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defining the folk experience

johnfitz.com 05 Jan 04 - 12:23 PM
Art Thieme 05 Jan 04 - 03:56 PM
CarolC 05 Jan 04 - 04:37 PM
Amos 05 Jan 04 - 04:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Jan 04 - 05:33 PM
Tinker 05 Jan 04 - 07:28 PM
GUEST,Russ 05 Jan 04 - 08:03 PM
Blowzabella 05 Jan 04 - 08:36 PM
The Fooles Troupe 05 Jan 04 - 10:40 PM
Art Thieme 06 Jan 04 - 10:54 AM
McGrath of Harlow 06 Jan 04 - 03:21 PM
KateG 06 Jan 04 - 04:08 PM
GUEST,johnfitz.com 07 Jan 04 - 08:32 AM
The Fooles Troupe 07 Jan 04 - 06:06 PM
KateG 08 Jan 04 - 10:54 AM
Bill D 08 Jan 04 - 11:49 AM
The Fooles Troupe 08 Jan 04 - 05:18 PM
Bill D 08 Jan 04 - 05:49 PM
GUEST 09 Jan 04 - 07:23 PM
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Subject: defining the folk experience
From: johnfitz.com
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 12:23 PM

I am an 8th grade English teacher in MA. Today I sang The House Carpenter to my class as a way to introduce Sandra Cisneros--a modernist Mexican American writer. I was trying (and I think I was successful) to get the kids to make a leap: Instead of the story being forced on them I wanted them to force themselves into the story;In a sense I was telling them they were going to have to work to like this stuff, but if they did they might find it very powerful and moving. I was amazed how much they liked The House Carpenter. They had a blast filling in the unspoken implications of the song. My question is this: What do people think are the important trends and aspects that define the folk experience? I guess,in short, what would your syllabus look like if you were trying to teach an appreciation for the whole of folk music, from the early ballads to Ani DiFranco? I am new to the mudcat forum and have found it very informative and interesting. Thanks


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Art Thieme
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 03:56 PM

John,

Welcome to M'cat. Along with my other gigs, I managed to spend 22 years doing what I felt were informative and entertaining assembly programs and workshops (those for classroom groups following the show) in the eight counties surrounding the city of Chicago through an arts-in-education agency in Chicago called Urban Gateways. In general, my intention was, first, to show student K-12 that these songs could be historical documents that depicted what came before in the language of those who were THERE-----THEN. Were they accurate historically? Not necessarilly. They had elements of truth but also contained the dreams and the fantasies of the people. The songs showed how stuff was, and also how people wanted it to be. The songs were documents of Geography, History, Social Studies, Art, Music, Poetry and Literature too. ---- I was showing, also, how folks entertained themselves in times before TV, CD, DVD, VCR, Records, Radio and whatever.---Real home made entertainment.------ What you are doing is what the best teachers do. They force the kids to read between the lines in a way that is so enlightening to the students that they want to look at other aspects of their lives with the same analitical methods. When they do that, they come up seeing they can give many new and fascinating dimensions to things they formerly saw as being flat. The Gestalt, thus percieved, makes the conclusions greater than the sum of the parts.

Have I answered your query? I'm not sure, but this is what I strove to do.

All the best,

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: CarolC
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 04:37 PM

I think it would be an injustice to the "folk experience" to only define it in terms of "songs", and not recognise instrumental music as a very important part of the folk experience as well. In the context of an English class, an instructor could have students read a book such as Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx. For much younger students, the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder give a wonderful account of the important role instrumental music played in the lives of the "folk" in times past.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Amos
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 04:47 PM

The Gestalt, thus percieved, makes the conclusions greater than the sum of the parts.



Art Thieme has spoken with his usual elegance here and placed his finger on the nub of the matter. The human gestalt across time --carried by m usic and by song -- is why folk music is so important; it shows the changing and the unchanging parts equally well, to he who will see.

John Fitz, welcome to Mudcat! You sound like a natural!

A


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 05:33 PM

A key element, more especially in folk song, is something which is shared with literature, and it's something that John Fitz has evidently spotted. Folk song demands of people who get involved in it that they become co-creators. If you don't, you miss out on what it's all about.

That applies to people listening to songs as well as to those who get pulled in to singing them, though there is an easy and natural progress from one to the other.

That isn't true in the same sense of the kind of process involved in watching a film or a TV play. Or for that matter to the process involved with much pop music. Songs outside the normal understanding of folksong can share this characteristic, and they te nd to be the ones which cross over, and get sung in folk circles.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Tinker
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 07:28 PM

Margaret Walker's Jubilee integrates the songs and hymns of the antebelum period throughout the book. My son's eigth grade class read the book, but never touched the music. They missed alot.

The kids especially liked using the the music from yazoo records for projects on later periods. The Roots of Rap was an eye opener and the concept of Rent Parties brought a whole era alive.

Searching for labor songs or immigration will give you multiple threads and sugestions. Good Luck.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 08:03 PM

Some of the contributors to this thread have touched on this but I want to STRESS it.

