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Is there a future for traditional music

19 Feb 00 - 03:45 AM (#181139)
Subject: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Sourdough

Thirty years ago, I was pretty sure that I knew what folk music was. It was traditional music, sung, unselfconsciously, by people who learned the songs in their families and from their friends. The songs, often from a long time past and many thousands of miles away (after all, I was interested in American folk music) had been shaped by geography, culture, and needs into American variations but still there were songs of the sea sung in the Blue Ridge Mountains, songs of knights and ladies sung in the farmhouses of Vermont. People, like several people here on Mudcat, went out and hunted down those songs , many of which would have been forgotten otherwise. Young singers from very different backgrounds picked up the songs brought home by field collectors because they felt somehow there was a connection in that music to their lives as they were and as they wanted them to be. But I wonder what this means for the English/Scottish/Irish taditional music of North America.

This new generation of singers came from a very different culture than did the music. They were often far more literate and more sophisticated. Their musical ears were tuned differentlty, they had different ethics, morals and experience. The unselfconscious native singer is an almost extinct species, I think.

What I am getting at is I am wondering if there can be, today, a folk music in the sense that there has been folk music for the past centuries. Can it exist side by side with the technical entertainment culture we are inside of today? Can traditional music remain vital if it is of interest to antiquarians and people who write social activist songs to convince the already convinced?

I don't mean to be saying that there are not beautiful songs being written today, songs that seem to come directly out of the folk tradition - Gillian Welch and David Rawlings come to mind as sources of some of the best new music I have heard but such compositions won't be traditional music for quite a while yet. It needs to be picked up and shaped by thousands, tens of thousands, of people who polish the tune and the lyics until it reflects their lives more clearly. Can it ever become traditional music or is our society's traditional music really now the popular songs of the Fifties, show tunes and "evergreens", songs that we can all count on each other knowing, at least well enough to sing along.

I have no doubt that traditional music will continue to be played by people who are aware of and sensitive to the beauty in the old songs but those songs are no longer a part of a living traditions where whole communities appreciated them and loved to hear them played at their festivals and ceremonies. Can they really continue to live or after a few generations separation from the source singers, will they just become beautifully embalmed?

I am really interested in hearing what people who have spent far more time thinking about this subject than I have, think about this.


19 Feb 00 - 03:50 AM (#181140)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Crowhugger

for the English/Scottish/Irish taditional music of North America...", lend your ear no further than Atlantic Canada. While every kind of music thrives there, UK-rooted stuff abounds, along with great gobs of new stuff in the old style.

Problem? What problem.

19 Feb 00 - 03:58 AM (#181141)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Clinton Hammond2

The thing that I like best about tradition is that every generations tailiors the traditions to themselves... things must change or they die... And music is a part of that...

Wouldn't it be great to come back in 500 years and hear the then-so-called 'traditional' music! That alone makes me kinda hope for reincarnation...


19 Feb 00 - 07:24 AM (#181155)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Banjer

To hell with tradition, let's just keep doing it like we used to!! Given the fact that today we are listening to (and playing) the same stuff our forefathers did, would it not then follow that our future will also be playing our past? I think folk music will always be around, maybe even more so than in the recent past because it has become much easier with modern technology to access lyrics and songs from places one would have had to travel to in the past.

19 Feb 00 - 07:56 AM (#181158)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Pinetop Slim

Gillian Welch could be the reincarnation of Corinna, last name forgotten, but remembered as Darlin' Corey. Decades after they dug a hole in the meadow and laid her down, she lives again and tells us to raze the old still house.
For me, there are two comfortable ways to deal with the issues Sourdough raises. One is to ignore the issue and just listen to what I like without concern for categorizing it -- it doesn't matter if I call it folk, trad., roots etc., as long as the song rings my bell. The other way is to accept that there are two tiers of folk music: traditional folk, which has been handed down through the oral tradition, and contemporary folk, which could be passed along through the oral tradition and we hope would be.
At 51 I'm old enough to have heard a few songs evolve from contemporary to traditional. My mother knew "We Shall Overcome," I know it, my kids know it. Ditto for "If I Had A Hammer." I sang "Blowing In the Wind" at summer camp; my daughter has sung it at summer camp.
At least a few contemporary songs and tunes are sure things to clear the hurdle into the traditional realm -- "Ashokan Farewell" comes to mind as the author has already has had to spend a lot of time proving it wasn't written 130 years ago. I'd bet a nickel my grandchildren will sing "The Great Storm is Over." Some of Welch's stuff is a pretty good bet. I won't be surprised if I hear "Tear My Stillhouse Down" introduced at a coffeehouse as a traditional song, author unknown.

19 Feb 00 - 09:27 AM (#181176)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: George Seto -

Sourdough, as Crowhugger says, COME TO ATLANTIC CANADA.

I'm from Cape Breton, and now live in Halifax on the mainland of Nova Scotia. Between the two place, I've met literally dozens of songwriters who compose the type of song you are referring to.

Two of these are David Stone and Vince Morash. Among Vince's recent songs is one which talks about the loss of the salmon fishing industry in the Pacific NorthWest. Dave has written songs which are both quite serious as well as those containing liberal quantities of humour. In the serious vein, there are songs about the decline of the age of sail, and The Halifax Explosion. In the humour types, there is a Shantey song which is all about Cheese, and a new one called I Love My Back which talks about the pogie! Classic topic for a Cape Bretoner. Dave is also from Cape Breton, and Vince is from a small fishing village called Peggy's Cove.

Anyway, yes, there IS a future for traditional music. We still see, not just here in Atlantic Canada, but all around the world, new young writers who follow in the footsteps of Murray MacLauchlan, Gene MacLellan, Stompin' Tom Connors, or Alister MacGillivray, to name a few of our regional songwriters. Their songs are making their way into the conciousness of YOUR young because you play the music. It influences them in subtle ways.

19 Feb 00 - 09:51 AM (#181180)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

It's really like saying "is there a past for modern music?" By that I mean, everything we call traditional was modern once.

I seriously think that the tendency for the future is going to be for the break up of monolithic mass popular culture. That's is likely to mean the continued developemnt of lots of little separate musical traditions. At the same time were going to get a sort of globalisation, with the musical elements coming from far away as likely as near.

Mudcat demonstrates both these processes in action, at a very early stage.

If I think about where the music I am involved in comes from, mostly it's from people I play with, and from people we've seen and heard at festivals, and from the records we've bought after listening to them and being impressed. (And increasigly stuff I've come across by people on the Mudcat). And for any bunch of musicians meeting up to play on a regular basis, that kind of thing makes up the basis of a tradition.

19 Feb 00 - 10:32 AM (#181195)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: wysiwyg

Well look at the demographics and some interesting possibilities emerge. Look at all the baby-boomer folkies who now have enough gray hair to be taken seriously in the world. This generation has been a big enough marketing target to give the world a lot of things that might never have been so widespread.

F'rinstance, just now we are about to see how the aging of this market group will finish tipping our environment in favor of accessibility for all. I don't think that the ADA and the widening of store aisles and bathrooms were just responses to the disabled community's outstanding ability to organize and agitate for much needed change. I think the financial powers-that-be saw the baby boomers coming in droves (on Rascals), purses and pockets bulging with the old do-re-mi, and they made sure we could all get in the door to buy our Depends! Really-- our boomer generation has real power, the sort we never dreamed of when we marched just to be heard! We don't use it intentionally as much as we did when the fire in our bellies was fresher.

So how does this demographic power affect the present and future of traditional music? We will find out. I don't know if we can apply intentionality, but I do know that much of what I love about the personalities and personages of Mudcat is the result of being around for awhile, and I would bet most of us are indeed boomers? So is the trad music subset of the boomer market big enough to use the old dollar vote to change things?

I don't know, but I know that many of us are the wise and wacky people our friends and others turn to for the occasional (frequent) de-goofing. So what would happen if we started using trad music even more intentionally to affect our immediate environments, and the people in them?

