Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafesj

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home


What makes a traditional song?

Barb'ry 11 Jul 03 - 01:49 PM
Big Mick 11 Jul 03 - 01:59 PM
Ed. 11 Jul 03 - 02:19 PM
Mr Red 11 Jul 03 - 02:22 PM
greg stephens 11 Jul 03 - 02:32 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Jul 03 - 02:33 PM
Bernard 11 Jul 03 - 03:32 PM
GUEST,Q 11 Jul 03 - 04:15 PM
John Routledge 11 Jul 03 - 04:40 PM
Herga Kitty 11 Jul 03 - 04:43 PM
Ed. 11 Jul 03 - 05:28 PM
GUEST 11 Jul 03 - 07:43 PM
GUEST,Q 11 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM
Frankham 11 Jul 03 - 08:03 PM
Frankham 11 Jul 03 - 08:06 PM
Cluin 11 Jul 03 - 08:31 PM
Raggytash 11 Jul 03 - 08:54 PM
GUEST, GEST 11 Jul 03 - 09:19 PM
musicmick 11 Jul 03 - 10:43 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 Jul 03 - 11:16 PM
Amos 12 Jul 03 - 12:12 AM
greg stephens 12 Jul 03 - 02:10 AM
banjoman 12 Jul 03 - 06:38 AM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Jul 03 - 07:28 AM
Yvonne 12 Jul 03 - 08:53 AM
Barb'ry 12 Jul 03 - 06:45 PM
Naemanson 12 Jul 03 - 08:45 PM
Art Thieme 12 Jul 03 - 09:17 PM
GUEST,Q 12 Jul 03 - 09:22 PM
Podger 12 Jul 03 - 10:57 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM
Deckman 13 Jul 03 - 12:29 AM
Hrothgar 13 Jul 03 - 07:11 AM
Podger 13 Jul 03 - 09:37 AM
John Routledge 13 Jul 03 - 10:43 AM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Jul 03 - 02:43 PM
John Routledge 13 Jul 03 - 02:47 PM
Bill D 13 Jul 03 - 03:16 PM
GUEST,Phumbling Philosopher 13 Jul 03 - 03:52 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Jul 03 - 08:38 PM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Jul 03 - 10:08 PM
GUEST,Diva 14 Jul 03 - 06:39 AM
Kevin Sheils 14 Jul 03 - 06:47 AM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Jul 03 - 07:01 AM
Frankham 14 Jul 03 - 08:56 AM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Jul 03 - 10:21 AM
DebC 14 Jul 03 - 10:23 AM
GUEST,purgo 14 Jul 03 - 10:30 AM
DebC 14 Jul 03 - 11:13 AM
GUEST,purgo 14 Jul 03 - 11:30 AM
Frankham 14 Jul 03 - 12:53 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Jul 03 - 01:35 PM
DebC 14 Jul 03 - 01:36 PM
GUEST,Boab d 14 Jul 03 - 01:55 PM
GUEST,Diva 14 Jul 03 - 01:59 PM
Candyman(inactive) 14 Jul 03 - 02:09 PM
greg stephens 14 Jul 03 - 02:34 PM
Frankham 14 Jul 03 - 06:29 PM
GUEST,Diva 15 Jul 03 - 06:18 AM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Jul 03 - 09:57 AM
Share Thread
more
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:













Subject: What makes a traditional song?
From: Barb'ry
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 01:49 PM

I'm sure this has been asked before (yes, I've looked!) but I'm going to a ballad workshop tomorrow and we are going to look at the things that make a 'folk' song. It would be good to hear what others think too. We aren't looking at modern tunes and whether they are, or when they can be called 'folk' etc, just at the real 'oldies'.
It's really got me thinking (and in this heat it takes a lot to do that) about story line, which person is telling the tale, how the tale is told etc.
Anyway, thought I'd throw this to you lot to define for me!
Barbara xx


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Big Mick
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 01:59 PM

O' Lord, have mercy on this child for s/he knows not what s/he hath wrought on this wonderful creation of thine known as Mudcat.

I would look up posts by Art Theime on this subject. His definition is probably the most cogent.

