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Folk terminology

Doug Chadwick 08 Mar 08 - 05:57 AM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 07 Mar 08 - 07:25 PM
Brian Peters 07 Mar 08 - 07:02 AM
Tootler 06 Mar 08 - 05:55 PM
Rowan 06 Mar 08 - 05:54 PM
Richard Bridge 06 Mar 08 - 05:21 PM
GUEST,fRooty 06 Mar 08 - 12:13 PM
Jim Carroll 06 Mar 08 - 02:58 AM
Rowan 05 Mar 08 - 11:19 PM
Jim Carroll 05 Mar 08 - 02:55 PM
curmudgeon 05 Mar 08 - 10:52 AM
Folkiedave 05 Mar 08 - 10:46 AM
Bert 05 Mar 08 - 09:28 AM
Snuffy 05 Mar 08 - 09:18 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 05 Mar 08 - 08:50 AM
Nerd 04 Mar 08 - 10:54 PM
Rowan 04 Mar 08 - 08:07 PM
meself 04 Mar 08 - 07:53 PM
Don Firth 04 Mar 08 - 05:43 PM
Richard Bridge 04 Mar 08 - 05:23 PM
Don Firth 04 Mar 08 - 05:04 PM
dick greenhaus 04 Mar 08 - 04:59 PM
Don Firth 04 Mar 08 - 04:53 PM
Dave Sutherland 04 Mar 08 - 04:12 PM
Ernest 04 Mar 08 - 02:02 PM
Jim Carroll 04 Mar 08 - 01:23 PM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 04 Mar 08 - 10:50 AM
The Borchester Echo 04 Mar 08 - 03:38 AM
Jim Carroll 04 Mar 08 - 03:17 AM
Nerd 03 Mar 08 - 11:23 PM
Art Thieme 03 Mar 08 - 07:19 PM
Richard Bridge 03 Mar 08 - 07:03 PM
GUEST 03 Mar 08 - 04:53 PM
Don Firth 03 Mar 08 - 04:24 PM
Tootler 03 Mar 08 - 03:16 PM
BB 03 Mar 08 - 02:36 PM
Gene Burton 03 Mar 08 - 12:29 PM
Snuffy 03 Mar 08 - 12:22 PM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 03 Mar 08 - 11:16 AM
GUEST,Suffolk Miracle 03 Mar 08 - 09:04 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 03 Mar 08 - 08:28 AM
Brian Peters 03 Mar 08 - 07:05 AM
GUEST,bill S from Perth 03 Mar 08 - 07:01 AM
Richard Bridge 03 Mar 08 - 06:50 AM
Waddon Pete 03 Mar 08 - 06:43 AM
Brian Peters 03 Mar 08 - 05:32 AM
McGrath of Harlow 03 Mar 08 - 05:22 AM
GUEST,doc.tom 03 Mar 08 - 03:54 AM
Jim Carroll 03 Mar 08 - 03:30 AM
Jim Carroll 03 Mar 08 - 03:23 AM
dick greenhaus 02 Mar 08 - 08:10 PM
TheSnail 02 Mar 08 - 07:48 PM
Art Thieme 02 Mar 08 - 07:15 PM
Suegorgeous 02 Mar 08 - 06:54 PM
Bill D 02 Mar 08 - 05:19 PM
Nerd 02 Mar 08 - 04:30 PM
GUEST,Acorn4 02 Mar 08 - 03:39 PM
stallion 02 Mar 08 - 03:31 PM
greg stephens 02 Mar 08 - 03:26 PM
Bert 02 Mar 08 - 03:09 PM
michaelr 02 Mar 08 - 02:55 PM
KeithofChester 02 Mar 08 - 02:38 PM
Folkiedave 02 Mar 08 - 02:30 PM
Amos 02 Mar 08 - 02:21 PM
The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive) 02 Mar 08 - 02:19 PM
Bert 02 Mar 08 - 02:14 PM
GUEST,JohnB 02 Mar 08 - 02:00 PM
Stringsinger 02 Mar 08 - 01:38 PM
Brian Peters 02 Mar 08 - 01:24 PM
Barry Finn 02 Mar 08 - 11:23 AM
KeithofChester 02 Mar 08 - 11:04 AM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 02 Mar 08 - 09:54 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Mar 08 - 08:54 AM
GUEST,redsnapper 02 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM
Jack Campin 02 Mar 08 - 08:38 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Mar 08 - 08:35 AM
GUEST,Meggly 02 Mar 08 - 08:32 AM
RTim 02 Mar 08 - 08:25 AM
Waddon Pete 02 Mar 08 - 08:07 AM
Gene Burton 02 Mar 08 - 07:31 AM
TheSnail 02 Mar 08 - 07:05 AM
Marje 02 Mar 08 - 06:44 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 02 Mar 08 - 06:10 AM
Gene Burton 02 Mar 08 - 06:03 AM
Gene Burton 02 Mar 08 - 05:59 AM
TheSnail 02 Mar 08 - 05:56 AM
Richard Bridge 02 Mar 08 - 05:39 AM
Gene Burton 02 Mar 08 - 05:29 AM
Richard Bridge 02 Mar 08 - 04:36 AM
Jim Carroll 02 Mar 08 - 04:26 AM
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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Doug Chadwick
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 05:57 AM