19 Feb 00 - 10:33 AM (#181196)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Liz the Squeak

If we didn't do new stuff, there would be nothing to be traditional in 50 - 100 years time would there? The best songs are about struggle, either with the land, sea, life and love, or else with democracy, diplomacy, defiance and survival, without those, what is life about? And even if the songs stop, the struggles still go on.... There are songs about four loom weavers, striving to keep their families alive, songs about women working in the mines - what are they but the forerunners of songs about Rosa Parkes and Emmeline Pankhurst?

As long as there is history, there is a future for traditional songs. There is no struggle now, that does not have its counterpart or contemporary in the past.


19 Feb 00 - 10:37 AM (#181197)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Crowhugger


Well met, pretty Squeak, well met.

19 Feb 00 - 12:17 PM (#181235)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Art Thieme


You have cut to the core of the arguments here over what folk music is. I reside in your camp---but the fire is burning out and the tent is half blown away. Is there a future for the tradition? I'm reminded of that last great scene in the film of Ray Bradbury's book Farenheit 451. Books have been outlawed. It's a cold wintry day and those dedicated to preserving their favorite books are walking around as beautiful and gentle snowflakes descend on them. Individually, they are working on memorizing entire books of their choice. They will recite it later to all who want to hear it. And some of the hearers will choose to learn it too.

Is there a future for tradition? Time will tell. If not, something extremely valuable to me will be lost. And when it is lost, there can be no sounds like it in the forest.

Art Thieme

19 Feb 00 - 12:31 PM (#181240)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Hollowfox

In his book , A.L.Lloyd said that if "Barbara Allen" is a folksong, then perhaps there should be another designation for Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes". Myself, I think of "this sort of music"(whatever you want to call it)as analogous to grape juice, wine, and brandy. A lot of grape juice gets made in any given year, and most of it is drunk soon after it is made. Some, but not most, gets made into wine. One of the major "ingredients" in wine making is Time. (Also, it should be noted that fewer people drink, much less enjoy wine, than grape juice. Also, a person is allowed to enjoy both beverages. Now some, but not most, of the wine is further distilled into brandy. A major ingredient in making brandy is even more time. And again, a person is allowed to like any and all of these drinks. So, too with music. Who would have thought a century ago that "The Night the Dun Cow Burned" would someday be considered a "traditional" song by some people? Songs (and stories) are the most portable things that humans have. "This sort of music" gets sung, learned, and passed on soley because people want to sing it, and htat is the salvation of traditional long as people want to sing it, it will stay alive. When people don't want to sing it anymore, then nothing will keep it going; not even injection into school curricula. A story: Once, an anthropologist went to Australia to do field work among the Aborigines. The Aborigines that he was studying asked him if he'd like to hear a song that they'd learned from their father's fathers? "Of course!", he replied. so they san him "Camptown Races". The song had traveled to Australia with the whaling industry.

19 Feb 00 - 12:38 PM (#181242)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

Art, you paint a bleak future for folk music. I am more optimistic about it since I came to this forum. Many of the people who love folk music are much younger than us. Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, is still being played and loved by young and old. Although I doubt if all the old songs will go on, at least they are recorded somewhere. The computer is spreading the music all over the world. People will always look into their past. We all have a need to remind ourselves of those that went before us, and relive the times that created the music. Today it more readily available than ever, especially here in Atlantic Canada. I love the old sea shanties but they were all written long before I was born. We did'nt use them much on steamships, but on some, they were sung for entertainment.Yours,Aye.Dave

19 Feb 00 - 12:50 PM (#181250)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

Well I like all kinds of music but I don't confuse be-bop with trad jazz or chamber music. Sure, trad folk has a future as long as people care about it. Same for any kind of music. The underlying question here is probably will it be popular? Will it be on the charts? Will there be a folk music revival like in the late fifties? My take, probably not. Who needs it? I do need folk music but I don't reflect the tastes of people nowadays who are buying pop recordings so I don't care if it has mass appeal.

Trad folk music is like history. It'll be around and probably interpreted differently by those who are interested in it.

There are no musicians around today who played in the Elizabethan courts of King Henry but there are plenty of Pro-Musica Antiqua (early music) groups extant. Trad jazz bands are all over Europe playing the tunes of the Hot Five and The Red Hot Peppers and in that style. Same for The Hot Club of France.

Someone out there is always going to be interested in traditional American folk music because it is valid as a musical expression with great songs and interesting music. We may not see the likes of many traditional singers who are gone but the respect for the music and the tradition will foster a range of those who care and reinterpret the music with taste, understanding. scholarship (an ugly word) and passion.

Might as well ask the question, will there be people around in 3001. That might be a relevant question.


19 Feb 00 - 04:35 PM (#181303)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Joan

I worry about that, too. It seems as though there are fewer people interested in singing old songs, venues for traditional-oriented performers are slowly folding, and the public in general has a steadily diminishing chance for exposure to the sound of a traditional song via the media.

On the other hand, there will always be people studying the past: School kids, for starters. Since there's not a period in history that isn't documented in song, wouldn't it be nice if schools taught folk music a valuable primary source of information when studying early times? Wouldn't it be terrific if music teachers stopped to consider that "good" music doesn't always have to be from certain elite composers, and that those often took rhythms and melodies from common people. And how about the great ballad stories as a source of literature?

And if all else fails, someone will discover the sound of guitars, banjos and The Voice down the road, and get excited about discovering a "new sound."


19 Feb 00 - 05:41 PM (#181324)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Wesley S

I've often thought that the folk boom of the 50's and 60's was a rejection of the atomic era and it's technology. And it wouldn't suprise me if in the coming information era that we see the same thing happen. While embracing the new technology people will also want to return to simpler values also. As Guy Clark sings : "Stuff that works, stuff that holds up - the kind of stuff you reach for when you fall". Let's hope so. The emotions that are expressed in folk and traditional music will always be with us. I think the music that expresses those emotions will also.

19 Feb 00 - 05:46 PM (#181325)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

Teaching things in school can be fatal for them. I think it would do a lot more for folk music if they tried to ban it.

If kids knew they were likely to be suspended from school if they showed any interest in folk music folk music would be breaking out everywhere. (And as a bonus they could stick gangsta rap on the curriculum, and that'd be the kiss of death for that.)

19 Feb 00 - 06:18 PM (#181342)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Bev and Jerry

We have made a living playing folk music in schools for twenty years. Mostly we do it by teaching history through folk music. The history in folk music is the history of ordinary people. That is, your history and our history. The history taught from textbooks is the history of kings, presidents and generals and contains only facts deemed important by historians. Folk music teaches how regular folks felt about what was going on around them.

The only reason we can make a living doing this is that schools don't do it. The most common reaction we get from teachers is: "Gee, I haven't heard some of those songs since I was a kid and my students have never heard them". Our usual response is "Why not? Why aren't you teaching your kids about folk music?"

Well, at least we have exposed almost a million kids (no kidding) to folk music and if only one percent liked it enough to carry it on, that's ten thousand future Mudcatters!

Bev and Jerry

19 Feb 00 - 07:35 PM (#181379)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: poet

I do not beleive that that the singing of Traditional Folk Music will ever completely die. However I do worry that the roots of the music may be lost in this deluge of music spreading throughout the world via the net. When you consider that even before the computor the music travelled and within a few years became "ours" even here on the cat arguments have raged and court cases mentioned as to who wrote various songs and this not through malice it is through innocent belief. I myself believed that the springhill mining disaster referred to a pit in cumberland England for years and years until i was put straight by a very large Canadian in a bar. Mind you I thought he was an American and that did'nt impress him either.

I may not be expressing myself very well here but I hope you Know what I mean.

Poet (Guernsey)

19 Feb 00 - 07:54 PM (#181385)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Osmium

I have no doubt taht quality will survive. I'm fairly new to the traditional scene and so have had to be selective about what I learn and so will it be for future generations. The advantage they will have is databases such as Mudcat provides that will allow them to listen to something close to the original intent. If it doesn't work for them it won't survive but everything we have today has already withstood the test of time in the most rigorous of environments requiring "hand to mouth" trasnsfer of information. It is not going to fade away overnight.

19 Feb 00 - 07:59 PM (#181387)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Crowhugger

I wonder if O'Carolan asked himself these questions.