All the best,

Mick


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Ed.
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 02:19 PM

LOL, Mick!

Barb'ry, this thread is a good starting point for Mudcatters thoughts on your question.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Mr Red
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 02:22 PM

Time will tell.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 02:32 PM

tradition?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 02:33 PM

This is a traditional thread on the Mudcat.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Bernard
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 03:32 PM

It is of anonymous origin...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 04:15 PM

"If I say it's trad, it is!. What, it was written by Joseph Peediddle in 1701? Nonsense, it dates back to the time of Alfred the Great."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: John Routledge
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 04:40 PM

Barb'ry - I think that I know what a traditional song is but can't describe it :0)

To me the description Traditional Style hides a multitude of sins.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 04:43 PM

Out of copyright?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Ed.
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 05:28 PM

Football chants?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 07:43 PM

A traditional person?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 07:46 PM

It has always been done that way...


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Frankham
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 08:03 PM

At the risk of sounding repetitive and incurring all kinds of discussion if not down-right emnity depending on the level of passion involved I repeat:

A traditional folksong is one which has variations (variants)and has accumulated these over a period of time from having been sung by many people. It usually is associated with a cultural sub-group or community. Sometimes the original author can be found but the song has changed. IE: Angelina Baker by Stephen Collins Foster becomes Angeline the Baker and a fiddle dance tune. Maud Irvings "Wildwood Flower" is morphed by the Carter Family and takes on a different life of it's own. It might be a quasi-folksong. Barbara Allen was all but forgotten until it emerged in print and became active againin the folk process.

You don't write a folk song. It becomes one through having been sung and changed through the years. You can however write a folk-style song which Alan Lomax has referred to as an "art song". Was Woody a folksinger? Yes and no. Yes in a way because he brought to his writing a style that was consistent from his background from Oklahoma and messed with trad material such as the Buffalo Skinners to participate in the process. No, in that he composed specific songs in a folklike style. Both he and Jean Ritchie brought to their compositions a sense of integrity and cultural continuity because of their respective backgrounds which means that when they composed music in a folk-style it has the ring of authenticity to it.
Technically, as great as those songs are, they haven't stood the test of time to make them folksongs as of yet. In a hundred years maybe someone will collect variants of them and they will have become folk songs.

This should stir up a response.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Frankham
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 08:06 PM

BTW I believe that Sam Hinton, folklorist, performer and Renaissance man who refers to himself as a "singer of folk songs" put it this way.
"A folksong in print is like a picture of a bird in flight."

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Cluin
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 08:31 PM

A traditional songwriter


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Raggytash
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 08:54 PM

Ted Edwards won the Leigh Folk Club "Tradtional Folk Song of the Year Award" in 1974 with Coal Hole Cavalry which he wrote in ...........1974 .............sorry 1972 ......just checked the orginal manuscript ...................The answer must be people's perception ............consider Barratts Privaters by Stan Rogers or numerous songs by Jimmy Miller (AKA Ewan McColl)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST, GEST
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 09:19 PM

Coincidentally, I just finished transcribing the Sharecroppers' A Traditional Song from their CD, "Home, Boys!" released last week. Haven't even done a spell check yet. ~grin~ :-)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: musicmick
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 10:43 PM

Frank is correct to a point. His recognition of the connection between a folksong and a folk (an identifiable group) is right on the money but he may be in error in his insistance that a folksong needs ripening and what we used to call the "Folk Process", variation through the oral tradition. In fact, there is lots of room for recently composed material within his well considered guidelines.
Protest songs that are employed by a movement can be folksongs by their ritual use. Examples include Gil Turner's "Carry It On", Lee Hays' "The Hammer Song" and "Amen", which was written by the old man who used to play on the TV show of the same name (I'm sure that someone will provide his name for us.). How about the one that goes, " If you don't see me on the back of the bus, you won't see me nowhere"? I know the Mac Leach and Kenny Goldstein were big on the Folk Process thing, but I think that even they would have stretched it for songs from the movement, especially the songs that were sung on the line. And, while we're at it, how would you classify group parodies and recently written holiday standards like "Rudolf, The Rednosed Reindeer", "Frosty, The Snowman", "White Christmas" and, God help us, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer".