Picture here of a young Cliff Richard with what looks suspiciously like a hand cupped behind his ear! (aka finger in ear)

I don't think that Cliff was trying to improve his vocal performance. It's just one of the dance moves that he thought would make him look mean, moody and magnificent.

As Cliff dances like a Thunderbird, my first impression was that one of his strings had broken.

DC


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 07 Mar 08 - 07:25 PM

"I once sat through a performance of Matty Groves of spectacular melodic inaccuracy and lack of committment, only for the singer to finish a couple of verses prematurely with the words: "I can't remember the rest - anyway they all end up dead." It would have been preferable (although still incorrect) if he'd said that after verse 1."

I agree Brian, and it might have been even better had he not said it, but DONE it instead.

I also agree with your last sentence in the above post


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Brian Peters
Date: 07 Mar 08 - 07:02 AM

>> Good God many of us would kill to liberate "folk" music from the hand of the professionals and let the1954 defintion run free! <<

One of the regulars at my local folk club in Glossop many years ago was dead against the policy of booking even occasional guest artists and would never attend those evenings, muttering noisily about how folk music was the music of the people and we shouldn't be expected to pay to hear others perform it. His own repertoire, however, consisted entirely of songs obviously drawn from the repertoires of well-known professional performers of the 1970s.

Maybe if people like me all packed up and got proper jobs, there would be a sudden spontaneous flowering of traditional singing in communities across the land, but somehow I'm not convinced.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Tootler
Date: 06 Mar 08 - 05:55 PM

Picture here of a young Cliff Richard with what looks suspiciously like a hand cupped behind his ear! (aka finger in ear)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Rowan
Date: 06 Mar 08 - 05:54 PM

I'm with you, Richard, although I do enjoy music from various cultures.

But it occurred to me that the comment implying Mudcat was full of professionals indicated that the writer confused being 'well informed' with being 'professional'; there's a lot of such confusion about.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 06 Mar 08 - 05:21 PM

I personally couldn't give a stuff about world music. But the Mudcat full of professionals? Good God many of us would kill to liberate "folk" music from the hand of the professionals and let the1954 defintion run free!

Slight snork, gets coat....


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,fRooty
Date: 06 Mar 08 - 12:13 PM

Now that is what I call an endorsement and a half!

"Most of them are kept off the fRoots board now and largely inhabit a noxious forum called Mudcat (DON'T go there)"...

Recommendation


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Mar 08 - 02:58 AM

'Attention span' is given as a reason regularly for not singing long songs - I have to say I don't understand the argument.
Given that I can watch a film or a play of, say 2/3 hours duration, or can read a book for hours on end (given the chance!), why should I not be able to listen to a song of ten minutes (max) without losing concentration.
Providing the film, play, book, song, have been made and executed sufficiently well, and given that they fall within my interest and understanding, why should I need to set a time limit on them?
Veering slightly off-subject, during the making of the Radio Ballad 'Song of a Road', producer Charles Parker played sections of actuality which had been recorded for the programme, to pupils in schools in Birmingham and measured the length they continued to listen to the various speakers. He found that the duration varied between, say a 'well-spoken' highly educated (planner - architect - manager - whatever) and a bulldozer driver, navvy, manual labourer, in the ratio of around four to one, in favour of the manual workers, even when the regional accent was unfamiliar.
This was just an observation on Charles' part; he never went into details, so I don't know how valid his findings were.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Rowan
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 11:19 PM

More on the effects of literacy on attention spans
Many years ago I was lectured (in oral history) by Nigel Oram, who'd done a fair amount of research in PNG, concentrating on the Motu. The most recent people in PNG to make the transition between "Prehistoric" (ie there was no writing and thus no written record within their culture) and "Historic" (where their cultural history started to be written, releasing them from having to memorise aurally and transmit their memories orally) was in the 1930s but the Motu had started the transfer about a generation earlier.

