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Steps in the Folk Process

Related threads:
Folk Process - is it dead? (244)
what is the Folk Process (35)
The Folk Process (181)
The New Folk Process (youtube link) (19)
What does the term 'folk process' mean? (23)


Lonesome EJ 20 Feb 02 - 01:30 PM
wysiwyg 20 Feb 02 - 04:07 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 20 Feb 02 - 04:12 PM
nager 20 Feb 02 - 04:30 PM
GUEST 20 Feb 02 - 04:45 PM
GUEST 20 Feb 02 - 06:59 PM
Lonesome EJ 20 Feb 02 - 07:02 PM
GUEST,harvey andrews 20 Feb 02 - 07:11 PM
InOBU 20 Feb 02 - 08:33 PM
Sandy Paton 20 Feb 02 - 08:38 PM
InOBU 20 Feb 02 - 08:48 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 20 Feb 02 - 08:55 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 20 Feb 02 - 10:40 PM
Sandy Paton 21 Feb 02 - 01:44 AM
GUEST,Boab 21 Feb 02 - 02:58 AM
Hrothgar 21 Feb 02 - 04:17 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 21 Feb 02 - 07:01 AM
greg stephens 21 Feb 02 - 07:23 AM
McGrath of Harlow 21 Feb 02 - 08:36 AM
InOBU 21 Feb 02 - 09:08 AM
GUEST,greg stephens 21 Feb 02 - 10:27 AM
InOBU 21 Feb 02 - 11:07 AM
greg stephens 21 Feb 02 - 11:10 AM
McGrath of Harlow 21 Feb 02 - 11:44 AM
Sandy Paton 21 Feb 02 - 11:52 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 21 Feb 02 - 12:31 PM
InOBU 21 Feb 02 - 12:34 PM
Lonesome EJ 21 Feb 02 - 12:40 PM
McGrath of Harlow 21 Feb 02 - 12:53 PM
Diamond 26 Feb 02 - 04:53 PM
wysiwyg 26 Feb 02 - 05:23 PM
Joe Offer 07 Nov 02 - 09:55 PM
mg 08 Nov 02 - 12:33 AM
Hrothgar 08 Nov 02 - 09:38 PM
pattyClink 09 Nov 02 - 12:08 AM
George Papavgeris 09 Nov 02 - 08:09 AM
GUEST 09 Nov 02 - 08:18 AM
George Papavgeris 09 Nov 02 - 08:26 AM
Bill D 09 Nov 02 - 11:21 AM
Don Firth 09 Nov 02 - 03:58 PM
Bill D 09 Nov 02 - 05:06 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 18 Aug 03 - 01:43 PM
Bill D 18 Aug 03 - 02:11 PM
Amos 18 Aug 03 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 06 Dec 04 - 04:37 AM
shepherdlass 06 Dec 04 - 07:56 AM
shepherdlass 06 Dec 04 - 08:00 AM
Tradsinger 06 Dec 04 - 02:56 PM
PoppaGator 06 Dec 04 - 08:09 PM
Bill D 06 Dec 04 - 08:48 PM
GUEST 06 Dec 04 - 11:21 PM
Uncle_DaveO 07 Dec 04 - 11:05 AM
Lonesome EJ 20 Mar 09 - 02:03 AM
Richard Mellish 22 Mar 09 - 05:38 PM
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Subject: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 01:30 PM

"I write Folk Songs," said the man.

"No," said the other man, "you hope you write Folk Songs."

The term Folk has been bandied about on this Forum since the beginning, with many and various definitions of what Folk means. We may never agree on the definition of what a Folk Song is, but I believe the process by which a song becomes a Folk Song may be clearer. I had the idea that it might be interesting to chart the steps through which the evolution occurs.

1) Initial Introduction as Popular Material. Folk songs of today and yesterday began their lives as popular tunes, whether spread and popularized by the electronic media today, or spread by traveling minstrels 1000 years ago. An example of a song in the popular mode with folk potential might be With Eyes Wide Open by Creed. At this stage of the process, the song is fairly well known, and closely connected to its author. Usually, the author is still alive and producing new material.

2) Persistence in Popular Music. The song has experienced the initial wave of popularity, but due to its intrinsic value or other aspects (re-release or recording by other artists, for example), the song persists in the popular idiom. Paul McCartney's Yesterday might be a good example of this stage in the process. At this stage, the song is taking on a persona independent of its author, and may not be attributable by the majority of its hearers.

3) Song Takes On Traditional Aspect. The song has become entrenched in the deeper layers of the culture, so that the majority of its hearers no longer know the author or consider the author's identity to be significant, so that the song is considered "traditional" by most hearers in the culture. This Land is your Land would appear to be on the verge of this stage, while America the Beautiful and My Old Kentucky Home have reached it. The song at this stage is well-known and often repeated orally.

4) From here, it seems to me the song will take one of three paths :

A) Song Fades from the Folk Process. Because its references are too obscure or specific to another time, or because its intrinsic value as music is weak, the song drops out of the oral tradition of the culture, and if it is remembered at all, it is remembered by a small group of scholars. Many of the Child Ballads would come under this heading, had Child not foreseen this possibility.

B) Song Is Revived as Popular Material. Although the song may have nearly disappeared from the culture, and its author obscure or unknown, it is revived in the popular idiom and re-introduced to the Folk Process. Wild Mountain Thyme and Carrickfergus may be seen as examples of this path.

