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Folk Music Tradition, what is it?

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CRANKY YANKEE 29 Mar 03 - 11:46 PM
Blackcatter 30 Mar 03 - 01:45 AM
Nigel Parsons 30 Mar 03 - 03:36 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 30 Mar 03 - 04:19 AM
Gurney 30 Mar 03 - 04:23 AM
GUEST,Jon 30 Mar 03 - 05:50 AM
Leadfingers 30 Mar 03 - 08:20 AM
GUEST,Richard L 30 Mar 03 - 12:27 PM
Art Thieme 30 Mar 03 - 02:02 PM
Uncle_DaveO 30 Mar 03 - 02:36 PM
greg stephens 30 Mar 03 - 05:31 PM
Blackcatter 30 Mar 03 - 05:47 PM
GUEST,Richard L 31 Mar 03 - 09:51 AM
Frankham 31 Mar 03 - 06:17 PM
Blackcatter 31 Mar 03 - 08:38 PM
GUEST,Richard L 01 Apr 03 - 10:30 AM
Art Thieme 01 Apr 03 - 11:46 AM
JennyO 01 Apr 03 - 11:56 AM
Blackcatter 01 Apr 03 - 11:22 PM
PiALaModem 01 Apr 03 - 11:51 PM
Stewie 02 Apr 03 - 01:52 AM
Mr Happy 31 Mar 09 - 09:56 AM
John P 31 Mar 09 - 01:34 PM
Will Fly 31 Mar 09 - 01:52 PM
Doug Chadwick 31 Mar 09 - 02:20 PM
Stringsinger 31 Mar 09 - 06:05 PM
Mr Happy 01 Apr 09 - 06:36 AM
MikeofNorthumbria 01 Apr 09 - 12:47 PM
Gibb Sahib 01 Apr 09 - 03:05 PM
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Subject: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 29 Mar 03 - 11:46 PM

Folk Music is not a dead subject. There's no such thing as a "wrong" version of a Folksong, or the proper traditional version.
The true folk tradition, as pertains to the "proper version", is simply this, "SING IT THE WAY YOU LIKE IT. CHANGE IT TO SUIT YOURSELF". This is known as "THE FOLK PROCESS" It, the folk process, is not a dead issue. It is the very heart of the evolution of a song.

For Instance, take a look at the "Greenland Whale Fisheries". The earliest versions of this song that I've come across, were real stinkers. The poetry wasn't anywhere near as good as the more recent examples. The reason why I put this song up as an example of what I mean is simply that the date is in the first verse.

Now here are two recently added verses to "Away Rio" and I think they are every bit within the Folkl Tradition as any of the older verses.


(Note) The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut is a fine establishment and well worth visiting. Howevewr, one or two of their "Experts" don't know what they are talking (or writing) about.


AT MYSTIC THERE'S EXPERTS A-PLENTY, BY jEEZ,

AWAY RIO

BUT, I WOULDN'T GO SAILING WITH ANY OF THESE

AND WE'RE BOUND FOR THE RIO GRAND

                   II
THEY'VE GOT THESE HERE EXPERTS ALL OVER THE PLACE
\
AWAY RIO

WHO DON'T KNOW THEIR ASS FROM THE "YANKEES'" THIRD BASE

AND WE'RE BOUND FOR THE RIO GRAND

A note for "Britts":   The phrase, " He don't know his ass from third base", is in common usage here. It means, quite simply that the person, to which this is applied, doesn't know what he (or she) is talking about. The "New York Yankees" are a major league baseball team.


I am long winded, aint I?
.
Jody


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 01:45 AM

Naw Jody.

If that's as long as you can go, there's a dozen or more people here that can surpass you, but keep trying! :-)

I have to admit that I'm not exactly sure what you're drivin' at, or what's your actual question.

Are you asing what is the folk music tradition?

or - what is the meaning of tradition in folk music?


I think few of us around hear would think that music of any sort should be chisled in stone and never changed. Most of us are performers in one way or another and I doubt that any try to completely recreate the way they first heard a song. So in folk music, tradition may actually be defined by change, as I think you assert (it's late here and I'm listening to some nice quiet Jimmy Buffett, so I am not thinking clearly - but I am beginning to sober up).