Genealogies were extremely important, as their "understanding" of timing in history was tied to the association of particular events to particular forbears. Their accuracy was verified by testing the accuracy of recollection (within a particular genealogy) of a volcanic eruption in their territory; analysis of their genealogy put the eruption at about 1200bp. An archaeological excavation within their territory had revealed a stratum containing volcanic ash which logic determined had to be from the same eruption mentioned in the genealogy. Radio-isotope dating of this ash gave its age, within quite close error-bars, as 1200bp.

Currently, their descendents have telly the way we do and suffer the same exposures to commercial programming, where programs are cut for ad breaks, themselves designed for attention spans of no more than 30 seconds and they are spaced through the programs every 10 minutes. This means that a dominating part of their culture diminishes the requirement of attention spans of greater than 10 minutes.

And we've been exposed to the same demeaning process for much longer, with measurable effects on students' (and teachers') classroom performance. Where we feel 'some obligation' to pay attention, so it's no wonder that the longer ballads are, these days, somewhat handicapped.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 02:55 PM

Bert,
The BBC 3 minutes was stated as being that they considered that was the limit a listening audience could take - according to employee Charles Parker.
MacColl's reason for splitting Gil Morris was similar (40 odd years ago).
No name calling intended.
If you don't qualify your '3 minutes' I can only guess you reason.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: curmudgeon
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 10:52 AM

I've been using the cuppedhand/ear technique for longer than I can remember. It helps to stay on key, but perhaps more important, it helps me to utilise the best vocal tone for the song.

This is especially true at the aforementioned Press Room, which in addition to occasional forays of loud patrons, this club has the most bizarre, or possibly the worst accoustics in the known universe. If you can sing and project at the Press Room, you can sing anywhere.

I'll pst some more thoughts later, as BG needs to use the computer.

Thanks to Jim carroll for staring this fine thread, and to Don Firth for hs insightful commentary -- Tom Hall


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Folkiedave
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 10:46 AM

A breakthrough came with Marty Robbins' recording of "El Paso," which ran for about 7 minutes, and since it gave disc jockeys time to go to the bathroom, they played it. A few years later, actor Richard Harris had a hit song with "MacArthur Park," which went on for bloody ever! Gave the DJ time to go out for a beer.

I confess to playing Chris Woods "England in Ribbons" (13 minutes) and nipping to the coffee bar next to the radio station for a coffee.

AS fas as altering and changing songs are concerned of course we do it. That is the folk process. It might be just the mis-hearing of songs, Billy Mills (singing about Father Christmas) used to sing "Over the reefs and drifts of snow" instead of - "Over the roofs and the drifts of snow" - which is more normal.

But it doesn't matter really - does it?


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Bert
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 09:28 AM

Jim says...

Bert;
I assume this is the limit of your attention span.

...AND in the same post says...

Personally, I thought I'd left juvenile name-calling back in the playfround of Birchfield Road Junior School all those years ago...


Yeah Right!

Jim, you asked a valid question and a I gave you a perfectly reasonable answer. If you don't agree with it, that is fine by me, lots of people think it's OK. to sing longer songs.

Just stick to what you say and leave off 'juvenile name-calling'.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Snuffy
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 09:18 AM

Probably the first time I saw the hand cupped behind the ear was the radio announcer (Gary Owens?) on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 05 Mar 08 - 08:50 AM

Wow! This has turned into a fascinating thread. The contributions by Don Firth, Rowan and Nerd are much appreciated - more!

Has anyone read Julia C. Bishop's paper, 'Bell Duncan: The greatest ballad singer of all time?' in 'Folk Song: Tradition, Revival and re-Creation' ed. Ian Russell and David Atkinson (Elphinstone Institute, 2004)? Bishop considers James Carpenter's informant, Bell Duncan who gave him "sixty-five Child ballads with tunes, never a single reference to manuscript." After examining Duncan's repertoire in detail Bishop goes on to suggest that this last assertion of Carpenter's may not be true and that, "Bell Duncan, or someone in the train of transmission to Bell Duncan, must have learned the ballads from print rather than from oral transmission ..."

In fact it seems to me that the relationship between printed material and oral transmission, for the past couple of centuries - or even longer, has been much more complex (not to say enigmatic) than we tend to give it credit for. The other example which I think is intriguing is 'Tam Lin'. I have often heard it asserted that this is probably a 'literary' ballad, but if so how did fragments of it, with tunes, get into the repertoires of the Scots Traveller singers, Betsy Johnston and Willie Whyte ( see 'The Muckle Sangs: Classic Scots Ballads', Greentrax Records, 1992)?

