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What is a Folk Song?

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Alan of Australia 09 Jul 97 - 10:25 AM
Wolfgang Hell 09 Jul 97 - 11:16 AM
Bert Hansell 09 Jul 97 - 12:14 PM
Whippoorwill 09 Jul 97 - 12:33 PM
Elsie 09 Jul 97 - 03:55 PM
09 Jul 97 - 04:09 PM
Elsie 09 Jul 97 - 04:23 PM
Bert Hansell 09 Jul 97 - 05:01 PM
LaMarca 09 Jul 97 - 06:01 PM
Jack 09 Jul 97 - 06:12 PM
Music Maker 09 Jul 97 - 07:02 PM
Booktender 09 Jul 97 - 07:43 PM
hartley 09 Jul 97 - 10:48 PM
Elsie 09 Jul 97 - 11:08 PM
Elsie 09 Jul 97 - 11:29 PM
Yellow Door folk girl 10 Jul 97 - 12:43 AM
Whippoorwill 10 Jul 97 - 10:43 AM
Laoise, Belfast 10 Jul 97 - 10:55 AM
Kiwi 10 Jul 97 - 11:40 AM
Elsie 10 Jul 97 - 01:14 PM
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Gisele E 10 Jul 97 - 08:25 PM
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suzu 15 Jul 97 - 06:38 PM
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Subject: What is a Folk Song?
From: Alan of Australia
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 10:25 AM

I'm sure this has been discussed here before but a couple of other threads have drifted into discussions which could probably be consolidated and continued here.

Whatever the current definition of "folk song" might be the original meaning last century was a song learned from the oral tradition. What we might now call a "traditional folk song". Author anonymous. A wildflower.

Then there are songs written by a known author. A cultivated garden flower.

As we approach the 21st century we cannot possibly confine ourselves to the original definition. If we did then you and I could not write folk songs. But I believe we MUST NOT lose sight of that original definition.

So what's the definition of a folk song now? Who knows? Why do we care?

I can't think of anything that would adequately define all that a folkie might sing or that might be sung in a folk club. If I sing "Jailhouse Rock" in a folk club does that make it a folk song? I doubt it. Is it acceptable in a folk club? It is in our club (barely). Should we forget about trying to define "folk song" and instead discuss what is acceptable in folk clubs? Perhaps, perhaps not. Should we just enjoy as many songs as possible? Probably. I have a heavy leaning towards traditional folk songs (I can seldom stand up straight) but I sing a great variety of other songs.

Let's not restrict ourselves by trying to define what we can or can not sing, but let's remember our roots and keep that original definition in the back of our minds.

Cheers,
Alan


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Wolfgang Hell
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 11:16 AM

Thanks, Alan, for the consolidation of the discussion both by starting this file and by giving your definition.

Just as a historical aside: The Nazis once "contributed" to "traditional German folksongs" by deliberately omitting authors names from their songbooks and writing instead "traditional; author unknown" when the author was Jewish. Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 12:14 PM

Alan,

I like your comment about Jailhose Rock.
A few months back at our club we had a guy get up and sing a typical Fifties song, A couple of other guys got up and joined in and between them they treated us to about half an hour of Fifties stuff complete with all the Shawa Shawaas. I don't remember all the titles but they were great.
My point is, that, because these songs are still being sung they are pretty good candidates to be classified as folk.

I like 'traditional' songs and sing many of them, but also consider it my duty as a folk singer to sing any song that I think should not be forgotten.

A more interesting discussion might be ... What is being sung in your folk group? ...

What I am seeing (or rather hearing) is a mixture of traditional, old time, music hall, sixties psuedo-folk, country and old pop. All of which seem to be accepted as suitable even if they don't fall within any one particular definition.

Come on Elsie, we need your opinion here as well.
Bert.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whippoorwill
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 12:33 PM

I think everyone's definition of "Folk" music has to differ. We wouldn't be folks if it didn't. I've been singing for nearly 60 years, mostly ballads, and have my own narrow viewpoint: If it was old when I was a kid, it's folk music. If was written recently and tells a story, it's folk music. Examples: "Alice's Restaurant," folk music. Barely. The Limelighters' "Vikki Dugan," funny as hell, but not folk music. Filk, maybe, whatever that is, but not folk. If it's a song that you can sing to your grandkids, or a boy scout troop, or on the geriatric circuit, and they all enjoy it, it's probably folk. That's my definition, and it suits me. I ain't begrudging you yours.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 03:55 PM

ok...here we go (Bert, you asked!)....Whippoorwill, if I define Italian cuisine as anything with lots of garlic, tomato sauce and oregano served over pasta, it may suit ME, but it wont likely suit those who grew up Italian! If everyone has a 'personal' definition...there is NO definition! If all you want is to eat food that tastes good to you, then you don't have to call it anything, just mix it up to suit yourself! You can put garlic, oregano, and tomato sauce over lime jello if you wish...no law against it... but you don't expect to go to an Italian restautant and find it on the menu just because YOU call it Italian!

This is why I really want to see some sort of standards.I know there are borderline cases, but many of the threads posted here really do NOT qualify! The management is more liberal than I would be if I had thought of this first, so they (the off the topic threads) are tolerated. My concern is that the definitions are being even more weakened by shrugging and saying "oh, well-if people want it, it must be folk". Antique dealers have a standard. Things which dont fit the definition are called 'collectibles' and may become antiques in time. I'm sure they have their borderline cases too. I saw an argument by Bill D in one of those other threads that pointed out that the very word 'folk' was being used in different senses. I think this may be a real issue, and I hope he will expand on what he means. I just know that some people are taking advantage of this forum without even considering whether their posts are appropriate- and others are feeding them answers! Like I said way back...if you feed a stray cat, it will think it belongs! Does that sound harsh and unfriendly? I dont mean it to be, I just want to sit here and read about traditional folk music and not have things like 'Beyond the Blue Horizon' mixed in. It's a pretty song, but it is not REMOTELY folk or traditional.It's a pop song by Lou Christie from some movie!(maybe from the 50's)and someone is already offering an answer! And there are many sources for those lyrics. This should not be the place to ask. Lets see what others have to say before I grumble any more.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From:
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 04:09 PM


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 04:23 PM

for a couple of eclectic approaches to music, look at these! I sure hope no one claims that all this is folk!

Some guy who collects everything from the 6o's

someone who has the most amazing list of favorite music !!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 05:01 PM

Thanks Elsie,
I am the first to admit that my point of view is over liberal. I think you make many valid points.

At the moment I don't think that Mudcat is overloaded but in the future they might need to create forums for other music in order to relieve the load on the 'folk' page.

Having been a visitor for some months now, the most logical branch would appear to be one for Gaelic songs.

While most of it is probably 'folk', us Sassenachs can't understand a word of it.
But I'd hate to see any such branch just yet because so many of the threads divert into something in English or carry some interesting historical discussions.
Nice hearing your point of view
Thanks,
Bert.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: LaMarca
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 06:01 PM

I think a lot of the confusion about the definition of "Folk" music has been generated by the commercial recording industry. Businesses like record stores like to sort their stock by categories; therefore, all RECORDED music must be forced to fit into a few specific categories (ie. "Pop/Rock", "Soul", "C-W", "Reggae", "International", etc) so that the business can keep track of its stock.

In the early days of recording in the 20's and 30's, fledgling record companies put the most amazing stuff on discs, from Sardinian bagpipers to Irish accordion players to "race" records of some unknown black guitarist. Try to imagine Sony or Warner (or are they now the same company?) putting an ad in the paper requesting musicians to show up for a recording session in a hotel room in Bristol, Tennessee, and then immediately selling the resulting tracks to the general public in today's market atmosphere. Yet that was how The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and others got their (commercial) start. Their music was a mixture of old, traditional tunes and songs that had been passed around their community for years, and newly written material of their own. They'd been playing and writing music all along, but the rest of the world got to hear them after the Bristol sessions.

When The Weavers, Harry Belafonte, Oscar Brand, Theo Bikel, Richard Dyer-Bennett, et al. started recording in the 40's and 50's, they did a mixture of traditional music from their cultural backgrounds and newly written songs, both topical and lyrical, that were performed in the same style, with the same instrumentation. Record companies labelled their style "Folk". As the new, younger artists like Joan Baez and Judy Collins came along performing music and songs accompanied by acoustic instruments, those, too, got labelled "Folk", even if the songs themselves were more and more contemporary pop love songs or political and topical songs.

Nowadays, almost any songwriter who primarily records with an acoustic instrument (even if they have a full rock n' roll backup band) and writes songs about love, death, neuroses and politics, gets shoved in the "folk" category in the record store. Performers such as John Gorka, Suzanne Vega, David Roth, Anne Hills, Gordon Bok, etc. are all labelled "Folk".

Ultimately, ALL songs that people sing are about love, death, work, war and politics, whether they sing them on their own back porch or in a 95,000 seat arena. A lot of Child ballads, and Anglo-Irish broadsides and love songs were written by someone, somewhere in the murky depths of history, sometimes even for money. What else is there to sing about, after all? But I wouldn't call U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" a folk song, whereas I would call "The Croppy Boy" folk. The difference, to me, lies in the elements of memory/tradition and the whole concept of home-made music.

To me, a song, tune or musical style/genrè doesn't really qualify as folk unless it's remembered/sung for more than 2 generations after it's written/composed, and there are people who like it well enough to:

    A) Remember it well enough to play or sing by ear
    B) Play or sing it at home or in social gatherings for their own pleasure, not for "performance" or for pay.

The whole issue of commercial vs. non-commercial gets raised a lot in discussions like these. Some people seem to draw their definitions of what written material is truly "folk" based on how commercially successful it is; fer instance, Gordon Bok is "folk", Gordon Lightfoot is not, because Lightfoot has broader commercial exposure and appeal than Bok. To my mind, neither of them are folk, or to look at the flip side, singing songs by either of them should be equally valid, because they're both from our current generation, and they're both songwriters who use the idiom to write about love, work, politics, etc. To snobbishly reject Lightfoot but say Bok or Stan Rogers are OK because they appeal to a more "select" audience is elitist and hypocritical. Wait until we hear our grandchildren singing for their own enjoyment songs that they've learned because they like them, and then I'll tell you which of today's singer/songwriters was writing "folk" songs.

As far as this forum goes, I'd like it to stick to material that can't be found on other databases, and that has some connection with an ethnic or regional tradition or particular community (Anglo/Scots, Cajun, blues, work songs from the sea, mines or lumber camps, etc.) Show tunes and Top-40 hits from our youth are fun, but they're (usually) available elsewhere. Singer/songwriter stuff from collections or recordings now out-of-print are OK; asking for stuff that's still readily commercially available in that songwriter's songbook(s) or records is starting to skirt on theft, in my opinion. If you want a song by Stan Rogers or John Gorka, you can support your favorite artist (or his heirs) by plunking down your money for their books and records. I know that I'm guilty of transgressing this guideline myself, but at least I have the grace to feel guilty about it.~:)

In short, music becomes "folk" not just because "the folk" sing it the year it's written or comes out on their radios, but because they AND their children AND their grandchildren CONTINUE to sing/play it in their own homes, for their own enjoyment, long after the record companies have lost interest in it because it's no longer profitable. Then not only is it Folk, it's a damned good song/tune/musical style!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jack
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 06:12 PM

After reading lots of discussions of this topic, and after trying to with no success to pin down my own elaborate opinions on the subject, I have come to define folk music as follows.

Folk Music: Anything that some group of musicians at some folk festival are likely to get away with playing more than once.

Folk Song: A subclass of folk music (see above) containing sung or spoken lyrics.

Its not very academic or rigorous I know, but after listening to this issue debated over the years, its the only sufficiently inclusive definition that I can think of short of "Anything is Folk Music".

I also think it reflects the one thing that has kept this debate going (and going...and going, thump thump thump).

The fact is that, except for those professional and amatuer ethnomusicologists amoung us, we don't usually need our lexicon of musical terms to be very rigorous and well defined. So for most of us, folk is a loose subset of semi-related musical styles, not a specific definition.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Music Maker
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 07:02 PM

Thanks Jack. My sentiments exactly.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Booktender
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 07:43 PM

Hmmm...forgive my digression, but I may have some insight into why this is so difficult to settle. In the library business we have the same problem deciding what is truly a "classic." Finally, our director, since retired, told us to use this definition: "A work which has withstood the test of time."

Oh, swell, how much time? 20 years? 50 years? 100 years? And, just because it has survived that long, is it a "Classic" or simply a curiosity? Can you sometimes "feel" that something will become a classic? It has been 10 years now since the grand pronouncement. Those of us who enjoy splitting academic hairs are still chewing on this one!

Could it be the same with the definition of Folk Music? (Don't shoot me if this is way off base - I'm fairly new to this forum) :-)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: hartley
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 10:48 PM

As someone who requested Beyond The Blue Horizon, let me apologize if I wasted someone's time glancing at the list and finding my requests. Personnally I ignore about half the requests and only look at the songs I find of interest. I find it of some interest to se what people are requesting, but not particularly in the many comments. Let me make a few observations about folk music, not that I have any great insights or experiences. I tend to agree with LaMarca, however. I am a child of the sixties and found the 'folk" music of that period much to my liking, at least the tunes being performed that had origins much earlier than that time. I did not consider many tunes done by "folk" singers as "folk" which dealt with the contemporary problems of that day. I still do not consider may of the tunes heard on the PBS "Folk Sampler" as folk although many are enjoyable. Few are memorable or able to be universalized. But this is only my own perferences. Generally, I don't play music written in the last 60 years and try to find the earliest possible version of what I do do. I belong to an organization in Kansas which is dedicated to the preservation of "old-time" fiddle and country music, yet when I play music from the 1800's or Carter family music, few know the music at all. Most only remember country music from the late forties to early seventies. The old-time fiddle tunes are pretty limited in number. Yet most performers (most well over 65) don't care; they just enjoy playing. I consider myself as playing "folk" music, but don't get too upset by their claims to old-time music. I will and do make an effort to find tunes and lyrics in other databases, if I know they exist. And I am very grateful to be put on to another database; if it is elsewhere, tell me and I'll get it. On the other hand, I enjoy the sharing to songs and am interested in what others are interested in within a very broad and liberal category of folk/traditional. When I look at the development of folk music in the sixties and seventies and the development of organizations and club supposedly for "folk/old-time" music at I find the definition is almost always broadened at some point to include what is of interest to the members; otherwise the movement, club, group fades away. I for one would rather glances over a number of non-folk requests and glean out what I want than to see a forum such as this fade because it was too narrow. Let's be tolerant within limits, let the powers that be tell those who make requests beyond the pale of other sites and let it go at that. Let's not get so bogged down with definition that we scare people off.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 11:08 PM

Jack & music maker...sorry , but you just read several long explanations of why a clearer definition is needed...and then proposed ANOTHER cute,simplistic, little homily which answers nothing!

You say "we don't usually need our lexicon of musical terms to be very rigorous and well defined. "

In fact you DO need them to be more rigorous & well defined...you mostly just dont to take the trouble. This is the most common attitude in a lot of disiplines...you are not alone.

Jack- I have heard musicians at 'folk' festivals 'get away with' some of the most banal garbage you can imagine (several times in a weekend!)...mostly because it was loud, fast and had a younger audience. Sometimes it was untested stuff they had written...sometimes it was outright butchery of some traditional stuff! And you want that to qualify? LaMarca just posted an eloquent bit of reasoning about the history, creation, and development of folk related material.(Better than grumpy ol' me could have said it!) I wish you would re-read it...slowly. There are real, genuine, important reasons to wrestle with the complexities of a working definition and not just all toss out some clever line about 'horses not singing' or whatever. I, for one, am not going to allow the record stores with their limited bin labels, or folk festivals who will hire anyone who draws a crowd, or clever one-liners by well meaning but careless music lovers to further muddy the waters I am trying to filter!

Wow, I sound grumpy when I re-read what I just wrote. I just can't see any way to be easier about it. I will try to keep it all civil....really!

Peace to all... Elsie


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 09 Jul 97 - 11:29 PM

hartley re: "I for one would rather glances over a number of non-folk requests and glean out what I want"

I would not..

re: "Let's be tolerant within limits, let the powers that be tell those who make requests beyond the pale of other sites and let it go at that."

that is what happens anyway....no one is likely to STOP you making your requests...all my grumps can't affect what you do in the slightest. I am very glad to see that you do know and appreciate traditional music. I only try to keep the issue alive. Like activists in other causes, I would not do it if I did not believe it is important.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Yellow Door folk girl
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 12:43 AM

Hi - I certainly can't answer the question but I do have some opinions as to when it is or is not an important one. As far as the Yellow Door is concerned (it's a coffeehouse in Montreal, Quebec - the longest running in N.A. - excuse the blatant advertisement) we book anyone who's interested in playing, who people enjoy hearing. Our performers also vary from local unknowns to stars like Stan Rogers, the Wyrd Sisters, Joni Mitchel and others. People play originals mostly but when they do covers, they range from Stan Rogers to ani difranco. Once in a while I get shit for this from some idiot who feels that being a "folk" club, we should restrict the music to only what is considered traditional folk. I however, wouldn't dream of restricting our artists in this way. The definition of what is folk music is obviously important to many, but as far as providing a venue for up and coming folk artists, folk, is whatever folk like to sing. BTW - if you're ever in Montreal on a Fri. night, come on by and catch a show.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whippoorwill
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 10:43 AM

Elsie, I don't entirely disagree with you, but I think we're approaching the question from different generations. I would be happy with the definition extant in the early '60s... If it was traditional music that had been handed down (orally or in written form) over the past hundred years or so, music that had "withstood the test of time," it was classed as folk music. Contemporary songs written in the same style were considered "folk-type."

Maybe my problem is that I am neither a professional singer nor a professional listener. I sing purely for my own amusement and the amazement of my friends, so I have a hard time being as serious about the subject as some of you appear to be. Hopefully this is only a venal sin. One thing I have learned in my 60-plus years is that no three people are ever going to agree on a definition of anything as subjective as music. Fun to argue about, though, isn't it?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Laoise, Belfast
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 10:55 AM

Elsie,I have great sympathy for you. I can see that you are carrying this important message on your shoulders and its a ton ofweight - fair play tae ye, girl. You're passionate about this subject - I don't think you're being grumpy at all. Its much better than being impassive about it.

There is one thing, however, that your argument does not allow for and it is only hinted at in some of the other messages. The fact is that lumping all this music together does provide people who are just getting to know this genre of music with the means to explore the different types of "folk" music available. I admit that this was how I became interested in folk songs and folk music and ended up a complete Trad-head. The point is that without the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Fairpoint Convention, Steeleye Span, and even Suzanne Vega, being classed as Folk, there would be an awful lot of people who wouldn't have a clue as to what Folk Music is like. They may go away with a misunderstanding as to what "real" folk music is about, but at least it got them away from the steady onslaught of purely commercial garbage that permeates the airwaves. It is more likely that they'll get into folk music and discover the wealth of music as many have done before.