C) Enduring Persistence in the Culture. Although the author is unknown, and despite the fact that the song has experienced no significant popular revival, its intrinsic power or musical quality has guaranteed its continuity. Greensleeves is an excellent example of this path.

That's it. Do you think this kind of analysis is valid, or am I grossly over simplifying the process? Can you think of songs that fit the different stages, if so which songs stand the best chance of moving from Stage 1 to Stage 4C?

HTML boldfacing corrected. In a couple of places, you had ‘/i’ where I'm sure you meant ‘/b’. --JoeClone, 20-Feb-02.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: wysiwyg
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 04:07 PM

I should scan in some remarks I found in an intro in a spirituals songbook-- it talks about how the folk process refines the crap out of how the song was originally done, how it improves it by a sort of consensus of usage.

... which would mean that finding the original of a song would often not mean one had found it in its purest or highest form.

... and that the later forms are not degradations of the original.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 04:12 PM

Funny,Lonesome, the first thing that I thought of when I read the title of your thread was that the first step in the folk process is:

1. Singer can't remember the words.

Clearly, you've given a lot more thought to this than I have.

I guess I have more difficulty seeing the process outlined as starting with a song that was written for strictly commerical reasons, although I know that it happens. Folk Legacy records had a line of albums which they considered a "New Tradition." I see the value of carrying on a tradition as paramount to songwriting. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, but I see folk music first as self(and next door neighbors)entertainment. If something written commercially comes to fill that role, then I suppose one (or two) could call it a folk song. I'd probably call it a popular song with a mighty long run.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: nager
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 04:30 PM

I thought it became a folk song when, after many years of people changing the words, the tune, the key, the tempo and the title..it ends up bearing absolutely no resemblance to the original and is sung exclusively in darkened rooms (known as folk clubs) by tubby little men with beards and women, unaccompanied and with a hand on their ear (sorry, don't mean to start that thread again!)


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 04:45 PM

nager: you forgot the fact that the women have to be fat


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 06:59 PM

"ANON"

There's no name on the stone I sleep under today There's no book that can tell of my time But you know me so well when you sing roundelay For you're singing my tune and my rhyme I am "Anon", you know me that way I had something to say about life in my day So I made a song and somewhere the sound of it goes round and round, to be lost and then found And that is the way that life is That is the way it is with songs It was in the alehouse, I would sing with the rest then I made up a tune of my own And a full harvest moon put the words in my head As I trudged 'cross the fields to my home When I sang it next day, my friends asked me how Did I find my own song in the blade of my plough So I asked in return how the stonemason saw A sweet face in the stone on the old quarry floo They asked "Is that the way that it is?" I said "That is the way it is for me."

So they learned every word and they sang every note Till my song was a work of renown And within a six month I heard boys from the school Whistling my tune in the town And I smiled when I heard what came out of the sky coming now from a child as he quickly ran by Would it pass from that child, when as father he'd sing To a child of his own? Who'd believe such a thing? But that is the way that life is That is the way it is with time

It was 20 years gone, when our parson came home From a journey he'd made far away He shook my hand hard, said the inn where he'd stayed Had some men who sang there every day And he'd listened with joy as one, with a bow sang the song that I'd found in the blade of my plough So he told them my name,but they said that my song Was as old as the hills, and our parson was wrong I asked "Is that the way that life is?" He said, "That is the way it is my son."

So I planted and ploughed till my bones bowed and bent I made up no more verses to sing And it seemed that my life had been wasted and spent on the curses my hard day would bring Soon death came to call with a voice that cried "Now!" And the song that I'd found in the blade of my plough Leaped from my heart as I journeyed on And I knew it would live even though I was gone And that is the way that it is That is the way it is for us all

There's no names on the stones we sleep under today There's no books that can tell of our times But you know us so well when you sing roundelay For your singing our tunes and our rhymes We are "Anon", you know us that way We had something to say about life in our day So we made our songs, and somewhere the sound of them Goes round and round to be lost and then found And that is the way that life is That is the way it is with songs


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 07:02 PM

Guest...that's a wonderful verse. Did you write it?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST,harvey andrews
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 07:11 PM

Sorrry, it's late and I forgot the breaks and my name!

"ANON"

There's no name on the stone I sleep under today
There's no book that can tell of my time
But you know me so well when you sing roundelay
For you're singing my tune and my rhyme
I am "Anon", you know me that way
I had something to say about life in my day
So I made a song and somewhere the sound of it
goes round and round, to be lost and then found
And that is the way that life is
That is the way it is with songs
It was in the alehouse, I would sing with the rest
then I made up a tune of my own
And a full harvest moon put the words in my head
As I trudged 'cross the fields to my home
When I sang it next day, my friends asked me how
Did I find my own song in the blade of my plough
So I asked in return how the stonemason saw
A sweet face in the stone on the old quarry floor
They asked "Is that the way that it is?"
I said "That is the way it is for me."

So they learned every word and they sang every note
Till my song was a work of renown
And within a six month I heard boys from the school,
Whistling my tune in the town
And I smiled when I heard what came out of the sky
coming now from a child as he quickly ran by
Would it pass from that child, when as father he'd sing
To a child of his own? Who'd believe such a thing,
But that is the way that life is
That is the way it is with time

It was 20 years gone, when our parson came home
From a journey he'd made far away
He shook my hand hard, said the inn where he'd stayed
Had some men who sang there every day
And he'd listened with joy as one, with a bow
sang the song that I'd found in the blade of my plough
So he told them my name,but they said that my song
Was as old as the hills, and our parson was wrong
I asked "Is that the way that life is?"
He said, "That is the way it is my son."