19 Feb 00 - 08:23 PM (#181395)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)

Ho, folks! This seems to be a "what is folk ?" thread under another name.

I have never been satisfied with the "criterion of ignorance" for defining "folk" music. (This is the notion that folk music must originate among people who are unaware of distinctions between folk music and any other music.) Hence for me the songs that were collected in low-population rural areas are part of a continuum, and certainly not a closed canon.

One way I like to identify "folk" music is as music that circulates freely (no friction from copyright cops) as short one-line diationic or only slightly chromatic airs of fairly consistent tonality throughout (no fancy modulations or schmaltzy chromaticism.) Folk music, in this sense, can be an ever-expanding genre, as long as the term of copyright is short enough to allow a reasonable rate of turnover from copyright to public domain status. If that condition is met, folk music, as here defined, has a future.


19 Feb 00 - 09:58 PM (#181438)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Sourdough

A few people seem to have understood what I was (apparently clumsily) trying to say. I'm going to give it another whirl.

I am not wondering whether traditional music will be sung in the future. Those who wrote something to the effect that "quality will out" I think are saying that it will and I agree. I'm asking something different. Maybe an example will help.

There are wonderful traditions of music sung by sailors of the "Iron Men" days, sailors on naval vessels, on whalers, on schooners, herring boats, codfishers, pirate ships, etc. There are people today who have caught the excitement of that music and some of them have the skill to communicate that to others even if their audience doesn't have much of an understanding of the life being sung.

However, that's different than a living tradition. There are no crews of sailors who are polishing the old songs, writing new verses, trading them as they move from ship to ship and passing them on to the next generation of sailors. The old songs now either get preserved like flies in amber or they get reworked by people who have little understanding of the lives sailors lived (imagine almost anyone today being tansported back in time to a mid-ocean forecastle gathering and announcing that he, too, was a real sailor. I suspect there are few alive who could carry that off if they had the oportunity.

Those who care about old songs and try to get to original collected versions often find they need to smooth out the melodies, change vocabularies to make the meaning more accessible, etc.

When songs travelled from the British Isles to the US, the lyrics went through a pattern of changes that was determined by the new culture they were coming in to. But they filled a need and were taken up in the churches, farmhouses, fields and forests of the new land. It was not performance music, it was home made, a part of daily life. Can this kind of music survive as a living tradition rooted deeply and widely in the culture today?

Are there songs being written today that will be around in years to come. However, it is hard for me to imagine what it is a collector would be collecting fifty years from now. Will the songs go into a widespread oral tradition and be subjected to the editing and innovation of tens of thousands of people over several generations? Can that happen in the technological world of today.

That is what I was asking, not "What is Folk Music" or "Is there good music being written today that will be around several decades from now?"

Where will these groups be that rely on themselves for entertainment, on music for self-expression - in our prisons? On our Rugby teams?


19 Feb 00 - 10:16 PM (#181441)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Troll


I don't believe that there is any way that anyone could give more than a broad guess as to what the future will hold for traditional music. I was born in 1940 and the world has changed so much in that time that I doubt that my Grandfather or his brothers would recognize it now. I barely recognize it myself sometimes. It has changed in the last ten years in ways that I would not-could not- imagine in 1990. It will change in the next ten years in ways that we cannot even perceive today.The best that we can do is to continue to sing and spread the gospel. The songs that will stand the test of time will make themselves known by the fact that we, the singers and performers, will remember and sing them. The rest will fall by the wayside. It has always been this way.There are thousands of songs in archives around the world that no one sings because they lack that special quality that speaks to the soul. They are there. Someone wrote them. Someone collected them, but they no longer speak if indeed they ever did save for a brief moment.

The good stuff lasts, no matter what.


19 Feb 00 - 10:20 PM (#181443)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Willie-O

>Will the songs go into a widespread oral tradition and be subjected to the editing and innovation of tens of thousands of people over several generations? Can that happen in the technological world of today.

Huh? How could it not happen? Now more than ever.

Anyway, traditional music is unkillable by definition. Despite commercial ebbs and flows, people that like it continue to like it, play it, create and share it. They don't stop liking it, and making it, because it's gone onto the Wired magazine "Tired" list. Your commercially driven media promulgate this silly notion that because something seems anachronistic that it doesn't exist--that the future, whatever it is, will be totally different than the past. This is mostly because the dreaded free market economy is fueled by this "bring on the new, throw old the old" concept--but it doesn't mirror the way people actually live their lives.

And if you want to know where to collect songs in the future, drop by McDonalds Corners Ontario in fifty years and look up my kids! I bet you they'll still have some of mine...and they'll be like new, hardly ever used. <(grin)> for I am...

19 Feb 00 - 10:26 PM (#181450)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Barry Finn

William Doerflinger collected songs & near 50 years ago published "Shantymen & Shantyboys", he's still around collecting. A couple of years ago he was at Mystic Seaport Sea Music Festival with his tape recorder, he was attending & recording the workshops that were featuring recently written songs. Leads me to believe he's on to something. Barry

20 Feb 00 - 06:43 AM (#181569)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: The Shambles

We do at least know what we mean by the word music. Music is only truly created in the PRESENT, at the moment the notes are formed. It will not be the same as you have done it before or the same as you may do it again in the future.

The traditional way of doing something (including music) does not mean, the way we did it in the past but to continue in the way that we do it NOW.

It is not a long-dead and dusty fossil that we need to record and classify but a living, breathing and healthy animal to live along side. It is the difference between preservation of the past and conservation for the future.

The DT is so very important, not as a record of what we did but as a cyber tool of today, to help and enable us to continue doing exactly what we are doing NOW. This forum and now The Mudcat Song (and tune) Book, clearly demonstrate the present and I do not see any problems with the future of this music. For as a result of all this technology, we all now know so much more about the whole global nature of our music, influences and its appeal. The Mudcat, on its own clearly demonstrates that we are not alone.

The only danger, I see is in those who, because they are comfortable with it, would nail the music to some fixed moment in time (and place) and as a result watch it wither and die.

It has been interesting following the thread, to see how the distinctions are made between the past (=traditional), the present and the future as if they were all different countries?

20 Feb 00 - 10:22 AM (#181623)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton Guest

McGrath, I take your point about the school system. Maybe they should ban all education. At least until they go back to the drawing board and fix it.

Regarding the smoothing out of folk music to make it more accessible, I believe that this is what traditional folk singers do when they sing their variants. It's all about communication. Barbara Allen gets updated to deal with a new set of circumstances.

Regarding the "folk music is everything" argument, I can only say if it don't feel like folk it probably ain't. If a folk song is sung in the forest and there's no folklorist around to interpret it, does it exist?

It's disconcerting to think that future folk music may written on today's bathroom walls. Or rap and roll.


20 Feb 00 - 11:57 AM (#181656)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: uncle bill


20 Feb 00 - 12:14 PM (#181667)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Art Thieme

Folk, please indulge me.

Back in the winter of 1984 I wrote this as my April column in Come For To Sing magazine out of Chicago. Emily Friedman, the editor, a good friend then as well as now, was going through a bit of a snit. She was ticked and wouldn't talk to me, so I was writing columns for the magazine that were designed to get a rise out of her.

So here's my Links On The Chain column. The topic of that months magazine was similar to the topic of this thread.


Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud,
How we wish you had been differently employed...

The future of folk music depends largely on those same factors that have determined the health (or lack of health) of the various folk scenes today.

I'm pretty sure that we can always asume that traditional lore and songs will always be with us. As long as we've got people, we will always have lore being transmitted from one person to another. Herbs will always be used as charms and cures; traditional rules will always be used by some to govern planting, harvesting, births, deaths and marriages. The people may never know they carry songs and lore; they may not even care. Folklorists will continue to collect these tidbits and store them away in their archives. Yes, the real thing will carry on because it's a natural process.

But I'm not so certain about this thing called the folk revival, where the music of the people has been turned into show-biz. Any art form can only survive when the people care about it. There has to be a performer and an audience---an in group and an out group---places where people want to congregate to hear the music.

