Mudcat Café message #1899842 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #30782   Message #1899842
Posted By: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
04-Dec-06 - 01:33 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: What Is Folk?
Subject: RE: Folklore: What Is Folk?
I've been studying folk music for many years. It seems to be a prism. It depends on which light you shine on it. Usually a definition would include that which is accessible to people, music that can be easilly reproduced by those who haven't studied music formally.

The issue of whether folk music is commercial or not is up in the air. There have been folk artists deemed traditional by folk music scholars (maybe an oxymoron here) that have made money at it.

Coming to it from the standpoint of a musical educator, I would say that it must be music that is easilly taught either by imitation or through having it in your cultural background.

But there is something to be said for folk music being morphed from popular music of the stage, or other media. Many of the folksongs that we know were originated as popular show pieces such as "Angeline the Baker" or "Old Dan Tucker".

The traditional ballads might have originated from epic poems by a single author and then played with or changed by others throughout the years.

I think the definition of what it is has expanded through the years and can't easilly be pinned down any more. You can't define it by a method of exclusion which seemed to be the way it was done in the Fifties and Sixties by various folk clubs and organizations with an agenda. Are the songs by Ewan McColl (AKA Jimmy Miller) typical of the folk tradition?
Some have a question about that. Ewan was a professional entertainer, actor, playwright.
Now take Pete Seeger who has been known to use thirteenth chords on his banjo accompaniments. Is he a folk singer? He eschews that term applied to himself these days.

So we have to look at the music from different standpoints. If it is music "of the people" then Irving Berlin would have to qualify. Somewhere in the world, a Berlin song is being played today. If folk music reflects a specific tradition of music then the parameters are narrowed to a particular sub-culture and that gets tricky too. Lomax in his use of "Cantrometics" attempted to show that there wasn't much variation in the early traditional country music singing styles of the US and the later commericialized approach   later.

Then you have to separate the performance from a song. When Doc Watson does "Over the Rainbow", has he suddenly stopped being a folk singer?

In short, we are playing around with semantics. The same discussion takes place amoung jazz musicians. Is jazz strictly improvisation or can arrangements of jazz by big bands be called "jazz" as well?

The problem is that when we use words to define music we run into all kinds of headaches. It may not be necessary to define folk music by sorting it out.

Maybe there is a relative basis here. Some songs or performers are more "folk-like" then being all or nothing.

At this point, I simply don't care any more. I like the performer/song or not and go with that.

The problem arises when academicians who have their agendas start dissecting music for their scholastic enterprise and some of this may be helpful and sometimes not.

If some would like to imprison music into certain parameters, that's OK if the rules of the game are understood by the participants.

In the meantime, let's just enjoy folk music whatever it is.

Frank Hamilton