SoI planted and ploughed till my bones bowed and bent
I made up no more verses to sing
And it seemed that my life had been wasted and spent
on the curses my hard day would bring
Soon death came to call with a voice that cried "Now!"
And the song that I'd found in the blade of my plough,
Leaped from my heart as I journeyed on
And I knew it would live even though I was gone
And that is the way that it is
That is the way it is for us all

There's no names on the stones we sleep under today
There's no books that can tell of our times,
But you know us so well when you sing roundelay
For your singing our tunes and our rhymes
We are "Anon", you know us that way
We had something to say about life in our day
So we made our songs, and somewhere the sound of them,
Goes round and round to be lost and then found
And that is the way that life is
That is the way it is with songs.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: InOBU
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 08:33 PM

I think folks are mixing up folk music with traditional music. Folk music, in my estimation, is music written by members of the folk class, those who produce, for the consumption of the folk, and or speaking to their own interests, as opposed to classical music, often written by the folk or producing class for the benifit of the consuming and or ruling class. So, there you are, you are right in your appreciation of what folk music is, and there are those who feel as I do, folk music is our music for us, not our music for them.
cheers
Larry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 08:38 PM

Atually, "The Continuing Tradition" was the term I coined, Jerry. A shade different from "New," but either would imply my meaning: i.e., the songmaking tradition carries on, not for gold or glory, but because the songmaker has something he or she is moved to share with us.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: InOBU
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 08:48 PM

Actually the idea of Folk as old music is a form of classicalization. Think of it, old and new songs to those of us who grew up in singing families were the same thing. You have Cathal McConnel's brothers composing new songs in the same tradition as the old songs they learn and pass on... weither it is The Death of the Clown or Only Our Rivers Run Free, it is their music as much as the Holland Hankerchief, then along comes some scolastic type, who in order to take the power and danger out of the present living folk tradition makes a distinction between the history and stories of passed generations of the same folk while saying the same singer who composes is doing something else, taking our interest out of our music.
Seems right to me...
Cheers Larry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 08:55 PM

Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a thread about the folk process. If I knew how to do the blue clickie thing (which I'm closing in on,) there must be four or five threads on "what is folk music?"

InOBU, who are members of the "folk class?" Sounds like the booking agency called Real People Music. I wrote and asked them who real people are.. in comparison to fake people? Are I a member of the folk class? I went to college but I'm still undereducated. :-)

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 10:40 PM

Ooops, Sandy! You're right. I had an album by the New Tradition...

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 01:44 AM

Let's look at many of your own songs, Jerry. I know of some that have been recorded by other singers and appear on their discs right next to older traditional songs, quite comfortably. You've always included a couple of traditional songs on your own recordings, along with your originals. No conflict, no fear of odious comparisons. Clearly, a continuing tradition. I could say the same about many of the songs of Utah Phillips, Craig Johnson, Dillon Bustin (I hear he's fighting throat cancer right now!), Si Kahn, and several others. It gives one hope for a future that includes a living and meaningful vernacular music.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST,Boab
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 02:58 AM

Folk songs?---They are what folk sing! Traditional folk songs are those which have endured---some because of their undoubted qualities, others because some zealot dug them up when they should have been left buried!

Boab


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Hrothgar
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 04:17 AM

Can we now go into extreme thread creep, and debate whom the "folk" might be?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 07:01 AM

Hrothgar: Oh, what the heck! Why not? When you creep into "What is folk music?" people say music by folk. That immediately makes me think of two lines in folk music. One is Leadbelly talking about going down to Fannin' Street and passing a house where women were modeling clothes. He was confused by it at first and asked his Daddy what they were doing. He said, "They was folks, sure enough." I guess he meant that they were just like you and me, and not putting on airs. There's also an obscure old country/folk song I came across on a recording by the Arkansas Woodchopper called Just Plain Folks. I suspect there's a little of the "noble Savage" imagery in the word "folks." The kind of glamorization that Mark Twain poked fun at, reading James Fennimore Cooper. I think of one of my favorite old album covers of folk music with a photo of Bascom Lamar Lunsford sitting under a tree, playing his banjo, wearing a suit with a briefcase lying on the ground next to him. Can lawyers be folks? He was a lawyer. Can a retired Executive Director of a large Museum be a folk? If you go to college, do they learn all the folk out of you? If so, then we're in trouble because many of my best folk singer friends are college educated.

I think the more interesting part of Lonesome's premise is that if a popular song stays popular long enough, and becomes part of what Just Plain Folks sing, it becomes a folk song. Because it's sung by folk, sure enough. Will the stuff that 'nsync are recording now be called folk songs, if someone is singing them fifty years from now? How long do you have to wait before it goes from being a fondly remembered popular song to a folk song. Is a song a folk song, just because it's old and people still sing it? Is Irving Berlin one of our greatest folksingers? Hmmm... this is sounding suspiciously like another "What is folk music?" thread. Lonesome is focusing on something else. What is the process by which a song becomes a folk song? I still think it all begins when the singer can't remember the words.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: greg stephens
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 07:23 AM

i think we all agree (or am i being naive?) that a new song cannot possibly be a folk song: there has to be some processing involved which takes a lot of people and some( alot of)time. just what the nature of that process is, and what kind of people need to be involved, is what we are discussing. and will continue to discuss.for ever and ever and ever and ever........ will this argument eventually become a folk-argument? Has it already become one?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 08:36 AM

Forgetting the words is the crucial thing. And the tune. That's how the edges get robbed of and the odddities introduced.