Oh yes, on the 'finger-in-the-ear' question, I serendipitously came across another paper in the book cited above, called 'The ballad singer and seller in the works of William Hogarth' by Andrew C. Rouse. One of the illustrations in this paper is called, 'The Idle'Prentice Executed at Tyburn'. Depicted in the forefront of the crowd at the "'Prentice's" execution is a woman holding a ballad sheet in her right hand and a baby in the crook of her right arm. Her mouth is open as if in song (or possibly bawling her wares) and her left hand is cupped behind her left ear. I would guess that this illustration dates from around the 1730s.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Nerd
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 10:54 PM

Don, I admire your former professor very much; Fowler's book on ballads should be standard reading!

It's true that some of the incidents from the Geste were possibly in other, previous ballads--especially the death part. But there is no evidence that the big story--what would be called the A-plot in screenplay writing--was ever a sung ballad. So we have a situation where maybe 20 of the 456 verses were in oral tradition.

Fowler actually doesn't even think the death was the subject of a ballad until after the Geste. He believes that the Geste is a literary poem, possibly intended for reading aloud or recitation, which drew on previous outlaw tales, but not on ballads:

"it is not really possible to speak of sources for the [Geste of Robin Hood] in ballad form.... The separate Robin Hood ballads often supposed to be the sources of the poem did not come into being until well after 1400, which is the date usually assigned to 'A Geste of Robin Hood.'" (Fowler 1970: 79-80)

Your points about the Iliad are well taken. But what I said still stands: many scholars believe Parry and Lord's claims go too far, and that Oral-Formulaic theory does not and never did show that the Iliad was itself orally composed or performed. They believe all the theory shows us is that certain cultures' poetics are informed by the existence of oral composition, and that in those cultures even poems that are not orally composed will contain features of oral delivery simply by convention. A good example is the English alliterative revival; while some argue Beowulf was orally composed, few argue that "Piers Plowman" was; yet "Piers Plowman" retains poetic features from the tradition that gave us Beowulf. The Iliad could well be one of these--a literary poem informed by a previous tradition of oral composition. Only Jethro knows for sure!


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Rowan
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 08:07 PM

97 verse ballads.
In my experience a ballad performed at a folk club can have anything from 2 to around 20 verses on average. Though there are ballads and songs in print that exceed this number, I have never heard them performed


Before I read Don's posts, I was reminded of Ian Maxwell, whom I first met in the early 60s. At that time he lectured in English at Melbourne Uni and his lectures on poetry to first year students (about 350 all told) were given in the "Public Lecture Theatre" with a seating capacity of 850. Routinely there was standing room only, with students (and staff) from other years, other units, other courses and other faculties crowding to hear him and routinely they'd have tears running down their cheeks at the power of the poetry and his presentation.

Honours students in English were, at that time, required to do a separate set of studies after first year and these studies, many convened by Ian Maxwell, included Old Norse and Old Icelandic; I still remember him referring to Pharoese as "Old Norse with a North Fitzroy accent" (North Fitzroy was at that time a very working class suburb in Melbourne. I also recall him describing some of the Old Icelandic ballads as requiring not only singing, but dancing as well, and that some of them would go on for three days and nights.

In our enthusiasm for writing, and reading written records, most of us have lost (or never even learned) the techniques of memorising lengthy passages. The last autodidact I knew was the blacksmith who worked (in retirement from doing it for all of his working life) at Sovereign Hill, a museum of mining operations set in a reconstruction of Ballarat (Victoria) set in the 19th century. Like many autodidacts, he could recite the whole of Paradise Lost and many of Shakespeare's plays.

Puts "97 verse ballads" a bit in the shade. And says a lot about attention span, too.

Don's points are, to me, well made; the only recommendation I'd add would be to check out Robert Fagles' translations of the Iliad and Odyssey; not only do they engage poetically (rather than just as literature translated prosaically) but the introductions deal extensively with the timing of the works as oral tradition recorded and collated at the onset of writing.

When GUEST,bill S from Perth wrote
One of Australia's leading trad Australian bush singers admitted that he knew most of the Robin Hood ballads but couldn't sing them because it was not what was expected of him

he could also be describing, with some accuracy, Hugh McEwan. When he first arrived in Melbourne Huge (as he became affectionately known) was routinely asked to sing his collection of Robin Hood ballads; one needed a Scots dictionary but they were all the better received for that.

More than 20 lines; I hope the attention span isn't too strained.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: meself
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 07:53 PM

I never realized that finger or hand to ear was associated with folk singing till I started following this forum. I first became aware of the technique seeing rock singers use it in - the late '70s? early '80s? Always wondered why exactly they were doing it. I have a mental image of Mick Jagger putting hand to ear, but I'm not sure if that is memory or imagination ...


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Don Firth
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 05:43 PM

". . . a third possibility," then.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 05:23 PM

There can never (despite the opinions of some grammarians who should know better) be three alternatives. It is impossible if there are three choices for any one of them to be the alternate to another.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Don Firth
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 05:04 PM

"So, often the attention span, even of a group of teen-aged boys sitting quietly and listening to an old man talk, depends largely on the material presented."

