are a big part of it there are employment and work opportunities from getting a degree other than performance too!


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Mo the caller
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 04:23 AM

Every year at Whitby the Newcastle degree course gives a concert, from lecturers & students.
Some good stuff there. And the lecturers are well know performers, so as well as the theory behind the subject they can give their students performance and business skills.

I agree with both Allan's points. A lot of the students are already folk musicians, and all need A level music which I think means playing an instrument to a reasonable standard. Also Music is a valid subject, and folk as well as classical.

But not all young folk musicians are studying folk music for their degree. Some are studying history etc. And, of course, you don't need a degree to make music.
Good luck to them either way.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Howard Jones
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 04:54 AM

I think it's great there there are now opportunities to study traditional music, at a range of levels, and to obtain tuition from experienced performers as well as academics. My generation mostly had to find out what we could on our own, and teach ourselves to play our instruments in isolation,

Having a degree does not of course guarantee you are a good performer and whether or not these albums sell or the artists get booked will not be because of their academic record. There has been some criticism that these courses lead to a uniformity of style and can breed arrogance, but these faults can be found in others without degrees. Whether these young people succeed as musicians will depend on their skills and personalities, not their degrees.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 06:01 AM

I came late(ish) to the broadest of churches often called 'folk music' - about 17 years ago in my mid-twenties. Actually, I had always liked it but didn't really recognise it as a thing!

Well, I, like many, began a search for 'authenticity' whatever that might be. I used to be attracted to source singer recordings and valued artistes who seemed to have grown naturally through the scene and who came from real world backgrounds - factories and farms being preferable to art schools. I searched for what it was really all about as though I would discover an elemental, indivisible nucleus of British folk - that authenticity thing. I didn't.

15 years on and now as someone who joins in at sing-arounds and in pub sessions etc and even writes a few tunes and songs, I have got over all that authenticity stuff. Some stuff is older than other stuff, Some people are more honest than others; people have differing routes and motivations by which they end up on the folk scene.

One thing that I have concluded is that the injection of young ambitious (often very passionate) musicians into the scene has been a good thing. In the main I have found such people (included the Sage-ers I have met) to be very reverent of who and what has gone before, to be low on the smart-arsery with which they are sometimes accredited and to bring an energy and diversity that breathes life into the scene.

I was at a small festival last year which was divided about half and half between some of the most traditional, 'authentic' experienced performers and the other half from younger, sometimes degree educated musicians. Though it gives me no satisfaction to say it, to my surprise I witnessed some musically very poor sets from long established names and some soulful and technically superb sets from Sage-ers. This maybe should not surprise. What was a bit of a surprise was later hearing 2 well-known established performers (who had been very poor) slating the youngsters as being too smart by far, style over substance and all that. Conversely, all the young'uns I heard and spoke to were full of praise, reverence and excitement having seen or played alongside those very same, experienced musicians who were now calling them rotten. It was a shame.

I am sure this kind of bitterness (as I am sure it was) is not the norm but there was no mistaking it. I have not had to try and earn my living from the scene so can't share that perspective and that could be a difference. But many established musicians do embrace the new waves of degree educated players and celebrate it in the same way that I have come to. At least, now I ave got over that authenticity thing at any rate.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Howard Jones
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 07:18 AM

There can be no doubt that technical standards have risen enormously. There is now much easier access to tuition (including lessons by Skype) so musicians should no longer have to teach themselves to play, and there is now a realisation that some understanding of music theory is not a barrier to folk. Through streaming and Youtube young musicians can easily and cheaply expose themselves to a much wider range of influences than was possible for previous generations. Music education in schools (such as it is) is far more open to different genres (at my school it was classical or nothing) and Ollie King was able to take his music A level on melodeon. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and the comments from the older musicians strike me as sour grapes.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Johnny J
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 07:39 AM

Nothing wrong with the idea of a "folk degree" as such but, having gained two degrees myself in other subjects, I am very much aware that the knowledge you gain is still very limited and just a start. To pass, you have to study(and research)a specific body of work and prove to the examiners that you have absorbed a reasonable amount of the subject matter.

