Mudcat Café message #2959448 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #131220   Message #2959448
Posted By: Jack Blandiver
06-Aug-10 - 10:26 AM
Thread Name: What isn't folk
Subject: RE: What isn't folk
Sorry to bang on but I've just logged-in to take a stroll through my past posts and found this response to a similar point from MtheGM bacvk in January.

Subject: RE: Taking on the Big Boys? - classic big long ballads
From: S O'P - PM
Date: 12 Jan 10 - 06:49 AM

MtheGM: When Child called his collection 'The English & Scottish Popular Ballads', he certainly did not mean what would nowadays be called 'popular' [or 'pop'] songs.

Thanks, MtheGM - this actually distracted me from my more pressing concerns last night & lulled me into nice sleepy reverie in which it occurred to me that the use of Popular in both senses is exactly the same. There has been some sterling discussion on the wellsprings of the Big Boys from the - er - Big Boys (Jim, Brian et al) which has shed light on the nature of an essentially creative vernacular tradition in which ballads were wrought by virtue of an idiomatic mastery in precisely the same way pop songs are today. Jim has even suggested many ballads were, in effect, free-styled, which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest, given that free-styling is often the mark of true mastery in many narrative idioms - from Hip-Hop to that of the Serbian bards.

The essential difference would appear to be one of transmission. Time was the only available recording media was Human Memory - which comes supplied with a pair of excellent stereo binaural microphones and, as is supposed, near perfect recall especially when used in a (mainly) non-technological culture where people are more creative by default - thus playback is apt to emphasise the idiosyncratic nature of the thing. In terms of sampling and remixing of existing material there is evidence enough of the sort of fluidic mastery I've been arguing for elsewhere with respect of Folk Song. This is the exact same mastery that would have been commonplace in the trades of the time, so it shouldn't surprise us that ordinary people (so-called) were making & singing these songs any more than a so-called ordinary person (such as a Susan Boyle or an Alfie Boe) can capture the hearts of millions today with what is, in essence, a natural born talent defined by the traditions of their respective cultures.

The nature of Popular Music in both senses is Idiomatically Creative - the idiom being the very wellspring of its creativity, which is the actual germ of The Tradition, determined as it is by the prevailing Zeitgeist which on one hand gives us The Ballad Tradition and on the other The Hip-Hop / Rap Tradition. Both of which are Popular Traditional Musics in precisely the same sense - but neither are Folk as both the common usage of the term and its 1954 Definition renders it essentially meaningless*. Thus whilst we might lose ourselves pondering What is Folk? - or indeed Does Folk Exist? - the nature of Popular Music remains pretty constant throughout history even unto this day - applying equally to the ballads Child included in his collection and to the music we call Pop in all its myriad forms. Both are the results of living traditions of vernacular mastery and creativity - and both are a perfect reflection of the human society in which they were / are created.


* As indicated elsewhere the folkloric understanding of the term community has expanded to the extent that the use of the term in the 1954 Definition becomes so nebulous as to make The Horse Definition look pretty exacting by comparison. Thus Folk is either nothing or everything...