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 Jul 03 - 11:16 PM

Perception is certainly a factor. If enough people believe that they have seen a giant wild cat in Surrey, for example, received wisdom will, after a time, dictate that there must have been one there in order for people to have seen it, even if the only captured suspects turned out, at the time, to be ordinary dogs and other, more puzzling mammals like hedgehogs. ("Surry Puma", 1960s, Shooters Hill area, for example; and many more since). Repeat it often enough, and "Giant Marauding Cannibal Carrot" will, if enough people accept the definition because it suits them to do so, enter dictionaries as "also, a small furry and affectionate marsupial".

This has no bearing whatever on what went before, but it will be there on paper, with the authority of print, and people will quote it at you. The fact that they may not have the remotest idea what they are talking about will not in the least affect their certainty that they are right. All definitions change with time; what does not change is what a word, or term, meant to the people who used it at the time they used it. This is a thing often forgotten, or ignored, in discussions of this kind; which is one reason why such discussions rarely lead anywhere except to mutual incomprehension, misapprehension, and reprehension.

The best way of reaching a sensible view is not to ask people like us, but to read a few good books. I speak here from a British viewpoint; substitute American authorities if that's where you live. Find out what Cecil Sharp or Ralph Vaughan Williams understood as "folk music" or "traditional music"; then what Ewan MacColl or Bert Lloyd thought; then look at the more recent perceptions of people like Gerald Porter, David Buchan, or Georgina Boyes (to name, at random, a few of many). They will all differ, and may sometimes be wrong on certain counts, but all have valuable -and often contradictory as well as complementary- insights to offer.

Just don't ask the record companies, or the singer-songwriters. You might as well ask what "Celtic" music is (but please don't).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Amos
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 12:12 AM

The fact that they may not have the remotest idea what they are talking about will not in the least affect their certainty that they are right.

Ahh, Malcolm, the tribulations of Western civilization in a nutshell!! Well put!

A


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: greg stephens
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 02:10 AM

This discussion can never be resolved, but it's always worth discussing.Obviously we can never reconcile people who think Stan Rogers' Barret's Privateers is a traditional folksong, and people who think it isnt.All you can do is state your position. Mine being that songs like Barret's Privateers are clearly, obviously and unarguably not traditional (or Folk)songs. They might conceivably in the fullness of time turn into traditional songs.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: banjoman
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 06:38 AM

I believe that the "Tradition" is in the singing and not neccessarily in the content. The tradition of singing in pubs/ale houses/public/gatherings etc far outdates most of the material considered by diehard folkies to be traditional. Therefore, anything which can be sung live either accomanied or not fits the bill, although most of has have a preference as to style or presentation. We should be giving thought to maintaining the tradition of singing especially with the massive reduction in music teaching in schools. Lots of youngsters I know think that music is something that comes from a black box slung around the neck or in your pocket.
It is up to us to keep live music really alive


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 07:28 AM

I think discussion are less likely to go in circles when the trermn "traditional" is dropped and "in the tradition" replaces it.

("In what tradition?" - that's what I mean by "less likely to go in circles", it's a question that moves a discussion on.)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Yvonne
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 08:53 AM

Barbara, this is a question I have asked many times. Everyone has so many different views!

The more people began to tell me how to sing--what to sing--what was traditional and what wasn't-- the more I became strung out about my music and worry over whether the song was 'Traditional' or not--or whether I was putting the right emphasis on the right word--or breathing where I should--or when I shouldn't!! I began to 'worry' more than 'enjoy'.

I also began to realise that the people with the strongest, unwavering views were almost always the most competitive---each song had to be sung the closest to perfection as possible and what became most apparent was that the songs were sang perfectly but they concentrated so much on 'getting it right' that the 'heart' went out of the song because they forgot to 'live and feel' the 'story' they were telling.   

As I know absolutely nothing about most of the songs I sing, I do appreciate being told where songs come from--who may have written them--collected them, the history of the story behind them etc.I like to hear other people's versions of them and what different styles can be lent to them--but I DEFINATELY no longer appreciate being told how to sing them!!!