As for people improving on songs - that has to occasionally happen - but the opposite is even more likely true. For my part, since I tend to perform trad. Irish/ Scot, etc. songs to people who know little of the culture, slang, etc. sometimes I explain what I'm singing and occasionally I edit the song to be more readilly understandable. Does it improve the song? Probably not, but it allows my audience to enjoy it more. And that's kind of what performance is all about.

By the way - where exactly is "He don't know his ass from third base" in common usage? I'm not questioning that it's true, it's just that I've never even heard the phrase before and I'm quite the baseball fan. But I'm in Orlando, not in NYC or other places. I may start using it though. Life is too short to not use every baseball cliche you've ever heard.


By the way - I'm also one of the miscreants around here who can go on for a long time.

ta


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 03:36 AM

Jody: We over here know of the Yankees, and use the expression:
He doesn't know his arse from his elbow, or ;
He doesn't know his arse from a hole in the ground.

An ass however is a member of the horse family!

A Brit.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 04:19 AM

Hey, Black cater pm:

I don't change words or music unless it improves on the original, or corrects some error in terminology.This is, however very rare, and I can't recall the last time I did that. I do change the meter sometimes. For instance, I do "The Old Rugged Cross" in 2/4 instead of 3/4. I heard Cris Barber's Jazz Band do an instrumental; version in 2/4 and I liked it, so that 's the way I sing it. I also recorded "Farewell to Tarwaithe" with 5-string banjo and Steel Guitar doing the lead backup.
I can almost hear the cries of "outrage" and "Horror". from the "Folk music fascists".

Does your wife call you "King Nebuchudnezzer" when you babble on?
Mine does, and she's doing it right now.

bye

Jody Gibson


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Gurney
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 04:23 AM

Nigel, there was once an old joke in England about a confused sailor who didn't know his Madras from his Elba.

And to the subject; I'd prefer a whole new lyric, a parody, rather than just a verse or two in a Shanty, unless you are one of that rare breed, a working Shantyman. Just my opinion.

However, I have been guilty, as in..
"The Duke of Edinborough gets his finger out...earlie in the morning."
Sorry, Sir and Ma'am.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: GUEST,Jon
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 05:50 AM

The reason why I put this song up as an example of what I mean is simply that the date is in the first verse.

And which date for the Greenland Whale Fisheries would that be? See Abby Sale's comments here for example. Or are you suggesting that the date used in a version indicates its age?

Jon


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 08:20 AM

When Henry and Sid Kipper first appeared on the scene,I knew people who said that their versions of traditional songs would stop people singing the original songs.The reason songs become 'Traditional'is
simply that the song is strong enough to take what ever 'Folk' do to
the song,and any 'Folk Processing'that takes place will only be kept
as part of the song if more people think it is an improvement than not.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: GUEST,Richard L
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 12:27 PM

You mention that the earliest versions of Greenland Whale Fisheries that you found were "real stinkers". That's pretty objective. Can you give us a couple of examples, and why you don't like them.

Like a lot of hotbeds of folk music, Mystic Seaport has it's very knowledgable people, and those who are just having fun, and leave the scholarship to others. Rick Spencer and Jeff Kauffman really know their stuff. Have you heard their band 'Forebitter' (sp?)


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 02:02 PM

It is a lineage--a history--a process of being teansmitted from one person to another. Sometimes it is one-on-one and person-to person---as in oral tradition transmission. Sometimes it's electronic as in learning from records.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 02:36 PM

Blackcatter said, in part:

sometimes I explain what I'm singing and occasionally I edit the song to be more readilly understandable. Does it improve the song?

It's pretty arguable that it does. Maybe it doesn't help thescansion or the rhyme or something, but if it makes the song communicate better, by my way of thinking that's improving the song.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: greg stephens
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 05:31 PM

We have a thread up and running on the possible existence of the"folk police", and on this thread we have a reference to "folk music fascists" who object to singing "Farewell to Tarwathie" with a 5-string banjo. Accompanying songs with a banjo seems to me a perfectly commonplace thing to do, can we have a name and cicumstances for an occasion when anyone tried to prevent anyone from doing this? I have sung songs with some pretty weird accompaniments in my time, and I really can't remember a single occasion when anyone told me it was impermissible. Maybe I've led a sheltered life?