And, of course, on the way in which the material is presented.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 04:59 PM

"...There are ninety-four verses I'll stop to explain
And I learned them this morning with infinite pain.
I'll just mumble the ones I've forgotten again,
And I'd like you to join in the chorus."

Folksinger's Lament (David Diamond)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Don Firth
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 04:53 PM

Miscellaneous ramblings:

True, Nerd, that "A Geste of Robin Hood" runs considerably less than 800 verses, but as I said, that's what I had been told, and I hadn't actually counted them.

There are a number of ballads found in the Child collection—and elsewhere, but still meeting Child's definition—that were assumed to be only literary in character and not actually sung. However, a fair number of them were later discovered to have been of folk origin (or at least, run through the folk process) before being "tidied up" and written down by some poet.

One of my English professors at the University of Washington, the late David C. Fowler (Piers Plowman : In Search of an Author, 1961; and A Literary History of the Popular Ballad, 1970), used an interesting expression, "essence of ink-pot," to refer to a number of ballads in the Child collection. He used this in reference to ballads that he suspected of being either originally authored by or, more frequently, "tampered with" by poets and writers such as Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and others. Sometimes this raised questions as to a ballad's actual origin. Or the actual authorship of poems attributed to some known writer.

Cases in point:

"MacPherson's Farewell." Some say it was written by Jamie MacPherson on the night before he was hanged. I find that a very "romantic" sort of concept that tends to stretch the willing suspension of disbelief quite a bit. But should one assert this as fact, one will get loud arguments from avid Robert Burns fans, many of whom insist that it was written by Burns. I tend to think there is a third alternative.

Or "Lochinvar," which I first encountered in school as a poem by Sir Walter Scott. I have since heard a song called "Lochnagar," sung by Cynthia Gooding on the "Young Man and a Maid" album with Theodore Bikel. The words are a little different, but it tells exactly the same story. I don't have the record, so I can't check the liner notes for info (assuming there is any). Where did she get the song? Is it "folk processed" Scott? Or is it a prior version—that Scott got it from?

Now, as to whether "A Geste of Robin Hood" was a literary ballad ("a product of the printing press") and not sung early on, you may be right. But not necessarily. There is considerable evidence that could very well be a compilation of several Robin Hood ballads, which were recited or sung.

And as to the Iliad, you are also right about the duration of time it covers. It deals with the final year of the ten year siege of Troy. I'm afraid I was thinking of the whole story, which is encompassed in what is known as the "Epic Cycle," a fragmentary collection of poems that includes such things as Paris's abduction of Helen, which precipitated the Trojan War.

The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Homer's Iliad runs some 704 pages. Granted, some of those pages are given over to scholarly commentary, nevertheless, the epic poem itself contains 24 "books" (more like chapters :   The Iliad on line), it and runs a total of some 15,693 lines. Just picking a novel at random off my bookshelves, I count 42 lines per page. Using all my fingers and toes, I calculate that if the 15,693 lines of the Iliad were printed out the way most poetry books are printed these days, it would run to 374 pages.   Sounds like "novel length" to me. . . .

Repetition of lines, or sometimes several lines (not unlike a chorus or refrain), is one of the reasons some scholars feel that epic poetry such as the Iliad was often chanted, with listeners possibly joining in on the repeated lines. It is established that this practice was not at all uncommon in those times.

Meter, rhyme, and melody, many scholars agree, were initially used as aids to memorization in pre-literate societies (and still are, even in literate societies). The precursor of the bard or minstrel who recited or chanted stories to a group of listeners, was an honored position, especially in pre-literate times. As to how widespread literacy itself was, it is known that, due to the excellent educational system in Athens a few hundred years after Homer's time, the rate of literacy among Athenian citizens was quite high. But the state of widespread literacy in Homer's time is not all that well known.

I would not suggest that the entire work would be recited or chanted in a single evening's entertainment, but the ancient Greeks were fairly avid theater-goers, and I've heard tell that some Greek plays would run for a number of evenings in a row (think "mini-series"), so such performances, even on a smaller scale, were not unknown.

I recommend reading the following:    The Iliad as Oral Tradition.

I recall an evening when I was sixteen years old, at Camp Parsons, a Boy Scout summer camp on Washington State's Hood Canal, when the director of the camp, an older man with a real flare for storytelling, held several hundred energetic and antsy Boy Scouts totally enthralled, silent and goggle-eyed, for nearly an hour at the evening campfire gathering. He told the story as if it were a personal experience, but I later learned that he had "personalized" and expanded a story by O. Henry. So, often the attention span, even of a group of teen-aged boys sitting quietly and listening to an old man talk, depends largely on the material presented.