The most important thing to me is-- if it paints a vivid picture in my mind and I can 'feel' the words then it is the ballad for me! I have not a care anymore if it is 'in tradition' or not.

Enjoy your discussion but keep your own style. The last time I heard you sing was in a very crowded pub and there was a noticeable 'hush' (more than normal) as you began to sing. That was because you sang from the 'heart' with a style that was purely your own-- you have a wonderful, lovely, different voice-- an absolute joy to hear--just sing your songs and enjoy!!


Yvonne


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Barb'ry
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 06:45 PM

Oh thank you Yvonne..so have you! And thanks to everyone for confusing me even more!
Must come to the next mudcat bash to hear more of you singing.
Barbara xx


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Naemanson
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 08:45 PM

It has to be 127.4 years old.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 09:17 PM

Barbara,

Coming to hear us sing will only confuse you more. ;-)

Art Thieme


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 09:22 PM

Comments after reading the post by Diz.
Why do performers worry about this?
There should be only three questions-
Do I like the song?
Does it fit my style?
Does it communicate something I want to leave with the audience?

Leave the rest to those (like me) who get all wrapped up in dates, history, composers, and the minutiae.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Podger
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 10:57 PM

Malcolm,

Tradition has it that the giant wild cat in Surrey is Old Shuck.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM

No, that's the giant spectral dog in Norfolk!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Deckman
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 12:29 AM

I also feel that you are asking an impossible question. Let me put another spin on it by my answer. I consider myself a singer of traditional songs. And I am, just ask me and I'll tell you so. My friends who enjoy my singing, and especially my children, have NO doubts what is meant by my singing of "traditional songs."

The ONLY problem with definition happens when you want to make some kind of a universal application. It ain't 'gonna happen. Why even try?

When Bob Nelson sings his songs, people come and listen because they want to and they know what to expect. They are traditional songs. Perhaps the "tradition" is only as old as Bob Nelson hisself, but it his tradition.

I'm not trying to play word games, and I'm sure that I have not added to a final answer to this question, but it sure works for me! CHEERS, Bob


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Hrothgar
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 07:11 AM

Being a couple of years old is a good start.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Podger
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 09:37 AM

Old Shuck has been seen in all of the home counties and also further west.

But don't worry about it, I was just having fun.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: John Routledge
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 10:43 AM

Guest Q

Thanks for your wonderful summary.It seems to answer all of Diz's concerns in seven lines.

If the song to be sung answers "yes" to your three questions then any problems are with the audience.!!

However if after these tests there is an allergic reaction from the audience then a new venue is probably appropriate.

I along with many many others would much rather hear a song sung with feeling than a "perfectly" sung song without involvement.

Keep singing everybody.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 02:43 PM

Traditionally real traditional singers tend to sing anything they like the sound of.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: John Routledge
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 02:47 PM

:0) :0)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 03:16 PM

if we discudd this too much, we will just end up arguing about language, because no one can force anyone else to use the words in the same way...but you can see where some of the trends are going:

it is not uncommon to differentiate between 'traditional' and 'folk', as some feel that one of those words should mean songs for which no one author is known, which the other should refer to songs which are passed down orally, even IF the author is known...but they don't necessarily agree on which word..*grin*

Some want to simplify the definition by calling any song faintly resembling acoustic music done for fun as 'folk', and others resort to silly slogans like "I never heard a horse sing it, so it must be folk"...which solves nothing.

I agree personally with greg stephens back up there....there ARE songs which are clearly traditional, and there are some which have their applications in...like Woodie Guthrie's and Stan Rogers'..etc..

one way to approach this is to get a LOT of songs that almost everyone seem to agree are folk/trad, and extract a list of characteristics they have in common, and ask how they are different from songs which almost NO one thinks are trad...This lets you at least draw some lines, even if they are a bit fuzzy.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Phumbling Philosopher
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 03:52 PM

I made a close companion to Malcolm's statement as quoted by Amos, above. I can't remember where I saw an earlier version, and I claim originalty only for the wording, and not the content.


