Mudcat Café message #2277488 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #109111   Message #2277488
Posted By: Stringsinger
02-Mar-08 - 01:38 PM
Thread Name: Folk terminology
Subject: RE: Folk terminology
Hi Jim,

I'll throw in my 2 cents here.

" the term 'folk', which appears to have no definition whatsoever to many people who take part in these discussions."

I wouldn't say it has no definition but certainly conflicting ones depending on your vantage point and reason for being a part of a "folk process".


"1.   Finger-in-Ear.
It has always been my understanding that this term originated from the timeless and universal practice of cupping the hand over the ear while singing unaccompanied.   
Does the fact that it has now become a term of abuse mean that, in today's clubs it is no longer necessary to sing in tune."

Singing in tune is an arbitrary discussion since from the time of the tempered scale,
there has been no precise tuning in music. Many folksingers who are authentic sound
out of tune to those who are not familiar with the vocal folk styles. Some notes are deliberately or unconsciously altered to reflect a musical tradition or history. Some consider that they can hear themselves better if the mess with their ears. This may be
delusional on their part, however.


"Alternatively, is the act of singing without accompaniment now frowned on by the folk establishment?"

I don't think so. There are plenty of a capella small groups who like singing that way.
The "folk establishment" is not specific enough. There are many "folk establishments".

"I seem to remember from having seen them perform in the past, that singers such as Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and the late Peter Bellamy sang with both hands cupped over their ears; does this make them 'finger(s)-in-ear(s) singers, and therefore, doubly reprehensible?"

Agreed that this could be some kind of affectation. But it also made them shut out extraneous noises such as out-of-tune accompanists or well-meaning players who didn't know the songs.

"2.   97 verse ballads.
In my experience a ballad performed at a folk club can have anything from 2 to around 20 verses on average. Though there are ballads and songs in print that exceed this number, I have never heard them performed, though I did once hear an octogenarian sing a 17 verse, 8 line song (The True Lover's Discussion) which lasted nearly fifteen minutes. So popular was his performance, that he was persuaded to repeat it later in the same session.
Is there an optimum length to a song when performed at a club; if so, what is it?"

I think it's what the market will bear. I once sang with Alan Lomax and we traded fifteen
minutes on verses to John Henry. The audience was highly amused.

The griots of Africa are able to present verses to their epic songpoems that can last for many hours. I personally like long ballads if they tell a story in an elegant way.

More responses to your questions later.

Frank Hamilton