I agree with Elsie, however, that there is an urgent need to define Folk music so that it is clear to all, the type of music being listened to. But I would steer clear of simple, all encompassing definitions as these have proved to either include too much or exclude too much and are very clumsy. A system which has been used to categorise the various types of Jazz music may be a useful starting point. For example Trad Jazz is commonly applied to big band jazz like Benny Goodman, whereas Be Bop and Post Be Bop to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and "The Bird" - Charlie Parker. In the 70's Jazz was mixed with all sorts of other music, Latin American, Funk, Rock and this became known as Fusion Jazz, and this is futher sub-categorised depending on the influence. In this way Jazz has managed to keep up with changing times and without compromising the intitial application of the term.

I know that this style of subcategorisation was mostly spontaneous over the years (perhaps a reflection of the music) but it should be possible to sit down and construct a similar categorisation of Folk music. For example we already have English folk music, simply adding a term such as "archaic" or "60's protest" could create divisions between essentially different types of "Folk" songs.

Perhaps some of you imaginative lot out there could elaborate on the different types of subdivisions that could be possible. We might not be able to include all that pertains to be folk but we could at least preserve the original meaning and stop greedy music business fat cats sending out some spotty, untalented guy with an acoustic guitar and mouth organ and making out he's the greatest folk musician ever and then raking in the money.

I look forward to any suggestions or comments.

Laoise.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Kiwi
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 11:40 AM

I'm sorry, this is off topic, but I just have to chip in. Laoise, your jazz comment reminded me of a delightful little clip from a self-recorded tape a minstrel friend made for me: "Before we continue, there are two things to remember: There are no wrong notes in jazz... and this is Irish music." :)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 01:14 PM

Laoise- I am pleasantly surprised at getting a reasoned response to my passionate arm waving! As a matter of fact, I would be VERY happy if such a system as you describe was widely used.I really do not care what music people like and sing-and I actually LIKE a wider variety than it must sound like in my posts (although traditional folk IS my favorite)-I just hate having it all lumped together when I am in the mood for *TRAD*.

I do disagree, however, that it is necessary to mis-label Dylan and Susanne Vega, etc., in order to trick the kids into listening to the rest. I feel that those who have the right attitudes to appreciate traditional folk will find their way...it will probably never be main-stream anyway. Even during the 60's folk boom, not too many traditional folk singers made much money...it was the Kingstion Trio types..(the popularizers and 'arrangers') who got the recognition.

Whippoorwill--you are correct, people will tend to disagree on definitions...and 'folk' is one of the trickiest....but I repeat: There are many threads being started that have NO resemblance to ANY definition of folk! I will gladly shrug at the borderline cases- even up to tolerating Bob Dylan (thought I do have to swallow hard) but not pure rock & roll, movie musicals, and totally commercial singer-songwriters! When I see these, I wonder what the poster thought the title "a magazine dedicated to blues and folk music" meant! Or what DigiTrad meant! Did you ever watch someone park in a space labeled 'handicapped' and explain to anyone who complained "Oh, I just needed to run in here for just a minute."...That is what is happening--people are starting posts with "oh, I know this isn't really folk, but I just wonder if...." I really wish that even those who KNOW the answer would politely send them elsewhere. I also wish that there were similar forums available for pop, rock, musicals...etc. Except that THOSE are the areas that would REALLY have problems with copyright lawyers! I also wish more people would learn to use the nice search engines in Yahoo, Infoseek, Alta Vista etc. They just might find their lyrics in 2 hours rather than 2 days.

Enough--I think I'll go play some music. Ewan McColl perhaps!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From:
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 07:46 PM

This probably will just muddy the waters further (or is that blues) but I have the following thoughts.

Seems like Elsie's analogy between the field of collecting physical items and music might be helpful. I think she is saying that folk = antique and "pseudo-folk" = collectibles.

I think Laoise might say folk = "Antiques and Collectibles" (or whatever overarching category exists among collectors) and "trad folk" = antiques.

If you look at it this way you see that people ARE using the same word for different things. In this case they are using the same term for different levels of a hierarchical categorization of music which makes agreement REALLY difficult.

HOWEVER we should keep trying because this ISNT a general music site and does need exclusion/redirection criteria.

Elsie is right about stray cats at the door (even using the broadest definition of folk). I also think that the best strategy is listing an alternate site wherever possible. From my limited recollection of Psych. 101, I think "Scram" probably won't be as effective as "Let me show you a REALLY good source of food."

Frank Phillips


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From:
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 07:57 PM


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From:
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 07:58 PM

Point of clarification.

The exclusion/redirection criteria for the database is obviously well defined by the DT crew. It is the threads which seem to be the problem.

Frank Phillips


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gisele E
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 08:25 PM

What is a folk song? I think the answer is obvious... Folk songs are the not necessarily the songs sung by professional musicians, although that is often how we will hear them nowadays. Folk songs are the songs about here and now, real people, real events, real places.

Frances Heylar, from my home town, Saint John, writes songs about our history and about current events - I learn something everytime I listen to her sing (but that's not why I listen - I just really like what she has to say)

People like Frances Helyar, Stompin' Tom and Stevedore Steve perform/write songs that are catchy and entertaining and not necessarily commerical. People listen and hum along and the word spreads. (Everyone around here knows the words to 'Bud the Spud'!) This of how other 'traditional' or 'folk' songs started - hundreds of years ago, they were the popular songs of the day - everybody knew them and many of them were written by people who weren't musicians by profession.

Those are my thoughts...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bill D --extree@erols.com
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 09:00 PM

Elsie--if it is any consolation, I also feel pretty strongly about it all. In some other threads I refer to my attempts at writing up my theroies of how to approach all this without having to chisel definitions in stone. Perhaps together we can find a way to say it that will appeal to a larger audience. I will post ideas in here as I think them out. I appreciate a number of thoughts I have read in here. This forum may be the start of somethink really useful!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: BK
Date: 10 Jul 97 - 11:52 PM

I need to be a little bit of a curmudgeon... stir the pot...

Elsie:

Ewan McColl WROTE many songs, wrote a spellbinding erotic song for a woman who was not (reportedly) the one to whom he was married at the time ... are THESE folk songs?? Is Roberta Flack a folk singer? Joe and Eddie also recordeed it, as did many others.... THEY called themselves Gospel and Jazz singers, played in mainly folk clubs, to mainly folk audiences (whatever they are/were), and THIS place is also for "blues," whatever that is...and "Blues" are generally from this century...hmm... How do we catagorize Josh White Jr.??? I have done OLD Tom Paxton numbers at street fesitvals and very young kids sing along, know all the words, and tell me they learn them at camp (something Tom has told me he's very proud of - I would be too, were I him.) Is his older material NOW folk? Was it ever? (I think it was/is)

There's nothing wrong with a sweet voice or good musicianship.

Sometimes the Kingstons did very old stuff, very well... as did the Limelighters, etc... Sometimes these type performers just sing better than hard core "true" folkies. I have known some of the latter who are painful to listen to - even for a short time, ie, "you get a pail and I'll get a line".....ad nauseam. Kind of like Malvina Renolds' voice (- a GOOD writer!) or Shel Silverstein's. Some folks sound like they're in pain. I was in a GREAT metropolitan center for a while, and the major folk society there had an astronomical snob titre..predominantly middle-aged, fairly comfortable, pointedly wearing the accouterments and paraphenalia of the sixties, white liberals, and catty as hell!!! Many of them had voices far less sweet than Shel's, and constantly strove for one-upmanship by tricks like: singing in foriegn tongues; preferably ones no one else knew; THEY often had HUGE lists of songs to ditch, and could quickly let you know if you started to sing one of them at a jam session, while you were expected to listen sweetly to THEIR caterwailin' in a foriegn tongue, like as not pounding on an old Martin, unique for it's thick rind of grimy filth, it's gross disrepair, it's lack of being in any recognizable state of tune, and it's strikingly corroded strings. (Actually, some of their guitars were pretty nice -EXPENSIVE, man!!, but some were really about that bad; it was clearly a sign of being IN!!)

I wonder if anyone recognizes the locale... or the type?

Only a few hrs drive away, along the Central Susquehana Valley, their Pennsylvania neighbors were enormously more generous of spirit, and infinitely more fun!

Sorry - Properly a subject for another string? Arrogance among folkies, like racism among anthropoligists....? (They both generally like to claim they're not).

I know; if you want certain things, having no reliable categories makes dealing with any mass of materials impossible... no easy answers, but the sub-categorization actually already happens a lot, I'm not sure it always helps - everybody's system is a little different. Presumably I've insulted enough folks by now...something I normally try to avoid...sorry, got on a role! cheers!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Wolfgang
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 05:36 AM

Like, I guess, most of us, I am very contented with the actual practice of selection in the DT. I have no idea whether they follow any definition except personal taste. However they do it, it suits my personal preferences.

Just one example to show you the problem of definitions: What type of songs are these:
- they have no known author
- the lyrics have many local variants
- they are transmitted orally from generation to generation and each generation adds its own variant of the lyrics
- they are sung and enjoyed by many people, often in groups
- the same tune often goes with very different lyrics.

What did you think it was? Football songs (soccer for the Americans), of course. (Far from being my personal favourite type of songs)

Yours Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 10:14 AM

Wolfgang....football & rugby songs really do fall into what I call the 'tending toward' folk songs category just because of the criteria you mention-and a couple of other criteria: ease of singibility and non-commercial nature. They fail only on the 'age' criterion...and that will change. They are definitely a distinct sub-set, but I would call (most of)them folk songs.
All this needs more clarification, and I hope one day soon to have my list of 'tending toward' criteria more carefully thought out and complete-(and ready for the tender critiques of this gentle forum ;-).


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From:
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 04:14 PM

Elsie, I read the essays on why a more rigorous definition was needed, I just did not agree with them. Not that I don't believe in rigor. As a scientist/engineer, I am well aquainted with it., and a firm believer in it, in its proper context - academic study. I just don't think that DT, or the record store, or the majority of folk festivals, can or should be judged in the same maner as the academic forum.

If you will permit an analogy. If tommorow I submitted a paper entitled "Freindship Patterns in Urban Secondary Schools" to a sociological journal, I'd best have a clear and rigorous definition of the word "friendship". On the other hand, if I refer to someone as a "friend of mine" in a casual dinner conversation, I a permitted a much looser definition of the word freind. This is what I meant by "we don't usually need our lexicon of musical terms to be very rigorous and well defined."

Also, that "some musicians attempt banal garbage at folk festivals" is irrelevant to the question at hand. Both the academic or common use definition of 'folk music' are categorical judgements. Whether the music is well done or enjoyable is a value judgement. Music can be simultaneously "folk" and "banal" without contradiction.

So I did not mean my description as cute. I really meant it in the following way. Unless you are talking as a strict ethnomusicologist, the only way to get a good idea of what constitutes full range of folk music as the term is used today, is to go to folk festivals and folk clubs and get the gestalt for yourself. Its like the supreme court justice who once said he couldn't define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it.

On a personal note, I did not find you post grumpy. It was a bit condescending and patronizing though. For example, your comment to me "I wish you would re-read it...slowly" was meant to imply that I was either too lazy or to stupid to agree with you. It could easily have been dropped without doing violence to the otherwise reasonable ideas you wanted to express.

Best Regards

Jack

Peace to all... Elsie


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Cliff 'I never heard a horse sing it ' McGann
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 04:39 PM

You are all wasting your time trying to define Folksong. What I consider a folksong might not be considred a folksong by you or someone else. Big Bill Broonzy said it best when asked if what he sang were folksongs to which he replied "they must be I never heard a horse sing it".


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 04:54 PM

Cliff...you ought to at least read the threads before you do that! Here is a line from Elsie's post on 09July at 11:08

"There are real, genuine, important reasons to wrestle with the complexities of a working definition and not just all toss out some clever line about 'horses not singing' or whatever."


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Cliff McGann
Date: 11 Jul 97 - 05:18 PM

Bill,

I've read the threads and spent years studying and trying to come to a definition that suffices and it is not going to happen. Too many academics spend far too much time trying to define things and lose sight of the real significance of the song itself, the people that are singing it etc. I have studied folkmusic/folklore within an academic setting and don't say this without experience. It is a real shame. Sure it is important to find a definition but no matter what your definition, someone is going to find something they don't like about it. This is the reason why I posted Broonzy's statement not for lack of reading but to emphasize that you are NEVER going to be able to find a definition for folksong that works. As long as people don't get pre-occupied with defining folksong (which they have been for centuries and will continue to do so despite my hope)and keep singing then I am happy.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 12 Jul 97 - 01:47 AM

First to stop a rumor, BK, I don't recall if Peggy wrote that or Ewan, but she speaks and sings it as if it were from or for her. Awhile back I stopped replying to posts I didn't think were folk (even borderline) oriented. Like good wine weakens with water, I feel the same holds true here. You want a good/true/real/authentic/etc. antique go to a good antique store, if you want less go to a curio shop, anything else go to a flea market, you'll eventually find a bargain or even a gem there at a cheap price after wading through all the other castaways. If it were left to us (the non commerical) to lable what is or isn't folk music, this , in my opinion, would not mount to a hill of beans, but with the commerical end of the business trying to control it's sales and market , to me it becomes a very serious issue. In days gone by the hawker selling the penny broadside or the harpist trading a nights lodging for a tune was not the high high tech trade of today. Collectors of the past, Burns, Child, Bronson, Lomax, Lloyd, Sharpe etc. all tried to pass on what they'd found, thinking that it was something worth preserving, whether they changed or added to it or not, maybe in there wisdom some thought to rearrange a piece here or there only for the sake of it's survival, or to permently save it from the watering down (folk?) process. Any harm done there is insignificant (and probly unintenditional) in contrast to what todays media is intenditionally capable of in it's quest for the dollar. The hype that folk music survives is only because someone who cares takes it upon their shoulders and carries the burden for the rest of us as did the afore mentioned collectors, without them what we know as folk music today would be quite different, and found, as it was back then, only in the out of the way spots where those that have the time, love, money or know how would be exposed to it. I think we will continue to see cycles in the resurgence or the renewing or the recycling of folk music, it's up to those that love it, as to whether or not it continues in a form that's folk appealing or just some other form of watered down wine(whine?). Another point, because of modern tech, the so called singer/songwriter area of folk music no longer gets the test of time judgement, in this area why not just hand over the guidelines to the record/broadcast/producer/promoter/companies, they've always had the music and our best intrests at heart. I'm being cruel here but I don't think I'm to far off. Durning the 30' - 60's the folk of the Delta, played blues into new fangled tape machines and got squat while the same material played by urban FOLK a few years later made them a livelyhood, thank christ for those that gave credit to the oldtimers, them that otherwise might not have reaped as others raped. Elsie you do the folk justice even if it's just us. Barry Finn


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 12 Jul 97 - 07:28 AM

I'll make my position clear, I'm in Elsie's camp. It's not a question of judging the value of a song, but of simply understanding one another, without precise definitions to the words we use, we might as well skip the ambiguities and resort to grunting, snorting, stealing and raping.

Someone made references to the way jazz has accomodated so many styles; as a jazz fan, I've gotta say, it's really annoying to have to ferret out what someone means when they say "jazz," For many people it's just three chord soft rock with a saxophone. The word is losing its purpose, definition of a musical form.

There is another thread about ideas for a mudcat discussion forum, this may be a good place to troubleshoot ideas for that. I love many of the songs that are labeled "folk," but I bristle at the misuse of the term because it makes it all the more difficult for me to converse with people. Fuzzy definitions are for fuzzy thinkers.

Perhaps a category known as "post folk" to reference music done in the folk style by the modern singer/songwriter. Not much of a definition, but you get the idea.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 13 Jul 97 - 01:13 PM

Barry--, Frank--, You know, for the first time, I really feel like we may actually make some difference here. There are a LOT of people who read these threads, and though there will always be some who just will NOT get the point; others will do sone serious thinking about it.

Cliff..I do not claim that I have some simple definition-but only that one can do like Barry and narrow one's focus. I do claim--and there seem to be others who agree with me--that there is stuff that is blatently, obviously, and clearly not appropriate for a discussion forum labeled 'traditional'! Since the forum is not moderated, there is no way to control people who try to wring some rock lyrics out of our eclectic readers, but we CAN do like Barry and either ignore them or politely send them elsewhere...as I just did with another of todays postings

I am NOT going to spend all my time chasing out people that do not agree with me...but I may occasionally re-post a few of these threads when the situation begins to look threatening.

(I signed off a couple of days ago saying I was going to listen to some Ewan McColl, and someone pointed out to me that he wrote some things that were not 'folk music'... AMEN! see! It's is working already! :-)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Jul 97 - 05:41 PM

you know, the way it works in practice is that someone like Ewan McColl, who sang, researched, and compiled much traditional music, seems to carry songs with him and give them status they might not have had otherwise..His taste is infectious, and people like him seem to be allowed more latitude than others might..... just a thought...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: BK
Date: 13 Jul 97 - 05:43 PM

The rumor => I have read supposedly authoritative sources that said the song was written for Peggy by Ewan, while he was still married to his previous wife. I have no reason to think that information is inaccurate, but, of course, it could be. And it does not make it any less sensuous and beautiful, and yes, I tend to think of it as a folk song, rather than place it in the "popular" category, in which it might more logically be thought to belong. Actually, I usually just think of it as a beautiful song, rather than in any category.

If, however, I want to hear a recording of it - and I don't own any Roberta Flack recordings - I'm going to look in my nominally folk collection, for the Joe & Eddie version, because it is one of my favorite renditions - and, from the same duo, like as not on the same album, will be some of the gospel-jazz numbers, by which they defined themselves, and blues, and other "modern & composed" songs, such as the lovely and enchanting "girls in summer dresses," (supposedly written by their guitarist??) and they - in my mind - are always associated with folk venues, performers, times, feelings, days of my youth, etc... I could hardly dissociate them, even if I wanted to. And, I don't...

When I was younger, and more passionate about righting wrongs, and wrong-headedness, I would have emphatically agreed with Elsie. Now, while I see instinctivly that it her ideas are worth consideration, I must conclude that there is a low liklihood of agreement.

On the other hand - I use my (probably incorrect) folk categorization when I want to find the song, and it helps me find the album it is on. So... We do need categories, and they need to be useful enough to be practical. And we need to agree on them in order to communicate... (If you look in my LP collection for Joe & Eddie albums, you also might immediatly look in the folk category, but if you think of them as gospel-jazz, or blues, [or "folk-pop,"] or whatever else, you might never find the recording you want.)

