Mudcat Café message #2595263 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #119547   Message #2595263
Posted By: GUEST,a passing academic
23-Mar-09 - 09:21 AM
Thread Name: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
A search on Google produces this - Definition of Folk Music. You have to pay $12 to find out the rules you must obey.

Not if you've got access - and not if the text has been liberated by a passing academic.

DEFINITION OF FOLK MUSIC by MAUD KARPELES (London)

This communication is mainly a recapitulation of opinions that have previously been expressed and is offered as a basis for discussion.

At the Annual Conference of the International Folk Music Council held in London two years ago we attempted to define folk music, but were unable to devise a definition which completely satisfied all the members. The provisional definition adopted by the Council was: "Folk music is music that has been submitted to the process of oral transmission. It is the product of evolution and is dependent on the circumstances of continuity, variation and selection."

This definition implies that folk music is the product of an unwritten tradition and that the elements that have shaped, or are shaping, the tradition are: (1) continuity, which links the present with the past; (2) variation, which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (3) selection by the community which determines the form in which folk music survives.

The definition rightly leaves out of account the origin of folk music. The term can therefore be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by art music; and it can also be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten, living tradition of a community. But the term does not cover a song, dance or tune that has been taken over ready-made and remains unchanged. It is the fashioning and re-fashioning of the music by the community that gives it its folk character.

When a tune passes into oral tradition, it becomes subject to the forces of evolution and conforms in the following way to the demands of continuity, variation and selection. Firstly, the tune is to some extent translated into the accepted idiom, so that the continuity of tradition is maintained; secondly, it ceases to be static and stereotyped, but becomes multiform through the individual variations made by its performers; and thirdly, the forms in which the tune ultimately survives are determined by the community: for the variations which meet with approval persist, and the others die out. In this sense, a folk song, even when it has an individual origin, may be said to be of communal authorship.

The time factor must play a part in evolution. A song that is learned orally, say from the radio, does not immediately and automatically become a folk song, no matter how great is its popularity. Tipperary [i.e. It's a Long Way To...], one of the most popular songs in the first World War, never became a folk song because it was never re-created by the folk.

How long does it take for a composed song to become a folk song? That is a question that is often asked and one to which it is impossible to give an answer. In communities in which there is a strong folk music tradition a composed song which hits the popular imagination will very quickly be absorbed into the tradition, but where the existing tradition is declining the process of transformation will take longer, if indeed it happens at all.

The weakness of the definition adopted by the Council is that it leaves out the time element. The definition originally placed before the Council was: "Music that has been submitted throughout many generations to the moulding process of oral transmission." But the words "throughout many generations" were omitted, because it was felt by some that the time factor does not operate to the same extent in a new country as it does in one with an older civilisation. The objection may have arisen owing to an erroneous identification of the term folk music with autochthonous music. Many of the songs that are traditionally sung on the American Continent are of European origin, but their transportation from Europe to America does not invalidate their claim to be considered folk songs.

In any country in which art music and folk music exist side by side there is bound to be inter-action between the two types of music and there will always be a certain number of songs that are on the border-line; but this should not prevent us from recognising that the two types are distinctive. It must, however, be borne in mind that in the transition from folk music to art music or vice versa there must always be a re-creation. In the same way that folk music may constitute the raw material of art music, so may art music constitute the raw material of folk music.
[ends]