In talking about music as a business, we are really talking about dollars---hard cash---$$$$$. I'm wondering if the folk of the future will care enough to pay to see/hear people perform it as an entertainment. There's no real way to tell what people will hold onto and want from the entertainment world years down the road. All I can really say for sure is that I know why I like folk music. I know why I would go to hear it years from now (I think). I also know that the mass of Americans rarely seems to like what I like ! If you took my ideas about merchandising into account before going into business, you'd go broke in record time. Therefore, I've decided that, since my own business instincts are generally so very far off the mark, it 'd be a good idea to present the opposite viewpoint here. Then we can see quite clearly what a good folk businessperson of the future ought to do in "folk biz--1995". Maybe some of the same ideas would even work today...

Yes, basic to all success in folk music are dollars and sex.The latter can always help to generate the former. The music is only a tool to create the proper atmosphere so that one thing can lead to another, with the ultimate purpose of filling that cash drawer with big bucks !

In the future, folk music can survive as big-time cabaret and nightclub entertainment if the clubs provide excellent reasons for the patrons to part with their cash. In the future there will be 285 channels on cable TV. The clubs are going to have to fight hard to stay in the race. Waitpersons, both male and female (whatever), are going to have to be knockouts. They'll be a bigger draw than the folksingers. If you thought the '50s were sexist, just wait until you see 1995. But it just won't be one way sexism. "How do I love thee---let me count the ways." This trite old saying will be profound in 1995. Small, personal booths lining the walls of the showrooms, will provide needed privacy for the club's patrons. The singers of classic Child ballads will have to put up with groans of various sorts, as well as the clickety sounds of dollar coins disappearing into the slots of certain unique machines within the little booths. The bellowing of sheep will occasionally have to be tolerated. But it will all go to pay the rent. You can perform through anything as long as the club's doors stay open, right?

Some folks may decide that this isn't their cup of tea---er, scuzz. After years of tolerating mediocrity, they might decide to dig deeper into the serious side of folk music. They may start a concert series at a university in the basement of the Frizbetarian church. (Frizbetarians beleieve that when you die your soul gets stuck on the roof ! They have great pot-luck suppers though.) Naturally, because no booze is served, and the admission price is only a dime, these gigs don't pay the performer very much.

If the performes have any smarts at all, they'll negotiate a percentage deal with the house. By that I mean that he or she should have it in writing, in the contract, that he or she is to receive in cash, at the end of the evening, at least 70% of the proceeds from thos little booths that line the church walls. What with the continuous clanking of those dollar coins in those little slots all night long, this can often come to quite a bit of cash. I'd imagine you could make close to $500.00 extra in this manner----just enough to fill the gas tank (at 1995 prices) so you can hit the road to your next gig. You might have enough left over for a quick stop at the White Castle.

Real folk music, being mainly music of the past, lends itself quite well to school programs (if your city still has any schools), library concerts and concert/workshops for local historical societies. And 1995 will definitely be the era of creative booking. If you are a good fast talker you can convince people that folk muic can be bent to fit into almost any situation. Hockey banquets and wrestling matches are two possibilities. Gigs for high energy folksingers will be commonplace on spaceliners to the moon and to Mars. It should be noted that the spaceliners will all be equipped with private coin booths, and the performers should try to negotiate the same kind of percentage deal previously mentioned for the Frizbetarian church. (NOTE: School programs and sports banquets do not (usually) present these same lucrative possibilities.)

...How this set of circumstances enhances the finances.
Of the followers of Dr. Sigmund Freud...

Art Thieme

20 Feb 00 - 12:37 PM (#181675)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Willie-O

Art that's a classic screed, and very prescient. Do they have those sleazy folk clubs in Chicago yet?--I'm gonna start organizing bus tours.

The only thing you were slightly out on is the price of gas. $500 tankfuls didn't come in, summer 2000?


20 Feb 00 - 10:34 PM (#181945)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Joan

Singing a folk song in the forest? Not a new idea.

When people sat around their parlors and porches and sang old songs and new made-up songs, maybe played some tunes on fiddle or piano, maybe even danced, it wasn't a show. Nobody paid admission to sit and listen, either. With no TV, no radio, no videos, there used to be nothing around to entertain us but US. People didn't regularly jump into cars and planes and travel, so tunes played and sung in a region pretty much were particular to the families who lived there--and they mostly stayed there, learned by the kids in much the same versions for generations.

Then came radio. And records. Broadcast music could be heard by everybody from one end of the country to the other. Every house had a radio, everybody listened to the "Top 40" hits. The radio standardized music and we all heard the same tunes. My point is, since then, those of us who love the old songs and old ways of playing music, flaunt conventional culture when we seek out something that's possibly difficult to find and somewhat weird by mainstream standards. We have to search for the folkie places and people because folk concerts don't have very high profiles.

Folk Alliances and Folk Societies and festivals are one way of unifying musicians and folk lovers. Local concert series look for ways to attract audiences who pay for the venue and the performer's fee. Pockets of folk people all over the country are struggling to keep the folk clubs going so the songs don't die. I think traditional music has a future only if people keep finding ways of getting together to sing and play.

Holy smoke...who said all that?

20 Feb 00 - 10:45 PM (#181955)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: dick greenhaus

A prerequisite or traditional music in the future is traditional music in the present. If your local "folk" DJ plays only singer/songwriter stuff, people that like "folk" music won't hear anything else. Why not try writing, calling or E-mailing your local DJ and ask--nay, demand!--some play time of trad material. There's lotys of it available.

21 Feb 00 - 03:43 PM (#182306)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Sandy Paton

Amen, Dick. Well said, Joan.


21 Feb 00 - 03:58 PM (#182312)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Molly Malone

Not only are there people trying to keep the folk clubs alive, but we are seeing a new trend...we are using the technology we have to contiune the oral tradition.

How long ago was it that letters took weeks to get across the country? We lived in the same house all our lives, music was passed down to generation after generation because they were there.

Now we live in a society where parents and children live in different states and countries. Yes, my parents had me at home for 18 years, but that's only enough to get good basics and a start. We need the rest of our lives to continue the tradition.

Now I sit in my living room and play CD's, and research the database, and pass on what I can. We are seeing radio stations that play "traditional" and "celtic" and "folk".

How many years will it be before I can record a CD with other musicians in other parts of the world...simultaneously? Or just plain jam with my friends in Ireland...while I sit in my Arizona room?

21 Feb 00 - 08:25 PM (#182477)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

The limiting factor on worldwide jamming is the speed of light - which is fast, but means enough delay to screw up certain kinds of ensemble stuff. So, I'm a fraction of a second behind you, but then you're a fraction of a second behind me.. Could sound quite interestig though.

At present there's so relatively few of us about we're back to having music made by a smallish community, and ignoring a lot of what's going down around us. The technology just means the small communities can be quite a bit spread out, and keep in touch with each other. And I think that's just the kind of setup in which traditions put down roots, grow a bit of foliage and produce a fair crop of fruit.

I reckon that, by and large, the quality and range of the music being played is far higher these days than it was during any of the big Folk Scares.

22 Feb 00 - 02:49 PM (#182864)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: The Shambles

Of course you can only 'tell it like you see it' but it is quite obvious that we find ourselves, once again, to be largely talking about American traditional music. The importance of which I am not going to dispute for that is the traditional music that first moved and involved me. It was the meeting place of European and African cultures and the resulting musical mixture excited me far more than my own (English) traditional music ever did or does now.

I do think that this insular approach and narrow definition does not fully recognise and appreciate the vitality of the traditional music that is now to be seen, world-wide. The main focus of this, at the moment, is more on the instrumental side, rather than in song but to see this passion displayed among our young, is very exciting and should insure a very healthy future for traditional music.

The perception of the threat of the singer/songwriter, of them being a different species and not calling their music folk, is almost entirely an American preoccupation and prejudice. It is one that just results in a lot of good folk not hearing a lot of good (and some, I admit, not so good) folk.

Do American festivals not now reflect all of this global diversity in traditional music or do the 'old curmudgeons' amongst our ranks, just not attend any of them???