If your memory isn't what it was a single person can do quite a llt of that unaided. It's one reason old people are so important in the folk process.

Where there's a live tradition it's quite possible for a new song to emerge which is totally part of the folk trdaition from day one. It'll still probably benefit from knocking around a bit.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: InOBU
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 09:08 AM

Actually, one HAS to define folk and THE folk before agreeing to THE process rather than A process. In other words, taking the Ethnomuicologist folk = yesterday's anonimous music, then the beging post is accurate, but there is a set of assumptions that then flow, ie: we who grew up in folk families, families of singers who pass on songs and compose new ones are only folk singers in half of what we do. On the other hand, if we can get a handle on what is the definition of THE folk, then we get some handle on what is our music, eh? I think continuing tradition is a good part of that understanding, and I with a law degree I hardly use, who makes most of my money busking and producing music about the rest of us who produce, well, hell, I know I am one of the folk. I think Mr. Trump may bristle if you call him just folk. He has aspirations of being somewhere up above folks, but geeze, I guess if he had some family music and wrote some song about how hard it is being a rich guy, and how much goes into telling folks (there I go again) when to jump and get him another glass of champain, well, is it folk? Dunnoh?
Maybe folks and folk music is like pornography in the eyes of the Soup Court justice, who said, "I can't give you a definition, but I know it when I see it..." It tends to let you know when it is real, and when it is some kid who never worked a day, read a book about the hard life - took guitar lessons, listend to a stack of records and went out to become a folk singer.
Now I realise that is problematic, as there are some really tallented folks, whose job it is to produce music, and, well, like Paul Simon, some of his stuff, I would find it hard to say is not folk, and yet, there he is, he kinda looks like the fellow I describe above, eh? I dunnoh?
But I know it when I see it...
A small aside, when it comes to being under educated after college, I think, I had a lot of fun in law school and learned alot of useful notions (in the Quaker sence of an unconected thought). But what turned those notions into useful thought was the fact that I began work full time at the age of 11, spent time at sea, saw a lot of the world from behind one tool or another, had soldiers point guns at me, saw what was out there, then it made some sence when I read books about it. Maybe that is part of the process of my writing folks songs, rather than popular music... as much as inheriting a singing tradition from my father.
Larry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST,greg stephens
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 10:27 AM

well, mcgrath from h, just maybe it could be a folk song from day one, but surely not from minute one. there's got to be some sort of process hasn't there, even if its only five minutes for the creator to sing it and for the people present to assess what they thought of it and where to place it in their cultural framework. or do you feel there is a sort of platonic ideal for a traditional folk song completely divorced from the people who make/ perform/listen to it?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: InOBU
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 11:07 AM

Hi Greg: It seems to boil down to does the process begin before the song... is the singer part of the tradition, or after the song, is the song accepted into the tradition. maybe both? Hmmmm... cheers Larry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: greg stephens
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 11:10 AM

maybe both,eh larry? that's no way to keep an argument going! cheers greg


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 11:44 AM

In principle you wouldn't even need to finish for the process to start. Think of someone improvising a blues, or flamenco. With the right someone it'd be part of the tradition before they'd finished the verse.

Actually the blues structure is an interesting one in this context because of the way the stanzas are built, especially a 12 bar blues; the repeated but modified first line is a sort of compressed version of what happens in "the folk process." The line is all right, but it needs to be tweaked into shape. And the whole song is likely to be built mostly out of floating lines and couplets, reassembled into something new.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 11:52 AM

I'm not quite in synch with Jerry on the definition, as I believe the term "folk" implies a lack of sophistication, in the individual or the culture that produced the song. (I swore I'd never get into one of these "what is folk discussions!) Jerry writes damn fine songs, many about small town life in the Middle West as he lovingly remembers it (band concerts in the park, county fairs, etc.), but I reserve the term "folk song" for those that have gone into oral tradition and have been modified by the process of oral transmission. The "folk" have a way of getting rid of (forgetting? deliberately altering?) a lot of the unnecessary verbiage that often surrounds the core of a song, pruning it, polishing it as it passes along, and often improving it greatly. Some of Jerry's songs have already begun to be misremembered, as it were, or learned from someone who learned them from someone who learned them from one of his recordings, and the alteration has begun. Jerry may not approve of some of the changes, but once the song is in the stream there's not much he can do about it. This is what I call the "continuing tradition" in which songs get created and then handed over to the process. Utah Phillips heard someone sing "Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia," introducing it as a traditional song. Rather than rising indignantly to his feet and saying, "Whoa! I WROTE that song!" he was delighted to see that one of his songs had successfully become part of the stream.