In retrospect it seems that we should applaud the efforts of the inevitable set of people who will continue to espouse a more rigorous approach, knowing (also applauding?) that entropy will always be tugging in the other direction...

I do agree that the selection process for DT, thus far, seems to be working pretty well, however one may categorize it.... (Why isn't "Abiyoyo" in there? I don't know...)

And we all have our own perceptions...

Onward through the fog... Cheers


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 13 Jul 97 - 09:57 PM

BK, truthfully I'd rather listen to Killing Me Softly With Kung Fu.

I don't really seperate (here in the DTanyway) between traditional or contempory, or take borderline folk as a slight, in here it seems there's enough self-control, most have an understanding of what is folk, I'm not the music police & it's not my fourm(thank god). My main concern, as stated above, is without some respect, folk music may become pop (an example- pop irish, commerical). The erosion of folk as a form or type may end up being in the hands of those who don't care. There's a great debate as to whether or not folk music is on a decline , with the loss of funding & grants, the decisions in the airways to drop folk from a prime time if not altogether, the closing of many clubs and the decrease in the number of true folk festival (by that I mean those that promote folk musicans as opposed to some singersongwriters or main stream money drawers) and last those that at one time were considered traditional festivals (these are a dying breed). There are festivals that cater to certain traditions, Mystic is an example, but there were others, Eisteddfod was at one time considered traditional, many yrs. back, I don't know what causd it's demise, but I do know that alot of people didn't want to see or hear an overabundance of selfpromoting singer/songwriters, although I think in recent yrs. they tried to change this. Now this brings me to the comment about songwriters like Ewan McColl & others that weren't commented about like Stan Rogers, Archie Fisher, Eric Bogle, Kate Wolfe & lesser knowns like Tom Lewis & Jim Payne. In my opinion these and there like have been at this type of music for quite some time & their feel for it is like an instinct & some of them sing & write about it from the point of a gun (Tom Lewis & Cyril Tawney were Sub Mariners), there are alot of newer singer songwriters that have no reason or love for doing what they're doing, no life experence from which to write from, don't understand the tradition they're trying to write about but they can play an instrument & have a voice & are well equipped to do PR work & take the job for far less (here's one erosion factor) in order to get exposure. These others have or are standing the test of time or when they're heard there's not doubt (when it walks like a duck & it looks like a duck & talks like a duck, it's a duck) about their music & some are so fine they're taking in as being traditional by mistake (I do maybe 4 of McColl's, that folks ask about & are surprised to find they're not trad-quite the complement). I like the jazz idea but I don't like coming to that. Barry Finn


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 13 Jul 97 - 11:21 PM

Barry-- It IS your forum--at least as much as it's anyone else's. And BK--Abiyoyo isn't in the DT simply because you haven't sent it in to us.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whippoorwill
Date: 14 Jul 97 - 10:46 AM

This discussion reminds me of what the old woman said when her husband climbed down off the merry-go-round: "Well, you rode, and you rode, and you rode, and where you been?"

The more I read, the more I realize I'm even more a hide-bound traditionalist than Elsie. I hear you talking about singers-songwriters who do nothing but their own material as if they were truly performing folk music. Sorry, kids, that don't cut it. Where is the staying power of this music? We don't know, because it's too new. Once again, folk music must have passed the test of time. Wazzat, you ask? For me, it's at least three generations. If it was written in your grandfather's day and people - people, not just professional singers - are still singing it, it probably qualifies. And that, Elsie, is why I insist that the definition depends on the age of the definer. For you, "I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah," may be folk music. It was written (probably)in your grandfather's generation. I'm not going to argue about it - I'm just not going to buy it.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 14 Jul 97 - 02:36 PM

My turn again.

Years ago I went to an Eisteddfodd in Llangollen expecting to hear some really good folk music. All I heard was a succession of over polished choirs singing over produced versions of traditional songs.

I didn't consider that to be folk music even though the content was traditional. It was AWFUL.

Now I belong to a well know folk club who sponsor two kinds of regular activity.

First is a Monthly Concert which usually (9 times out of ten) consists of singer/songwriters performing their own, usually very forgettable, work. I don't consider that to be folk music either.

Their other activity however is a monthly informal sing where ordinary (dare I say it ) FOLK sing whatever they like. It often includes fairly modern material such as, maybe 'moonshadow' or 'Mr Tambourine Man' etc. I DO consider that to be real folk music.

Folk are out there singing these songs now. Time will tell if they ever become traditional.

So keep singing and having fun.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: LaMarca
Date: 14 Jul 97 - 03:31 PM

It's Monday, I'm at work (and should be working) and can't resist jumping back into the fray! I'm one of those who 'discovered' traditional folk music by listening to rock translations of English folk a' la Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, etc. in my college years (now receding into the misty past, alas). I still like LOTS of different kinds of music, from opera (except Wagner) to some of the latest rock bands (The Squirrel Nut Zippers are doing REALLY neat modern calypsos and hokum...).

BUT...when it comes to trying to find sources for the traditional folk I also love, in books and recordings, let alone on the air or in live performances, I find it being crowded out by singer/songwriters wailing about the angst of having been abused as a child, neglected by their significant others, having their cars stolen in New Jersey or just dying of ennui in this materialistic world. This material seems to be highly marketable, and is about the only kind of "Folk" many people have ever heard. Songwriters like Ewan MacColl, Utah Phillips, Brian McNeill and Bob Coltman have a more traditional "feel" to their compositions because they have both a knowledge and respect for the traditional music of their cultures that comes across in their writing. Songwriting without any connection to one's roots isn't "Folk", in my opinion, even if you're bashing a Martin while you sing. Yellow Door folk girl, your coffee house performers are probably regurgitating Ani DiFranco and Stan Rogers covers because they never had a CHANCE to hear anything else, or learn any material they couldn't just buy out of the "Folk" bin at their nearest mega-conglomerate record store! You don't have to censor your performers; the business world has already done that for you, except what they've censored is the traditional material that isn't as profitable as newly written material with a good beat or politically correct "hook" to the lyrics.

The dearth of traditional folk in recordings and performances isn't just a matter of it being less aurally accessible; I have a hard time listening to field recordings of men with no teeth singing traditional ballads or playing their fiddles out of tune for the collectors, and recognize that many people wouldn't pay to hear an evening of music performed by the original traditional singers/musicians in their own style. However, even more polished interpreters of traditional material find it hard to get gigs in this day and age. One of the great tragedies of recent years was the suicide of Peter Bellamy, an immensely talented musician and singer. Like many performers, he was a difficult personality to work with. While allowances will be made for a prima-donna doing "personal" material (like Dylan), Bellamy's preference for traditional material and "politically incorrect" sources like Kipling got him shut out of more and more performance venues who wanted to attract a more "mainstream" audience. One local coffeehouse in our area is reluctant to book any performer who hasn't been played on the radio, because no-one in their audience will have heard of them. At the same time, Margaret MacArthur, another talented singer and musician whose repertoire is mostly (but not exclusively) traditional, said that her recordings are being dropped by several of the major "Folk" record distributors, like Rounder, because there's not as much demand for them. It's a Catch-22; you can't get a gig if your recordings aren't played; your recordings aren't distributed because there's no market; there's no market because people don't know who you are because they've never heard you perform...

I feel this situation is analogous to what's happening in The Boundary Waters area of Minnesota. This area has been set aside as a natural area for canoeing, kayaking, hiking and other forms of non-powered transportation. However, there is a loud clamoring from the people who love to run their power boats, jet-skis, snow-mobiles, etc (AND from the companies that sell these obscene beasts, and the real-estate developers that profit form them, etc), that THEIR tax money goes to support this area, therefore they should be allowed to run their noisy vehicles anywhere they want to. Never mind that Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, most of which are already open to power boats, and never mind that the people who enjoy canoeing and quiet sports also pay taxes; there are a lot more power yahoos than those eco-freaks, they're louder and therefore their enjoyment and access SHOULD take priority (at least according to them and the manufacturers of their power equipment...). Well, I consider traditional music to be the "quiet sport" of the music world. There's not as many of us around that like it, so the folks that like/prefer the more commercial forms of music assert that it's their right to have access to ALL the venues that exist for any form of folk music. Soon, because fewer and fewer performers of traditional music can find a venue to play in or make a living doing tradtional types of music, fewer and fewer people are exposed to or get a chance to find out there's something worthwhile in the traditional songs, too!

I'm not saying that we should put up a sign saying "Restricted: Keep Out" on coffeehouses, sing-around nights, this discussion forum, etc. What I would like is to have a "Minimum Traditional Content: xx%" advisory. If you're running an Open Mike, request that performers do one traditional number out of every three songs. If you're booking a concert series, ask your performers if they know any traditional material, and to include it as even just a PART of their set list. If you're trying to find a song, try looking for more readily available stuff elsewhere first, so as not to tie up connect time here. (Don't know about anyone else, but I've been finding it harder and harder to connect to this site in the past few weeks) If you already like traditional music, for God's sake support the performers who are trying to keep it alive by buying their records, going to their concerts and helping folks like Dick and Max who provide a service like this. Whether we like it or not, in a Capitalist Society, money is the only form of "Free" speech that counts for anything!

For those of you who use this forum, and DON'T like traditional music, I would just like to politely say that you've got a whole big football stadium out there for your type of sport; please leave us just this one last corner of the playground for our quiet games!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whippoorwill
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 12:27 PM

AMEN!!!

LaMarca, close out the thread. You've said it all.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Sheye
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 01:52 PM

Wow! This is one cold thread. I must confess/apologize. I found this link through a back door and was not aware that the entries were meant to be traditional. (As asked above, is there a way of defining the ambiguity of time?)

I am also a somewhat younger pup in that I don't recognize MANY of the songs mentioned, and have learnt much about folk music from hanging out here, so thanks to those that have tolerated my postings; I've enjoyed yours as well. Another plus to the site is that it gives people who are interested in folk music, but who've had limited contact a place to explore their growing interest.

However, if this thread had been the first one I read, I would not have come back.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bill
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 03:01 PM

Sheye, I hope that you will continue to come back with whatever questions you may have, and that you will not let the definers and exclusionists close the site to you.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jon W.
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 06:37 PM

If when you hear a verse from one song sung in another, and it makes you glad not mad, then you know what a folk song is.

If you get excited by hearing different lyrics sung to the same old tune, then you know what a folk song is.

If you get a little disgusted with McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) claiming authorship of songs you know darn well existed in a dozen variation before he recorded them, then you know what a folk song is. Of course you forgive him because he's just as deserving of the royalties as anyone.

I still believe there are only two people who ever wrote folk songs: Trad I. Shunnal and A. Nony Mouse. Everything else is folkstyle until no one knows who wrote it anymore.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: suzu
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 06:38 PM

Sheye: Debate is a good form of self-expression. It does not however mean that the debaters would like to isolate themselves from persons who do fall into the context of the debate. You're welcome here with your questions, ideas and above all, your presence.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Angus McSweeney
Date: 15 Jul 97 - 09:41 PM

This is quite a thread. I just felt I had to add a word or two myself. My problem is simple: as I read each entry, I tend to agree with it. Then I read a rebuttle and tend to agree with IT! That, in essence, is why I believe we are never going to put this debate to rest. And that is also why you can't write "The Complete Book of Folk/Traditional Music". As the famous justice wrote about obscenity (paraphrasing here) "I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it". That seems to be the recurring theme in this thread, but we all seem to see it from slightly different angles. That means you won't find any answers in my contribution. Folk songs are by nature hard to define. I'm familiar with the Jazz categories Laoise, and being somewhat new to that genre I find them very helpful for finding my way around. A very narrowly focused folk music traditionalist trying to defend the integrity of this site might find this very thread a waste of good space meant, after all, for finding those old songs that can't be found elsewhere. But we're not that narrow, are we? A confession: I started the first Folk Fantasy Circle and wondered at the time if there might be howls of protest. But (in my experience) it became a great source of folk/traditional music that I often had not heard before. I've learned several songs from those threads, and more importantly, I started to see some personalities emerge from the various on-line names that frequently appear on postings. I believe that this site is really starting to resemble a community. This thread is a perfect example. And, just like a good folk circle, if someone occasionally serves up a song that doesn't quite fit the bill, we tend to smile inwardly and move on. And if someone (or several somone's in a row) tend to stray WAY off the path, then we try some redirection. It seems to me that this approach has worked pretty well at this site. For the purists who are much more educated than myself as to the TRUE definitions, and want to have a site that is TRULY exclusive, I'm afraid that the the nature of the internet prevents us from such purity. Unless we want to establish a password to get in. And I fervently hope that no one wants to do that. In conclusion, for anyone who stuck with me through all of this, I believe the entire discussion is very good, but I propose we don't do much of anything different than we we are doing now. (And my apologies for the use of capital letters...I am not shouting, I am just emphacising).


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: RS
Date: 16 Jul 97 - 12:14 AM

Looking at the "process" rather than the "content" of this thread for a moment, let me put aside the question of "WHAT is folk", and speak to the question of "WHY try to define folk" (or any other category, or word)?

Some possible motivations behind the debate could include - (1) for the philosophical challenge of thinking about ideas

(2) for the fun & interest of the debate

(3) for practical purposes, e.g. to define boundaries, set up guidelines, etc.

(4) to identify group membership around the category

For the purposes of (1)&(2), philosophical challenge & debate, the more ideas, the better ... in brainstorming, no idea is too outrageous to be interesting ... the more diverse the opinions expressed, the more productive the debate.

On the other hand, for the purposes of (3)&(4), defining boundaries and generating group identity, some *consensus* is needed. And the consensus does not need to be "philosophically correct", as long as it is "practically useful".

This thread certainly meets the needs of (1) & (2) - reflection and debate.

So what about (3) & (4)? Is there a NEED for defined boundaries? Clearly in some circumstances there is. For example, a database with NO restrictions as to content could become so large that it could run out of server space - cost too much to maintain - & take too long to access or search through! A discussion forum with no defining limits could take so long to scan, that people would stop participating because of the sheer volume of correspondence. Arguments in favour of more rigidly defining this forum, also address the need to keep "a space of our own", along the lines of "the rock/country/musicals/etc crowds have other sites, let's keep this separate".

But I am not convinced that any of these are really serious concerns at this point. Computer technology being what it is, I've searched much larger databases without noticing much time difference in the response. And I agree with the approach that if a thread doesn't interest me, I just don't click on it. I certainly *don't* like the idea of flaming someone who posts a thread that someone else thinks is inappropriate, particularly in the absence of posted guidelines as to what the boundaries of the discussion forum are supposed to be. And if I'm preparing a songsheet, & need a song, I don't want to be afraid to post a title in case it's the wrong category & I get reprimanded. Anyway if somewhere wants to reply to a non-folk thread, who is hurt? It seems to me far more likely that non-folk-buffs who find this site friendly, will stay & learn about folk music; and not very likely that that they will *infiltrate & take over* & we'll be left with nothing but Rolling Stones & Led Zeppelin lyrics (or whatever).

My general experience in life is that if a group is friendly & welcoming, new members are very willing to conform to the group norms ... vs. if a group is restrictive & rejecting, potential new members are scared away. I would rather err on the side of inclusiveness than exclusiveness. (At least until the server space runs out.) FWIW -


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Angus
Date: 16 Jul 97 - 07:37 PM

I agree.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Tim Jaques tjaques@netcom.ca
Date: 18 Jul 97 - 07:24 PM

While I have some sympathy for Elsie's position, given some of the rubbish passed off as folk music, I am glad that she doesn't do the bookings at the festivals I attend.

I do not think that something that is basically entertainment should be subject to such rigorous scientific analysis, as if we were classifying insects. Why on earth should Steeleye Span and Figgy Duff not be considered folk music, even though they use electric guitars and drum sets? Is the banjo a traditional European instrument? Did the person who wrote The Coventry Carol know anything about the modern fiddle?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 19 Jul 97 - 03:33 AM

I can't believe I'm saying this, but after reading all of these messages, I have to admit that Elsie and the purists have made a good point. What changed my mind is a look at the schedule of our local "folk" club, the Palms Playhouse in Davis, CA. I used to go to the Palms once a month or more, but now it's more like twice a year. The reason: most of the performers have the moniker "singer-songwriter," after their name. The more traditional performers have been squeezed out, to a great degree.
I suppose the real purists wouldn't call Bill Staines, "folk," but Bill does stuff that is rooted in tradition, songs that people like to sing along with. If fact, the whole audience sings along with most of Bill's songs at his annual Palms performance.
But Bill draws an audience of 75, about half a house full. John Gorka sells out two performances when he appears at the Palms. It's gotten to the point that I have to drive past the Palms and a hundred miles to San Francisco if I want to hear what I call real folk music.
So, Elsie, I agree that the Tradition must be preserved - but it must also be continued. If our music is to remain alive and healthy, not just a museum piece, we must be open to adding new songs to our canon of "traditional folk" music. 'Nuff said.
-Joe Offer, Sacramento, CA-


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 19 Jul 97 - 12:11 PM

Joe The upseting part is when I'm trying to buy duck & someone is selling me squab & saying they're the same thing, pretty soon no one is raising ducks anymore & going to the pond will be an excersice in futility. Elsie, it's ducky that you keep it up, thanks Just another Quack that likes ducks Barry


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 12:08 PM

Was going to retire to the background for awhile....but I have to reply to the last two....If what we have said has helped even Joe Offer to reconsider his viewpoint, then it has been worth it......and Joe, what you have gone thru with the 'folk' clubs, I have gone thru several times...I tried to be part of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society once upon a time, but it soon became clear that 95% of their interest was that festival, and as long as it drew a crowd, they didn't much give a hang for the notion of 'trad' or of singing much among themselves..(perhaps this has changed in recent years, but I doubt it..). I have also found performers that used to do a lot of traditional stuff have been changing because they simply could not get a large enough audience to make it pay to go on the road. I guess I can't blame them, but since I do NOT have to make a living singing what the masses want, I do a lot of searching for the few festivals, radio programs, records, clubs, (and yes, discussion groups) where I can immerse myself in my favorite music---and if some of the other stuff gets on me, I can brush it off---I just don't want too work too hard to sift out what I want from the waves of new styles, etc.(lazy, I suppose)

And Barry....while the rest of them 'squab'le, lets you and I eat duck! Quack!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 12:30 PM

Elsie,

Good to see you back. If you live in the Philadelphia area come along to my place on the second Friday of the month. I have a very informal 'folk' circle where traditional stuff is very welcome.

I have only been here a couple of years and my experience of PFSS has been mixed. I like the informal 'sings' which are usually good. However the concerts all seem to be singer/songwriter stuff.

My needs as a singer/songwriter are more fully met by the Philadelphia Area Songwriters Alliance.