A mind-boggling amount of time, energy and money are spent to convince people that music is a commodity that they (as ordinary people) should be purchasing from professional performers (special people).

I don't want to start a definitional debate about "the folk experience" but it seems to me that a key element is that it takes advantage of but still manages to bypass or do an end run around all the standard informational distribution channels.

It is about what individuals think of as worthy of being passed on to other individuals rather than what "big media" thinks is worthy of being passed on to huge aggregates of individuals.

Anyway, my point is that please make sure the kids understand that if they like "House Carpenter" then why not learn it and pass it on. At the grassroots level of folk tradition they are as worthy of presenting something they care about as any professional making the mega bucks.

People entertaining themselves is not a once-upon-a-time thing. It is happening even as we speak.

My wife and I sang to my wife's grandmother (now 101) "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender" many years ago. She was so pleased to hear the version my wife learned from her. It reminded her of an episode from her childhood. She remembered teaching "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender" to a playmate as they rocked on a teeter-totter to keep the rhythm.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Blowzabella
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 08:36 PM

i don't know how relevant this is, but, for what it is worth, I have this quotation from William Butler Yeats above my desk...

"Folk-art is indeed the oldest of the aristocracies of thought and, because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere and, because it has gathered into itself the simplest and most unforgettable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all art is rooted"


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 05 Jan 04 - 10:40 PM

CarolC beat me to it
- there's much more than just songs to folk music. The tunes were also used for dancing. Indeed there are some tunes in existence that were originally from songs with sung words, but the words have perished.

"None but the tune remains"...

... hey that's catchy, I like that...

:-)

Also other "folk music making" existed - whistling, rhythm with "found objects", making "piano"s by sticking knives into a table, t-chest basses, barndoor basses (there's quite a few threads here on such subjects) the Aussie rhythm stick fashioned from a broomstick and beer bottle tops which I'm sure Bob Bolton and other can tell you about...

there's so much...

Robin


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Art Thieme
Date: 06 Jan 04 - 10:54 AM

..and also remember that a ballad tells a story and in that context the tune is to enhance the telling of that tale. The story songs can be simply read to one's self or out loud but never so emotionally as when the tune and the chords tug at the heartstrings and help bring the tears and laughter.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 06 Jan 04 - 03:21 PM

And as well as that there are stories which are told rather than sung, and that's a very important part of "folk" as well. And good oral storytelling has that same quality of bringing in the listeners to do part of the work in their heads, filling in the gaps and the details.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: KateG
Date: 06 Jan 04 - 04:08 PM

Has anyone done any work on the human need to fill silence? Today we tend to do it mindlessly with radio, tv or recorded music. But in other times and places, people made their own music as they worked. Singing, whistling, field hollers, chanteys etc. were probably as much a part of the environment as canned music is today.

As a young woman I spent a great deal of time on archaeological sites in the remoter parts of England, Scotland and Scandinavia, and they were never silent. Someone was always singing or humming; sometimes to themselves, at other times a group would take up the song. And we generally sang "trad" songs. Partly due to the antiquarian nature of the group, but also I think because traditional songs are easier to sing. Contemporary popular music is often so wedded to the instrumental and percussive accompanyment that the songs can't stand on their own (though obviously there are exceptions).


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: GUEST,johnfitz.com
Date: 07 Jan 04 - 08:32 AM

Thanks everybody. I've shared all your comments with my class just to show that that there are people out there who still give a damn. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 07 Jan 04 - 06:06 PM

KateG has a good point about instrumental and percussive dominance in modern (commercial pop) music. Should we take it up here, or start another thread?

Robin


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: KateG
Date: 08 Jan 04 - 10:54 AM

It's probably another thread. Although the thread about songs that we never get sick of contains a lot of material by contemporary singer/songwriters, eg Dylan, Bill Staines etc. even if they can't be classified as commercial pop.


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Bill D
Date: 08 Jan 04 - 11:49 AM

I somehow missed this several days ago, but I am happy to find it JUST for the wonderful point made by 'guest' Russ about the whole point of what 'folk' is supposed to be about!

"It is about what individuals think of as worthy of being passed on to other individuals rather than what "big media" thinks is worthy of being passed on to huge aggregates of individuals."


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 08 Jan 04 - 05:18 PM

"Big media" has only one driving force - making money. There are many stories about how some "media w*****" rejected some artist as being "no good" who went on to make some other "media w*****" lots of money, precisely because "the public" liked their first efforts.

ABC TV played the 1991 Billy Joel "talking concert" the other night, most of what he has produced has become "folk style music". And he only had a piano - so when he was asked to play some of his output, he would refuse because it only worked with certain other instruments or percussive additions - does this mean that some of his music is NOT "folk music"?

Robin


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: Bill D
Date: 08 Jan 04 - 05:49 PM

oh, my! do you suppose..???


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Subject: RE: defining the folk experience
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Jan 04 - 07:23 PM

John Fitz.com

All the best


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