Nor, I might mention, am I (or even, can I?) confining my comments to "folk songs." There was an immense amount of cross-fertilization between folk material and literary material, each borrowing from the other. Scott was an avid collector of Scottish border ballads, and many themes and stories popular in such ballads found their way into his writings. The Bride of Lammermoor has a plot that's almost a dead-ringer for several ballads I can think of. For example "Anachie Gordon." Gaetano Donizetti based the libretto for his opera Lucia di Lammermoor on Scott's novel. Interesting (slightly bizarre) to see people wandering around on stage in kilts—and singing in Italian!

Regarding Helen of Troy, here is an interesting tidbit:    inspired by the line, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?" from Marlowe's play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Isaac Asimov coined the unit "millihelen" to refer to the amount of beauty that it would require to launch one ship.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 04:12 PM

There is a lovley, boastful Newcastle song called "Billy Oliver's Ramble" where one of the stanzas goes:-
"And when aave hed a pint or two aall sing yes aall a sang,
I knaa some vary canny ones the're fowerty verses lang"
I always introduce it as it being his only redeeming feature.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Ernest
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 02:02 PM

Maggie Thatcher wrote the Iliad?

I think you are tongue-in-cheek here, not finger-in-ear, Jim.

Best
Ernest (who thinks this is still better than finger-in-throat)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 01:23 PM

"Nerd: Homer did not write the Iliad. Jethro did."
Nope - it was Maggie
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 10:50 AM

Don Firth: And the congregation shall say, "Amen." I keep trying to explain to my dear wife that the days before you had your choice of AM, FM, satellite, cable and movie complexes with 17 screens, you were in no hurry to get through the song so you could get back to the entertainment. The song WAS the entertainment, and when it was over, you blew out the candle (if you could afford one) and went to bed. Play it again, Sam. (My wife brings me lunch too, though, so I have to present this diplomatically, and I am not allowed to use charts and a pointer.)

The open mic I currently frequent has a five minute rule. And they only have one gathering a month. I'm suddenly and perversely tempted to do something in parts, like an old Buck Rogers movie serial. My version of Staggerlee runs for 17 minutes, so I could trim some and still get three months of program out of that.

Yes, the limited playing time on 45 rpms, 78 rpms and Edison cylinders meant verses had to be omitted. (Remember the 45 with "Topsy, Part I" on one side and "Topsy, Part II" on the flip?) I learned "Old 97" off a 78 and fifteen years later met a real "good old boy" from the Alabama hills who taught me the verses that they had to omit to get it all on the record. Lazarus, come forth.

The point was made that a paying audience deserves a certain level of quality, with which I agree, but I'll go beyond that. An audience of 40 performers hoping for one of 24 slots for the evening, many of the said performers actually being quite accomplished musicians, should not have to make room for those who not only have not mastered the basics, but do not know what they are. Unless of course, there is mass appeal for someone who plays any song, be it a waltz, a samba or the blues, with exactly the same rhythm, cause why change a good thing, yunno? I'm all for letting beginners begin, but if they don't progress at other than a glacial rate, excuse me for being frustrated.

Nerd: Homer did not write the Iliad. Jethro did.

Chicken Charlie


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 03:38 AM

Gil Morice (Child #83) in two parts, like a Christmas transmission of a soap?
The football match just before the beheading might be a good place to cut.
Though what thoughts on Martin Carthy rewriting it down to Bill Norrie and Spiers&Boden to Child Morris (setting it to The Duchess Dressed in Blue)?
I was watching Eastenders last night which I am convinced is turning into Fair Annie. True, Creepy Max went after his daughter-in-law, not his wife Tanya's sister. But her horrifically evil revenge plot to get his money (and probably burn him like hookey green to boot) is going to "entertain" some people for weeks.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 04 Mar 08 - 03:17 AM

Nice one Don.
Nerd
Yup - straight out of the swinging sixties - couldn't believe it.

97 verse ballads:
MacColl told us that in the early days of 'The Ballads and Blues' club, he used to split the long ballads in half; part in the first half of the evening, the rest in the second (he mentioned Gil Morris as an example).
It was only after a number of complaints by audience members that he eventually sang them right through.
Finger-in-ear:
One of the Irish Traveller singers we recorded, Mikeen McCarthy, from Cahersiveen in Kerry, was a ballad seller in his youth, hawking song sheets around the fairs and markets of Kerry in the 1940s. He used the technique when he sold on the street, but he said he had first been taught it by his father, who would sing "in the bar with one hand over his ear - just like Ewan MacColl".
Interestingly (to me anyway), Mikeen made clear distinctions between 'street singing', 'pub singing' and more intimate 'fireside singing' styles.
One day there'll be a book on Mikeen.... if we live long enough.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Nerd
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 11:23 PM

While we're on the subject of hyperbole, the longest of the Robin Hood Ballads, A Geste of Robin Hood, has "only" 456 verses, not "well over 800." Similarly, The Iliad does not in fact recount the whole Trojan War and what led up to it. It recounts only a short slice--about 50 days of a war that lasted over ten years. The poem runs from Achilles' anger at Agamemnon over Brieseis to the death and burial of Hector, "breaker of horses." No seduction of Helen, no Trojan Horse...none of the incidents most people remember about the story of Troy.