To the True Believer logic and facts are irrelevant.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 08:38 PM

Came across an intriguing variant on the singing horse yesterday. It was in a letter in one of the sections of The Guiardian, and here it is:

Readers, except those with a sense of the truly ridiculous, must be puzzling over your column on Cocteau (Déjà vu, July 5) in which he is quoted as having described a guitar as "a bidet that sings". Bidet's first meaning in French is "a small horse" - the word straddles both meanings - and the image of a guitar as a singing horse is, I submit, considerably less surreal than that of a singing bidet, and must therefore have been what Cocteau meant.
Heather Lloyd
University of Glasgow


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 10:08 PM

Cocteau was a funny chap. Have you ever seen any of his drawings? I can quite imagine him seeing a guitar (literally) as a musical bidet. Heather Lloyd's reading is probably right, but I'd be surprised if J.C. didn't have that double meaning well in mind. He had a fine sense of the surreal and the right way of representing it in film (remember Orphée travelling into the Land of the Dead through a mirror?) even if he had the occasional blind spot (the concluding scene of La Belle et la Bête looked more like a gay wish-fulfillment fantasy than the story really justified, but I think he took it absolutely seriously).

As we veterans may be constrained to agree, anyone who quotes that "horse music" business nowadays without a very obvious tongue in cheek, is either a rank beginner, or an idiot. There may be some mileage where the bidet is concerned, perhaps.

"It's all f*** music. Ain't never heard a toilet singing."

No, that can't be right. I'm quite sure that I've heard toilets singing (though only on fairly unusual days) but it was a quite different repertoire.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 06:39 AM

We have this "problem" every year at Newcastleton in the Traditional singing competition. This year, one of the judges made a brave attempt saying "if you don't think its traditional,then best not to sing it" (or something like that)..........we still got a couple of Hamish Henderson songs. Ho Hum. :-))))))


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Kevin Sheils
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 06:47 AM

I think it was Bert Lloyd on being asked a similar question replied along the lines of....

I know whether a song is traditional or not in the same way as I know when it's day and when it's night, but at dawn and dusk I couldn't swear where one ends and one starts.

or something like that.

I know what he meant.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 07:01 AM

And as I've pointed out bfore, horses do sing in their own way.

But I think it is rather important to observe the distinction between bidets and toilets is rather important. They may superficially appear similar, but they work differently. A bit like the distinction between songs which are "in the tradition" and those which aren't.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Frankham
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 08:56 AM

Musicmic, thank you for your considered response.

I must take exception to the inclusion of recently composed material as being folk music.

"Protest songs" is a label that has been co-opted by the recording business to define a certain type of song. These songs serve a particular function and that is a kind of agit-prop to furthur a political philosophy. The songs cited "Carry It On", "Hammer Song" and although I'm not familiar with the song "Amen" I would assume it follows the style of the first two.

I have nothing against "agit-prop" or so-called "protest" songs and enjoy singing them upon occasion and especially at union functions or where they are appropriate. They are, however, not folk songs because they are utiliarian. Their function is to promulgate a political point of view which I may or may not agree with. This would be true of the songs of the Civil Rights Movement which I concurr with ideologically and enjoy immensely.

I don't know what Kenny thought about the "folk process" but as he studied the form intensely it is my feeling that he would have exempted the songs that you mentioned as being folk songs in the academic sense.

Parodies are a special case. They might become folk songs in time. But their style of writing has a specific function that is cerebral and not always reflective of a specific sub-culture. Anyone can wrie a parody but it doesn't automatically become a folk song. It often remains a single example and not a song variant. To be a folk song, it should contain variants that have spread over time.


"Rudolf, The Rednosed Reindeer", was a composed song that may be in the process of becoming a folk song if enough people change it and reinterpret it. It still is sung in it's original form as a pop song solidified by Gene Autry.


"Frosty, The Snowman", "White Christmas" and, God help us, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer".

These still remain composed songs whose authors are identifiable. "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin is not sung in variants by anyone from any sub-culture I've ever known. However, there is a Russian version of the song, "Brother Can You Spare A Dime" by Yip Harbourg which might be a contender because it's in a foreign language and could turn up somewhere in the Steppes of Central Asia. "White Christmas", however, remains intact as the composer intended and God help anyone who reprints a parody or another version of it. The copyright law would be strictly enforced by the Berlin estate. On the other hand, if someone writes a version of Barbara Allen, no problem.