In most subjects, and I'd suggest this is especially so for folk music, this is only the tip of the iceberg. However, studying at University level enhances several other skills, offers sign posts and ideas for future development etc and is to be highly recommended but the degree content itself is only of limited use.

As has been mentioned, these students are already musically talented and, while studying is obviously a benefit to them, much of their best work comes afterwards as their careers develop. Of course, the knowledge gained is bound to stand them in good stead.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Allan Conn
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 07:48 AM

I'm not sure what the entry process is like at Newcastle but I expect it is pretty tough. I know that for the contemporary music performance degrees at Napier it was quite tough. As well as the normal CVs you had to send videos etc of yourself playing just to get an interview. Then only 20 out of about 200 potential guitarists actually got an interview which involved a musical theory test as well as a quite intense audition. Only 5 then got a place. My son got into the final 20 but feels his music theory test let him down a wee bit and he didn't make the final 5 places. He got into a similar course at West of Scotland though and was offered a place at Highlands & Islands too. I suspect that anyone at Newcastle will need to be of a certain standard of playing already though. And I add it is potentially costing the poor buggers £9K a year to study there.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Mo the caller
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 08:34 AM

The most valuable thing I got from my degree was the friendships I formed.
Yes I enjoyed learning subjects that interested me, though most of the knowledge i needed at work was A level stuff.
the friendships these students form are professional as well as personal. They have a chance to play together in various ensembles, so they are ready to market themselves when they leave.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: CupOfTea
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 11:16 AM

I was surprised to hear last weekend from a respected banjo playing ballad singer and collector of her dismay at the attitudes displayed by those getting degrees in folk music in England. I have little idea what part of that should be discounted as "sour grapes" but the aspect that resonated highly with me was "they have such an attitude of entitlement!" Her description of performances that exuded "look at ME, see how brilliant I am!" as the main impact made me sad, and seem very much in line with the OP's observation.

I sing from the ethic of "it's not the singer, it's the song" but I'm neither a strong interpreter of songs nor a songwriter. I AM academically inclined, and would have had a blast studying traditional music if I'd had the sense or opportunity when I was young. What needs consideration is how interest, knowledge, research, society, and training have been a VASTLY different set of experience and expectations for the younger generations. Some of the arrogance and attitude of entitlement may be byproducts of the kind of world they've lived in. I hope I sound more wistful than sour grape-ish when I think about how fearless and sure of themselves teens and 20somethings are when they get up and perform, irregardless of their actual skill or lack thereof.

The OP line:
I do seem to find that the academic approach has an element of showing off how clever the artist is, rather than making the best of the song. The song tends to be a vehicle for the artist's skills, rather than the artist being the purveyor of the song.
This attitude would indeed put me off, but is it as pervasive as the banjo balladeer thinks? Is it a result of what sounds like more academic offerings in England? I would be interested to hear if the US folk music degree recipients are similar in presentation.

Joanne in Cleveland (who chose not to get a PhD in folk music, lacking serious music skills)


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Allan Conn
Date: 09 Sep 16 - 11:33 AM

Just not my experience though. I can only talk about the young ones from this area who've got their degrees but I've seen no such arrogance etc. In fact just the opposite they slip back into the sessions on their return as if they've never left. We have a few, mostly young girl fiddlers, from this area who've been through the Newcastle course. Carly Blain was at our session just a few weeks ago and it started off a normal fiddle session and by the evening's end it had turned into a bit of a rammy with Carly and her sister singing Kenny Roger's song The Gambler and having a right good laugh. Shona Mooney is another one who is completely unaffected. I shared a stage with her last year as well as local worthies Matt Seattle and David Kilpatrick. To tell you the truth I initially had the "what am I doing here" feeling as I've little gig experience or musical talent compared to the others and they all couldn't be nicer - especially Shona who was very obviously keen to play with me. So I am not saying there is no-one with that attitude the banjo player is describing - but it is clearly completely unfair to tar them all with the same stick.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 03:39 AM