22 Feb 00 - 03:09 PM (#182872)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Amos

It would be interesting to uncover where the division that produced the label "volks" music or "folk" music started. And in contrast to what?

I would think it is kin to the division between lay and church forms, but I would love to be able to see the developmentof the division clearly. Any good references known?

A second division between "folk" and "popular" (odd distinction!) must date from no earlier than AM radio I would think...maybe Victorian parlor music...


22 Feb 00 - 05:05 PM (#182933)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Peter T.

Having been blindsided by Rick Fielding on his recent radio show about the question, I have had another 12 hours to think about it (and now to read this thread). Another 2 cents.

To hang on to Sourdough's question, I think that we have been seeing the gradual replacement of his original definition of "tradition" with what the French call "bricolage" -- the hybridization of traditional cultures with global media products. An interesting anthropological book, "The Snowmobile Revolution" discusses how the Eskimos (Inuit) adopted the snowmobile in such a way that it supplemented their original hunt, and then gradually transformed it. They actively borrowed, tinkered with, and were changed by modern products. To go back to the original form of hunting could now only be done as a conscious reaction to modernity -- so even a deliberate adoption of tradition was affected by being a self-conscious choice.

That seems to me to be the fate of traditional music -- and it was already happening when the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers records hit America in the late 1920's, and you could probably stretch it back to the parlor piano music before that. What makes this quantitatively different is that there is no remnant uninfluenced source (except as pointed out, in some remote parts of the world, and even those are dwindling away). Doc Watson played electric guitar in a bar band: Cape Breton kids watch music videos.

This suggests that whatever the new tradition is will inevitably be sourced by "artist" choices primarily. Helena Norbert-Hodge in her book on Ladakh (near Tibet) contrasts the world before and after radio in that part of the world, and says that the big difference was the arrival of the sound of the professional high quality artist that made the ordinary locals feel inadequate, and made the local music leaders feel the need to copy those styles. If you think of the community of folk music as being made up of one pole of more focussed musicians and another of ordinary people who make music out of their experiences (and the two poles may often be found in the same person often), then obviously things tip in the direction of the "more focussed musicians" when you move into a media influenced world. Even if they are tapping into widespread concerns, these resonate with the experience of the community's dealings with global culture. This suggests that the traditional artist of today or tomorrow is in part using himself or herself as something of an "instigator of community" -- even if that community is only gathered around, and constituted by, one song for as long as it is played. I think this is why many artists (and certainly some here) feel so responsible.
yours, Peter T.

22 Feb 00 - 05:09 PM (#182940)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Sourdough, I share your concern about the folk music of the future, simple because it seems to me that very few people sing anymore-- My grandmother and her sisters used to sing all kinds of crazy songs when we were small, joined by all my aunts and uncles and their cousins, and when I was little, and we lived in Naples, everyone sang, from the peanut vendor to the farmworkers, to the construction workers, the maids and the laundrywomen, to the many sailors and dockworkers--sometimes, the different groups of people would even sing back and forth to each other!!

Not so anymore--most families don't sing together(present company excepted) and when was the last time you heard the produce manager at the Safeway belt anything out?

I share your concern here--I am worried about the future of folk music for the simple reason that canned music has shut everyone up(even "folk music lovers" who just listen to canned folk music!!) To follow in the logic of the question about the sound of the tree falling in the forest, I am tempted to ask something about "How can their be a folksong if there are no folk singing it?"

22 Feb 00 - 05:47 PM (#182974)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: catspaw49

I wish I knew what I wanted to say here. I think the future of Folk/Trad music will be of the same hard scrabble existence it now experiences. The small contingent of enthusiasts will keep it alive and passed on to another generation of enthusiasts, but I can't foresee any great changes. Technology has changed our world and we have tried to use that technology, such as the DT, to ensure a place for the music. That same technology has also changed the world so dramatically that the ways of old are probably lost forever.

We all tend to abhor the navel contemplator type of songwriter and wonder why there are so many of them. One reason is obvious. The source of many of our favorite songs is also lost in the technological age. People aren't sitting in their cubicles in front of a computer and joining with others in singing songs to make the work pass better. Airline freight handlers aren't singing either. There's one helluva' difference between riding the rails now and sixty years ago! Don't see too many chain gangs. For any number of reasons, and a large one being technology, our society and values have changed dramatically. We can still write new shanties, but the six or ten guys turning a winch aren't to be found. The value of many songs lay in the truth of the song, the need of the song.....not the words.

I'm not doing too well here am I? Oh well...maybe later. There is a point to this rambling, I just can't seem to get there!


22 Feb 00 - 05:57 PM (#182981)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: MMario

yeah - "push that button- we're done" doesn't make for much of a song, does it?

22 Feb 00 - 07:05 PM (#183020)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Osmium


Don't grieve; as I see it folk music has always been an expression of what someone wanted to say about their current situation. We still have current grievences and the creativity aroyund them is just as powerfull as it always was. We are the offspring off our forbears and we have as much right and as much validity in expressing our thoughts in song if we wish to as they did - and there's the future in folk music; with respect to McGraw of Harlow!!!!

22 Feb 00 - 07:11 PM (#183023)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: catspaw49

I'm not grieving...just stating the obvious. There is still struggle and strife and that experience has always provided a basis, but a large portion of the reason songs were sung and written is gone, and it won't be back.


22 Feb 00 - 07:24 PM (#183026)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Osmium

This reflects, I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, the fears of a prevoius cotributor who wanted to know whether if we had never experienced the galley kithen (euphamism) we could never sing about it. Therein lies a problem that maybe only ever the author of the song could really sing as he/she intended the lyrics to be interpreted and we should and do all miss the passing of authors but in an ever changing world it can't be said with certainty that some singer would not have the insight to put thenselves into the shoes of the originator and get it right or even do it better. The particular circumstances of the cause of human emotion may be lost but I suspect the same old feelings are still being aroused and as well expressed.

22 Feb 00 - 08:17 PM (#183046)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

Most of the "old" songs we have only date back to the 19th or maybe the 18th century. The sea shanties we know came mstly from the late 19th century,when the techniology cahnged so that smaller crew had to be more efficient, and needed the songs. Most of the instruments we think of as traditional in Irish music only came in within the last couple of generations - banjos, squeeze boxes, mandolins, bouzoukis, even the bodhran as it's used today.In South Africa they learned to dance in gumboots. Steelbands were invented within living memory.

And I could go on,The point I'm making is that much of what we see as tradition is modern. Living traditions change and develop, and throw up new things noone expected. I see no reason not to expect that this will continue to be the case. We'll lose some things from the living tradition. If we don't have the kind of work that needs songs, we won't have work songs. But we'll get other things in place of them.

23 Feb 00 - 01:56 AM (#183189)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Lonesome EJ

Are the lovers of Traditional music in effect curators in a museum of music, where the value of the items on display is not so much intrinsic as it is derivative of their age? Sometimes I think that the kitsch of a distant era, the items that were considered common and cute in their time, have been sanctified by the passing years to a point where we are like to consider them great art. Does the oil lamp, thrown out by a Roman housewife because of the tacky dragon design on its back, somehow attain more value by virtue of its antiquity than a new and fuctional one purchased at Sears?

I have a fondness for history and archaeology, and am predisposed to have an affection for traditional song-forms for many of the same reasons. The Anasazi pot sherd, like Childe's Robin Hood , offers to me a snapshot of a people, a way of life, a worldview that is long gone, yet still reverborates in strange harmony with my own. And perhaps this is the essence of the value of Traditional music forms- the living connection with the past. If so, I feel that it will continue to thrive as long as human curiosity and imagination continue.

In the end, the museum analogy is not so objectionable. The key is in seeing these relics not as objects, but as vital keys to the understanding of the eternal human experience, and placing these keys in the hands of the uninitiated, the young. They are the ones who will carry these living pieces of the past into the future.