Bert. (albert.hansell@bentley.com)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jon W.
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 12:36 PM

It's tough to find anything to listen to live. I guess that's why we have to make the music ourselves. I'm more of a wannabe than a true musician - I've learned and forgotten a lot of '30's acoustic blues on guitar, I started listening to Irish/celtic a few years ago and from there I've tried to get more into American/appalachian traditions, and I'm trying to learn banjo and tin whistle with some success. Here in little old Murray Utah we have a free acoustic music festival each Labor Day. Last year the crowd was a few hundred. There was a singer/songwriter type trio (two guitar/vocalists and a standup bass, who did a funny song on being online), a good Irish band called Shanahy featuring Kate MacLeod (she's supposed to be known nationally, anyone heard of her? she plays fiddle, guitar, and sings), and then a group which I would have to categorize as acoustic country pop. I had to leave after a few of their songs, couldn't take it any more. When I hear of a good concert I go to it (if it's free or low cost - my wife keeps us on a strict entertainment budget). But those are few and far between. So I have to content myself with listening to recordings and a few radio shows and trying to learn the music by ear, which is a slow process for me. It's good to know there are others out there with the same struggles. Thanks to all.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Elsie
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 12:46 PM

alas, I no longer live near you...I am in New Mexico, and not easily near the music..(I would not find much solace in a singer/songwriter group I'm afraid) I find refuge in my records, this database..(hooray for the MIDIs!)and some trips to festivals...(Texas, Kansas...)but even that is harder to do right now....(Do you suppose being 'away from it all' has made me grumpy?)

Anyway, thanks...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 01:04 PM

Where abouts in New Mexico? I love that State.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jon W.
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 01:19 PM

More thoughts, back on the original subject:

To define a folk song, you first have to define the folk group. In my one semester of folklore in college, a folk group was very broadly defined - any identifiable group of people sharing some common characteristic was acceptable. For example city dwellers, computer geeks, and even a single family could be considered just as much a folk group as Appalachian mountain folk, Irish emmigrants, or eastern European Jews. Each group would obviously have their own folk tales, songs, crafts, foods, or other traditions. And the methods of dissemination can be different. For example I (being a computer geek) did as the semester project a collection of computer-related folk stories/materials. Mostly they were things that had been disseminated by copy machine, in those days (1980). Now fax machines, e-mail, and the internet are used. For example, the various virus warnings posted on the net and sent by email, almost all hoaxes, could be considered a form of folk tale. So it's pretty tough to exclude much if you allow any folk group in. For example, Wolfgang's hated football songs definitely qualify as folk songs for the folk group "German (or European) football fans". Maybe we need to work harder on which folk group(s) we are talking about.

My personal candidates, and what I have seen in DT for inclusion, would be British Isles/Celtic, Appalachian, Cowboy, African American (blues/work songs/spirituals). I would leave out singer/songwriter unless it was a song I liked. And there's the problem.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 03:33 PM

Just yesterday, I heard a palomino singing "California Girls". Does this change anything?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Earl
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 03:35 PM

I think in a forum like this, though we may not be able to come up with a universal definition of folk music, we all pretty much know what we mean. We may argue vehemently about where to put the fences but we all know what we want to fence in.

The bigger problem, though, is that the general public doesn't have a clue. In Boston there are quite a few "folk" shows on the radio but the music is about 98% singer/songwriter. I think that this is how folk music is perceived in the 90's: serious political or excruciatingly personal songs which are instantly forgetable. The antithisis of any reaonable definition of folk music.

Celtic music, Appalchian music, traditional African-American music, Cajun, etc., etc. appear on the radio in their own specialty shows. A comtemporary American audience would not see the connection in these muscial forms and would certainly not call them "folk."


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 03:57 PM

An interesting point of view Jon. It brings up the point that things can be traditional to one group but not necessarily to society as a whole.

And talking about football songs, there is a song that is traditional amongst 'West Ham United' Soccer Fans. They sing 'I'm forever blowing bubbles' whenever the game gets slow.

It is traditional in that it has been passed down through a couple of generations of fans but it is certainly not a 'traditional' song by most definitions.

So there is a lot of overlap when it comes to defining 'folk' and 'traditional' songs.

Hey!, perhaps we should start singing 'I'm forever blowing bubbles' whenever our arguments get too obscure ;-)

Bert.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: LaMarca
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 06:06 PM

Dick, only if he held his hoof up to his ear while he sang it...

I've worked on stage crew for Nick Spitzer's "American Roots on the Mall" 4th of July concert every year, which is a fun mix of a lot of different kinds of what Spitzer calls "Roots" music. He's a rare individual, a PhD Folklorist who actually gets PAID to do folklore, but he has disagreements with other folklorists in the academic world (so what else is new?) over his fairly broad inclusion of different types of music. For the concert, he tries to come up with a balance between acts that will be popular for a large crowd of tourists (and locals) in Washington, DC, that still have some link to a particular community. Over the past years we've had Mariachi bands, Klezmer, Irish (Cherish the Ladies and others), LOTS of Cajun and Zydeco, urban electric blues and even Carl Perkins ("Don't Step On My Blue Suede Shoes) with some of Elvis' original backup band. All of these groups played both traditional and modern numbers FROM their traditional type of music (and yes, rockabilly evolved out of a trad. type of black blues). So, even though there's enough "popular" stuff to please a crowd, Spitzer tries to link it in their minds to community-based traditions, showing that traditional stuff CAN be appealing to an audience. And not a whining singer-songwriter in the whole bunch! I just wish that more booking agents for folk clubs and/or commercial establishments would try the same thing, instead of just booking in the current FastFolk Magazine songwriter-of-the-month. I may be a Purist Snob, but I'm a flexible Purist Snob if it helps make traditional music more available!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Earl
Date: 22 Jul 97 - 07:39 PM

Nick Spitzer's attitude is exactly what is needed. Folk music has always been a form of entertainment but one that includes as much and as many as possible. It's always a process and never a finished product.

American audiences (that's all I can speak for) appreciate quality and are hungry for history (consider how many people watched Ken Burn's Civil War.) However, as we all know, they will settle for mediocrity and hogwash. If people who know music don't convey our musical roots in honest and entertaining ways, Disney will steal it, polish it, package it, and sue us all for copyright infringement.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Alan of Oz
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 05:00 AM

Well, I suppose I started this discussion for two reasons: to see what would happen and because I have my own point of view.

I have watched what happened with great interest. Thank you all for your thoughts. Now I know the answer!

Actually, as a purist I still think the purest definition is the "wildflower" definition as I stated at the beginning of this thread. As a realist I know we cannot survive if we restrict ourselves to this narrow definition.
Joe, I really like your last paragraph in your posting here. I would say "folk" though, not "traditional folk". You can’t write something new and call it traditional. You CAN write something new which may be folky.
Elsie, I may not see it exactly the way you do but I really value your input. I think you are passionate not grumpy.
To all other contributors, we may not all agree but there have been many good points made here, I think this has become an excellent discussion, far better than I ever envisaged.

My own point of view is that when people hear the words "folk song" an image of what that means will come to mind, each individual having a different image. I would hope that the concept which features largest in that image is that of a traditional folk song (the "wildflower" definition). I believe that if this is the case then folk clubs, festivals (and this forum) will not go far wrong. Although this forum does stray sometimes it seems to me to be reasonably well focussed on this concept.

The problem is, I have been to folk clubs and festivals where it seems to me that the organisers ARE losing sight of this concept. In my small way I am trying to shift the focus back towards traditional folk songs. I am not trying to exclude anything. We can’t. We must allow for creativity. But when I go to a folk club or festival and not hear ANY traditional folk songs I think someone is losing the plot.

Whatever your favourite definition may be PLEASE keep the "wildflower" definition in the back of your mind.

Cheers,
Alan


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: steve (folkie@trytel.com)
Date: 31 Jul 97 - 03:32 AM

Folk songs (for me) are:

singable by untrained, but practiced singers with ordinary vocal ranges easily learnable by ear NOT reliant on expert instrumental accompaniment welcoming of attention but NOT demanding attention sound most satisfying in the evening by a fire or in a candlelit room

All that stuff about generations and a hundred years -- phoey! Gilbert and Sullivan is not folk, though our families have handed it down to us. Church music is not folk, though most is learned young, by ear. OTOH, many country music songs ARE folk music...if you strip away all those steel guitars, overbearing drums, or occasionally unnatural vocal affectations. Of course, if their subject matter is banal or badly expressed, they're still BAD folksongs and will quickly be forgotten.

Yes, there is such a thing as a BAD folksong. Most folksongs are bad and are quickly forgotten.

As for dismay that Phil Staines deserves more respect than John Gorka -- I just don't understand why it matters. Let's face it -- concerts are NOT the ideal venue for many traditional songs. Heck, I think of concert going as more of a social thing than a musical thing. When I saw Makem and Clancy, it was to see *them*, not to hear their music. I can hear their music anytime. At home, I can sing along if the mood strikes me, or more often, I can leave them off, pull out my guitar and sing a few of the songs I've learned from them.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: toadfrog
Date: 25 Mar 01 - 05:04 PM

FOLK MUSIC, WHAT?
My definition

Try this one and see what you think. I'd be very interested to hear responses.
The best approach I ever heard was by Earl Robinson, in or about 1956, who said something like this:
(1) Folk music is music which has been smoothed over time by passing from one individual to another, each making a small contribution, until the music is perfected in ways no individual composer could achieve.
(2) In order for the folk process to work, the people involved must understand the music they perform. They must either be raised in a musical tradition, or must pay careful attention to it and follow it.
(3) Robinson, who composed the "Ballad for Americans," "Sandhog" and "Joe Hill," among other things (and was very proud of it) did not call himself a composer of folk music. He said he had heard changed versions of "Joe Hill," and thought it would evolve into a folk song.
(4) Robinson thought that classical music was great only to the extent it derived from folk roots. He argued, this is why Bartok is a greater composer than Schoenberg. (I'm not sure whether I agree, but it is an interesting point.)
(5) These were political points Robinson was making, as he considered folk music to be the property of the Left.

In the same vein, I heard Bess Hawes say that she had taught a course in singing folk songs. One week, for an exercise, she had all her students choose a well-known singer and imitate him/her as closely as they could. When the class met, no one could tell who it was that anyone was trying to imitate. But ALL the students sang better than they ever had before. In other words, they improved because they had to think about what they were doing.

That being said, I suggest the following, and ask for comment:
(1) Folk songs are SIMPLE songs. Because folk songs do not have a lot of complicated instrumentation, chord progressions, etc. they derive their force from very small things, like small variations in rhythm and vocal inflection. The best folk recording I have ever heard is "Alabama Bound" with Leadbelly and the Golden Gate Quartet. All either a capella or with a single guitar line, but the rhythm and phrasing are perfect.
(2) The best folk music is performed by people who are raised in a tradition and stick to it. Good folk music requires that the performer at least treat the tradition with respect. There are trained opera singers who patronizingly include a few simple folk songs in their repertoire. No matter how magnificent their voices are, they rarely sound good.
(3) The best folk music is moving because of a nuanced combination of words, tune, rhythm, vocal inflection, and instrumentation (if any). A folk singer raised within a tradition may understand these things without needing to think about them. An outsider who wants to sing the songs should think about them very carefully. That is why Leadbelly is better than Odetta, and Odetta is superior to Judy Collins. That is also why Prof. Child was wrong when he said the words of a ballad are more important than the tune. He was wrong because it makes no sense AT ALL to think about the words in isolation from the tune, or even in isolation from the singer's accent and phrasing.
(4) Songs composed by singer-songwriters may be good, but they are not folk music. And the more complex the composition gets, the farther it probably is from anything that could be called folk music.
(4) The idea of creating "fusion" music, or bringing all the traditions together to create something to unite mankind, is wrongheaded. Homogenized music is like Kraft homogenized cheese. The idea of "liberating" music from rules is wrongheaded. Traditional music is good because it is traditional. Traditions are local and have rules.
(5) Although folk songs are associated with the Left, Songs of Protest are not necessarily folk songs. And a bad song does not become a good one because the sentiment is good, or politically correct.JWM


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Mr Red
Date: 25 Mar 01 - 06:11 PM

Cliff 'I never heard a horse sing it ' McGann

Though I am more inclined to believe it of Big Bill Broonzy, the saying has been credited to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 25 Mar 01 - 07:41 PM

Although I'm puzzled why this thread has suddenly re-emerged after all this time, I must say that Toadfrog's comments are very sensible.  I must also say that anybody who repeats -yet again- that stupid remark about horses and folk music really shouldn't be engaging in any kind of reasoned discussion!

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 05:09 AM

(Not intended as any slight to you, Mr. Red, as you were only discussing attribution; a general observation only!)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: mousethief
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 11:38 AM

Words, words, words.
---Hamlet


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 12:41 PM

Toadfrog, your definition is probably as good as any. I don't subscribe to it, however, because of its emphasis on simplicity as an essential element (or THE essential element) of folk songs. I think a lot of great folk songs are actually quite complex -- musically, lyrically, conceptually. So your definition doesn't work for me.

The definition that does work for me (which others are free to embrace or reject), is that the essence of folk music is its ability to exist and evolve without benefit of a larger governmental, corporate or pedagogical infrastructure. By this definition "classical" music (also a misnomer, but we'll leave that for another thread) ceased to be folk music when the pedagogues began dictating the rules, and the composers/performers became increasingly reliant on either private or governmental subsidies, both for the continued production of the music and to ensure that it could continue to be performed. This became increasingly difficult as the music got bigger and more complex (think of the infrastructure that is needed to support Wagnerian opera, for instance). Similarly, I would maintain that rock and roll began as folk music (taking Elvis' Sun Studio recordings as a starting point), but was quickly co-opted by corporate entities that sought to control the creative aspects as a way to ensure that their profits would continue to grow. Jazz began as folk music, but as the rules increased, it gradually drifted away from its folk roots, losing much of its audience in the process. All of these musics have occasionally received "folk infusions" in the years since they departed from their folk roots (the incorporation of folk tunes by Dvorak and Stravinsky, the punk-rock movement of the 1970's, various "world music" additions to jazz), but when these take hold they are often quickly incorporated into the music being made within the larger infrastructure. But I do believe that any of these musics can simultaneously exists in folk and non-folk varieties.

Submitted for your consideration. I know a lot of people have grown tired of these "what is folk?" discussions, but I find them to be among the more meaningful topics discussed on this forum.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:53 PM

I like folksongs,

The rest are just fluff,

If I like it, it is one,

Don't give me no guff.

(Art Thieme)
March 26, 2001


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 11:56 PM

A folksong can be done 'live', without electricity.

A folksong does not need to have lasting value.

A folksong enjoys an honest presentation.

A folksong is interesting, and/or fun.

A folksong often lives a secret life of its own.

A folksong is a mysterious stranger.

A folksong is beautiful!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Boab
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 02:51 AM

In our club, anything from "The Cruel Mother" to "Home in Pasadena", employing everybody from the Fureys, Mike Whelan, Ali Bain , the 'Frisco Fire Band, Bab Dixon or Arizona Smoke Review and all the endless list of worthwhile others. In fact Folk songs are just what our local "Marras" lead singer said they were when challenged----they are what folk sing!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: John P
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 09:47 AM

I can't, for the life of me, see any similarities between most singer-songwriter music and folk music. They seem like almost complete opposites to me. Why are they usually discussed in the same forums and performed on the same stages? I have noticed that if you give a singer-songwriter a budget you get a pop band or a country band doing pop songs or country songs. If you give a traditional folk musician a budget, you may get a rock sound, but you still have a traditional folk song. Why is Jethro Tull playing an acoustic song not considered folk music? In what way is Soundgarden Unplugged different than any other singer-songwriter's band?

I agree that we need definitions in order to have intelligent discussions. Without lines (big, wide grey lines) dividing genres, we have no basis for disucussion. Why not just have a general Music Forum where we could all argue about whether or not any particular sound is music. I, too, am tired of hearing about the damn horse. By that definition, classical, rock, Broadway, pop, country, and punk are all folk music. Dumb.

I've come to define folk music from a musical standpoint, rather than a historical, traditional, or process oriented viewpoint. By this I mean that traditional folk music from western Europe and America has a certain melodic sound that is generally not found in newly composed music, unless the music is composed by someone who is firmly rooted in some tradition. I don't mean that all these traditions sound alike. But traditional melodies get worked over by so many people that one can, after a while, usually tell whether or not a song is traditional. The same is true of the lyrics. I have no problem calling a newly composed song traditional if it sounds traditional. That will almost always mean that it was written by a person who is part of the tradition and who is writing from that musical standpoint. If it fits in musically and lyrically with the other songs in that tradition, and if the other musicians in that tradition play the song, what does it matter when it was written.

I am also not particularly concerned about where or for what purpose a song or tune is played. I have heard a lot of people say that traditional folk music is not music that is arranged and performed, but rather is played in less formal situations. That would mean that if I am sitting around the house playing music with my friends, I am playing traditinal folk music, but if I take the same song on stage with an arrangement I am no longer playing traditional music. This strikes me a bit silly. It may be speaking to a definition of tradition, but not to a definition of music. And what about dances? Surely playing for dancers is about as traditional an activity as we can find. But I sometimes get paid for playing at dances -- am I partly traditional and partly not?

I'm also not worried about what instruments get used for folk music. As I said earlier, you may get a rock sound but you still have a traditional folk song. What difference does it make to the melody or the words if different instruments are used? The melody and words remain the same. How would we ever decide which instruments are appropriate and which are not? I play the cittern, which is firmly rooted in Irish traditional music, and has been for all of 30 years or so. People have been using electric guitars for traditinal music for just as long. Traditional folk music is a living, breathing thing. Its players are always going to pick up the current instruments of the day.

I don't think that any of the traditions were started by people to said, "Hmm . . . I think I'll start a musical tradition today." I suspect that they were just folks playing the music they heard and liked on whatever instruments came to hand. I have always thought that learning everything there is to know about a musical tradition and then trying to make your playing conform to your learning is an essentially scholarly and academic approach to traditional music -- which is in its essence non-scholarly. As such it is as much an antithesis of traditonal folk music as singer-songwriters are. Perhaps a kid playing old tunes he found in a book on a synthesizer is more traditional than an American urbanite who can talk about and play the styles of every famous Irish fiddler. If traditional music is local music, why should we play music from some other locale?

Someone said earlier that mixing and matching traditions is harmful to traditional folk music, and tended to homogenize the things that make folk music interesting. I agree to a point, but where do you think cajun music came from? Or Appalachian? Or blues? Or bluegrass? Musicians in the real world are going to mix and match music that they hear and like, and some of the hybrids are going to take and some are not. In today's world, the music we hear and like can come from all over the world instead of from a couple of counties, so the mixing will be more radical than it was in the past. I don't really think this is going to destroy the individual traditions. There are plenty of traditionalists around. I don't have any problem with world fusion music, although I tend to like the root tradtions better.