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 30 Mar 03 - 05:47 PM

Greg

Few would say it's impermissible, but I've heard plenty of comments about the fact that a song is a mandolin song while being played on banjo or what have you.

Dave - you're right. In one way is does improve the song. If people don't enjoy the song because they can't understand the message, what's the point?

As long as the original songs are archived and sung sometimes (I don't change very much - I perfer explanaion instead) it's a good thing.


Jody - I don't have a wife. Never figured out how to keep a lady around for longer than a few months. My friends celebrate the fact that I know a lot, but that I don't tend to run on in conversation.

I make my living as a historian and tour guide so I get a lot of chances to talk.

pax yall


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: GUEST,Richard L
Date: 31 Mar 03 - 09:51 AM

I'd have to take issue with CRANKEE's statement that there's "no such thing as a wrong version of a folksong".

Technically he's right. We can't agree on "what" is a folksong, therefore it would be a bit dumb to even venture further by disecting "how" that "folksong" is performed.

However, haven't you heard someone simply "murder" a song?

I'm told that back in the early sixties, that's EXACTLY the way some traditionalists reacted to Bob Dylan's treatment of traditional material.

A more adventuresome person than myself might well enjoy Barbry Ellen played by a grunge band, but I think I'll reserve the right to say "that version stinks"! If I'm being a fogey, so be it.

I was under the impression that the people at Mystic HAD to be knowledgable to work there.

Richard L


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Frankham
Date: 31 Mar 03 - 06:17 PM

Cranky Yankee, you answered the question in your first post. Did you actually want to to know or did you already know the answer and wanted someone to disagree with you? Either way, I like the topic because I believe that any light shed on the subject is informative.

I go with Art Theime's statement. The word "tradition" is significant because it has to do with honoring a legacy. I don't think a MacDonalds is a tradition or even traditional architecture for that matter.

I don't think "a million songs sold" is an evidence for a folksing either.

There has to be a cultural connection that has continuity over a period of time. It can be doggerel, too. It might even be a dirty song, one that's been transmitted from schoolyard to schoolyard over the years. There is such a thing as a "bad" folksong but then that gets subjective.

Why I think this discussion (even if it's unresolved) is important is that it illuminates a certain kind of expression that some of us have grown to love.
I differentiate this expression from that of a popular commercialized expression for the media. It's intention is different. It's not created to make money although in some cases it might, inadvertently. Initially, it might have started as a composed song for the stage or as in the case of Schubert Lieder, an art song but through the ages became changed very much like a rock gains a luster from a stream bed with water rushing over it.

Frank Hamilton

Sam Hinton described a printed version of a folk song as a photograph of a bird in flight.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 31 Mar 03 - 08:38 PM

Richard there's a difference between what you like and what is wrong (at least in my mind) I dislike most of contemporary pop (ok, ALL) but I don't think they're doing anything wrong.

To me, wrong, implys more in the way of censorship - It's a quick step from a community deciding that an particular album is full of wrong lyrics to a point where their burning them in the town square.

The folk group I used to be in performed Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun. Most peole liked it and sung along, but one guy came up to us after a concert at the local library and said that if it was up to him, we would all be arrested for descerating a work of religious art. A year later, I was watching the David Letterman Show and saw an African American all-male choir do the same thing. And to a standing ovation.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: GUEST,Richard L
Date: 01 Apr 03 - 10:30 AM

Well put Blackcatter. I started humming 'Amazing Grace' to the well known version of 'House of the Rising Sun' and I definitely DON'T think you should have been jailed! It seems like a natural.

Richard L


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 01 Apr 03 - 11:46 AM

Frank,

Right on.

Art


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: JennyO
Date: 01 Apr 03 - 11:56 AM

Amazing Grace and The House of the Rising Sun share the same metre with other songs as well.

When our choir is having a bit of a sing at the pub, one thing we've been known to do is to put the words of our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, to other melodies. We've done it to House of the Rising Sun and Gilligan's Island. So try singing Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan's Island!