My worry is are they saturating the market with people who would ideally like to earn a living from performing?
FloraG


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Will Fly
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 04:06 AM

Ah - the "market" - always a complex matter. It's possible to earn a living from music, and I think that the factors which contribute being able to do this include any or all of:

sheer musical ability
stamina and perseverance
contacts
ability to perform/entertain
ability to make, promote and sell records
teaching
studio arrangement and production

You may think of others. I've always made money from music, but stopped doing it as a full-time professional when the sheer grind of playing the same things, or nearly the same things, night after night, turned a love of the music into a boring job - with loadsa travel thrown in. It wasn't the music I play now, but I could envisage the same thing happening in any musical type.

I would guess that the students at Newcastle would be taught all these aspects of the profession, and be well aware of the difficulties before trying to get on the merry-go-round.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Johnny J
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 04:57 AM

Many will go on to teach music and so the cycle continues... ;-))


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Johnny J
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 05:02 AM

.... So, teaching, courses, lessons etc become the norm.

I realise that for most of us the romanticised notion of learning "at the feet" of the great musicians as they play in the pub or on the porch is not a practical option but there does seem to be less tendency for the tradition to be passed down in this way these days.

If you ask the more experienced players and singers in the pub for advice these days, they are more likely just to tell to go on a course or get lessons. Maybe that's the correct way, of course?


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Uncle Tone
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 05:32 AM

From: Will Fly - PM
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 04:06 AM

Quote: Ah - the "market" - always a complex matter. It's possible to earn a living from music....

Two obvious reasons why it is difficult now, compared with say 40 years ago:

1. Fewer venues

2. Fearsome competition

I asked Ralph McTell if he had any advice for young ambitious singer/songwriters. 'Well, don't expect to make a living from it. How about that?' was his answer. That from someone who has made a comfortable living from it. He sees the changes.

But then bands such as Co Co and the Butterfields are making a living from their music, by working very hard and appealing to a broad spectrum of audience.

Some of the competition comes from the high-ish standard of floor-singers now too, who would rather go to a singaround and sing themselves than listen to someone else in a concert.

North Yorkshire is possibly the busiest area in the the UK for clubs. In our roundup diary we have 64 regular clubs and sessions in the county and the surrounding area, some weekly, some fortnightly, a few monthly. Out of those only 13 ever book guest artists, and the majority of those only book them very occasionally.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Acorn4
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 09:35 AM

This is a bit of a side issue, but, I think, relevant to the thread.

Nearly all the Folk Festival and club organisers I know (East Midlands) are in the 60+ age bracket, and cannot go on forever.

Where are all the musicians going to play once this group of "oldies" inevitably throw in the towel?

Do the degree courses have any content about how to run a club/festival?

Perhaps this should be a separate thread?


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Mo the caller
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 01:13 PM

Well, that was one of the quibbles I've heard about the Newcastle graduates.
Understanding the point-of-view of a festival organiser.

They are taught business skills and know their value, but where another high value performer might be prepared to do various things once a fee for that day has been agreed the group concerned wanted extra for any workshop etc.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 01:39 PM

The comments that old stagers supposedly made is only hearsay.
the opinion that they were poor and the young ones good is only one persons opinion, another person may have thought differently.
I have come across some poor young perfrmers and poor old ones, and good ones in both categories.
most young performers I have come across are eager to learn and improve,    what pissed me off recently was that i had to ask an older performer to stop talking and also had to upbraid an old mc for his incessant loud wittering, then there are the older mcs who give a piss poor introduction to performers.
a few of these old ones need to pull their socks up


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: Marje
Date: 10 Sep 16 - 04:21 PM

I am delighted that folk and traditional music now gets the same recognition as the classical genres, and that students are able to pursue it with the same academic rigour.