John Peekstok


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 11:21 AM

John, you make some very good points, but they seem to contradict your opening premise -- that singer/songwriter music (however you're choosing to define that) is antithetical to folk music. I agree with you that "traditions" (another loosely-defined term) can arise in a relatively short period of time, as has happened with citterns in Irish music. I think this is particularly true in the modern era, when the pace of everything has been speeded up. But if that's the case, why should we exclude the singer/songwriter "tradition," which extends back through Dylan to Woody Guthrie, Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, etc.?

You may mean that you just don't care for the image of the "singer-songwriter" that you carry in your head; young, angst-ridden post-adolescents who try to appear deeper than they really are while singing obscure and unmemorable self-penned tunes. I might agree with you about that, but I don't think that the whole genre should be excluded from the definition based on personal preferences and stereotypes.

Much of the singer-songwriter genre arose out of a true folk process involving musicians learning from each other, stealing from each other, altering words and melodies to suit their personal vision, whether or not there was a commercial component or incentive. I am part of that tradition, and I don't see a marked difference between it and similar processes that might have arisen in different times and locations (18th-20th century Appalichia, early 20th century Mississippi delta, etc.) that are more generally recognized to be part of the "folk" universe.

It's an old debate on this forum, and I'm anticipating groans as I write this. But for all that has been said on this topic, I have yet to hear a persuasive argument (IMHO) against what I'm suggesting.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: M.Ted
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 11:34 PM

There can be any number folk/traditional elements in a performance, a song, or a composition-it doesn't have to be all folkloric to count. A new pop song may use a very old and much used melody--A hip-hop tune can use a line or phrase from traditional ballads(and they often do)--The singer/songwriter may write his own words and melodies, but the subject may be traditional, a narrative about an unfaithful love, for instance--


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,californiaminstrels@hotmail.com
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 11:35 PM

If I may, I would like to toss in an opinion which I've been wrestling with for some time. I don't think instruments matter at all unless we want to distinguish "traditional folk" from "folk" itself. Seems to me that more important with age is the question of outlook. What you are calling "singer-songwriter" stuff, if I understand you right, deals with transient emotions, almost always love or lust, depending on your personal definition of the two. It's therefore subjective. It caters to the young because the young feel such things very strongly. It's all about how "I feel." Folk music is for working class adults who have to put food on the table and worry about larger things. Folk music describes the world out there; it's objective. It's not always pleasant, and does not always end happily, but it's real, and hands down lessons to those of the next generation who listen to it and are socialized by it. It's also more demanding musically, because it isn't all different combinations of 1-4-5 chord progressions.

Thanks; I'll be still now.

Chicken Charlie


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 03:29 AM

Thank You John! I appreciate your points as they are so well founded in/with logical historical evidence. You've been doing your homework, and I think you enjoyed every minute of it!

I will hasten to point out here, that folk music does not live in a vacuum. Music must appeal to the cultural tastes of the audiences of the day. Picture a Steleye Span-esque fusion of trad and rap.

I would also like to point out that the consumer culture we live in carries it's own latent cynicism, which implies that people are always looking for alternatives to the mainstream. I would also say that the mainstream media is not taken all that seriously, ie, it has become a medium that invites put-downs and is a distraction mechanism fostering negative attention.

This is where folk music strolls by with it's honesty and sauntering simplicity. Also, trad makes the scene with the stark and awesome beauty of hours and centuries of honing.

I think I'm going to have to say here that it is also true that trad and folk are related, but not the same... am I right?

ttr


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 08:28 AM

Charlie, your definition of "singer-songwriter stuff" is much narrower than mine. Mine includes the personal as well as the universal, the subjective as well as the objective, and definitely is not limited to 1-4-5 progressions.

That's the problem with definitions, though -- they all rely on other words, which we may also define differently, so the potential for misunderstanding grows exponentially. But I continue to view the "singer-songwriter" genre as something that grew primarily from a folk tradition, and integrates influences from a number of other folk traditions.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: John P
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 08:29 AM

Whistle Stop,
I never said I didn't like singer-songwriters -- I just said I don't think most of that music is the same genre as folk music, or traditional folk if that is what we must call it now. Musically and lyrically it is mostly pop music or country music. I like a lot of it, but I don't usually call it folk.

I agree that the modern singer-songwriter tradition in some ways grew out of a genuine folk process. The same is even more true of rock music and especially rap. For the purposes of discussing genres of music this still doesn't make them traditional folk music. It is also traditional that electric blues is played on a Strat. It is traditional that a string quartet consists of two violins, a viola, and a cello. There are lots of traditions floating around, and lots traditional processes. In order to come up with a definition of traditional folk music that works for me, I've had to separate out the traditions from the music. That was the point I was trying to make -- melodically and lyrically, it sounds different. That's where I draw the lines for myself. The whole folk process thing of polishing the melodies and words by having them pass through many sets of hands creates specific types of melodies and words. The process itself, and the historicity of the tradition, can be separated from the actual physical characteristics of the music.

I'm not really concerned about tradtitions. I don't much pay attention to them when playing traditional folk music. Oh, I find it interesting to know about where a song came from, and why. I am fascinated by being able to trace different versions of a song across the centuries and continents. It gives me something to talk to the audience about during song introductions. But I try to avoid allowing the way that someone in the past in some other place played a song have any affect on how I play it. I play traditional music but am not a traditionalist.

Perhaps this is why Folk Roots magazine started using the the term "roots music" instead of "traditional music". And this is one of the reasons why I dislike having singer-songwriters included in the definition of folk music. If I say "folk" everyone thinks Joni Mitchell, Greg Brown, ani defranco, Bob Dylan, etc. -- that word is meaningless as a description of a genre of music these days. If I say "traditional folk" everyone hears the word "traditional" and thinks that implies lots of things about where, how, why, and on what instruments the music gets played. That word carries a lot of freight that doesn't have anything to do with the melody or the words of the song.

A few words on cross-genre music making: I could conceive of a rap band doing a traditional folk song. I think it would remain a traditional folk song. Steeleye Span plays traditional folk music. The dreaded classical soprano singing a traditional folk song all wrong doesn't stop that song -- melodically and lyrically -- from being a traditional folk song. I've been fooling around with an arrangement of the beginning of Beethoven's 6th symphony for acoustic guitar, fiddle, djembe, and didgerdu. This ruination of a perfectly good symphony isn't going to stop it from being classical music. And if throw a Beatles song into a set of traditional British ballads, it is still going to be a 60s pop song.

I hope some of this makes sense. It's 5:00 in the morning . . .

John Peekstok


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 08:51 AM

I once heard Peggy Seegar being interviewed on the (BBC) radio. She said that she once phoned Ewan McColl in 1952 and said she needed a new song to perform that evening. He wrote a song while they were talking on the phone and she wrote down the words and performed it that night. The song was "The first time ever I saw your face"
Ewan McColl's real name of course was James Miller.. does anyone know how he was called at home?... when did he become "Ewan McColl"?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 08:58 AM

Sorry I digressed a bit from the main topic... trouble is I seem to agree with nearly everyone on both sides of the discussion.. One thing I've learned from the Mudcat is the old addage about "Lord help me to keep my mouth shut until I know what I'm talking about"


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 09:02 AM

John, I follow what you're saying. When all is said and done, "folk" and "traditional" are simply not very precise terms. I'm happy with that, because I don't rely on these terms to convey anything too specific. I think that those who would try to make these terms precise after-the-fact are being unnecessarily exclusionary. This can cause a certain amount of chagrin on the part of those of us who feel that we should be recognized as participants in a folk tradition -- because of our status as singer-songwriters, not in spite of it.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 09:06 AM

That was intended as a response to John Peekstock, by the way -- not John Hill.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 11:40 AM

I must differ---(so what else is new): The term "traditional folksong" is and refers to a very definitely defined and specific scholastic discipline that contains many types of evolved musics and songs from around the world.

As I've said here in many past discussions, (and where one must go to see how much I generally agree with John P) one must sweep the scum of the present off the top of the pond in order to more easily gaze down into the depths of history where these treasures are found.

I am not calling all singer-songwriter crations scum, but when the shoe fits...

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 12:55 PM

But only when the shoe fits, Art.

Despite your disclaimer, your artfully-composed statement does seem to suggest that you consider the present to be the region of scum, and the past to be the region where treasures are to be found. We just disagree, that's all. For myself, I consider today's living traditions -- whether of long standing or comparatively recent origin -- to be just as valid as the traditions of the past. I feel that treasures are still being created today, and that there was quite a bit of scum created in the past; no particular era is inherently superior, in my view.

Those of us who are not practitioners of a particular scholastic discipline are not bound by that discipline's conventions with respect to language. The fact that you consider the words "folk" and "traditional" to be rigidly defined does not mean that the rest of us are bound by your interpretation. My doctor may refer to a myocardial infarction, which I would more likely call a heart attack -- and while his term is more precise, as a practical matter we're both right. There are countless disciplines out there that adopt very precise definitions that are only useful among people who work within those disciplines, while the rest of the world speaks about the same topics in more general terms. This forum serves a broad constituency, as far as I can tell, and broader definitions tend to go along with that.

Thanks for humoring me, though, even if this ground had been covered many times. I value your insights even when I disagree with them.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 01:47 PM

Art- I'll repeat what I've said before on this topic. "Folk" is not synonymous with "Good". Their are many bad folk songs and (not as) many good singer/songwriter productions. This, however, doesn't make the good S/S stuff "folk" nor remove the bad folk songs from the folk category.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Steve B
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 03:46 PM

Hmmm....interesting thread.

I play "old-time" music on fiddle with clawhammer player, and consider that "folk music", and I'm fascinated by the way the old-timers used to play it in old recordings, but if you read old interviews of them, they often made up their own styles around tunes that had been passed to them, or many tunes that have bled into the fiddle tune list are not that old really, even if they sound that way. Or "old" Appalachian gospel songs, etc.

I also am a singer songwriter type...who plays an acoustic guitar, but when I'm wearing that hat I say I play "acoustic pop" or "singer songwriter", I would not sell myself at that point as a "folk artist".

I do call myself a "folk" performer when playing in my string band or my old-time clawhammer/fiddle combo.

You could more narrowly define "traditional folk" perhaps, and should, but just plain "folk" is always going to have a mushy, generic kind of definition to a broader audience.

It's such a mix too....I'm thinking of Joel Mabus, who writes his own excellent songs, but yet plays "traditional" numbers with great care and skill along with his own material.

But it is *really* too bad that "traditional folk" and old-time music are vanishing from "folk" venues in place of jazz-influenced singer songwriter types. I don't dislike such stuff, but I really love old string bands like the Fuzzy Mountain String band and such and I know there are tons of good groups out there that play such music and they rarely get booked anymore it seems in favor of the more pop/jazz-oriented singer songwriter types.

My .02 cents

Steve B


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 04:06 PM

I am put in mind of electricity. We wish to generate light but succeed mostly in generating heat.

About two years ago on another similar thread) I did get as far as posting the definition of folk music adopted by the (Oh! Heck, can I remember it?) World FOlk music congress in (maybe) 1954 and now I can't find it. THe problem seems to be that there are a lot of people who think that applying the definition and deciding that a song is not folk is somehow to denigrate the song. THis is not the case. A song is no more or less worthy simply because it is a folk song. But that is no reason to refuse to understand wht a folk song is.

The problem of shifting meaning is not limited to folk song. Many people believe, today, that a work means what most people think it means (so "infer" and "imply" are confused, and "refute" is used to mean "reject" not even "rebut"). Likewise grammar is assumed to be correct if in common use. Those of us who disagree are described (with, I think, pejorative intent) as "prescriptive".

I do not agree with this tendency. Surely it is important to be able to be sure of meaning - but to remeber that this need not limit what can be sung, heard, or enjoyed.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Steve B
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 06:06 PM

Just out of curiousity.....how about a song by Norman Blake, say Green Light on the Southern or Church Street Blues?

By a strict definition....these are not folk songs....but most would call them folk.

I do understand that they would not be traditional folk songs.

Are they just southern songs?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 10:31 PM

Sure.

Art ;-)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 29 Mar 01 - 12:40 AM

Ease of expression, elusive to buy
Folksong connection, traditional sigh
A join-in reaction, a friendly resolve
with a chorus in action, in harmonies revolve

Folk invites, unites, requites and rewrites

I wish I'd write a real traditional folk song
That is what I'd really like to doo oo oo
'Cause if I wrote a real traditional folk song
I'd smile and sing the night away with you

Maybe the jingles are the true folk music of our day...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Ruthie A
Date: 29 Mar 01 - 04:03 PM

I heard an interesting definition of 'folk' somewhere - folk music is exactly that - music of the people. It's the kind of thing that happen's in your next-door neighbour's kitchen, just because that's what you want to do. Apparently, making money out of this true folk music is very rare. Now, this can be subcategorised into other styles - Celtic, blues, bluegrass, country, Scandanavian - even jazz and ragtime. After all, these all drew their roots from music that was acessable to all. These are traditional music styles derived from folk, but they're only the real thing when performed in a traditional setting. Does that include festivals? I think my brain (which is now very cross with RE homework) is getting a bit overloaded. Personally, I can't define what folk is. I hadn't realised how difficult it was!

Ruthie


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 29 Mar 01 - 05:07 PM

This is probably pointless to point out, BUT... There are many contexts for the use of the adjective "folk". It can be stylistic, historical, sociological...

most of this argument (aside from the "never heard a horse" and the "I like it" idiocies) resembles a heated debate on whether an elephant is an animal, a vertebrate, Asiatic, a beast of burden or a pachyderm.

Come to think of it, a lot of "folk" acts I've heard in recent years would improved by having horses do the singing.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 30 Mar 01 - 05:00 AM

Yet another of the things I know nothing about, but given that someone must have been the original singer-songwriter of every old song, how many generations must pass before it becomes a folk song?
The Year 1300 :"That Ossian/Blondel- he's just a singer-songwriter".
The year 2150: " the Alpha Centauri Jug band bring you traditional earth folksongs. This one is collected from Rick Fielding, the bard of Toronto, coming up a number from the pen of Matt R..."
RtS (ignorance is bliss)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Alice
Date: 16 Apr 02 - 11:22 PM

The time machine - "What is a Folk Song" 1997 meets "What is a Folk Song" 2002.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Sooz at work
Date: 24 Jan 07 - 05:03 AM

This thread has taken ten years to get to 100 posts!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Alec
Date: 24 Jan 07 - 05:23 AM

Does that make it a Folk thread? : )


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 12:13 PM

Subject: RE: Dick Miles jazz singer
From: Captain Birdseye - PM
Date: 07 Feb 08 - 10:03 AM

Subject: Isthe1954defining,improvable
From: Captain Birdseye - PM
Date: 21 Sep 07 - 03:51 AM

Definition of Folk Music ,decided by the International Folk Music Council in 1954.
Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community.
The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character."http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Peace
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 12:16 PM

That's certainly one way of lookin' at it.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Bert
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 12:19 PM

Well Captain Birdseye, that wipes out about 90% of my song list.

I guess that we now need a definition for "What we sing".


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 01:07 PM

just keep on singing.but not in the rain.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 01:17 PM

Bert, IMHO the Cap'n is right. But I imagine he thought it went without saying that you can sing exactly what you like, and the fact that a song is not a folk song dies not in any way make it inferior.

I did suggest on another thread that we could call stuff in the style of folk but not meeting the defintion "neofolk" or "nu-folk" - sort of like "new country" or "nu-metal", but the horse brigade came out in force.

What I don't understand is why, if they think (as I think they think) that the word has no meaning, they are so vehement that what they do falls within a different definition that is somehow the "correct" definition.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 01:45 PM

My take on the 1954 definition (cut n paste job from the John Lennon thread):-

"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has evolved through the process of oral transmission"..."...music that has been evolved...by a community uninfluenced by popular and arts music".

This being the case, it would follow that new folk songs can only be created in cultures where music playing/recording technology is wholly absent; and furthermore untouched by mass popular culture.

Um, I think that only leaves the interior of Papua New Guinea and maybe the remoter parts of the Amazon rainforest...not a very positive prognosis for the continued existence of a living folk tradition in the Western world!

Here endeth the lesson.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Bert
Date: 08 Feb 08 - 03:24 PM

The trouble that I have with the "oral tradition - uninfluenced" bit is that it excludes any song that has been written since writing was invented and also any song that has been written since people have been singing.

Because once writing was invented, people have been writing down songs. And since people have been singing together there must have been songs that were popular.

But we are never going to win over the pedantic crowd so we need to find a definition of our own.

I think we need to poll folk clubs and ask them to list the songs that were sung at their last meeting. This will tell us what songs are being sung that WE think are acceptable as folk songs.

Then we can think up out own name for them.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert
Date: 12 Feb 08 - 07:51 PM

Refresh, so that you can discuss your definition here and not clutter up the other thread.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 12 Feb 08 - 08:05 PM

Songs that have been created since the invention of writing may not have to excluded from "the 1954 definition," but anything sung or heard since the development of recording technology is definitely excluded.

I think that anyone alive today who believes that their favorite music is in any way "purer" or more "free of modern influence" than anything else is pretty much kidding themselves.

Of course, I have no problem with anyone having different tastes and standards from anyone else. But let's be real, and admit that the influence of recorded music ~ including, of course, recordings of traditional singing, both commercial and acacdemic ~ is part of everyone's experience today.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 13 Feb 08 - 07:01 AM

A very interesting book which attempts to explore the nature of oral culture and the effects of literacy on such a culture is David Buchan's 'The Ballad and the Folk' (first pub. 1972 by Routledge & Kegan Paul; repub. by Tuckwell Press, 1997).

The book takes for its example the ballad tradition of North East Scotland. Certain aspects of its thesis are necessarily speculative and controversial but it provides plenty of food for thought all the same.

I wonder if there's an equivalent (American?) book which looks at the effects of commercial recording technology on a 'traditional' culture (in the rural South of mid-twentieth century North America perhaps?).


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Singing Horse
Date: 13 Feb 08 - 10:03 AM

"Refresh, so that you can discuss your definition here and not clutter up the other thread"...

Methinks the horse definitioners are gettin' a bit uppity, y'all!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 13 Feb 08 - 10:29 AM

"The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character".

This statement has been misrepresented in the past by various people focusing on the "composed" and ignoring the "unchanged". What then of Webber's May Song or Parting Song, or of John Connolly's Fiddlers Green? Both have seen variation, both have been passed on orally in many cases (despite the fact that several recordings exist, some people still learn songs the old way)? Purists will tell us that these are not folk songs... I beg to differ.