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 01 Apr 03 - 11:22 PM

Gilligan's Island works if you use the tune for Rising Sun or Amazing Grace, but don't try to sing the Gilligan lyrics to the other. There's that whole part at the end where it goes through the castaways names, that's in a different metre.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: PiALaModem
Date: 01 Apr 03 - 11:51 PM

A lot of topics introduced here.
Lyrics sung to other tunes: Woody Guthrie hardly ever created an original tune; he made new lyrics to old songs he remembered. For that matter, Emily Dickinson's poems are mostly written to the meter of hymns she heard in church. Some wicked juxtapositions occurred that way. To update it somewhat, try singing "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" to the tune of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"

Folk process: To me, the folk process, if it hasn't died quite entirely, was profoundly changed in the course of the last century with the burgeoning and widespread dissemination of recordings. Many songs "in flux" were forever fixed by recordings made by such as Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, the Weavers, and The Beach Boys. You can hardly deviate in performance from those canonical arrangements without people thinking you must have screwed up. It's like what photography did to representational painting. The one category in which the folk process is strong is in funny songs played by local bands. People sort of half-remember the lyrics and because they are tickled by a song's concept, they'll write new lyrics incorporating as much as they remember. Look at the various versions of "The Folksinger" (sung to the tune of "The Boxer") that are floating around on the web. This song was written by someone, yet the proliferation of versions has overwhelmed the original. A key aspect of this is that the song, if recorded at all, was not widely distributed.

Dylan's betrayal of folk: Look at "Positively Fourth Street" by David Hajdu for the way the Newport audience actually reacted to Bob Dylan's electric performance. There wasn't a vast walkout of folk traditionalists, and the critical reception wasn't outfaged either.

There, I've rambled on more than anyone here. Beat me up.

Regards,
Steve


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Stewie
Date: 02 Apr 03 - 01:52 AM

The image of the photograph of a bird in flight is striking - I think I first came across it in a Pete Seeger book. Another striking image related to 'tradition' is Utah Phillips' reference to learning from 'elders' who lived extraordinary lives in logging camps, factories and all manner of social settings. His image of 'tradition' is as 'a long stream that you are swimming through it, you bathe in it and, if you keep your eyes and ears open, part of the story will flow into you - you kind of roll it around in your head and give it your own quirk, and it flows out of you, back into the stream, the great river of the people, the people's long story'.

There probably never has been a 'folk' music as 'pure' as the classic folklorists would like it to have been. In general usage, as descriptive terms, 'folk' and 'tradition' seem to have become laden with so many contradictory meanings and assumptions as to be almost useless. I agree with those who suggest the overarching, and more inclusive, designation of 'vernacular music' or even the retrospective term 'roots music' may be more useful. I agree with Frank that it is a matter of respecting the old-timers and honouring the legacy, but this should be done without disqualifying new features of 'the tradition'. The term 'vernacular music' can encompass these more easily than 'folk tradition'.

A recent book that examines its subject in the light of 'vernacular music' is Benjamin Filene 'Romancing the folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music' Uni of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London 2000.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 09:56 AM

HHHHHHHmmmmmm........depends what's meant by 'tradition'

Like whose?


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: John P
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 01:34 PM

I have been accosted during gigs by people telling me I was doing it wrong. Three times, always by outraged purists. Perhaps some of the rudest experiences in my life. "Purist" and "folk process" aren't two concepts that go together in my mind.

I've been intrigued by someone on this thread, and some folks on other threads, who say the folk process was killed by writing things down and/or recording them. I think process is only dead if you let it be. As soon as a song in my repertoire is a couple of years removed from my source for it, the folk process has kicked in with lots of little changes. A lot of musicians make changes -- sometimes conscious and sometimes not -- to their material, and always have. This is part of where all those variants come from, and I don't see that process stopping.

I often look at written music like a road map. It's great to give you an idea of where you are going, but when you're actually driving you need to have your eyes on the road, not on the map.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Will Fly
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 01:52 PM

Hi John P - I believe 'twas me (among others) who said that the evolving process in traditional music had been stifled by the process of documentation.