Gotta go to the post office. Have fun, everyone.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 12:31 PM

Hi, Sandy: No disagreement with me. I've never written a folk song in my life. If anything I've written becomes a folk song and is carried on in the tradition, I won't be around to know it. Maybe a good definition of "Folks" is people who don't wonder whether or not they're singing a folk song. If so, then that's makes most of us "folks." When I do a concert, it would never occur to me to introduce each song saying, "This is a folk song," This is an old popular song (like Come Take A Trip In My Airship, which was recorded by Charlie Poole so I don't know for sure if it's a folk song or not," "This is an old popular song which has been sung almost long enough to be a folk song.. give it another five or six years," etc. If it's necessary, I'll acknowledge that a song that I'm singing is one that I wrote, but as often as not, the introduction makes that clear. I don't EVER remember saying "This is a Folk Song." This reminds me of an anecdote I heard years ago when someone asked a banjo player what the notes are on his banjo. He said something like, "They're aren't any notes on the banjo, you just play it." I make no distinction between the songs I write and traditional songs, because they are just "songs" when I'm singing 'em. This is really a problem for scholars. I ain't no scholar, so maybe I'm a folk. I never tried to write a folk song, and as far as I know, I never have. Time will tell. I just draw from traditional folk music as my inspiration and my vocabulary. I don't try to sound old. I just am.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: InOBU
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 12:34 PM

Funny sycronisity, just got back from the post office, mailing a birthday CD to Scarpi...
Well, let's see, as to continuing the arguement by saying the process goes both directions, Stephen, I guess it is my Quaker upbringing, we try not to contradict, but rather to build on the statement of the person who spoke before us, and arrive at consensus. Often it leads to some deep conclutions, as it assumes everyone knows something... unlike mainstream culture which is predicated on the belief I know everything...
I think we are getting round to it, though what sophistication is, I have trouble saying. I think most of my political knowlege was not gleaned in graduate polysci courses, though I took em, but was learned on the streets of Belfast from folks who had generally less then six years of formal school, but were often well read, and if not, their folk tradition was sophisticated in ways the often over schooled americans I know miss, to a degree. So, I think we are getting at the overall picture of what is folk, but have to include songs I learned in Ireland of great sophistication which pass on deep understandings of - for example the french revolution...
It was in France, our first advance
Our fires did glow with reason.
They burned so bright on a dark dark night,
They enlightened many a nation

Volumes can be unpacked in that song, for example and a sophisticated education come out of it...
Cheersm'dears, off to do a little busking, it is warm in New York again, and soon I will trade my black broad brimed hat for the broad brimed straw one, the first Hicksite Quaker sign of spring...
Larry


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 12:40 PM

Well, my hope that we could somehow avoid re-defining "folk" seems to have gone by the boards. Semantics may be confusing us. The process I outlined would not by nature discriminate between a new song by Gordon Bok and a new hit by Mariah Carey (yes, I'm cringing too on that one). A song like Steve Earle's Christmastime in Washington would seem to fit into the "folk mode" as an accepted style much better than the example I gave of Creed's Arms Wide Open. Earle's song makes a political commentary on the state of the country, criticizes the sly aloofness of the ruling classes, calls upon the spirit of Woody Guthrie. The Creed song is merely a personal confessional of giving oneself over to the power of romantic love. BUT, only time will tell if either or both songs will, by the steps of the "folk process" become a lasting part of the culture. Perhaps I should have stated "traditional process", since "folk" is such a loaded term, and since Blues, Country-Western and Jazz could be included in the process.

I think that in the last 70 years or so, since the advent of radio and recorded media, the candidates for the process have changed whether we like it or not, and songs which succeed in becoming level 4C songs may not be what we would predict or desire, in other words, not what we commonly think of as Folk Music. Are we flexible enough to accept that Who Let the Dogs Out might become as enduring as Shady Grove, whether or not we think the material has value? Won't the people, the folk if you will, make that judgement? And if they do, what better example is there of the "Folk Process" in action?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 21 Feb 02 - 12:53 PM

Sophistication is a two edged word. Go back to its roots and it's about artificiality - "not genuine or natural...disinegenuous, worldly wise."

That's the meaning I prefer to retain, under which "sophisticated" is an insult not a compliment. After all it was the word used for practice of some grocers who put sand in the sugar, and milkmen who put water in the milk, or publicans who watered the beer.

And in that sense I'm more than happy to agree that real folk music is never sophisticated.

But people also use it in a sense that means clever and complicated and intricate - and any suggestion that folk music can't be all those things is laughable. InOBU gave one example of how that is true, and I'm sure we could fill the Mudcat for ever with other examples, both in words and in tunes. Maybe doing that that wouldn't be a bad idea either.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Diamond
Date: 26 Feb 02 - 04:53 PM

There's something very interesting about music from the obscure past. It, I suppose, conjures the same initial sensations as discovering some ancient prose, or a long dead relatives diary. However anything we get our hands on today is pretty well stepped on. It wasn't until our recent past, the last hundred and fifty to two hundred years at best, that any portion of society thought it was important to perserve such things, and only very recently has it has been done with any accuracy. For the folk scene today, the bigger portion of us are not listening to voices from the past, we are listening to songs vague enough to make some sense in our society. And so it goes with mass communication. It gets more watered down with time. Here's to the less defined. Hit Me Diamond


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: wysiwyg
Date: 26 Feb 02 - 05:23 PM

Golly, Diamond, great post, and welcome to Mudcat!

New member intro's are going on over HERE if you'd care to say a bit about yourself and your musical interests.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Nov 02 - 09:55 PM

Here we have the guy who wrote Handful of Songs, saying he's never written a folk song.
I beg to differ with you, Mr. Rasmussen.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: mg
Date: 08 Nov 02 - 12:33 AM

I think there is very little time that has to be involved. Down on the Mira came out and was instantly sung around the world....you'd hear it in the Woolworth stores in Newfoundland. Sonny's Dream...rockish in Newfoundland, got picked up by Irish singers, sung like a dirge in Ireland, and now people think that is how it should go. Good songs can go really really fast.....Sweet forget me not...revived (I was told) by someone who picked it up itn the outports of Newfoundald..think he was Linda Slade's brother in law...spread like measles throughout Newfoundland and then back to Ireland and to the U.S. Someone really should look at the role Newfoundland plays in some of these song migrations...a huge population of singing people with roots in Ireland, England and sort of French Canada..sort of...with great ties to the Boston States..with a very educated traveling "class" of university types....mg


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Hrothgar
Date: 08 Nov 02 - 09:38 PM

On re-reading this thread, I just realised why the old people are so important in the folk process.