Further, the 1954 definition is arbitrary and imperfect, in my view, fashioned with the knowledge of the day and does not pass the test of time. The moment a collector records a source singer, the oral-transmission cycle is broken (something the definition conveniently, but erroneously, ignores); this shows the arbitrariness of the "oral" rule.

But any definition that uses external trappings to define a social process is bound to be anchored to the time of its making and hence imperfect. It's like trying to describe dance as "the synchronous movement of body and limbs to the rhythm of accompanying mysic" - i.e. bollocks (think of marching, for example). Folk and its meanings are only expressed by the externalisations, and should not be defined by them.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 13 Feb 08 - 02:41 PM

"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission...etc..etc..."

I wonder how long it took'em to make this up?

Charlotte (busy tossing out alot of my sheet music)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 11:39 AM

one of my own compositions, The Battle of Bosworth Field,I know has changed.[but that is not the sole consideration in determining whether it is a folksong].
I am not sure how important the changing is in defining whether it is a folksong or not.[why should it even be adetermining factor?]
if we look at the melodies of English Irish Scottish and Appalachian songs,they are in four different modes.,Dorian,Mixolydian,Aeolian and Ionian,therefore if we wrote a new song,to make it sound authentic a melody from thse modes. would be appropriate[amelody from the locrian mode would not sound authentic].,but to use this philosophy limits thecomposers melodic scope.
then we come to lyrics,should we write in a style associated with a previous century.
if I might quote Brian Peters from another thread
Subject: RE: Folk clubs - what is being sung
From: Brian Peters - PM
Date: 13 Feb 08 - 02:10 PM

>> "...depends on how well they are written" . This suggests to me that you are saying that "traditional" songs are inherently better than "modern" songs, except where you think that isn't the case? <<

I won't presume to speak for Jim, but perhaps what he meant was "depends on how well they succeed in mimicking traditional style" - which would assume that the writer was actually trying to make the song sound 'traditional' (and that depends on what we mean by 'traditional' - but let's not go there just now). Personally I would hope that someone with plenty of experience of the genre could spot a modern attempt to compose a song in the style of a Child Ballad, or indeed of a 19th-century English lyrical song - a modern composer would find it awkward to use the same kind of language, for a start. However, if you want an example of a modern song that did convince me, try Dave Webber's "Bonnet and Shawl", which is a dead ringer for a traditional song. His "Lady of Autumn", though, didn't fool me for a minute (and that's not to pass a value judgement on either). 'Bring Us A Barrel', another song often quoted as 'sounding traditional', would have deceived my ears twenty years ago, but having spent all the intervening period looking at the old songs, I doubt that it would if I heard it for the first time now.

The songs of Leon Rosselson and Jim Woodland, to name but two, don't sound remotely traditional, but are great songs fully deserving a hearing in folk clubs. My own tastes would still prefer traditional songs to be in the majority, though.[end of quote]
http:www//dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 12:44 PM

We are not a horse definitioner. We have never (knowingly) defined a horse.

HOARSE definitioner, on the other hand...

(spent most of the day putting a new song through it's paces, and have blasted my vocal chords...)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 12:50 PM

Poor Old Hoarse

Charlotte (out in the fields)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 01:00 PM

"...years of much abuse", indeed! I must stop blagging cigarettes off strangers whenever I've had a couple of beers...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST, Sminky
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 01:01 PM

One thing I'd like to know - how do we explain to future generations why no folksongs were created in the 20th century?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 01:08 PM

"how do we explain to future generations why no folksongs were created in the 20th century?"

by the 1954 definition.etc..etc there were none written


The Transports - Peter bellamy

or Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick.

The

Farewell, Farewell
Crazy Man Michael

Walk Awhile
Sloth
Doctor of Physick

the list is pretty nrear endless when you start to think about it.

Charlotte (they work for me, in the genre)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Banjiman
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 01:21 PM

....ah well they MIGHT be folk songs but no one will know until we are all dead. (as long as no one who can, read, write or has a CD/ MP3/ Record player has heard them or played them).

Paul


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 01:40 PM

"One thing I'd like to know - how do we explain to future generations why no folksongs were created in the 20th century?"

This MUST be a joke, right?

I doubt anybody SERIOUSLY believes that folk music is only formed free from recording technology, input from popular culture etc; because, like the Flat Earth movement, this flies in the face of reason, evidence and common sense. Those who claim otherwise can reasonably be supposed to do so for their own nefarious and exclusivist purposes, and thankfully only constitute a small minority even in folk clubs. A pity their influence on the direction (or rather lack thereof) of the folk "scene" as a whole (in the UK, at least) is rather disproportionate...it doesn't do much for awareness of/enthusiasm for our indigenous musical forms (including traditional folk song).


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 02:02 PM

"Those who claim otherwise can reasonably be supposed to do so for their own nefarious and exclusivist purposes ..."

"...nefarious and exclusivist purposes"! Now what might those be?

One of the reasons why I tend to insist on the 1954 definition is because I would prefer it if the music I love is not 'colonised' by rock and pop music - which I can hear anywhere (often whether I want to hear it or not!). I suppose this could be interpreted as "exclusivist" (by the uncharitable) ... but "nefarious"?!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 02:47 PM

"how do we explain to future generations why no folksongs were created in the 20th century?"

Perhaps by pointing out that, on account of the penetration of the mass media into all aspects of the everyday lives of the general populace, no such thing as folksong (in the sense it used to be understood) exists at all, at least in that part of the world sometimes referred to as 'The West'. The sad fact is that scarcely anyone sings any more (we had the football chant debate on another thread, thanks). Not songs by Richard Thompson or Peter Bellamy, not Dylan or Donovan, not even the works John Lennon.

If we choose to define 'folksong' as 'that which is sung in folk clubs' then of course the rules change.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 03:00 PM

"The sad fact is that scarcely anyone sings any more"

I think someone used a line in a song that had very similar sentiments to this....

Charlotte (thinking on Ma and Pa's piano stool


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 04:03 PM

Brian, you started a trail of thought in my migraine-box: Like you, I often bemoan the fact that "people just don't sing any more", yet we both know some people who sing, a precious few. And I wonder: Is the ratio of singers vs passive listeners that much different now, from the past?

Surely not every ploughboy was vocally gifted, not every market gardener or flock-tender. Those (few?) that were, were sought after and asked to do their bit when occasion arose, and the majority (? I am guessing of course) simply enjoyed listening to them.

Yes, there has been a tendency towards manufactured music (famous line of a Harvey Andrews' young admirer: "was this song you sang yours, or was it proper music, on CD and that...?". Yes, most people are embarassed to sing today, and they are made to think that to be a singer you have to look good, wear bling and such. But vocalisation of one's feelings is too close to the surface as a skill to be suppressed for long. So perhaps, just perhaps, my (and your) doomsaying is off the mark.

Perhaps a song like Nizlopi's JCB one, born of personal experience and echoing the sentiments of listeners, when it is sung by youngsters on the return of a coach trip, is simply undergoing a sort of "folk process". It may not be what you and I would call a "folk song" because it does not match the prototypes of form or structure we have in our minds/experience, but then, how much does our opinion matter on the subject? It's a cliche, but "this thing is bigger than both of us"...(the folk process, I mean).

Perhaps we are too close and inspecting the trees, to appreciate the wood - even as rainforests are disappearing (beat that for mixing metaphors!). Or to quote a great 20th century philosopher: "It could be folk, Brian, but not as we know it!"


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 04:48 PM

My experience tells me,many youngsters today who play instruments,Do not sing. I find this bizarre,particuarly if the pupil wishes to learn the Guitar,but it is the case here in this part of Ireland.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 06:15 PM

...most people are embarassed to sing today...

Haven't you watched American Idol George;-)

People are singing today. When I was a kid it would be at a party at home or around a piano in the pub.

Now it's Karaoke and Open Mics. But folks are still out there singing even though these venues don't fit the 1954 definition.

The songs that they remember and sing to their kids will be the folksongs of the future.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: irishenglish
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 06:21 PM

Captain, I don't necessarily agree. I know quite a bunch of younger musicians (in several genres), who play and sing. Usually guitar, but sometimes as is the case of a friend of mine, sings and plays trombone!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 06:37 PM

I don't disagree, Bert, and it doesn't invalidate the argument. I was referring to the majority, such as we have seen in "the Choir" recently. And perhaps the non-singing ones were always a majority anyway. But some people DO sing - which is where we agree.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 06:47 PM

George,
There's a wonderful scene in the Watersons film 'Travelling For A Living", showing a scene from a pub in Hull during the 1960s, in which the entire clientele is indulging in a rip-roaring sing- song. Like Bert, I can remember several pubs in the East End of London, and one or two in North Manchester, which during the 1970s still employed a pianist - and where folk in the room would sometimes feel moved to join in . My grandmother sang songs (mostly hymns, admittedly, but she did know several verses to 'Cosher Bailey's Engine', which I'm told is a real folksong)) around the house all the time. My Mum and Dad sang a lot for their own amusement, too. As Peter Bellamy remarked in the 1980s, in an article on our present topic, lots of people as late as the 60s used to sing or whistle about their everyday work. My parents' generation went regularly to chapel and sang their hearts out. I didn't but was still expected to sing hymns at school assembly.

I would suggest that all of this has disappeared. We still have football chants, vestiges of children's playground rhymes, and songs at a few surviving rural socials such as shepherds' meets, and also the village carolling in Yorkshire (although whether the locals outnumber travelling folkies is a moot point). News reports, meanwhile, bemoan the fact that parents no longer sing nursery rhymes to their children.

I too have doubts about whether every ploughboy knew scores of old ballads, but I suspect that many rural and urban people knew and sang at least some songs, a hundred years ago. Flora Thompson wrote about agricultural communities singing in the fields. During my short experience of a production line in the 1970s, we were piped Radio 1 at high volume. No opportunity for work songs there.

I must plead ignorance of 'JCB', but I do remember that several years ago, the case was made regularly that 'Yellow Submarine' was a modern folksong because people would sing it spontaneously. My feeling was that many people could and indeed did sing the seven-word chorus, but that only a tiny number would know the lyrics to even one verse. And my kids would scarcely recognize 'Yellow Submarine' forty years down the line.

George has already answered Bert's point about 'American Idol' - that it's is about self-promotion, not informal or communal entertainment, and it's goldfish bowl TV, not a participatory mass movement. Karaoke, though an interesting social phenomenon, is part of the same thing. I'd be more inclined to accept karaoke as modern folksong if the singers didn't require a prompter.

Songwriters like George, who compose finely crafted and heartfelt songs, may well find their work absorbed by the folksong community - a self-selected body that still holds dear the unquestionable value of singing for fun - in a way analagous to what some of us call 'the traditional process'. But with all due respect, I don't think I'm ever going to hear the window cleaner singing one from the top of his ladder.

I would love to know which songs Bert believes will be "the folksongs of the future".


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 14 Feb 08 - 07:20 PM

"...I would prefer it if the music I love is not 'colonised' by rock and pop music".

Me too. But I would also prefer it if the music I love (probably far closer to yours than you realise) was listened to and understood by more than just a handful of aging baby boomers, and thus was given an opportunity to survive and flourish beyond their passing.

(Then again, does any of this ultimately matter? It does to me, though frankly at times I wish it didn't.)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 01:48 AM

The comment about American Idol was that the people don't seem at all embarassed.

Brian, the best karaoke singers don't really need the prompter.

Didn't we have a thread recently about what would be the folksongs of the future?

While we can't accurately predict the future, I wouldn't be surprised if "Ride Sally Ride", "Johnny be Good" and "American Pie" ended up there.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 04:42 AM

>> Didn't we have a thread recently about what would be the folksongs of the future? <<

Very probably. I must look it up sometime; I daresay someone will have mentioned 'Happy Birthday', which is one song that - through its association with a specific celebration - continues to be passed orally down the generations. A fine example of a folk song, notwithstanding that we know the composer.

>> I wouldn't be surprised if "Ride Sally Ride", "Johnny be Good" and "American Pie" ended up there. <<

But again, how many people not into karaoke or a covers band could sing a single verse of any of those - particularly 'American Pie', which has a memorable chorus but pretty complicated verses? And those songs are at most fifty years old.

Many old pop songs retain widespread familiarity - for now, at least - because they're continually recycled by the nostalgia industry, appearances in film soundtracks and - most spectacularly if bizarrely - the annual churning out of the 1970s / 80s Christmas Soundtrack. But there again, although my kids are familiar to the point of exhaustion with 'Merry Christmas Everybodee', how many of my generation or theirs could actually sing any more than the chorus and maybe that single line about hanging up the stocking? We are forced passively to listen to those songs - no-one has adopted them as their own, in the way that several generations cherished 'Barbara Allen' or 'The Farmer's Boy'.

G2G - back to those Child Ballads.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Nikkiwi
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 05:02 AM

going back to the 1954 definition for a moment...

"The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character."

Does this mean that a song like "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zep) which has been covered god knows how many times, each in its own way (including once on a wobbleboard) DOES qualify as folk music, as it has been refashioned and re-created by the community???

Just a thought (both on folk music and the dangers of tying oneself to a definition)

Nikkiwi


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 05:07 AM

Do Rolf Harris and a bunch of covers bands constitute "the community"?

Trying to define things is fraught with danger, but without definitions words are meaningless and we can't communicate at all.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 05:18 AM

Oh, and secondly, for "Stairway" to be considered 'folk music' would require a degree of creative re-invention going beyond the (admittedly inspired) substitution of Jimmy Page by a wobble-board.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Liam
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 05:30 AM

There are some that would claim that the whole Led Zep CD catalogue were folk songs if Eliza had done a wee on them. Some of us apply different definitions.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 05:44 AM

"The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character."

The problem with this is that the changes come about as the song is passed down through the aural tradition. It is learnt from singers within the community, not from the orginal. This can only happen if someone learns it in the first place; someone who thinks "That's a good song. I'll have that". The Plains of Waterloo must have been a contemporary song less than 200 years ago.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 06:22 AM

Liam, I never heard anyone "claim that the whole Led Zep CD catalogue were folk songs if Eliza had done a wee on them". I have seen many people with chips on their shoulders, though.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Black Hawk
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 06:56 AM

irishenglish
Captain, I don't necessarily agree. I know quite a bunch of younger musicians (in several genres), who play and sing. Usually guitar, but sometimes as is the case of a friend of mine, sings and plays trombone!


If he's singing, where does he stick the trombone to play it :-)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 08:18 AM

"But I would also prefer it if the music I love (probably far closer to yours than you realise) was listened to and understood by more than just a handful of aging baby boomers, and thus was given an opportunity to survive and flourish beyond their passing."

This is, I suppose, a worthy sentiment. But I'm not sure that it will be achieved by adulteration or dilution.

On the other hand when I decided, way back when, that I enjoyed listening to traditional songs and would like to try singing them myself, my primary motive was not to ensure their survival. If the survival of the songs is a by-product of my interest, then good, but if they don't survive then I doubt that anything that I could do, say or write will make an iota of difference. The forces invoked in the following quote by Brian Peter's, when responding to the question of why no folk songs were created in the 20th Century, are probably much more relevant:

"Perhaps by pointing out that, on account of the penetration of the mass media into all aspects of the everyday lives of the general populace, no such thing as folksong (in the sense it used to be understood) exists at all, at least in that part of the world sometimes referred to as 'The West'."


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 09:08 AM

...and can I add to Shimrod's comment the observation that very few of us sing traditional songs because we feel some obligation to preserve them (please note, all those of you like to introduce terms like 'aspic', 'museum curator', or even 'pedant' into the discussion). While I'm of course delighted that the interest of several of our most talented young performers should ensure their survival for another generation or so yet, the only proper reason for singing the old songs is because they're great songs. They have beautiful melodies and simple yet poetic lyrics, they speak of real life (give or take the odd dragon), they can move us to tears or laughter, and they can make the hairs rise on our necks. That's why we sing them.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 09:34 AM

I sing traditional songs,because I enjoy them.
They are also the songs that I think I perform best.
I do include a few songs in my repertoire that are self penned or other peoples composed songs.,but approximately ninety per cent of my material is traditional.
for my own amusement at home I sometimes sing a few blues etc.I believe that if people want to categorise me,it would not be inappropriate to call me a folksinger,have a listen to some samples at my website and make up your own minds.itwould not be appropriate to callme a Jazzsinger. http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Suegorgeous
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 09:50 AM

Dragons are not real life??!! :0 Are we inhabiting different worlds? :)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 11:52 AM

"...the only proper reason for singing the old songs is because they're great songs. They have beautiful melodies and simple yet poetic lyrics, they speak of real life (give or take the odd dragon), they can move us to tears or laughter, and they can make the hairs rise on our necks."

I'm in 100 % agreement with this statement. It can also equally be applied to the very best of those songs written here in recent years, be they popular or even not-so-popular. If the distinctive characteristics of a folk song are a beautiful melody, poetic lyrics, realism and emotional resonance, it follows that all songs displaying these characteristics are folk songs. It really is that simple. We define all other musical genres primarily by what they sound like, not by what some guy SAID they were and weren't some time in the middle of the last century; and it is reasonable to do the same with folk. This isn't dilution or adulteration, it's called logic!

I still can't believe anybody really thinks that no folk songs were created in the twentieth century...and yet here I am, taking the bait- doh!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Suegorgeous
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 12:04 PM

... and yet....one tiny problem with that, Gene.....how we all gonna agree on what's beautiful, poetic, and what resonates emotionally? those things are subjective, thus different for everyone...I can see yet more endless threads!! :)

Sue
(on me work comp)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 12:49 PM

Well, it's obvious...I say what is and isn't, and everybody else follows...(chortle)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 12:53 PM

songs that folks sing...right?

Charlotte (one of the folks)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 12:56 PM

Neigh!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 01:04 PM

>> If the distinctive characteristics of a folk song are a beautiful melody, poetic lyrics, realism and emotional resonance, it follows that all songs displaying these characteristics are folk songs. It really is that simple.... it's called logic! <<

There is a basic logical flaw in the above. It's like saying that, because a cat has four legs and a tail, it follows that all creatures with four legs and a tail are cats. My neighbour's dog, however, still goes bow-wow and prefers bones to fish. Those characteristics are not the whole story.

At the risk of repeating what others have pointed out on various previous Mudcat threads, the word 'folksong' has changed its meaning substantially since 1954. It *used to* describe the 'songs of the folk', which were the result of certain definable processes of transmission and evolution. From the 1960s onwards, it became used commonly to describe the compositions of songwriters (Dylan, Seeger, Paxton, insert your choice of name here) writing in a genre approximating to a particular kind of North American tradition-based style. Through common usage, the term 'folksong' and 'folksinger' became so associated with what we now call 'singer-songwriters' that its definition became forever blurred, if not changed out of all recognition. Nothing intrinsically wrong about that - popular usage the way language evolves. But it did make it more difficult to talk about the thing which had previously owned exclusive rights to the term 'folksong' - which is why people started calling *that* kind of song 'traditional' instead. Just so other people would know what they were talking about.

