Mudcat Café message #3184728 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #138735   Message #3184728
Posted By: Richard Bridge
10-Jul-11 - 04:11 AM
Thread Name: Do purists really exist?
Subject: RE: Do purists really exist?
On the basis of what has been said above I cannot agree that all music is traditional. That assertion seems to involve eliding the scales that are used, and possibly the timings, with the works composed using them. It would obviously be impossible to contend that a set of words that I might compose today or tomorrow were traditional save in the obviously ridiculous sense that each individual word I used was traditional and the grammatical structures I used likewise. Even that plainly unuseful argument breaks down when applied to music: for example there was some years ago a South American composer who decided to break the octave down into 64 intervals rather than 12. Clearly the music he composed was not in any sense traditional unless you assert that the existence of an octave is a tradition rather than a mathematical fact. In short the assertion is a typical piece of horse dishonesty (or horse puckey if you prefer).

The absurd academic arguments employed (obfuscated by frequent gratuitous philological exhibitionism) to seek to invalidate the core views of the 1954 definition are it seems to me equally dishonest in context - as is the outright false assertion that the 1954 definition uses the expression, much less is founded on views about, "working class".

Even the story about Karpeles allegedly saying that a person was not a folk singer because he had been educated involves a probably malicious slight: I am in no doubt that Karpeles would have been aware of (and largely observed) the distinction between a folk singer and a folksong singer - one used for example in early Martin Carthy sleeve notes.

This is not, however, in principle a "what is folk" thread. It asks "Do purists exist". That can only be answered by knowing what a purist is.

The definitions I cited above centre on a tendency to prohibit or criticise the doing of things save in certain older manners or forms. They do not centre on knowing the difference between derivations. There are two points here. First, the (only sensible, so far) definition of folk music is one of derivation not form or style although some authorities do cite matters of style or form (in particular formulaic expression, and some aspects of the use of modes if you believe that modes exist rather than being choices of notes in a scale) as indicating probable derivation. Second the interaction between the correct use of the expression "folk music" and the word "purist" depends on what is sought to be prohibited or criticised. Int he examples given above there are two main strands of criticism or prohibition.

The first type of prohibition or criticism is that a work is not "folk" (or as in the case of the Singers' Club part of the community of the singer). The furthest anyone has gone on this thread is Jim, and he has not suggested that a song should be banned from any assembly merely because it was not folk. On the contrary, although he admits all folk song (although I wonder how far I'd get in County Clare with some "traditional" British Army songs if I knew any) he also admits "folk-alike" songs that are stylistically close enough. Possibly Bob Copper might have gone further.

We may therefore conclude that we cannot find an example of anyone who seeks to exclude works that are not "folk". There remain, then, only those who seek to exclude for matters of style or form (including "you're doing it wrong" and "those aren't the right words").

That conceivably does fall within the core of the definitions I gave. I've never had anyone tell me, although I do get told that I do some things differently from typical renditions, that I shouldn't do it my way. I know someone who claims to have been firmly glared at by Bob Copper for doing "The Cuddy Wren" with a guitar, but perhaps Bob just didn't like the way the guitar was being played (OK, that's tongue in cheek in case the person is reading this).

The evidence on that would seem to be that although such people do exist, they are rare, but more particularly that their objections are nothing to do with whether something is folk music. So can we leave horses out?