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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
10 Jul 97 - 07:46 PM
10 Jul 97 - 07:58 PM
Gisele E 10 Jul 97 - 08:25 PM
Bill D 10 Jul 97 - 09:00 PM
BK 10 Jul 97 - 11:52 PM
Wolfgang 11 Jul 97 - 05:36 AM
Bill D 11 Jul 97 - 10:14 AM
11 Jul 97 - 04:14 PM
Cliff 'I never heard a horse sing it ' McGann 11 Jul 97 - 04:39 PM
Bill D 11 Jul 97 - 04:54 PM
Cliff McGann 11 Jul 97 - 05:18 PM
Barry Finn 12 Jul 97 - 01:47 AM
Frank in the swamps 12 Jul 97 - 07:28 AM
Elsie 13 Jul 97 - 01:13 PM
Bill D 13 Jul 97 - 05:41 PM
BK 13 Jul 97 - 05:43 PM
Barry Finn 13 Jul 97 - 09:57 PM
dick greenhaus 13 Jul 97 - 11:21 PM
Whippoorwill 14 Jul 97 - 10:46 AM
Bert Hansell 14 Jul 97 - 02:36 PM
LaMarca 14 Jul 97 - 03:31 PM
Whippoorwill 15 Jul 97 - 12:27 PM
Sheye 15 Jul 97 - 01:52 PM
Bill 15 Jul 97 - 03:01 PM
Jon W. 15 Jul 97 - 06:37 PM
suzu 15 Jul 97 - 06:38 PM
Angus McSweeney 15 Jul 97 - 09:41 PM
RS 16 Jul 97 - 12:14 AM
Angus 16 Jul 97 - 07:37 PM
Tim Jaques 18 Jul 97 - 07:24 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.


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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


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.

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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 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 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?
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

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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 mostly just dont to take the trouble. This is the most common attitude in a lot of 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 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.


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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 will probably never be main-stream anyway. Even during the 60's folk boom, not too many traditional folk singers made much 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?
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?
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
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...


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" 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 & 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?
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


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 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


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 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.


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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


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
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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