>> We define all other musical genres primarily by what they sound like <<

Even if we are to ignore the importance of 'folk process', the songs of Dylan, of Ewan MacColl, of Jez Lowe, of George Papavgeris and all the other talented writers out there, don't actually sound very much like the songs that (for example) Cecil Sharp collected in either Somerset or the Appalachian Mountains, if you listen to them at all carefully. New and old songs can both have beautiful melodies or engaging lyrics, but they're different kinds of melodies and lyrics. Two different things, that by historical accident have co-existed (often quite happily) on the stages of folk clubs for fifty years. And to differentiate between them is not to pronounce a value judgement.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Carcher's Apprentice
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 01:18 PM

"Neigh!"

I said what I said pretty much, in think, in the same vein that Louis Armstrong said what he said, about never hearing a horse sing

Charlotte(nay, I say nay, in ever decreasing circles)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 01:53 PM

I heard it was Big Bill Broonzy. Whoever it was, I don't agree with them...

...no problem with the use of "Traditional" to differentiate between older folk songs with no known author and more contemporary folk songs, if it's REALLY necessary, though I tend to think the sonic difference between the two has been exaggerated. This would mean that Traditional would be a sub-genre of the genre Folk rather than Folk in its entirety.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 15 Feb 08 - 01:58 PM

(Not ignoring your other point about dogs and cats, Brian, just scratching my head and trying to figure out whether the analogy is accurate or meaningful-it could take me a while, and I'm off out in a minute).


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 03:57 AM

"songs that folks sing...right? Charlotte (one of the folks)"
Pavarotti (one of the folks)???
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 06:29 AM

"Not ignoring your other point about dogs and cats, Brian, just scratching my head and trying to figure out whether the analogy is accurate or meaningful-it could take me a while, and I'm off out in a minute."

Sorry to have to point this out, Gene, but Brian's analogy is very accurate and meaningful. It's your logic which is flawed!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 06:43 AM

Sorry, guys, but after a nights sleep I've figured out why it isn't. I was picking out salient features (actually identified by Brian) SPECIFIC to folk songs; very distinct identifying features IMO a good deal more unique to folk songs than having four legs and a tail is to a cat. If I'd just said everything with words and a tune was a folk song, maybe the cat analogy holds. As it is, what I said was more akin to saying, "my cat has pointed ears, says miaow, purrs when content; therefore anything exhibiting these specific features is highly likely to be a cat."

(And no, a cat doesn't necessarily have to have four legs. My aunt had one with only three legs for several years which displayed remarkable agility and often brought mice, birds etc. back to the house)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 11:39 AM

""songs that folks sing...right? Charlotte (one of the folks)"
Pavarotti (one of the folks)???"

never mind James, go back to sleep... I was being somewhat less than serious..

Charlotte (memo to self..no humour allowed here)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Suegorgeous
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 12:17 PM

(on brother's comp)

Gene - ah of course! why didn't I think of that? silly silly me!! :)

(you've got your work cut out then!) tee hee


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 12:36 PM

Well, I've often wished I could be wrong about something for a change, just to relieve the monotony; sadly though I'm still waiting...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 12:42 PM

...how many people ....... could sing a single verse of any of those - particularly 'American Pie'...

You could say the same thing about Mattie Groves, The Nutting Girl and even Lincolnshire Poacher.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 12:57 PM

"I was picking out salient features (actually identified by Brian) SPECIFIC to folk songs; very distinct identifying features IMO a good deal more unique to folk songs than having four legs and a tail is to a cat."

I can't help thinking that this is similar to the way you picked songs that you liked or approved of to put in your big "Folk Songs" box, Gene. This is not logic as we know it - it is selection. You remind me of a boss I had once, in my 'working-in-a-laboratory' days, who thought that it was OK to pick out the data which supported his preconceived ideas and to discard the rest (he eventually got fired - I wonder why?).

And what does happen to those features that you don't believe are "salient"?

I was going to go on and labour the analogy by rambling about Tasmanian Tigers and Marsupial Lions ... bit I think I'd better stop there ...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 01:16 PM

If, for the sake of argument, you wish to define folk music as song with a guitar accompaniment played in D with no amplification, that's OK. As long as you state your definition before you enter an argument. One can define folk (or any other kind of music) in terms of musical style, historic context, time period or whatever. There's NO single accepted definition for "folk'.
    Some people feel that if a song is traditional, it matters not in what style it's played or sung (Steeleye Span, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whatever)--it's folk. Others feel that if the music is sung or played in a traditional style, it matters not whether it's recently composed or not (Fiddler's Green, Shoals of Herring). Sill others feel that if they like it, it must be folk. And some imbeciles still blather about singing horses.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 01:17 PM

"preconceived ideas"? Here on Mudcat? Never!

Look, Shimrod, matey, me old mucker, the fact is that a timeless melody (for example) is far more specific to a folk song than, say, a tail is to a cat. Not many of the songs in today's top 40 have tunes you could hum back to yourself; whereas the vast majority of animals have tails.

"...he eventually got fired - I wonder why?"

Taken in context, this looks a little like a veiled threat. Who do you know then? Have the assembled forces of the F*** Police been dispatched to my door??

(tut, tut; that's just typical of the way these nefarious types use nefarious means to bring about their nefarious objectives. Infamy!)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Big Mick
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 01:30 PM

With all due respect, this is but the circle swinging around again. Every so often, some new member with a guitar and an idea of what folk music is, based on the industry's version of what that is, comes in an spouts off that folk music is music sung by folks. I know this to be the case, because way back '98 when I first came here, I did the same thing. Over the years, I came to understand the depth of knowledge and experience here (Sandy Paton, Art Theime, Frank Hamilton, Dan Milner, Dick Greenhaus, et al) and realized that my interests were better served by listening to them, rather than trying to tell them about something they have spent their whole lives evolving with, and singing. And I am a better singer, performer, and evolving musicologist for it. Learning from them, and adding it to my own life's experiences, has given a depth to my performances that I would have otherwise probably never gained. So, what they think is folk music, I think is folk music. Now if I could just figure out what that is...... ***chuckle***

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 01:42 PM

"There's NO single accepted definition for "folk'"
Yes there is Dick, the non-recognition of that definition by vested interests doesn't change that fact.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 01:46 PM

"Every so often, some new member with a guitar and an idea of what folk music is, based on the industry's version of what that is, comes in an spouts off that folk music is music sung by folks."

I've never said that, Mick. Nor have I endorsed the horse definition (though I do think the horse definitioners have every bit as much right as the 1954 people to state their case without being branded "imbeciles"). My own definition is based on nothing but my own observations of folk music as performed in a variety of settings here in the UK, my own musical ear and common sense- not on the projections of music industry types, who are no friends of mine.
I always listen to everybody, provided they're genuinely expressing a view and not a pretext for a personal attack. However, with respect, I really don't think I have to serve a 70 year apprenticeship before I'm entitled to a voice.

(I assumed your post was aimed at me- if not then obviously disregard this)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 03:03 PM

I can assure you, Gene, that no threat was intended! The bit about my ex-boss getting fired could be seen as being irrelevant to this argument - except to note that, for him, being selective with the data turned out to be a non-viable strategy in the long term.

Also, I hated the bastard (he was an evil sod) and, even though it was years ago, I still gloat over his downfall!! And, for your information, I've hated very few people in my life and you can rest assured I certainly don't hate you or any other Mudcatter!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,The Mole Catcher's Apprentice
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 03:16 PM

Me thinks that Louis Armstrong, who may or may not have originated the remark about horses and singing, was being a tad facetious at the time

Charlotte (horse is a horse, of course)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST,Suegorgeous
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 04:30 PM

Gene - ahah! gotcha! knew I'd catch you out! Mick did his spouting in '98, not '38!! u gonna admit you're wrong now? :))


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 16 Feb 08 - 04:54 PM

My last post was kind of a test to see if you possessed a sense of humour, Shimmers, and I'm pleased to say you have passed...though I still think some degree of data selection is necessary in order to formulate an informed view on anything; one has to evaluate each piece of evidence, weigh all available information up before reaching a considered conclusion.

I'm never wrong, Sue, just that every now and then I'm differently right. Then again there's such a thing as the right kind of wrong, and, conversely, the wrong kind of right. A lot of the contributors here, IMHO, are the wrong kind of right.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 12:47 PM

>> ...how many people ....... could sing a single verse of any of those - particularly 'American Pie'...

You could say the same thing about Mattie Groves, The Nutting Girl and even Lincolnshire Poacher. <<

You could indeed, if we were talking about 2008. However, to take one of your examples, "Mattie Groves" was collected at least eighty times by song collectors in the twentieth century, with informants (many of them North American) regularly recalling twenty or more verses. Bearing in mind the extremely patchy nature of song collecting, and the fact that by this point traditional singing was already in decline in industrial Britain and North America, it seems reasonable to assume that at some earlier point, rather a lot of people knew rather more than one verse of "Mattie Groves". Which I think is what I was trying to say before.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 01:37 PM

Jim Carroll-
OK. If there is a single accepted definition for "folk'", what is it? And if it's accepted, why doesn't this thread seem to be aware of that fact?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 06:36 PM

Dick:
International Folk Music Council 1954.
"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community."
Not perfect, but close enough for me. It certainly covers all the material on my shelves labeled 'folk song'.
You might want to look at the 16 page definition in Funk ans Wagnall, but this one covers all the major points.
It's the door came through forty years ago.
Why don't people on this thread know about it? your guess is as good as mine.
If we accept that there is such a thing as 'folk song' and it's not this - what is it?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 06:51 PM

Jim Carroll

Why don't people on this thread know about it? your guess is as good as mine.
If we accept that there is such a thing as 'folk song' and it's not this - what is it?


I've been in and around the folk scene for about thirty five years, mainly on the traditional side and I'd never heard of the 1954 definition until I saw it mentioned on Mudcat a few months ago. I seemed to manage without it.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 06:57 PM

Been aware of it quite some time, myself, just don't recognise it as relevant, valid or true- sorry!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 06:58 PM

*yawn*


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Feb 08 - 08:08 PM

Jim-
I'm familiar with the "official" 1954 definition and, frankly, I don't have a problem with it. If it's accepted in any discussion, though, you have to come up with a new classification for the music of Woody Guthrie, Martin Carthy, Pete Seeger and just about everyone who now fill the folkies' notion of what folk is. Earlier definitions required a rural background, or isolated communities or whatever. I remember this argument back in the 1940s and 50s, when people like MacColl and Lomax were attempting to expand the meaning of the word.

I still feel that there can be a multiplicity of definitions: Stylistic,
taxonomic, sociological etc. All that's necessary is that people agree on which they're using before they set out to demolish each other.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 03:57 AM

Dick
"If it's accepted in any discussion, though, you have to come up with a new classification for the music of Woody Guthrie, Martin Carthy, Pete Seeger"
No I don't - I don't have a problem with the old one. It is the job of those who have problems to re-define.
To my knowledge, MacColl at no time attempted to re-define the word, and my understanding of Lomax's work on Cantrometrics makes my think that neither did he. MacColl was always at pains to point out that his own compositions were not 'folk songs' (we have recordings of him saying as much. He referred to the singing tradition in the early stages of the revival as 'moribund', and later as having died (ie; ceasing to function for communities). Our own field-work among Travellers, in rural England and in the West of Ireland would pretty much bear this out.
MacColl and Lloyd did attempt to include industrial songs in the definition, with limited success.
If we agree that there is an identifiable group of songs which we label 'folk' what are the defining and uniting characteristics? Surely that is the crux of all these discussions. If the old one doesn't work-provide a new one - simple as that.
In the relatively recent past I purchased the last volume of 'The Greig Duncan Folk Song Collection', four years ago I got 'Folk Song: Tradition, Revival and Re-creation', I'm now onto my fifth copy of 'The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs' - (need I go on?). Do you envisage a dual (or even multi - the revivalists don't seem to have arrived at a single one) definition of the term; one for the collectors, anthologists, researchers, writers and lexicographers, and one for the clubs?
We appear not to be discussing the re-labeling of the product, but rather, the ripping off of all the labels.
Snail:
I've been using planes for as long as you've been listening to folk music, even longer, and have managed without understanding the laws of aerodynamics, but I know they are available to me should I wish to research them.
Sue,
If we're keeping you awake - please feel free to go back to sleep.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 05:42 AM

Jim Carroll

I've been using planes for as long as you've been listening to folk music, even longer, and have managed without understanding the laws of aerodynamics, but I know they are available to me should I wish to research them.

The Lewes Arms Folk Club has never crashed in flames because someone sang a Ewan MacColl song.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 12:01 PM

Jim-
If I had my druthers, the word "folk" would never have been used for the commercial outpourings of the 60s and on. It's too late now. A definition is only worthwhile if the people using the word agree on what it means. MacColl certainly tried to expand the definition to include industrial songs (though he was diligent about distinguishing between his own compositions and folksongs); Lomax certainly broadened the definition to include the country music of Woody Guthrie; the Harry Smith Collection brought American country music into the fold.

As I said, I have no problem with the 1954 definition, but I recognize that only a small portion of what I sing consists of what I consider to be "folk"; I've spent a half-century or so being labled a "folksinger", though.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 04:12 PM

Cheers, Jim, will do! I'd say wake me up when you've all come to an agreement on The Definition, but..........!!! :)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Banjiman
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 04:25 PM

I've spent all weekend at The Kirkby Fleetham Folk Club Winter Warmer Weekend......it sounded like folk, it felt like folk, it even smelt like folk at times....there were folk there to hear folk music and song.....were we all deluded? According to the archaic definitions on here of what some people would like folk music to be, we were at least 99% of the time. Even the trad stuff (and there was plenty of it sung sung unaccompanied as often as not)wasn't folky enough to be folk...... someone might have first heard it on a recording (horror of horrors).

Still without at least 50 years history of academic study of what folk music is and being too young to remember what it was like before it was all spoiled, what do I know?

Paul


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Giant Folk Eyeball (inactive)
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 04:39 PM

Paul, man, you're starting to sound a little bitter there and bitter doesn't suit you! You're usually such a good natured poster. You're not about to go postal on us are you?!

Enjoy what you enjoy, right or wrong, and don't worry about what anyone else, right or wrong, thinks. Including me!

Cheers,

Nigel


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 04:42 PM

Still no alternative definition I see Paul - just snide sniping - ah well!!!!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Banjiman
Date: 18 Feb 08 - 05:17 PM

Nigel,

I'm tired...sorry, it's been a long weekend of organising a non-folk bash which believe me, I did seriously enjoy along with a few others. It was vibrant, alive, stimulating, communal....well you know it was OK!

Jim,

What is the point?....we're not ever going to agree...you appear to have a completely closed mind to anything that doesn't fit into a box that was defined in a previous era that can't possibly exist (or have any relevance)in the modern world. Please enjoy your museum.

Grump over!!!! enjoy your thread, I've had enough now.

Cheers

Paul


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Kent Davis
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 12:23 AM

The Mole Catcher's Apprentice, on Feb. 14, said:

"how do we explain to future generations why no folksongs were created in the 20th century?"

by the 1954 definition.etc..etc there were none written"

But even using the 1954 definition, there were many folk songs written in the 20th century. Consider these:

"Kumbaya"
"I Have Decided to Follow Jesus"
"God Is So Good"
"I'm Happy Today"
"Love, Love"
"I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy"
"Deep and Wide"
"The B-I-B-L-E"
"The Wise Man Built his House upon the Rock"
"I'm in the Lord's Army"
"If You're Happy and You Know It"
"Miss Lucy Had a Baby"
"O Mary Mack"
"Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy, Gopher Guts"
"Bringing Home My Baby Bumblebee"

All of the above are, I believe, products of the 20th century and all are products "of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission." All are characterized by
"(i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives." All have been "absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community."

I am not an expert, yet I've listed 15 songs from my personal tradition that are from the 20th century and fit the 1954 definition. What songs can others add?

Kent


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 03:24 AM

Banjiman;,
Come to some of the festivals and singing week-ends here in Ireland.
The standard of singing can range from good to superb (in English and Irish) and (believe it or not) people actually enjoy the (old and new) songs, !!!!
Relevance; I was brought up with the idea that good culture (song, music, literature, theatre, art) was timeless, otherwise the current generation would ritually burn everything 'old' (as you appear to be proposing with folk song).
Now where did I put my Shakespeare - there's a bit of a nip in the air this morning!
Kent
"by the 1954 definition.etc..etc there were none written"
Not strictly true; Travellers were still making songs up to the mid seventies, until portable television came along and stopped the open-air singing sessions.
Children continued to make songs for the playground - don't know if they still do, or if this has been replaced by text messages and interactive software games.
In the first half of the 20th century there was still a fairly strong songmaking tradition in rural Ireland, mainly about the major issue here - emigration.
One of the peculiarities of the ones we recorded was that even though they must have been written well within the lifetimes of the singers, we hardly ever managed to find out who had written them.
The death-knell of the tradition came when we became passive recipients of, rather than participants in our culture.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Banjiman
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 05:33 AM

Jim,

I think we will try and make it over there to some of the festivals at some point (2 young children allowing!), I have absolutely no doubt we would enjoy ourselves immensely. Though I'm not convinced that my 5 stringer would be universally popular (what's new?) I am sure people would enjoy my other half's singing, a pretty equal mixture of Trad mainly Scottish (like her), self penned(...have you heard The Visitor? about a ship rescue off Robin Hood's Bay in N. Yorks.... you should, it's starting to be sung by other people...might be a "folk" song one day ....LoL) and a few carefully chosen songs from other "known" authors.

Please re-read my posts...I love a lot of old songs (I think I've made that pretty clear)....I just love a lot of new songs to and I don't like the false divisions that some seek to put between them.

I'll repeat my mantra.....a good song is a good song, I'm completely agnostic as to its source.

"otherwise the current generation would ritually burn everything 'old' (as you appear to be proposing with folk song)." ....I can only assume you have mixed my posts up with someone else's.

I invite you you to come to one of the KFFC weekend bashes and partake in the singarounds.....you will hear massed, communal, harmonious singing of old (& new) songs that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up....assuming you have (and I'm pretty sure you do) a soul. This is not any kind of challenge, just a genuine offer.

