Mudcat Café message #2593552 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #119547   Message #2593552
Posted By: Uncle_DaveO
20-Mar-09 - 03:54 PM
Thread Name: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
Will Fly commented/asked:

And do we say that, by definition, all folk music ceased to be such the moment it was written down, recorded and fixed in time and space.

It depends on the result of the writing down or recording, and whether the song is in effect "fixed" thereafter. There has been a good deal of discussion on just this subject on Ballad-L recently (surprise!), and focusing on "Red River Valley". Most posters agreed (as I read it) that "Red River Valley" has become pretty much fixed in form, so that to that extent it's no longer alive and developing. It was a folk song, and is deserving of study on that account today, along with its earlier forms, but if it's fixed, no longer changing, it's no longer a live folk song. That is not to say that it won't at some time come back to life, although I personally tend to doubt that will happen.

On the other hand, quite a few folk or traditional songs, after publishing in print or recording, live on in the tradition and continue to change in parallel with the fixed, published version, and may indeed outlive the fixed form.

Someone on Ballad-L made the wise (I think) observation that the traditional nature of a piece of music or folk song is more a matter of process than of content. The judgment in that case should be whether the given piece develops and changes on its way through the minds, mouths, and fingers of "the folk". If a song (either the words or the music)--say through mondegreens, parody, singers' PC editing of words, or narrative recasting in some way--changes, and keeps changing, then that's a sure sign that it's part of the folk process.

If such a song is found to have been fixed as given in some published form (like RRV, above), and no further change takes place because people only know or remember or only approve of the "official" form, then it's not "in the tradition" any more. To put it another way, "tradition" is not a heavy hand, holding subsequent practitioners to the way things used to be, but rather a live arena for changing and developing both songs and instrumental music.

A song which began, say, in the 16th Century and still is around, being sung today, has been through the hands and minds of thousands of "editors" on its way to today, who may have improved it, may have harmed it, but assuredly have changed it over that time. A new song, however meritorious, which has not had the chance to run that gantlet of "editors" and the resultant change, can't, I don't believe, be considered "folk music" or "traditional music".

Dave Oesterreich