"Frosty the Snowman" hasn't been changed at all. Now if someone rewrites Silent Night, it would prove no problem although the composer and author of "Stille Nacht" are identifiable. There in fact might be uncollected variants of this song in Germany but that's speculative. The "Granma" song is just a funny pop song, if you like that kind of humor. There just isn't a case for any of those song being folk songs although they appear to be accessible. But don't try to change those songs in print if you don't want to be sued. However, take any folk song and change it any way you like. No problem with copyright. It's PD and can be defended in court. Does the rewrite version become a folk song? Perhaps in time if a cultural sub-group picks it up and disseminates it and it is changed furthur.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 10:21 AM

They are, however, not folk songs because they are utiliarian.

I don't think that in itself is a criterion. Can't get much more utilitarian than shanties and other work songs, for example, songs for getting a job done. Or even lullabies. I can't see how "Miner's Lifeguard" or "Which Side Are You On?" are essentially different.

Copyright considerations paradoxically could in some cases promote the folkification of songs, by ensuring that variants and parodies get transmitted orally rather than through the music industry. Oral transmission is the key to producing variants, because of faulty memory.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: DebC
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 10:23 AM

This has been a very interesting thread and I really appreciate the input here, especially from Frank, Bill D and others. As for the "what is folk and what isn't" discussion (one that I have not participated in for years now) I am more concerned with background on songs rather than whether they are folk or not.

As a singer of both traditional and contemporary songs, I believe it is extremely important to know where a song comes from if it is possible. In the past, I have made the mistake of thinking a song was traditional when it actually wasn't. This was the case of the song "Copper Kettle". I came to find out that it was written (or composed) by Albert Frank Beddoe and have since always introduced it as such. Since then, I make every attemmpt to try to find out the background of a song.

I think that the "credit where credit is due" axiom is very important, especially when one is performing or recording songs. I would hope that singers would do their research and in the very least, know a bit of background about the songs they sing. I have heard Cyril Tawney's songs introduced as written by Ewan MacColl, I have heard singers actually make-up background information on traditional songs, all because they didn't do the research. I am not judging anyone, I just think that a wee bit of education now and then is appropriate to make sure people have their information correct.

Anyway, great thread here, so carry on. :-)

Deb Cowan


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,purgo
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 10:30 AM

Hmmmmm- - is it REALLY that important for singers to research background to a song? It can be interesting, and gives a context for a song - but I'm not convinced it should be an obligation. I don't want to feel that I'm not allowed to sing a song until I've found out where it came from, who wrote it, what it was originally about etc etc. If I like a song then I want to SING it, I don't necessarily want to go any further than that.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: DebC
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 11:13 AM

Hi Purgo-I am not a writer and sometimes my thoughts don't come across as clearly as I would like them to.

I'm not saying it should be an obligation. :-). I am speaking from a performer's standpoint and I am saying that it makes *me* sad when I hear someone perform a song and give erroneous and mistaken information on the song to the audience. In the instances mentioned above, the performers were corrected by audience members as soon as the statements were made, which IMO detracted from their performances. I guess I would prefer a singer to either say "I don't know" or remain silent in their introductions of songs. But again, that is just my opinion.

I speak only for myself in this: I find that when I have some background on a song, especially a traditional one, I am able to relate to the lyrics and the story on a more personal level and my performance of the song (I feel)is enhanced. Again, this may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

As I stated above I believe that one should give credit to the composers and writers of songs if they be known, especially if you like the song enough to sing it. Not only is it a token of respect to the composer, but a common courtsey. Since much of my material is traditional and learned from other singers, I try to let my audience know who those singers are. Again, it is *my* way of attributing my sources, I suppose.

I don't think there are any "all or nothing" or "black and white" rules here (so what IS folk music??? ARRRGGGHHH! :-) ) This is just my opinion.