They're the ones who can't remember the original words ...........

:-)


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: pattyClink
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 12:08 AM

I don't get the significance of Step One. Why does a folk song have to start out with some big sweep of popularity? Lots of good traditional folk songs start local, stay local. They're written and sung by nonprofessionals. But they're not part of the folk process because they don't get popular? Huh. I thought popularity was something involving POPULAR songs not folk songs. Maybe your theory is just intended to analyze the Big Songs of commercial folk music.
And who the heck is Creed and if their song is so widely known why I am asking you this?
I'm sorry if this sounds like picking on your theory, but you did ask for feedback, and that's mine.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 08:09 AM

I waded through the thread carefully, and there was much about process, and some about style (sophisticated or not). But little about content. Surely there are some types of content that "help" a song become a folk song - historical references for example (military or social history mainly). If then a song gets written about current events, is it a folk song or not? The recent (14 Aug 2002) demise of the biggest trawler fleet in Lowestoft, UK, caused songs to be written; some got played on radio - but they are not popular music; most get sung in folk clubs - but the processes outlined above would prevent them from being termed "folk songs". What are they?

In other words, there are several ways (and several processes) that can be followed, and they are not even necessarily linear. Life is not black and white, why should folk music be? And the lesson I have learned reading this thread is: Labels on music are less important than the act of getting together to sing and enjoy each other's (and yet others') songs, and in doing so fostering a higher social (and historical) conscience as well as preserving and promoting non-commercial forms of music.

In one sentence: It is folk singing that is important, less so the folk song or how to best stick the "folk" label on someone's creation.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 08:18 AM

I think I'll just agree to differ here. 'Handful of Songs' is not a folk song in my book


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 08:26 AM

Only goes to prove my point that labels are misleading and divert attention from the important process: having folks sing.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Bill D
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 11:21 AM

well, one major difficulty in all this is that 'folks' simply dont use the word 'folk' in the same way. One group means old & traditional songs which have survived for some ill-defined number of years......others mean any songs being happily sung by common people. They REALLY are not speaking the same language. And if by chance they realize this, then the discussion turns to WHICH of their usages should be employed..

If the common term were 'traditional', the definition would be a 'bit' easier---though even that gets mangled as some want to claim that Dylan has now become 'trad' and others want to reserve 'trad' for stuff that is "X" numbers of years old, or that has no known author...etc...

Despite all the thousands of words written, we all know there ARE differences in songs...in the feel, in the type of tunes, in the subject matter, in the manner of dissemination, in the age, in the degree of anononymity of the author...and a few other things!

I, personally, **LIKE** having categories, so that I can easily find the music I prefer and not buy a CD which purports to be 'folk', but ends up being trite little songs by some "young girl singing her diary" in breathy chanting. (what?, ME? narrowminded?...naawwwww!)

Others, more eclectic than I in their tastes, avoid much to do with categories, and just like 'music'...and simply don't CARE if a concert is 75% songs written in the last 10 years. I do care! It's not that those are bad songs, it's just that I want to know what to expect, so that I can decide. I simply would like to have a word or phrase to describe the kinds of music I prefer, and not have it co-opted and watered down by those seeking to homogenize everything.

(ok...go on with what you were doing..*grin*...I do this now & then...it purges my mind temporarily and helps ME think about the issue)


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 03:58 PM

This is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

By now I know better than to try to make any assertions on this matter without first putting on my Kevlar vest. So I'll just make a couple of observations and raise a question for your consideration:—

Observation #1.
As far as anyone knows, the first person to use the term "folk song" was German philosopher Johann Gottfried Von Herder (1744-1803). He felt that the only way to escape from what he considered to be a contrived, artificial, and gutless Kultur was to delve into the spontaneous culture of Das Volk. A study of volkslieder, for example, would give a more genuine picture or what a county's culture could be and should be. It would give it it's own distinctive character, rather than an artificially constructed one. Volkslieder = folk song. Songs sung by the rural, peasant class. He and a few others sparked an interest in preserving this material. The rest is history.

Flash forward a couple of centuries. In this modern world in which we give lip-service to being a classless society, we don't like to think of things such as a "rural peasant" class (further refusing to acknowledge the possible existence of an urban peasant class). So the term volk, or folk has changed its meaning. Now we are all "just folks." If a definition is all-inclusive, by the definition of definition, it ceases to be a definition. (Got that?) Therefore, the words "folk," and, hence, "folk song" the way they are currently used, are essentially meaningless.

Observation #2.
It seems to be an article of faith among singers of folk songs such as ourselves that the "Folk Process" invariably improves songs, polishing off the rough edges with time and usage and gradually converting a more or less indifferent song into a finely honed work of art. Not necessarily. Sometimes a song degenerates badly as a result of the folk process. By way of example, look at the text and music of The Three Ravens (Child 26) pretty much as it appears in its earliest source, Melismata. Musicall Phansies Fitting the Court, Cittie, and Countrey Humours by Thomas Ravenscroft (1611). Then take a look at this later version. Or this.

I rest my case.

