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Folk Classification Proposal

Laoise, Belfast 23 Jul 97 - 09:11 AM
Oldtimer 23 Jul 97 - 12:00 PM
Bert Hansell 23 Jul 97 - 12:45 PM
Jon W. 23 Jul 97 - 01:59 PM
Bert Hansell 23 Jul 97 - 02:53 PM
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Subject: Folk Classification Proposal - here goes
From: Laoise, Belfast
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 09:11 AM

OK, well I've been doing lots of thinking about "What is a Folk Song" (see thread) and I've talked to many people over here about how Folk and Traditional could be defined. The difficulties experienced by many in this forum is echoed, I believe, across the Folk and Traditional World. I'm not after creating a definition, I would just like to make it easier for people to differentiate between the different types of "Folk music" and to separate the "true folk" from the impersonators, no matter how brilliant. Elsie, if you are reading this, I realise that I am including stuff which should not be considered Folk, but by placing it in a lower hierarachical position I hope that non-folk people will appreciate the differences.

Using the "Jazz method" I posted in the "What is a Folk Song" thread, here is a rough version of the type of categorisation that could be applied. My knowledge of Folk and Traditional music is not that great so I reckon this system could use a lot of input from the more knowledgeable people out there - please, please help if you can. I am not satisfied with what I've got here and don't mind a bit if Elsie or anyone pulls it apart. It's just a start.

One more thing, I know there will be differences of opinion as to which category a song or an artist will belong - controversy in this subject is no new phenomenon, but as with any database management system, the categories need to be constantly refined and redefined as necessary.

At the top of the hierarchy comes Traditional Folk. This can be separated into two main sub-classes, Archaic (Pre c1800) and C19th. The distinction between these two groups could be based on the musical style and/or subject matter ie, early folk and later folk. Any ethnomusicologists would probably do a better job than I in defining the differences. Both subclasses (there may be more) may be further defined in terms of their geographical location, Scottish, English etc. These should be restricted, perhaps to the old world (ie Europe).

I can hear a lot of screams coming over the cables across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from patriotic Americans and Australians but New World Folk should have its own category as the change in Environment undoubtedly had an affect both on subject and musical style. (Sorry if this sounds authoritarian.) Again this can be subdivided by region (as it most probably already is).

Both of these categories should be concerned with the songs and their variants only - and should not be used to refer to a group that does covers of them. ie, the classification is attached to the melody and words not the arrangement.

These categories should include the "Time Test" which should, I believe, be greater than a century - another debate perhaps? Also, there is no reason why anonymity should be a barrier to a folk song - think of Robbie Burns etc.

The third category is where the greatest controversy will arise. For arguments sake lets call it "Contemporary Folk" and include everything that is, or pertains to be, Folk music of the 20th Century. Basically, for folk purists, this category is to be avoided, although it will undoubtedly encompass songs that may be considered folk, even by purists.

You could subdivide this category into lots of small chunks. You could have sub-groups for rebel songs, Union Songs,Political songs, pop-folk, folk-rock,regae-folk, ska-folk,(yes I know a group that perform traditional Irish Gaelic songs with reggae and ska backup - theyre brilliant) Bay-City-Rollers-folk, Simon-and-Garfunkel-folk etc... There could be a hierarchy within this category in relation to the proximity of any given song to the "Traditional Folk" category.

As for classifying the groups themselves, If a group does a mixture of Trad and Contemporary folk stuff, then they should be labeled as such. Bands like Steeleye Span did covers of many Traditional folk songs in a rock style as well as original material - they should not be classed as a trad folk but a Contemporary/Trad folk band.

The only bands/artists that could really be classed as "traditional folk" are those that perform the songs in the way that they would have been played originally. This would mean keeping to a traditional form of singing without accompaniment (Sean-Nos in Irish Singing) or using period instruments. I don't think I know any such bands (references welcome).

I had an argument recently with an aunt of mine over a song "Sailor Boy". I had heard the Bothy Band version of this song and I did my version based on their version. She had heard a much older version of this Traditional Irish song and completely trashed my rendition claiming it was a modernised and bastardised version of the folk song (I can't print the other things she said about it - Elsie, you think YOU'RE a purist?). Therefore there is also a need to categorise the arrangement of any given song.