More importantly, none of these is, or ever was, a "folk song." The Geste is a popular romance, made by retelling various incidents in Robin's life, some of which may have belonged to folk songs, but most of which did not--the tale is, in Child's own words, "eminently original" to the poet who wrote it. There is no evidence of it ever having been sung (until modern times), or even recited; it is a product of the printing press, not the retentive memories of the singers of yore.

Whether the Iliad or Beowulf ever were sung is a matter of scholarly conjecture. Essentially, the argument has been made that they were sung because they resemble to some extent the South Slavic epics that were sung to Albert Lord and Milman Parry from the 1930s through the 1960s. However, it is equally true that many literary works, that were not sung, resemble these epics in the same way. In other words, textual features that seem to be the result of oral delivery in one place became mere literary conventions in others. The result is, it's very possible no one ever sang The Iliad or Beowulf either. Even if someone did, they weren't "folk songs" but orally-composed epics, a distinct but interesting genre in its own right.

The only reason it's important to remember this stuff is that there's a tendency to romanticize the good old days, when everyone had the attention span for a 97 verse ballad. In fact, in most cultures, at most times, most people did not seem to engage in such long stories... but, happily, there were always a few who who did. Rather like today!

Jim, did the guy really say "my chick split?" Are you sure it wasn't Neil from the Young Ones?


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Art Thieme
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 07:19 PM

Don Firth,
Right on!
Art


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 07:03 PM

That reads like parody words to the Nutting Girl


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 04:53 PM

I always thought it was forty verses, as in the Calabar:

Come all ye dry-land sailors and listen to my song,
It has only forty verses, so I won't detain you long.
It's all about the history of this here British tar
Who sailed as a man before the mast on board of the Calabar.

Wasn't there a Hamish Imlach song that started something like that as well?

John


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Don Firth
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 04:24 PM

Since this is a more or less slow day at the Skunk Works, I thought I might take a swing at some of this.

As to the word "folk:"

As far as anyone knows, the first person to use the term "folk song" was Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), a German philosopher and collector of volkslieder (folk songs). He was referring to songs of the rural peasant class.

Despite gross economic disparities, we like to think that this modern, urbanized, enlightened world is "classless," so the word "folk" has morphed into "just plain folks." The term "folk" has been so watered down from its original meaning (when the term "folk song" was coined) that a folk activity is now defined as just about anything that "folks" do. One wonders if the word has meaning anymore.

Except, of course, to those singer-songwriters who are urban born, have no connection whatsoever with the rural peasant class, and who do not sing traditional songs at all, singing only songs they have written themselves—and who insist that others regard the songs they write to be "folk songs."

Now, I'm all for singer-songwriters. Some of them have cranked out some pretty good stuff. And songs do have to come from somewhere. But why must they be called "folk songs?" Is it supposed to be some stamp of approval? And if so, it's not really appropriate for an artist or craftsperson to put a "stamp of approval" on his or her own work. That's for others to do.

1. Finger-in-ear.

The first time I observed this phenomenon was at the 1960 Berkeley Folk Festival where Ewan MacColl was one of the featured performers. He walked on stage carrying a straight-backed chair, set it down with its back facing the audience, then sat straddling the chair (facing the audience, of course). He sang unaccompanied, and most of the time he sang with his elbow propped on the back of the chair with his left hand cupped behind his ear. Not with his finger in his ear. It was obvious to me why he did it. It allowed him to hear the sound of his voice more clearly as it echoed back. This is the same reason that a singer in a recording studio wears earphones.

I usually hear the term "finger-in-ear" used in reference to people who sing traditional songs, often unaccompanied. And it seems to be used mostly as a term of contempt. For what? Traditional songs? It might be revealing to examine those who use the term and see if one can determine the reason for their contempt.

97 verse ballads.

Since the advent of the modern phonograph record and radio broadcasting, the de rigueur maximum acceptable duration of songs has been approximately three minutes (about all one could pack onto a 12" 78 rpm record). Radio stations found this highly acceptable because they could jam a couple of commercials between each record. As people's attention spans dwindled, they would tend to wander about aimlessly and bump into things if a song went on much longer than that.