BTW-Jeff Davis wrote a wonderful piece on this very subject in the latest Folk Alliance newsletter. The newsletter is not online, but if anyone wants to PM me, I will give you Jeff's contact information and I am sure he will send you a copy.

All the best,
Debra Cowan


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,purgo
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 11:30 AM

ah - right - well I think that's partly why I don't fancy introducing songs with too much background, in case its the wrong background! As you say, its better to keep quiet than to get it all wrong. I think that to research all the songs you sing could get quite a heavy workload given that you'd need to be fairly meticulous to avoid passing on misconceptions. Good on you for doing it though - especially as it helps you get into the song - that has to be a good thing doesn't it!


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Frankham
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 12:53 PM

Hi McGrath of Harlow

"They are, however, not folk songs because they are utiliarian."

"I don't think that in itself is a criterion." you said.

What I meant is that they tended to be premeditated. The are written to foster a specific point-of-view. Chanteys of course and other work songs serve a utility but are not composed by any one person for that purpose. They evolve over time.

"Miner's Lifeguard" and "Which Side Are You On?" are different in the sense that they have been written for a political reason.
There's nothing wrong with that and I have sung both and enjoyed them.
They may in time prove to be legitimate folk songs. Meanwhile, Florence Reece wrote the latter song to the tune of an old hymn,
"Lay the Lilly-O" and is now the attributable author. However, when it was used in the South by the coal miners, new verses were added in the same fashion as the song "We Shall Overcome". In time, this might prove to be a folk song but as yet it's too young and not enough variants ensure that status.

As to the question of knowing the background of every song you sing, much of this is a constant process of getting new information. Folklore and folk music is not a rocket science and much misinformation is available with ease. How many people in the early days thought as I mentioned before that Waltzing Matilda was a waltz?
Digging into the background of the songs can be rewarding in your understanding of their evolution with the caveat that new information might change the value of what you know. I still don't think the final word is out for example on the song "Dixie" and maybe never will be.

An understanding to the ability that you can of a certain song gives it a life in interpretation. It might be the wrong one but that's sometimes hard to tell. But there is value in knowing what we can and sharing that knowledge through the song. Without some understanding of what the song means (requiring the background that's known) what value can it really have? Maybe only to express a viewpoint of the individual singer. This may have some value if the performer wants to "rewrite" the meaning for his/her own purpose.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:35 PM

The status of hymns is a bit ambiguous. We talk quite easily abour "traditional hymns", even when their composers are perfectly well known - and typically they will exist in various slightly different variants, especially when the same hymns are sung by different denominations. And Miners Lifeguard is still in many ways still a hymn, rewritten for secular purposes.

But hymns are pre-eminently "written to foster a specific point-of-view". And yet I'd think that a fair number would qualify as traditional in every sense of the word, not just as "traditional hymns". Amazing Grace being a case in point (and Lord of the Dance is undoubtedly destined to achieve the same status).


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: DebC
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:36 PM

Ahhh! Mr. Hamilton to the rescue! Your last two paragraphs explain quite eloquently what I meant to say.

Thanks, Frank.

Deb Cowan


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Boab d
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:55 PM

Easy as this well this is what I think
you remember a song that your grand parents used to sing to your mother that was handed down and then your mother sang it to you and then you in turn sing it to your children well thats tradition and because its been handed down for generations but all a wee bitty different then there is always slight changes from every generation. So its really the habbit and continual singing of the previous generations and the reason for it be it a soothing song for babies or a fighting song for men in fact it can be about anything or it can be about nothing just a nice tune. But I think that the answer is definetly in the question
Dylan


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 01:59 PM

What Deb said!!!!!! When I started singing (many years ago) I would just stand there like a haddie and say the name of the song I was going to sing and then just launch into it. However, it is good manners to acknowledge the source of your song.   Look on it as presentation skills.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Candyman(inactive)
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:09 PM

Near as I can tell, the real traditional folksingers that I've had a chance to know, really couldn't care less about whether a song was traditional in an academic sense or how they came to learn it. They've just chosen songs that they've liked.

Missippi John Hurt introduced "Goodnight Irene" by saying he got from a Leadbelly record. He also sang popular material from records like "You Are My Sunshine" and "Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight."