Here is a summary of the proposed Categorisation model of Folk Songs.

Traditional Folk: Archaic: Pre c1800, Country/region of origin. c19th Century: Country/region of origin.

New World Traditional Folk: Pre 19th Century, Country/region of origin.

Contemporary Folk: 20th Century, Country/Region of origin, author, style(influences)eg: rebel songs, Union Songs,Political songs, pop-folk, folk-rock,reggae-folk, ska-folk,Bay-City-Rollers-folk, Simon-and-Garfunkel-folk etc... with hierarchy depending on proximity to Traditional Folk style.

I must emphasize that this is only intended as a simplistic model for classification of the broad spectrum of folk music. I welcome opinions and refinements from more knowledgeable people.

To anyone I have offended or missed out of this classification, forgive me!

Its great "talking" to you all and I look forward to coming back from my holiday to get back on line to you all again. I've enjoyed the debate so much that I hope we never solve the problem "What is a Folk Song."

Slan go Foill,


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Subject: RE: Folk Classification Proposal
From: Oldtimer
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 12:00 PM

I think this whole effort to define the folk music is pointless. If there is a widely different opinion among a vast group of diverse people, how will we ever get agreement on specifics? It's like making laws with no way to enforce them. How are we to enforce punitive measures against scofflaws, people who blunder, and those who just don't care- without diminishing the friendliness of this site for the rest of us? Is all this effort going to change much? Just look how much of this bandwidth has been taken up with these discussions. Look at the flames and near-flames that have occurred. I believe we will be better served to tolerate (as Dick said) the odd request for non-folk songs. Although most of us are here because we like folk, most of us have other tastes and enjoy other music too, and sometimes a non-folk tune surfaces that we are glad to find. This is not a criticism of you Laoise, so please don't take it that way. It is just my thoughts on the issue. Reminds me of the old church argument about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin- IMHO, it can never be solved.

Cheers OT

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Subject: RE: Folk Classification Proposal
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 12:45 PM

Well I'm joining in just for the fun of it. I know that my ideas differ from those of many of my friends here, but I like sharing my opinions and hearing theirs.

Having said that, here is how I view the situation.

CURRENT. In some chart or other.

RECENT, (could also be called FILTERED). Still gets some air time but no longer in the charts.

FOLK. Anything that people are singing just 'cos they like to.

SINGER/SONGWRITER. Only being sung by the author. The really good stuff sometimes migrates to another category

SPONSORED. Stuff that is diseminated by an organization or special interest. Schools, Governments, Unions...Also non profit organizations, which would include Filk & SCA etc..

CHORAL.Sweet Adelines, Barber Shop etc.. may overlap any other classification.

MUSIC HALL. Now probably a subdivision of Folk, some may overlap with traditional

PARLOUR SONGS.Now probably a subdivision of Folk, some may overlap with traditional

TRADITIONAL. Songs that have been handed down from a previous generation (or two?). Possibility for many sub-divisions here. Anonymous, Authored, Attributed, Pre-industrial etc..

ARCHIVED. Songs that no one sings any more (occasional researchers are counted as 'nobodies').

There, isn't this fun. Bert.

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Subject: RE: Folk Classification Proposal
From: Jon W.
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 01:59 PM

I'll reiterate what I said on the other thread: IMHO to define (and therefore classify) a folk song, you have to define the folk group it belongs to (excuse the dangling participle). This would of course take into account time as well as places as well as any other defining characteristic.

Agreed, Bert, singer songwriter stuff doesn't belong in folk unless it migrates there on it's own.

About oral transmission: do recordings count? if not, did a lot of folk music cease to exist as folk when Edison invented the phonograph? If someone is talented enough to learn a song from a recording, isn't that as valid as learning it from the singer in person? And BTW it doesn't preclude variants - see the "mistakes in listening to lyrics" thread.

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Subject: RE: Folk Classification Proposal
From: Bert Hansell
Date: 23 Jul 97 - 02:53 PM


I would say that recordings count. What is the logical difference between a recording and a person singing the song multiple times?

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