23 Feb 00 - 06:15 AM (#183259)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Lollipop

I hope not, traditional music is garbage

23 Feb 00 - 06:48 AM (#183264)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Sourdough

I was about to give up on this thread figuring that either I wasn't able to phrase my question well enough or no one was interested in the question - then all of a sudden came some very interesting (imho) posts. Actually, there is too much material there to respond to all that I want to. Reading the recent messages, though, helped me to understand that I wanted to think in terms of societies and cultures but many people responding were looking at traditional music from the point of view of the performer.

I am wondering about the role of traditional music in the future. I too certainly hope, and believe, that there will be performers and researchers who will help to keep the songs alive to enrich the lives of people today by giving them a glimpse into cultures that have either disappeared or have been so transformed as to be almost unrecognizeable.

Amos: It would be very interesting to learn when the term "folk" came into use in its current form to distinguish the music from popular. With the knowledge base we have on Mudcat, perhaps someone will be able to add to this topic.

Peter T: Your post was really interesting to me. Although I'm not familiar witht he "Snowmobile Revolution", I am familiar with the work of anthropologist Aasen Bilicksi which. Before the techniques were lost, he contracted with a Netsilik Eskimo family from Pelly Bay to spend the cycle of a year with them, living the traditional Eskimo way. No Netsilik lived this way any longer but this family still knew the skills and were willing to give up their snowmobile, rifle, fish hooks, etc. for this year. The film(I think it's about 120 edited hours) is wonderful. There are crafts, songs, hunting skills, survival skills. The scene of the little bare baby, giggling comfortably in an igloo heated by a walrus oil lamp is one of the warmest, most human moments I have ever seen. But, even then, while Biliksi filmed, the culture was dying. There were no other bands of ekimos out on the ice living that way. Many people commuted from villages by snowmobiles to the ice pack to hunt. Instead of waiting for hours, motionless and with a patience that defies understanding, to spear a seal when it might appear, they hunt with Winchesters. Their life experiences are different, their leisure is different, their material desires are different, their dangers are different - and those are what make up a culture.

I would guess that young, creative Netsilik are finding ways to fuse their traditional music style to a wider "world" music that they hear on their radios and purchase on CDs. However, the diversity of the product of a different culture which is itself the product of thousands of years is being submerged. I don't think you can say it is evolving, it is more like it is being swallowed up. It changes the mix a little but the diversity is lessened. If you consider the Netsilik a folk, what happens when they become more like everyone else? The "folk music" may be saved by those who care, to be a source of cultural pride about a time so remote that the ancestors of the traditional people would not recognise the lives of their progeny. Is it then "folk music" without "folk"? Like Lonsesome EJ, I don't think a museum curator analogy is bad. Just as museums provide a useful educational purpose(in the best educational sense of understanding the excitement of the experience of the world), the music that is the broad-based product of a culture gives an immediacy to lives lived long ago and far away. It also helps us, if we care to think about it, the opportunity to understand our place in the world and cosmos.

M.Ted, I think, was saying the same thing about life in Naples about how changes in lifestyle have removed the opportunities for the unselfconscious music that once was a hallmark of that city.

Catspaw, I think you put your finger (paw? - or maybe we can say you nailed it) when you said that people aren't likely to sing in front of a computer screen with their fellow workers (it would be an instrinsicly funny scene in a Mel Brooks style movie, though, wouldn't it?). As more people work in an increasingly homogeneous service oriented economy, the chances for work songs disappears.

It is three thirty in the morning here in Sonoma County and perhaps I should not be allowed at a keyboard at this hour, running on like the last patron in the bar but I really was impressed with the thoughts you all were sharing and I wanted to add something to the mix.


23 Feb 00 - 08:37 AM (#183279)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Terry Allan Hall

Traditional music is (IMHO) anything up to yesterday...

In other words, it's still alive and growing all things of quality, you may have to look hard for it, but it'll be worth the effort.

23 Feb 00 - 09:37 AM (#183310)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Hollowfox

Sourdough, I think that the thread contributors are thinking in terms of the performers because if, say, you are singing while you work, whether alone or with others, you *are* performing, rather than acting as a part of society. Likewise singing for pleasure on the front porch in summertime. By the way, this thread reminded me of the time that my husband came into our infant son's darkened room to hear me sing him to sleep. There I was, singing soft, slow, and low: "Hang on the Bell, Nelly", "Him and his Good Companions" (a fine drinking song), "Cowboy Fireman", and several other novelty-or0drrinking songs that escape me at this moment. He worked so hard to keep from laughing at the lyrics that he almost woke up the ki.

23 Feb 00 - 09:54 AM (#183321)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Peter T.

Sourdough, the point I was making badly is that the general anthropologist's opinion about "native tribes" was that they were helpless victims. It turned out that while they were obviously in deep trouble, they had been able to find some ways of responding to the onslaught creatively, and retaining some fragments of their way of life deliberately. The bricolage metaphor -- basically bricolage means making works of art out of pieces of different kinds of junk -- seems to me to be appropriate. It is strengthening that capacity that seems to me to be the best strategy in what is not a happy overall situation.

Catspaw's note raises the question about whether "work songs" are the critical litmus test for some people's views on folk music or tradition. Obviously common work that gives rise to songs is a potent metaphor of community -- the spontaneous emergence of music from toil -- but, given that work of that kind is disappearing fast, if the definition is tied to that, then it is more or less finished. This is not just true in offices. From my (limited) field experience in South America, what I have seen (in well-off agribusinesses) is radios and the occasional prized walkman among peasant labourers -- just getting them through the long day, not work songs. But maybe other parts of the tradition come to the surface: such as the personal lament; or (the new/old tradition) the alienation from life song (called the blues). More rambling....
yours, Peter T.

23 Feb 00 - 11:38 AM (#183399)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Art Thieme

Trad music is a process. The process was/is called "the oral tradition"---a noun---the oral tradition. Songs go through the process---some would say they go "through the mill". The process is what makes them truly folksongs.

Now-a-days, we can (and do) add books and recordings and radio and TV and computers and movies and whatever comes next to the process that makes folksongs in it's crucible.

Sure there's a future for tradional music.

Art Thieme

23 Feb 00 - 11:39 AM (#183402)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

Yes, folk music is about history. It's about how folks in that time felt rather than thought.

I'll answer the question with a question.

Who are the carriers of the folk tradition?


23 Feb 00 - 12:45 PM (#183475)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Peter T.

Frank, are you suggesting that folk musicians are pesky mosquitos biting the a** of society, transmitting their feverish bacilli into the bloodstream of an unresponding world?
yours, Peter T.

23 Feb 00 - 04:53 PM (#183664)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

Sitting in front of a computer screen singing...Really sounds sad - but it's what we do on the Mudcat when we want to share a song with someone far away? (Won't be long and we'll do it in the singing bar in the virtual reality Mudcat Tavern, I suppose.)

("Sitting in front of this screen I am singing
singing a song that you never have heard.
Over the ocean my words now are winging
Telling the tale of what has occurred..."
That's a song I haven't written yet, but I might well.)

Work songs as a way of helping us combine the way we are using our muscles - sure, I can't see much future for that, except as relics and fun and history. But songs about the work we are doing, no reason there shouldn't be plenty of new ones for ever.

There have been plenty of good songs about teaching, for example. Or lorry driving. Working in offices doesn't seem to have produced many - though Chesterton wrote a great song about shipwrecked Bankers once:

There's a run upon the Bank
Stand away!
For the Manager's a crank,
and the Secretary drank,
and the Upper Tooting Bank
Turns to bay!
Stand close: there is a run
On the Bank. Of our ship, our royal one,
let the ringing legend run,
that she fired with every gun
Ere she sank.

24 Feb 00 - 02:06 AM (#183907)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: M. Ted (inactive)

People have pointed out that traditional music will continue, because the folk process occurs and music comes from people etc etc etc--but I think that this sort of point misses the real concern--

We live in a world that is changing rapidly, and we are not necessarily adapting to those changes as quickly as they occur--the price of this continuing adaptation to technology seems to be a sacrifice of "the simple pleasures"--social conversation, time with family, and the elements of folk cultural--cooking, music, dancing, crafts, participation sports, etc.

Kids have to make play-dates--What does that do to the transmission of songs, stories and games that is so critical to the transmission of culture?