I hear what you say, and I would agree that each of us as a performer will inevitably bring something of our own to a tune or a song - to the point, perhaps, where it's changed quite a lot. The problem seems to be that people will refer back to the original, whether you like it or not. Where there's no "original", then there's less of a reference point for fair or unfair comparison. However, I think more and more stuff has such a reference point now - including songs from the tradition - which is probably why you got your "outraged purists" accosting you! :-)

Such rudeness, I have to say, is unpardonable. We're all entitled to interpret any piece of music in our own way - people may disagree with it, and be very critical of it, but there's no excuse for animosity.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 02:20 PM

From: Stewie - PM
Date: 02 Apr 03 - 01:52 AM

..........................................................................................................................................
..........................................................................................................................................
..........................................................................................................................................      

From: Mr Happy - PM
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 09:56 AM
..........................................................................................................................................



Consecutive posts with the discussion continuing seamlessly as if there had been no time gap at all.

In view of the number of recent threads covering more or less the same ground, I'd be interested to know, Mr Happy, why you resurected this particular thread.

DC


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 31 Mar 09 - 06:05 PM

Mr. Happy asks "whose tradition?" It's a good question and easily answered. Each folk song has a tradition to back it up. Part of the job of learning to appreciate folk songs is
unearthing the tradition of the song by knowing something about the background of it,
who sang it and why and the history that surrounded it.

Punk Rock is not old enough to have a tradition. Nor is Disco (a manufactured dance music) or Alternative Rock (too nebulous to be defined) nor any of the other commercial branches of the music industry such as Hip Hop. You could argue that Hip Hop has antecedents that tie into the African American tradition of blues, dance music (sukey jumps and the like) and jazz. Even so, the category for the record bin does not constitute a "tradition" of music any more than a robot simulates a human being.

I still maintain that one of the hallmarks of a folk song is that it is accessible. Half to three-quarters of the output of the music industry that relies on extensive production
can't be sung with just a guitar and a voice or even reproduced vocally to the extent that it sounds like "something".

There are a lot of "sham-wow" entertainers today in the rock field who maintain a connection with a kind of image (maybe Post-modern) wherein they like to shock
others, dress oddly, and crusade for their "difference" from the tastes of the general public. Ugliness has become the new beauty.

Folk music tradition survives all this "tude" and pretense. It's carried on because it
is accessible to people who enjoy it for this reason. A good story, a good tune,
a poetic style (not Post-modern), in an appealing and honest voice will find an audience.
An important distinction: folk music lives. Commercial music can become folk eventually in time. It has to ripen.


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 01 Apr 09 - 06:36 AM

Doug,

My motive for resurrecting this thread is that this one addresses the question of 'tradition', whereas the other threads are less specific.

**************


What do I mean by 'whose tradition'?

Now there's a number of variables which may influence what we think 'tradition' is.



First it's necessary to examine the human groups or individuals who may be thought to have habitual ways of doing anything, but in particular to do with music.

Then there's the historical aspect.

For how long a period does something have to be enacted in a ritualised and precise way before it is considered 'traditional'?

**********

Get into groups & discuss!


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: MikeofNorthumbria
Date: 01 Apr 09 - 12:47 PM

Tradition ...what it it?

Well, for me, the tradition is mostly in the process, not the product.

Whenever people make music for themselves, or for their families, friends and neighbours (plus any casual passers-by), in exchange for no more than a little appreciation and perhaps a free drink, then that's Folk Music. Whatever the origins of the songs they sing, or the style in which they sing them.

On the other hand, whenever somebody performs for a paying audience and gets paid real money for doing it, then in my humble opinion what they're doing is Show Business - even if what they are delivering is guaranteed 100% traditional folk.

Just for the record, I don't have any grudge against Show Business and those who earn their living by it - good luck to all of them. And I'm not arguing that Folk Music is objectively "better" than Show Business, just a different activity which fulfils a different need.

Wassail!   
than


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Subject: RE: Folk Music Tradition, what is it?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 01 Apr 09 - 03:05 PM

Tradition is repetition of a practice, with some sort of ritual or cultural meaning behind it.

Without the ritual significance, it is more or a "custom."

People often require that the practice be repeated over a certain (long) length of time before they call it "tradition," but this is a subjective criterium. Even things that have been done, say, twice in two years, are sometimes called "tradition."


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