Mudcat Café message #3180502 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #138735   Message #3180502
Posted By: bluesunsets
02-Jul-11 - 10:53 PM
Thread Name: Do purists really exist?
Subject: RE: Do purists really exist?
As a twenty-something female and a relative newcomer to the traditional sea music scene (apologies to those of you who are English folkies; I'm from the other side of the pond.), I came to the realization long ago that I will never be a "purist singer/player" of my chosen folk niche. It's impossible, based off of my gender and the realization that, Jackaroes and other anomalies aside, the astounding majority of sailors aboard ships were male. As such, for me it's not so much about what is the "purist" version of the song (although I love looking at the many variants extant, both published and non-published), as what version works well for me as a performer and also as a listener.

I also was introduced to the folk music scene at The Gris in CT, which I've been told is a bit of a different atmosphere from the norm. On an average night in the summer especially, we're encouraged to sing loudly, spontaneously harmonize (some nights we're more successful than others), and various random people have been known to start up a chanty during the breaks in a fit of drunken recall. This has also led to instances of mis-hearing lyrics in the caterwaul of the background conversation that then have gotten into common in-jokes among segments of the regular population ("Crooked Dan" instead of "Crooked Jack" for instance).

That isn't to say that I don't have my biases and preferences about music, but as someone who migrated to Folk from the comparatively rigid Classical music world, one of the things that I love about the tradition is that unlike Classical music, which has been written down in increasingly rigid form from the Middle Ages on, any sheet music that you find for Folk generally acknowledges that it came from an oral tradition. So whereas when I play Mozart's Clarinet Concerto at an audition heaven forbid I don't do the cadenza from his Clarinet quartet (forgive me if I forget the exact origin; it's late here) in the second movement, if I decide to make up my own verses to "Blow the Man Down" the next time I'm at a singaround I probably would be applauded for it, or at the very least people would be familiar enough with the tune to sing the correct replies. Or maybe I want to sing the older tune to Walzing Matilda.... Didn't go over well in my General Music class as a music ed major in college, but I could see people appreciating it in the Folk world.

In short, folk is folk because people have a license to interpret and change it. I don't have to like your version, but it's arguably as legit as the Seeger or Lomax recording in the LoC records from 80 years ago. There's a place for both the new version and the version that tries to recreate as closely as possible that 80 year old recording.