Doc Watson has a large repertoire that was handed doen through his family, but it pales in comparison to the hundreds and hundreds of songs that he learned from radio and records. Everything from Jimmie Rodgers to the Monroe Brothers to the Everly Brothers to Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan.

I remember an afterhours session with Almeda Riddle, the great repository of traditional Ozark balladry, and she sang an a acapella version of Roger Miller's "King Of The Road."


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: greg stephens
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 02:34 PM

McGrath's comments that it is faulty memory that makes variation happen in folk/traditional song. I wouldnt deny it happens, and is quite possibly the most important source of variation, but I think conscious rewrites/improvements/deliberate changes (call them what you like). must surely have happened all the way along the line.


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: Frankham
Date: 14 Jul 03 - 06:29 PM

Hi Deb,

Thanks so much. I think that this is a worthwhile discussion don't you?

Hi Mcgrath.
You say,

" And Miners Lifeguard is still in many ways still a hymn, rewritten for secular purposes."

Miner's Lifeguard first appeared in the People's Songbook and was a re-write of the old hymn, "Life is Like A Mountain Railway" which is being sung today in the South. There was another re-write called "H-Bomb's Thunder" which appeared in Ewan McColl's and Peggy Seeger's "New City Songster." All attributable by contemporary author/composers.

The difference between a traditional folk hymn and a composed hymn still has to do with it's variants. Some traditional folk hymns have lost their original theological implications. The "Cherry Tree Carol" would be a good example of this. The point-of-view has long been lost.

Amazing Grace is interesting and may be in process. The man who wrote it was an avowed slave trader (a sea captain as I remember) and was enlightened. Has the song changed? It may have.

Lord of the Dance by Sydney Carter is a re-write on a traditional folk hymn called "Simple Gifts" which became an anthem of the Shaker community in New England. Sydney Carter is a fine songwriter and has written the lovely song, "George Fox". Both songs that he wrote owes a rhythmic nod to "Simple Gifts".

Hi Candyman

You're absolutely right that traditional folksingers couldn't care less about the status of their songs. But they are not folk song collectors or maybe particularly interested in the "folk process".
Jean Ritchie is a notable exception. She is a combination of trad folksinger and scholar. A rare and wonderful combination.

A distinction has to be made between the songs and the singer. A traditional folk singer who emanates from a specific sub-culture may elect to sing Schuber Leider. That doesn't change their relationship to their tradition. Doc Watson may sing "Over the Rainbow" and might be questionably compared to say Judy Garland, but when he sings a traditional ballad, there's no question that he is a fine traditional folk singer.

Although Doc has an extensive repitiore, it has to be acknowledged that his significance other than his guitar genius is as a genuine traditional folksinger. When he sings those songs, it's a master.

There is no rule that a traditional folksinger has to sing a traditional folksong all the time. Interesting in that when they do they bring certain musical elements to the non-trad folksong that are reflective of a trad folk music style. That's only because that's who they are. One might be right though to question whether they do that kind (pop, classical etc.)the best. For example, I don't think that the Leadbelly version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" is as musically compelling as Bessie Smith or jazz players who know the chord changes to the song.

Frank Hamilton


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 06:18 AM

Style and attitude?


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: What makes a traditional song?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 09:57 AM

"Lord of the Dance by Sydney Carter is a re-write on a traditional folk hymn called "Simple Gifts" "

I wouldn't call it a "rewrite" - it's a new song, using the tune of the Shaker song. Shakers believed in dancing as a form of worship, which is the link.

"I adapted the melody" wrote Sydney Carter in hi scollection "Greenprint for Song". "I could have written another for the words (some people have), but this was so appropriate that it seemed a waste of time to do so. Also I wanted to salute the Shakers."

If variants make a folk song, Sydney Carter's have a flying start, since he believed in changing his songs, tune and words, as he felt like it. (Of Lord of the Dance he wrote "Sometimes for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense.'I dance in the morning when the world is begun...' It's worth a try.!)


Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:
More...

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
From:
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")


Mudcat time: 3 July 8:02 PM EDT

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.