We exist in a world that is increasingly full of mechanical entertainment, of mechanical music, of mechanical food, a whole mechanical culture, because we don't have the time to participate in it--

How can their be any type of culture, folk or otherwise, when people don't have the time or oportunity to participate in it? And how can we survive for long without that culture?

24 Feb 00 - 05:22 AM (#183929)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: AndyG

I wrote this yesterday but didn't post it.

For what it's worth here's my view on "traditional" folk song.

That stuff most commonly labelled "Trad." is folk music was generated in an era when the concept of sharing one's daily experience through the medium of song was extant in society. This concept is long gone from western cultures, to be replaced by an industry that provides entertainment pre-packaged and suitably stratified for its various audiences.

Q) How many great songs of WWII are the product of "the people" rather than the music industry ?

The change in the way entertainment is provided has accompanied the move of population from rural to urban centres and the rise of individual wealth as currency rather than goods. (That is it paced with the industrial revolution). Society has slowly become accustomed to purchasing it's entertainment rather than creating it.

Q) Why did people find less and less reason for parcipitative entertainment when they could simply spectate ?

Some of us however still value live performance in a low-key "under-produced" environment, and that's where the tradition still exists. Granted it's the tradition of a minority rather than the outpouring of the masses, but it's all we've got ! It exists. It changes with every new arrival. Songs and tunes, styles and instrumentation alter over time, but it's still there.


24 Feb 00 - 09:35 AM (#183984)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,hollowfox

Who is a carrier of tradition? Anybody who picks it up. What songs from World War II are the prroduct "of the people"? well, I'm not going t judge what should be called great or not, but "Lili Marlene" didn't come to the allied troops via Armed Forces radio or Stars and Stripes newspaper (see by Bill Mauldin; a great book, for at-the-time comments. sorry to be "academic" in these things, but I like to give backup on where I get my information), General Eisenhower admitted that he enjoyed the song "Dirty Gertie from Bizerte", and to this day, people are singing "Hitler has only got one ball". All three are still sung, but only one was commercially written, only one could possibly be played on the radio in the USA, and that one came from the other side. I'd bet that there are other examples, and less rude ones as well.

24 Feb 00 - 11:32 AM (#184060)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: AndyG

Are you seriously suggesting that commercially written songs from the WWII and post-war period are outnumbered 2:1 by traditionally generated material ? I can't believe you are but that's how I read your post. I really think that I could find many commercial songs from the period that are still well known and performed for any one definabley "traditional" song. (Using the definition of traditional I gave previously).

My point wasn't that "traditional" songs didn't exist. simply that the vast majority of songs that survived the era were commercially produced because they constitute the vast majority of available songs in the era, and that's because the culture from which "traditional" songs could arise was lost to us by the middle of the 20th century.

My main point, which I stand by, is that traditional music, in style and form, has fallen into the hands of a minority as the entertainment industry has expanded and that this process has been going on for about 150 years.

POI: Lili Marlene did come to the allied troops via Armed Forces radio, But it was the German Armed Forces radio ;)


24 Feb 00 - 01:15 PM (#184117)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Tchaikovsky

Wow, there's a wealth of information here. M.Ted makes a good point. How will folk music thrive in a world of electronics? That's an interesting question and I think that we already have some examples today. About a week ago I picked up an album by Mary Jane Lamond....which is one of the most incredible albums I've ever heard. She researches the Gaelic folk music of Cape Breton and sets them to "rock or pop" accompaniments. Very interesting...and the singing is not obscured in any way. This is just one examples but there are many modern groups who are passing on folk music. It's funny because my parents play in a popular Celtic folk group here in Niagara and students among their 20's are the biggest audience. A lot of my friends now know all the words to the music that I grew up with in my household because my parents have set in an a venue that is popular for "younger" people. (age is all in your head...LOL) I am convinced that traditional folk music will continue because people are getting bored with the pop crap that comes out on the radio. I myself am 22...have a degree in classical music performance and musicology...but am now devoting all my energies to researching and performing Irish and Canadian folk music. Families no longer get together to's hard to get people to sing at all anymore (maybe we should have traditional folk music kareoke) but we need to find new venues. Like I said all my friends seem to think its okay to belt out Irish folk tunes with my parents at the local pub....and those pubs are crowded!!! Matthew Adams

24 Feb 00 - 01:40 PM (#184133)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Duffy Keith

Traditional music has a big future, it ebbs and flows like the tides, however, and keeps reinventing itself...Look at the folk revival of the 60's...a lot of the recorded material was rather primative, (which was nice...!!) and many artists took those songs and reworked them into a more modern form, (which was also nice...) so we then had the choice of the traditional (pure) form, and then the artists interpretations, which made for a tremendous amount of excitement...those days will be back for sure...i think it is headed that way again...DK

24 Feb 00 - 01:44 PM (#184135)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Bert

Tell us where and when your folks play. My Dad lives out that way and he might like to see them.


24 Feb 00 - 01:57 PM (#184139)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,hollowfox

Andy G. Heavens, no! I wasn't suggesting any such thing, those were just the songs that came immediately to my morning-befogged mind. Numbers are way beyond me at such an early hour. I do agree with you, by the way, that traditional music, both in style and form, has been in the hands of a minority for at least 150 years, and that the music industry has expanded at the same time - and will probably continue to do so. I also believe that the folk minority is not shrinking at an inverse exponential rate equal to the industry's expansion. I think our population is pretty stable, and Heaven knows we're a durable, tenacious lot. Good point, about the German armed forces radio, BTW.

24 Feb 00 - 01:57 PM (#184140)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,hollowfox

Andy G. Heavens, no! I wasn't suggesting any such thing, those were just the songs that came immediately to my morning-befogged mind. Numbers are way beyond me at such an early hour. I do agree with you, by the way, that traditional music, both in style and form, has been in the hands of a minority for at least 150 years, and that the music industry has expanded at the same time - and will probably continue to do so. I also believe that the folk minority is not shrinking at an inverse exponential rate equal to the industry's expansion. I think our population is pretty stable, and Heaven knows we're a durable, tenacious lot. Good point, about the German armed forces radio, BTW.

24 Feb 00 - 03:27 PM (#184186)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Rick Fielding

Thank you for this thread...and the discussion...and the opinions... Sometimes Mudcat is like living in Canada...ya start getting swallowed up in pop silliness and think, "maybe I'll move" and then something happens to remind you why it's worth being there.


25 Feb 00 - 02:55 AM (#184565)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Tchaikovsky

Bert, My parents play all over Niagara, Hamilton, Toronto and various other places. They play all traditional Irish, Scottish, and Canadian music. The band's name is Barley Brae and their website (which states where they play) is

25 Feb 00 - 01:47 PM (#184803)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Steve Roberson

Hi Folks -- I just happened onto this site and got involved in reading the forum comments. You're an interesting bunch, and I hope to come back some time, and perhaps lose my "guest" status. I am a lifelong musician, and a lover and performer of many traditional forms of music. You are discussing my life, and my calling; I am grateful to have found you.

It seems to me that a lot of people are considering "folk" or "traditional" music to necessarily mean "archaic" music -- assuming that a song can only make its way into one or both of those hallowed categories by being anachronistic. Hence the attention to work songs and sea chanteys as examples of "real" folk/traditional music, and references to more introspective singer/songwriter musings as somehow not meriting inclusion in these categories, now or in the future. If that is your definition, I would maintain that folk/traditional music will gradually wither and die. Sure, there will still be people who study it, much as people study musty old artifacts in museums; but there will be little to keep it vital.

I believe that a better, and more rewarding, approach is to define "folk" and "traditional" music broadly, and to recognize that we cannot expect music to remain frozen in time while the rest of the world moves forward. Work songs and sea chanteys reflected the reality of the times, and the needs and aspirations of the people that lived in those times; today's folk music should do no less. If the ambient noise level produced by our modern world and mass culture creates a need for more solitude and introspection, then that is what will be reflected in the folk music of today. And if the insights and emotions expressed in today's folk music are universal enough that they will still have relevance to the world of tomorrow, then today's "folk" music will become tomorrow's "traditional" music. That is how it worked in the past, and how I believe it will work in the future.