From what I've seen, most students are already well ensconced in their local music scene before even applying for a degee course.

As for the lack of degree-level qualifications in older generations: I'm sure many of the long-respected stalwarts of the folk scene would have jumped at the chance of studying and playing with some of the best musicians in the country, had such an opportunity been available to them.
Marje


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Sep 16 - 08:03 AM

"As for the lack of degree-level qualifications in older generations: I'm sure many of the long-respected stalwarts of the folk scene would have jumped at the chance of studying and playing with some of the best musicians in the country, had such an opportunity been available to them."
As regards Concertina song accompaniment, no, I would still prefer to work my own style out, there is not a single other english concertina accompanist other than Steve Turner[ who plays a hybrid bass baritone anyway] that I have heard who Interests me.Anglo is a bit more intriguing
Alistair Andersons style [ good in his own way] is of no interest to me either, if there was someone who taught jazz concertina, maybe.
These days with some good you tube lessons ,one can teach oneself easier, the most important thing in my opinion is to have ones own distinctive style,
examples are Carthy, Jones ,myself, Steve Turner, THE FIRST TWO COULD NOT BE CONFUSED,NEITHER COULD THE LAST TWO.
The degree course is good up to a point,as long as students do not copy slavishly, but use it merely as a starting point to developing their own style.
my concertina style is based on guitarist, John Hurt, but unless i told you,you would never have guessed.


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST,carrington
Date: 11 Sep 16 - 11:12 AM

hear a tune or a song, learn it and make it your own- what more do you need to know?


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Subject: RE: Degrees of Folk
From: GUEST,jim bainbridge
Date: 12 Sep 16 - 06:43 AM

RE my earlier post pointing out Ed Pickford's 'Folk Degree' song, it's just his 'tongue in cheek' angle on the whole 'folk academia' phenomenon. I have no idea if in his young days, he'd have 'leapt at the chance to learn at the feet of the best musicians in the country'.

However, the world has moved on since then. Unlike the amazing availability of recorded music today, very little was on tap 50 years ago. What we had in those days was the great advantage of hearing and meeting people who worked fulltime at a normal job, and had sung & played 'folk' material all their life until they were discovered. These people (Willie Scott, Fred Jordan, Willie Atkinson and Oscar Woods spring to mind) had the benefit of having such material in the context of their lives, rather than a business opportunity.

OK I know some of them seized the chance, and it was great that they did- how else would a Border shepherd like Willie Scott have got to Australia?

There were plenty of 'folk' performers then, too, of course, like the Spinners and Corries, and that was another genre really, likewise great songwriters such as Matt McGinn, Ralph McTell and Ed Pickford of course.

Those of us with a different view of the music and with ears to listen took advantage of spending some time with those above, as well as Maggie Barry, The Stewarts of Blair, many Irish musicians in London, Scan Tester and many others totally forgotten all these years later!
With great respect to younger performers, and I make no judgment about their quality, they do not have the gift we had. In these changed times, their love of the music has often been inspired by others from the 'folk revival' and not from people for whom the music was only PART of their lives!
What's available via CDs, YouTube etc is quite amazing, but there is more to it than that. I can only hope that the various academic 'folk' courses try to counteract that missing element, and although I have some doubt about how many products of these courses can make a living at it, I can see that it is one way that a balanced attitude to the music could be the outcome?
Let's hope so, I don't know how I'd have reacted to the availability of a Folk Degree in the sixties, but with all their faults, such courses should be one way of assuring the future of the music. One aspect of all this is that the general 'non-folk' public do enjoy songs with a little humour in them, and that part of the tradition should not be deprecated by 'folk' teachers. I've been to so many 'dreich' 21st century singing sessions (some of great quality otherwise) that a few people learning the 'Folk Degree' song and its like, would give a little light relief, and may even lead to qualifying students reaching a wider audience than purely 'folk' people?


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