Question for your consideration:
Who defines what folk music is, anyway? Anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and folklorists? Or we "folk singers," most of whom have read a bit, but have done little actual scholarly work in the field, and who have learned most of the songs we sing from songbooks, records, and CDs? If this is ever to be pinned down, it will take some considerably more rigorous thinking than the usual "horse" or "folk songs are songs sung by folks." That's just bloody lazy.

Although I use the term "folk singer" in reference to myself, I don't really regard myself as a folk singer. I am a singer-guitarist. I sing a lot of different songs: the vast majority of them happen to be folk songs.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Bill D
Date: 09 Nov 02 - 05:06 PM

" So the term volk, or folk has changed its meaning. Now we are all "just folks." If a definition is all-inclusive, by the definition of definition, it ceases to be a definition. (Got that?) Therefore, the words "folk," and, hence, "folk song" the way they are currently used, are essentially meaningless. "

yup, Don...you hit it on the head! There MUST be other categories, or no category makes any sense....and the corollary is, those categories can't change everyday or be totally subjective. Songs can gradually gain status as part of a category over time, but the basic definition has to be reasonably stable.


(I just now remembered this cute little thing....
"If all men were brothers, would you let one marry your sister"?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 18 Aug 03 - 01:43 PM

Good thread.

Refresh!


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Bill D
Date: 18 Aug 03 - 02:11 PM

eeeek!


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Amos
Date: 18 Aug 03 - 02:33 PM

THe folk process is (1)Hear (2)Learn (3)Alter (4)Pass on to others, who then start at 1. It standas in contrast tot he commercial process, which consists of 1. Hear 2. Recommend to others, who then 3. Buy, and then repeat the process.

Vive la difference~!!

A


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 04:37 AM

Some observations from The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader, editied by Rtuh F. Boorstin, the modern Library, New York 1995, excerpted from pp821-838 Originally published in Democracy and Its Discontents 1969.

1969 Mr. Boorstin was director of the Smithsonison's and a senior historian. In 1975 he became the Librarian of Congress until 1987. Personally, I like his style and breadth.

"... when we turn to our popular culture, what do we find? We find that in our nation of Consumption Communities and emphasis on Gross National Product (GNP and growth rates, advertising has become the heart of the folk culture and even its very prototype. And as we have seen, American advertising shows many characteristics of the folk culture of other societies: repetition, a plain style hyperbole and tall talk, folk verse, and folk music. Folk culture, wherever it has flourished, has tended to thrive in a limbo between fact and fantasy, and of course, depending on the spoken word and the oral tradition, it spreads easily and tends to be ubiquitous. These are all familiar characteristics of folk culture and they are ways of describing our folk culture, but how do the expressions of our peculiar folk culture come to us?

"They no longer sprout from the earth, from the village, from the farm, or even from the neighborhood or the city. They come to us primarily from enormous centralized self-consciously creative (an overused word, for the overuse of which advertising agencies are in no small part responsible) organizations. They come from advertising agencies, from networks of newspapers, radio. and television, from outdoor-advertising agencies, from the copywriters for ads in the largest-circulation magazines, and so on. These "creators" of folk culture - or pseudo-folk-culture - aim at the widest intelligibility and charm and appeal.

"But in the United States, we must recall, the advertising folk culture (like all advertising) is also confronted with the problems of self-liquidation and erasure. These are by-products of the expansive energetic character of our economy. And they, too, distinguish American folk culture from folk cultures elsewhere.

"Our folk culture is distinguished from other by being discontinuous, ephemeral, and self-destructive. Where does this leave the common citizen? All of us are qualified to answer.

"....Most people, even in a democracy, and a rich democracy like ours, live in a world of popular culture, our special kind of popular culture.

"The characteristic folk culture of our society is a creature of advertising, and in a sense it is advertising. But advertising, our own popular culture, is harder to make into a source of continuity than the received wisdom and commonsense slogans catchy songs of the vivid vernacular. The popular culture of advertising attenuates and is always dissolving before our very eyes....

"We are perhaps the first people in history to have a centrally organized mass-produced folk culture. Our kid of popular culture is here today and gone tomorrow - or the day after tomorrow. Or whenever the next semiannual model appears. And insofar as folk culture becomes advertising, and advertising becomes centralized, it becomes a way of depriving people of their opportunities for individual and small community express. Our technology and our economy and our democratic ideal have all helped to make that possible.

"....the American advertising style drew on another, and what might seem an antithetic, tradition of hyperbole and tall talk, the language of Davy Crockett and Mike Fink. While advertising could think of itself as 99.44 percent pure, it used the language of "Toronado" and "Cutlass." As I listen to the radio in Washington, I hear a celebration of heroic qualitative that would make the characteristics of Mike Fink and Davy Crockett pale, only to discover at the end of the paean that what I have been hearing is a description of the Ford dealers in the District of Columbia neighborhood. And along with the folk tradition of hyperbole and tall talk comes the rhythm of folk music. We hear other products celebrated in music which we cannot forget and sometimes don't want to remember.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: shepherdlass
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 07:56 AM

Just a quick point - does a song have to be really old to enter into the folk process/tradition/whatever you want to call it (all the definitions above seem to have pros and cons)?

You get strange anomalies like Ewan MacColl's "Shoals of Herring" where a song is written in a style so close to the folk idiom and that speaks so vividly to the people it's about that it immediately is adopted as a song they believe they've known for years. (The other possibility is that perhaps MacColl did a subconscious steal of something he'd heard, but this seems unlikely or something to prove this would have turned up by now). You hear so many versions of these kinds of songs (Jez Lowe is another one to whom this weird "instant traditional" thing seems to happen), sung with so much variation that there seems to have been a really accelerated process of adoption and development.