Paul (not tired and grumpy anymore!)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 06:12 AM

Jim Carroll

Travellers were still making songs up to the mid seventies,

What makes them folk songs any more than a Ewan MacColl song? MacColl was surely a participant and no passive recipient.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 09:01 AM

I guess the travellers just travelled - Ewan had to buy a ticket.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 10:38 AM

Meanwhile The Snail arrived by the magic roundabout.
what are you on Snail,not magic mushrooms I hope.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 11:29 AM

"by the 1954 definition.etc..etc there were none written"

that was my reading of the 1954 definition of folk folk song..my personal opinion is that yes indeed there have been folk songs written in the 20th and early 21st centuries, mind you what I consider folk and what others consider folk might have some differences in them, but if we were all the same, things would be exceedingly boring.

Charloote (refreshed after a day off)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 02:50 PM

"What makes them folk songs any more than a Ewan MacColl song? MacColl was surely a participant and no passive recipient."
Snail
Damn - the Cap'n pipped me on my Magic Roundabout joke.
Up to the mid-seventies the song tradition among Travellers was very much alive. We were present at a couple of open-air sessions.
Songs about members of the Travelling community were being made by people who were non-literate and passed on by word of mouth. They were absorbed by members of the community and turned up in numerous versions. More often than not the names of the makers were forgotten.
Usually they were no more than two or three verses long, with one notable exception.
We were given one about an arranged marriage (by at least four different singers) each of whom asked us not to make it public. Mary Delaney sang a six verse version and asked us not to make it public as "it's about my cousin and he'll murder me if he knew I'd sung it to you".
Independently of the singers we recorded, it is included on the John Reilly Topic album as 'Old Caravee' with the names altered completely.
Ewan was never a deep-sea fisherman, miner, roadworker, Traveller, railway worker, boxer....etc, he was not writing for his community, but for the folk song revival. As far as I know, the people of Beckenham never took the songs up and made them their own.
Meant to respond to your point earlier.
Glad your club hasn't crashed in flames - I heard it is a good one.
I do not in any way object to newly written songs being sung at folk clubs; using the traditional forms to make new songs was what it was all about for me.
I dug out my old repertoire book recently and found that around a quarter of the songs I know and sang (around 100) are non traditional.
This argument; and others on this forum, is basically what we mean by folk song, - definition, not preference (important to some, not to others).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 03:07 PM

"The death-knell of the tradition came when we became passive recipients of, rather than participants in our culture."

Have 'we' become so? It seems that everywhere I look, I see young people learning to play instruments and making their own music. But this in and of itself does not make it folk music (by the 1954 definition, which I more or lesss agree with). My opinion: to make it 'folk' we need . . .

a. settled (or travelling) communities
b. time

The dislocations of modern life make both of these variables difficult, but not impossible, to establish. Add to this electronic communication and it is obvious that folk music (in the 'west') will not exist now and in the future the way it has in the past. But somehow this music continues to exist organically. Who reading this hasn't recently showed a song or melody to someone else, or learned a bit from someone else? Working as a teacher, I've played traditional music for kids and later heard them singing it or humming the tune. Who knows where all this music will end up?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 08:25 PM

Jim Carroll

Damn - the Cap'n pipped me on my Magic Roundabout joke.

I suppose that, given that my name is Bryan and I have given myself the nickname TheSnail, I should really have seen the Magic Roundabout jokes coming. Silly of me. Not sure where the magic mushrooms come in although they might go nicely with a packet of frozen fish fingers.

The stuff about the Travellers' song making sounds fascinating but my point is that, at the time they were first sung, they were not folk songs according to the 1954 definition because they had not then been passed down through the oral tradition and altered by it. They were still being sung by the same people, in the same environment as the "real" folk songs so what were they?

Ewan was never a deep-sea fisherman, miner, roadworker, Traveller, railway worker, boxer....

So what? Were Tam Lin or Matty Groves written from personal experience?

he [MacColl] was not writing for his community, but for the folk song revival. As far as I know, the people of Beckenham never took the songs up and made them their own.

Arguably, his community was the folk song revival. Did he sing to the good people of Beckenham?

My community, where the vast majority of my friends live, consists of the folk clubs and song and tune sessions where I spend a lot of my time. I am not a singer but I learn tunes from others, perhaps with a little help from printed music and recordings but they are part of the extended community in modern times.

My point about the LAFC not crashing in flames was that an aeroplane that is not designed according to the laws of aerodynamics is doomed; a folk club which takes no notice of the Sao Paulo definition can carry on with no trouble.

I do not in any way object to newly written songs being sung at folk clubs; using the traditional forms to make new songs was what it was all about for me

I am glad we can agree on something. I think that most people involved in the current folk scene are happy to call those new songs folk songs. What do you call them?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Kent Davis
Date: 19 Feb 08 - 10:09 PM

Jim,

The part about "there were none written" was someone else, not me. That's why I put it in quotes. The whole point of my post was to demonstrate that folk songs (by the 1954 definition) WERE written in the 20th century. That is why I listed those 15 songs. They meet the 1954 definition and were written (I believe) in the 20th century.

Kent


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 03:40 AM

Michael, Bryan, Kent,
Thanks for loads to think about - will go off and think but - I'LL BE BACK.
In the meantime, I have to say your question about Ewan singing to the people of Beckenham raised a smile Bryan - have you ever been to Beckenham?
In his lifetime Ewan was a fanatical gardener (a real fine-comb-and-nail-scissors nut) and the gardens surrounding their house in Stanley Avenue were pretty much of the same ilk. In return for using the library and tape collection (and being bedded and fed) it was expected that if you had any spare time during your visit you helped out in the garden.
When Ewan died Peggy decided to have a 'wild garden' of only plants which grew naturally. In no time it abounded with Rose Bay Willow herb, Ragwort, Bindweed, Russian Vine, Japanese Knotweed as well as receiving regular visits from foxes, badgers, fieldmice, rats.... etc - the good people of Beckenham were..... not happy.
Would love to have seen Ewan's reaction.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: TheSnail
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 06:31 AM

Just like to add a few things -

I don't go with Gene Burton's definition of folk song.

I would like to nominate "The Wheels on the Bus" as a 20th century folk song.

Peggy decided to have a 'wild garden' To claim this as a decision is a piece of delusional self-justification.

Beckenham is not high on my "Must See" list.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 02:44 PM

Just to add a quote from the late Peter Kennedy:
" In fact the importance of the tradition was not so much what he sang but the way he sang it"


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 05:14 PM

99 Bottles of Beer is high on my list of nominations for a 20th Century folk song *LOL*

Charlotte (only sings about beer)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Tootler
Date: 20 Feb 08 - 06:54 PM

I nominate "D-Day Dodgers" as a 20th century folk song.

Created spontaneously by British troops fighting in Italy in WWII in response to a comment by Lady Astor, the song reputedly circulated widely among the troops gathering verses as it went. A version was finally "collected" by Hamish Henderson, himself a participant in the Italian campaign so a member of the "community".


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 21 Feb 08 - 07:28 PM

People may have been wondering about my silence. I cannot be bothered to discuss with the wilfully ignorant on this at the moment. Jim, Dick, more power to your educational elbows. Why do some people think that the more widespread stupidity is the more it approaches wisdom?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Gene Burton
Date: 21 Feb 08 - 07:44 PM

"I don't go with Gene Burton's definition of folk song."

From the looks of things, nobody else does, either. For once, though, I find myself in agreement with m'learned colleague Mr. Bridge; for verily the converse of his statement must also be true: the more unpopular wisdom is, the more it approaches, er, even greater wisdom.

I see myself primarily as a visionary whose time is yet to come...


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: The Sandman
Date: 22 Feb 08 - 06:42 PM

Beckenham is not high on my "Must See" list.[The Snail]
here speaks a person with a prejudice.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 22 Feb 08 - 07:35 PM

The definition is in the process of change. There are traditional folk songs and folk-like
songs in the style of traditional folk songs. Both are now included in the definition.

Usually, the communal theory applies. If people change it through the ages it becomes
like water flowing over a stone. It has a smoothness and beauty of its own.

It's generally in a simple straightforward speech style.

It's generally musically simple without complex harmonies or melodic turns that are
inaccessible to most people. (This would include vocal ornamentation).

I associate it with a history of a particular place or sub-culture.

It is also a photograph of a bird in flight when it is reproduced in a book or in musical notation.

The question becomes when it is a folk-like song, composed by a single author whether this qualifies as the real deal. I really think that it needs to be changed by others along its life span.

It is durable. It lasts because it was important enough for more than one person to keep it alive. It probably may have been changed in this process.

There are some beautiful folk songs that are not known by the general public, these days.
There is an irony here. Music of the "people" not known by the "people" (a large collection of them).

Whether we can correctly define a folk song or not, they will last and be durable because they have some quality that keeps them alive.

Another ID would be that the folk song has many "variants" (variations in tunes and texts found across the nation or world.)

The American cowboy songs "Streets of Laredo" emanating from Ireland as "The Unfortunate Rake" or "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo" from the Irish "Rockin' the Cradle" would be examples of the "variant" theory. "Sam Hall" and "Robert Kidd" turn up in the shape-note hymn "What Wondrous Love Is This?"

The question here is did someone deliberately write a song based on another in a conscious way or was there a process here that defies a planned composition?

We'll be arguing about this for years.

Keeping these songs alive is about singing them, enjoying them and teaching them to
others. The definitions will take care of themselves.

One thing, they are not fads based on contemporary popular music which is ephemeral.
However, there are some fine songwriters who successfully write in a folk-style. The definition might expand to include them. I think we all know who they are. If not,
I would be happy to mention them, some of whom are alive today.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Bert
Date: 22 Feb 08 - 07:39 PM

...Keeping these songs alive is about singing them, enjoying them and teaching them to
others. The definitions will take care of themselves....

Right on Frank.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: PHJim
Date: 08 Jan 14 - 11:14 PM

Peterborough, Ontario's Catfish Willie used to say, "It's a four letter word that starts with F and ends with K and if you use it, they won't play your songs on the radio.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 06:10 AM

Just heard Peggy Seeger talking about this again on the BBC radio 4's
Midweek programme. The item about Ewan's songs (and his attitude to traditional songs) and Peggy's singing and playing starts about halfway through the programme...

Kitty


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 06:43 AM

Thanks for that Kitty (don't know why we can sometimes get BBC in Ireland and not in others - no problems there)
Everybody should listen to what she has to say here - explodes a number of myths
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 07:47 AM

Could we haves a time-check of the point where Peggy comes on? Not sure I want to listen to the whole programme.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 10:34 AM

As I said, Michael, it's about halfway through the programme, which started just after the 9am news summary - I think it was about 9.25 when I looked at my watch while listening to the original broadcast, as opposed to the online version put up on the BBC website afterwards. There will be a shortened repeat on radio 4 this evening at 9.30pm, too, but I don't know which bits get left out in the shortening!

Kitty


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: OldTimeTim
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 11:50 AM

Having renewed my credentials with Mudcat, I found this thread, and have read some of the debate with interest and sometimes amusement.
Of course it is impossible to draw a line between folk songs and other songs (leastways everyone will have a differing opinion as to where the line should be drawn)

However, my wife and I have been playing a game for some years at festivals, folk clubs and other music events where the F word is implied but not used: - was that last song folk or not folk? - we don't debate - we just see if we agree - and mostly we do.

This activity has led us to try to crystallise our previously unstated criteria, and it pretty much coincides with the answer to the question; - did that song tell a story, and if so was that story of interest to anyone other than the author/performer? two yesses and it qualifies as folk

I expected that I would find something similar in this thread, but was surprised that there were no references to 'telling a story' in the bits that I scanned though!?

PS I looked up the plural of yes, and found a minefield almost as large as the above thread!


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 11:57 AM

But the 'telling-a-story' criterion surely applies only to narrative songs, Tim. What of lyrical or otherwise discursive songs?

≈M≈


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 12:00 PM

> no references to 'telling a story'

An ingenious balladic criterion, Tim, and you;re welcome to it, but wouldn't it leave out all those traditional songs that *don't* tell a story?

Most chanteys, for example.

(And IMO, songs like Marty Robins' "El Paso" and Jinnie Driftwood's "Battle of New Orleans" don't meaningfully become "folk" just because they obviously do "tell a story" any more than does a rap song that does so.

Also, if your definition of "folk" isn't shared by others, they won't know WTH you're talking about - a maddening situation we've already touched upon.

Tricky, isn't it?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 12:09 PM

Ho hum, maybe I should just have started a new thread to alert people to Peggy's appearance on this morning's programme.....

Kitty

PS Tim - Derek and I also tend to note whether songs tell a story, and whether they are of interest to anyone but the performer (whether they tell a story or not), as it tends to be relevant to consideration of whether we'd like to hear that performer again....


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 12:11 PM

"Of course it is impossible to draw a line between folk songs and other songs "
Not in the slightest
Not only are folk songs well defined, but there is over a century's documentation covering what they are and where they came from
The misuse of the term, basically deliberately so, is a comparatively recent phenomenon and has no research to back it other than "folk song is what I choose to consider it is"
A self conscious manipulation of the term makes no difference to the existing definition (much in need of up-dating based on what information has been gathered latterly) makes not an iota of difference - until a new definition is reached and accepted generally, the one we have serves very nicely, thank you.
As Mike points out, narrative is just one type of song which doesn't include, say, shanties, lyrical songs, ritual pieces, skipping and ball games...... and songs with verses which don't ecesserily relate to one another.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 12:24 PM

> whether they are of interest to anyone but the performer (whether they tell a story or not)

Wide appeal is certainly one characteristic of a traditional song.

Without that appeal, it is forgotten - quickly or immediately.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 01:03 PM

"Wide appeal is certainly one characteristic of a traditional song"
Folk song at present appeals to a very small number of people and there is no great evidence that this was ever not the case.
"Wide appeal" within small communities maybe...
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 01:12 PM

> there is no great evidence that this was ever not the case.

This intrigues me, Jim. If it were true, wouldn't the collections of Sharp and others be far scantier?


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 02:08 PM

If you look at the sources of the songs collected by Sharp and his colleagues, you will see that they covered a relatively small area of the British Isles and represent a tiny area of Britain.
They were virtually head-hunting songs they believed were rapidly disappearing -
The urban areas were barely covered.
They always claimed that they were collecting from a rapidly dying tradition, which was probably true in most cases.
Taking Britain as a whole; their collection is in fact quite small.
Take a County the size of Norfolk, probably one of the richest areas of Britain, and you will find that the number of informants represent a pinprick of the population in general.
Some forty years later, when the BBC carried out their mopping up campaign, the number of singers had reduced considerably and by then, they were recording from singers who were largely remembering a tradition rather than reflecting living ones.
Walter Pardon was a remarkable singer with a sizable repertoire, but he could only remember songs from his family tradition, which happened at Harvest Suppers - the few songs he learned from outside the family came from basically one man, and they were largely of music hall origin.
He could not remember hearing another local singer.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 02:19 PM

The most convincing bit of evidence is Walter Pardon's testimony - which is from the twentieth century.

I think that the local focus of the collectors equally supports the opposite conclusion, especially for previous generations.

What are the chances that a truly rare phenomenon would manifest itself so strongly in the very areas that the collectors worked in and, in theory, hardly anywhere else?

No one doubts that the tradition was waning by 1900. Why could it not have been robust a hundred years earlier?

(One *might* argue that so few intellectuals were interested in collecting such songs in the early 19th century simply because the songs were so common - and so widely unappreciated by those same intellectuals.)


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 02:47 PM

"Why could it not have been robust a hundred years earlier?"
It might well have been, we have o way of knowing.
"were interested in collecting such songs in the early 19th century simply because the songs were so common"
In limited areas, this might have been true, but over a century or so, there weren' actually many collected and because they were treated as artifacts (sort of like butterflies) we know virtually nothing about the backgrounds.
Even in a relatively healthy tradition (like we found in the Irish Travelling communities) - if you went looking for singers, you were directed to one or two people.
This immediate area of Ireland was rich in songs right up to the 70s, but the vast majority of them came from half-a-dozen singers (take a look at our West Clare County Library website - The Carroll Mackenzie Collection will find us).
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 02:58 PM

Sorry - didn't finish
There are exceptions, of course - New Deer in Aberdeenshire springs to mind, but collector Peter Cook had a theory on this based around the Irish who worked there and helped revitalise the singing tradition with their own.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 03:29 PM

It's quite possible that both Lighter and Jim are right: lots of people sang, but only a few had the repertoire of a Walter Pardon.

Cecil Sharp in the Appalachians, and Carrie Grover, in Nova Scotia, both reported that singing was ubiquitous in remote agrarian communities the early 20th century. No reason to suppose it wasn't in Britain as well, a hundred years earlier. And as Lighter points out, Sharp found a large number of songs while covering an extremely small area of England, even at a time when singing was in decline.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Lighter
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 04:26 PM

> but only a few had the repertoire of a Walter Pardon.

That seems to be indisputable.


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Oct 15 - 04:57 PM

"but only a few had the repertoire of a Walter Pardon."
Large repertoire singers were fairly common - Mary Delaney probably had around 200 - we got over 100 from her.
Tom Lenihan, the same.
Mikey Kelleher - 60-odd.
Par MacNamara - around the same
Duncan Williamson - going on for 60 and literally over 1000 stories.....
Can I justclear something up - I'm not suggesting lots of people didn't have songs - of course they did, but communities had 'singers' with a capital S who were recognised as such
Walter wasn't one in his community - pretty sure Harry Cox wasn't.
Tom Lenihan was - Mry Delaney was - with the kudos that went with the title.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 29 Oct 15 - 05:44 AM

Harry Cox became recognised late-ish in life. A lot of songs thought of as "his" he appears to have "inherited" from earlier singers around Catfield & Sutton, Norfolk. Older collections attribute some of the songs on his 2CD complete collection "The Bonny Labouring Boy" (Topic 2000) {which BTW includes some with collection attrib to Bob Thomson & myself} to the previous generation of informants from the area.

(See my transcript of one of our visits to him under title "A Visit to Harry Cox" in Folk Review for Feb 1973.)

≈M≈


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Oct 15 - 06:36 AM

You may be able to confirm this Mike - but I seem to remember Bob Thomson telling us that Harry's brother was a singer and, according to local talk, a better one than Harry (such claims aren't always reliable of course, "you should have been here last week!!" is a fairly common statement).
One of the aspects of the tradition much neglected is songmaking within the communities.
We first noticed it with Travellers - still practiced up to 1975 with Irish Travellers in London; but here in Clare, we have been staggered at the number of songs that have been made in the past on local subjects and have never moved out of this area because of their local nature.
One of the riches subjects of local songs was the land-wars that took place from the 1880s right up to independence in 1922.
A 90-odd year old singer told us last year that "If a man farted in church, somebody made a song about it".
For me, it stresses the importance of folk songs as carriers of (quite often unrecorded) history; one of the reasons why I so vehement that they should be treated differently from other types of song.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What is a Folk Song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 29 Oct 15 - 06:50 AM

Regret I know nothing of Harry's brother, Jim. Sorry.


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