Let's not kill the thing we love with definitions that are too restrictive or scholarship that is too pedantic. There is room for a lot of variety and diversity under the "traditional" music umbrella, and I for one am glad of it.

25 Feb 00 - 01:59 PM (#184823)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: McGrath of Harlow

If you've got the impression we're rigidly traditional, Steve, go up to the Quick Links bit at the top of the page, and visit "Áine's Mudcat Songbook", which is made up of new songs from Mudcatters.

And welcome to the Mudcat, and come on back. (If you register you get lots of useful facilities too.)

25 Feb 00 - 02:14 PM (#184838)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: JedMarum

We look through our modern eyes at some romantic notion of an era gone by, where music was pure, and the purveyors of that music altruistic ... and perhaps we are correct in our assessment - but then we look through those same filters at the music of another era, don't see those same characteristics and think there is less value.

When I saw the name of this thread, my first joking reponse was "Future music will be traditional music." Of course there will be new traditional music, and it will evolve (thank God) and it will look and feel different than that which we call traditional music today.

I already see it happening with today's modern hits; songs like the Beatles, In My Life, or Yesterday and songs like Bobby Darin's Mack the Knife or Led Zeplin's Stairway to Heavan may give birth to similar songs, and stay around themselves for a hundred years. They may become tomorrow's trad music. Today I see people playing these songs in clubs and around campfires, and creating new versions of the songs. They may not be what you and I consider trad, but many will evolve.

Maybe we'll be thankful we aren' there, too, for that future trad! But remember; tomorrow, we'll call today yesterday!

25 Feb 00 - 02:57 PM (#184880)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Steve Roberson

Thanks for the welcome, McGrath, and for the tip -- I will definitely check out the songbook. I did not mean to imply that you folks are rigidly traditional, merely that much of the discussion seemed to be based on fairly narrow definitions of "true" folk/traditional musics. Language is elastic, and we sometimes use the same words with different meanings in mind. But the language we use can influence the attitudes we adopt, and I thought that the narrow definitions people were using were causing them to dismiss a lot of music that is worth hearing and learning from. Given, the choice, the more expansive definition has a lot to recommend it -- both because it allows us to embrace a wider range of "traditional" musics, and because it allows us to be more optimistic about the future of traditional music (which is where this whole thing started).

Regards, and I will definitely be back!

25 Feb 00 - 03:15 PM (#184894)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: catspaw49

Welcome aboard Steve...join up.

What you need to know is that we have a running discourse around here on "The Meaning of Folk" and it has long history, to say the least. I would not be the one to imply that a lot of newly composed songs are "folk-like" (Rick Fielding's term) and that they don't have a future as traditional folk music.

My point above is that we are no longer a society of "singers" who create the songs to pass the work time. There are certainly some fine singer/songwriters whose works tell of modern times and modern problems and if these songs are passed along they will be our "future traditionals." But a lot of folks get really tired of the S/S whose songs are purported to be "folk" and yet relate only to themselves and are difficult to pass along as our experiences vary so greatly.

Technology has changed the way in which we use music, but it has also enhanced the way we can continue with the folk process and the oral tradition.


25 Feb 00 - 05:51 PM (#184966)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Wesley S

These songs have been with us for hundreds of years. I don't think any of us are capable for killing off this music even if we wanted to. The music is stronger than we are. Thank God for that.

Five hundred years from now at a mining camp on Mars a miner will pick up his signed C F Martin XV guitar { the one his granddaddy left him } and play "Red River Valley" followed by "Home On the Range". And who knows - his songbook might tell him it was written by an obscure folksinger from the 20th century called"Mudcat"

25 Feb 00 - 07:13 PM (#185006)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: GUEST,Steve Roberson

Thanks for the insight, Spaw. I had a feeling that this was an ongoing conversation, and I don't mean to drag you back to ground that has already been covered. You make some very good points, and it is certainly true that the more self-indulgent singer-songwriters out there can get tiresome. But I still wonder whether we need to restrict ourselves to only those songs that refer to experiences that are overtly "common" -- such as bringing in the harvest, battening down the hatches, etc. -- and dismiss those that refer to solitary experiences that may also have relevance to large numbers of individuals. Some of these may not even be explicitly described, but nevertheless may strike a chord that resonates in the hearts of people who do not know the songwriter, and are not familiar with his or her experiences. Bob Dylan comes to mind as an example that everyone is familiar with -- an artist who worked with traditional forms, but moved from narratives of "public" events and experiences (the murder of a servant by her employer, the closing of the iron mines, the exploitation of the young by "masters of war"), to more abstract explorations of personal, internal journeys (Chimes of Freedom, Mr. Tambourine Man, and his later, louder works). In many ways his more abstract, and even surreal, journeys may have been more universally understandable than his more traditional "folk" narratives (most of us have never worked in an iron mine or fought in a war, but everyone has a soul). So while there is admittedly an awful lot of self-indulgence among modern singer-songwriters, I would be reluctant to exclude them from the "potential future traditional" category. After all, which song would you guess is more likely to be remembered a hundred years from now -- The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, or Mr. Tambourine Man?

Well, I have gone on at some length here; you may end up regretting inviting me to join you. But I'm pleased to have found a group of thinking people who care about some of the same things I do. Thanks for allowing me into your discussion. -- Steve

25 Feb 00 - 07:47 PM (#185026)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: SeanM

As an interesting side note to this discussion, last night at the Grammys, the winner for Best Heavy Metal song was (drumroll please) "Whisky in the Jar" by Metallica.

Between this, and several local bands running their own versions of "traditional music" including Gaelic Storm, the "folk band" from the movie Titanic, and other locals with roots from traditional Irish through renaissance drinking songs, there's a good scene still running.

I get the feeling that what will happen will be what's happened over the centuries. Most of the music, literature and other entertainment media will be forgotten, leaving a selection that will be carried on by future generations.

The future's in good hands... and if it isn't, well, it's a bit late to worry about it.


25 Feb 00 - 08:29 PM (#185038)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: catspaw49

Good point Sean!!!

Steve, feel free to become a member and lose that guest handle. Dylan is a good example and I agree with your points. Tom Paxton, Stan Rogers, Phil Ochs, Pat Sky, Si Kahn, Lennon/McCartney for that matter and a ton of others have written excellent material that will enter the standard "TRAD" song list over time. In some of our long winded discussions on "What is Folk" around here, many points of view are well and strongly upheld. But for me, a lot of it is more semantical than serious differences. A point that most tend to agree to is what some refer to as the "Navel Contemplator" songwriter who is thrown into the "Folk" classification but does no trad stuff, doesn't really pay much homage to what has come before, and writes songs that are so personal that no one but them can sing them with any meaning.

Sure folk has a future, but it will still be up to us to use the same technology that has closed some doors, to open up others to continue the "folk process" and the "oral traditions" in some additional ways now available. Its still a small market and a bit of the hard scrabble life for folk music, but its still alive and the tradition continues in some untraditional ways.


26 Feb 00 - 03:55 AM (#185199)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: The Shambles

There is some more good stuff here. Original Music that sounds Traditional.

I think what "most tend agree to" is that it is just a question of taste. Because there are some 'bad' folksingers, you do not dismiss the entire 'shooting match' and never listen to any. Though a lot of people do and it is their loss. So why dismiss the serious work of thousands of good and talented souls just because there are some not so good ones in their ranks?

26 Feb 00 - 04:48 PM (#185374)
Subject: RE: Is there a future for traditional music
From: Lonesome EJ

Steve Roberson's comment about the high "noise level of current society" got me thinking. The obvious responses would be two very different ones: 1) The attempt to distinguish music from this ambient buzz by exceeding it, ie heavy metal, industrial strength rock. 2) The attempt to escape it by drawing inward to a quieter and more tranquil environment, ie folk and acoustic musics. With the ever increasing volume level of daily life, choice number 1 may lose it's attraction through a lack of differentiation. It seems to me Choice 2 will become ever more attractive.