Just a thought and I'd like to know whether anyone thinks this is a real or illusory part of the folk process.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: shepherdlass
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 08:00 AM

Oops - have just noticed my comments tie in with another current thread: Tunes that you thought were Trad! Have a look at the story of the Whitby Whaler on that one.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Tradsinger
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 02:56 PM

I've just latched onto this thread and read the words of Harvey Andrews' "Anon" - great song! Where can I find the tune?

Gwilym


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: PoppaGator
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 08:09 PM

Now that we live in an age of instant worldwide communication, the creation and development of "folk" songs -- maybe it would make more sense to discuss "idiomatic" or "vernacular" songs -- will never be the same.

I really like the description of the process posted by Lonesome EJ in the initial message, and I think his "Step 1" was right on the money, despite the criticisms some have offered. Every song was written by some human being at some time, and it has to have been "popular" in some sense to have survived at all.

For better or for worse, it is practically impossible today for a song to be written and then to be taken up and sung by many other singers without emerging into a very large arena. Songs that in the past might have developed within a small region or within a distinct social class cannot stay quite so isolated today. If they appeal to many folks at all outide the writer's immediate family, they're gonna go out on MP3 and privately burned CD-R to a widespread community of likeminded folks (e.g., Mudcatters), even if they don't make it to the commerical recording studio.

Whatever the folk process may have been until now, it's evolving into something quite different today. Any more thoughts on the folk process in the 21st century? (I'm sure the part about memory lapses will never change -- with people living longer, there'll be more nd more old-timers around to contribute to that process -- but there are so many other factors at work today.)


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Bill D
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 08:48 PM

well, PoppaGator...the exact nature of the "folk process" may have changed with the introduction of recording, and now of the WWW and modern commercial aspects, but I repeat what I said above, and tried to say 20-30 times in the last 8 years.....
   "...those categories can't change everyday or be totally subjective. Songs can gradually gain status as part of a category over time, but the basic definition has to be reasonably stable."

the process may change, but 'folk' or 'trad' must have some general understood meaning, just as 'antique' does and 'endangered species' does, or it will mean nothing...like current teen slang, which is outmoded and a moving target for those trying to study it.

If it doesn't FIT the generally understood category, find a new word or category! Don't just say, "oh, we'll expand it a bit more..after all, we're all 'folks'." If almost everything is folk, why USE the word?


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: GUEST
Date: 06 Dec 04 - 11:21 PM

Dylan's "Rolling Stone" voted best rock. I don't believe you can "vote" folk, or create folk, it just happens, like rats in a ragfilled grainbin.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 07 Dec 04 - 11:05 AM

McGrath of Harlow said, in part:

That's the meaning I prefer to retain, under which "sophisticated" is an insult not a compliment. After all it was the word used for practice of some grocers who put sand in the sugar, and milkmen who put water in the milk, or publicans who watered the beer.

And in that sense I'm more than happy to agree that real folk music is never sophisticated.


Are you telling us, McGrath, that "the folk" never cheat or lie? Oh, come onnnnn!!!

Seems to me that, rather than "sophisticated" or "unsophisticated", it might be said that the folk attitude or process is not self-conscious.
In the folk process, the singing, the making up, the passing on of songs just is, for the pleasure of it, not concerned with formal musical niceties, not particularly concerned whether this song makes money, whether this song meets any kind of academic criteria, or even whether this song will continue to be sung in the future. It deals with what is in the memory now, with what gives pleasure to sing or hear now. What will happen to the song later, what critics might say about it, whether it will make money (and the like) are all extraneous matters, and to the extent they are present warp, change, or contraindicate the folk process.

Now, I sing what some (and even I) sometimes call folk songs, and usually I subscribe to what I said in the preceding paragraph. Really what I'm doing is singing songs with a certain character I think is similar to what we find in folk songs. I know, however, that by my own criteria I'm not a member of the folk in that sense, because I know too much, am too conscious of the nature and origin of the songs I sing. Besides that, precious few of the songs I sing come to me just by absorption from what granddad or Aunt Jane sang, by unthought, undesigned tradition.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 02:03 AM

I'm resurrecting this old chestnut of a thread because of a new thread on "what makes a song folk". I still believe my outline of steps holds up to scrutiny in terms of the process. As to the exact definition of the term "folk", that in my opinion is an endless pursuit, and I leave it to others more patient than I to stalk that quarry.


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Subject: RE: Steps in the Folk Process
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 22 Mar 09 - 05:38 PM

A couple of thoughts on the process steps as set out at the top of this thread.

I don't see that a song necessarily has to be "popular" or widespread in its original form, before it can enter into the folk process. After the first person makes and sings it, the next person can learn it and change it, a bit or a lot, without necessarily anyone else knowing it or even hearing it once. Obviously the more people who hear it and like it, the better chance that one or more of them will pass it on, but that level of popularity might be reached only after the song has already been knocked into shape in the first few transmissions. Even now, when YouTube and the like allow any old crap (as well as gems) to be made available to the world, the original author might not seek that.

Also the folk process doesn't always consist of small changes for the better or the worse. Some songs (particularly some of the "big" ballads) exist in radically different forms, which surely must be due to people occasionally taking an existing song and completely rebuilding it.

Richard


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