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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Frank Hamilton Folk Process - is it dead? (244* d) RE: Folk Process - is it dead? 31 Jan 07

I would be extremely complemented if someone decided to change a song that I wrote but I would be angry if someone tried to claim authorship for it and start collecting royalties. Pete Seeger changed "If I Had a Hammer" and did it the way Peter Paul and Mary had changed it. He did their version and gave up his own.

The most important aspect of a folk song in my opinion is its accessibility. Some folk songs may deserve to be forgotten because they no longer serve the needs of the community where they were written. They have become archaic and require so many footnotes, historically that the intro to the song takes more time than the song itself to perform. Some folk songs will become "Art Songs" if they are musically and poetically interesting and find their way to the stage. Some will become popular songs (not likely today). But the need to sing them defines their life expectancy. One reason I got into folk is that it has an obvious "social" aspect to it. It can be shared informally and not rarified as with a concert art song. It breaks down the barrier between the stage performer and the audience.

To try to do a song as it was done through imitation risks the performer coming off phony or not true to him/herself. (I cringe when I hear young white kids trying to sound "soulful" or see college students in overhauls with handlebar mustaches and patchy jeans trying to be "old time". )

I think that folk music already has adapted because people are making the music for themselves. The tunes are not far-off or esoteric and when they are inclusive through singing choruses and recognition. There are musical traditions that are being carried out today by those who respect those traditions and understand them. Up in New England, they get together to sing sea chanteys and add some new songs to the repitiore. They still have Sacred Harp sings throughout the country. Spirituals are still being sung, some recently composed and others older in that tradition. There's the blues...still goes on.

There are "folk-style" songs being written by people who are sensitive to that tradition.
(Merle Travis "Dark As A Dungeon", Jean Ritchie "The L and N Don't Stop Here Anymore"
and Woody, Prine, Dylan and others capture the spirit of "folk".

The biggest obstacle to what happens to the "folk process" is the penchant for academic types to attempt to define what is the real deal and they miss the forest for the trees.
I think of Leadbelly (who most of you know) who loved the way Richard Dyer-Bennett performed his art song versions of folk. Maybe John Henry was off stylistically when Dyer-Bennett performed it, but most of his work was lovely and introduced new audiences to the content of folk, musically and lyrically. In that sense, he carried the folk tradition forward.

You would have to say that for the Kingston Trio although many would consider that in a disdainful manner as breaching the "purity". Well, there is no purity. There is no pure human being as well as the songs they sing. Something we hear in a song comes from something else.

What is dead however is the conception of what folk has been due to its commerciality and popularization through the music industry. Folk music is not an "image". That's just the show business part. The music carries its own weight because it has a value that moves people and makes it identifiable and lives on as a result. People want to recreate it.

Frank Hamilton

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