A breakthrough came with Marty Robbins' recording of "El Paso," which ran for about 7 minutes, and since it gave disc jockeys time to go to the bathroom, they played it. A few years later, actor Richard Harris had a hit song with "MacArthur Park," which went on for bloody ever! Gave the DJ time to go out for a beer.

Before the days of canned or piped in entertainment, people (the "folk?") depended upon themselves and each other for such diversions, and time was not necessarily that big a problem. One could drag out a good story, and people enjoyed it. It is said that Homer's Iliad (a work of considerable duration, covering the whole Trojan War and what led up to it—and spawning at least two sequels) was often chanted to non-literate audiences to the accompaniment of a lyre or harp. Same with Beowulf. One Child ballad, "The Geste of Robin Hood" runs well over 800 verses (I haven't actually counted them). The longest song that I know myself is "Little Mattie Groves" which runs for 27 verses. I don't sing it very often. And I find that with the limited attention spans of some modern audiences, I do have to do some judicious editing of some of the longer songs.

3. and 4. Folk police and folk fascist.

Basically the same, I think, varying only in degree of dedication or fanaticism.

Folk police, the way I have encountered it, usually refers to those hard-nosed, tight-assed, highly compulsive people who tend to think that words (such as—dare I say it? "Folk") have some meaning, and one should, at least, acknowledge the fact. In this regard, I'm sure that there are people who regard me as part of the folk police force.

On the other hand, I have been set upon by self-appointed guardians of what is "folk" and what is not for such heinous crimes and transgressions as thinking that if one aspires to a career of singing before paying audiences, one owes it to them to know something about music, know something about the material, know what you're going to do, and be well prepared to do it.

I could ramble on a bit more, but my wife just got home from her writers' group and she brought lunch. I'll probably be back later.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Tootler
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 03:16 PM

Finger in ear

I agree that Brian Peters had it right when he said;

A term employed by lazy journalists (usually in conjunction with the phrase 'woolly sweaters') to describe any activity within the folk scene over the last fifty years. Also used by a few folk club organisers who don't enjoy traditional songs to rebuff performers who sing them (as in: "We don't go for that finger-in-the-ear stuff at our club")...

97 verse ballads

Similar to "finger in ear" - a shorthand used by those who sneer at folk music.

Folk Police

The first time I came across this term it was used by a well-known Irish musician to describe those who say things like "you can't do it like that, it's not traditional" - in general of people who seem unable to accept that traditions do change over time. I have understood the term "folk police" to mean something like this ever since.

Folk Fascist

See folk police - only a more extreme form of the same outlook.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: BB
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 02:36 PM

Jim C. said:
"I was a little surprised at the response to the 'hand over ear' technique. There are illustrations of it being used in England as early as Tudor times; Tuer's 'Street Cries of Old London' has a half a dozen examples in woodcut form. It was used by many singers in the early revival, Ewan and Bert being the best remembered. I have always assumed it was introduced by Lloyd though his work in Eastern Europe, where it was a common technique."

I have a memory of seeing Paul Jones of Manfred Mann put his hand over his ear in order to better hear what he was singing, and I remember cheering at the time, so the moaning and derision about it must have been going on even way back then.

Barbara


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Gene Burton
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 12:29 PM

Agree with the two posts above. Phrasing and diction are crucial IMO to a good performance of any song, trad or otherwise, and it's an element of my own performance I've put a lot of work into over the last few years. Intelligent phrasing can go a long way even when you don't necessarily have perfect pitch; and we folkies can learn much from performers of other vocal styles (eg. jazz, classical etc.) in this regard.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Snuffy
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 12:22 PM

I thought William Hague's quote was acknowledging his folk roots by paraphrasing I CAN HEW - "I'll drink fourteen pints and I'll not feel queer".

Obviously inflation in recent years has increased the 14 by two or three.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 11:16 AM

Dear Suffolk Miracle:

I was about to simply shout, "Brother!" when I realized (just in time to save myself from the Gender Police) that Suffolk Miracle is gender-independent. I will therefore try to type "Sibling!" with as much emotion as possible.

I think the world has a name for people like you and me, and it's probably "neurotic," but I can relate to endless reiterations and lots of micro-tweaking on words, phrasing and all of it. Examples will only produce "but I do it THIS way" thread creep, so I'll abstain, but I hear you. I don't know how these over-eager types (mainly young but not always--many should know better) expect to move an audience with anything performed so haltingly, but I guess they do.

(In case anyone thinks I'm claiming perfection, here's the ironic bad news: by the time you reach the age where you have gotten things down and explored the nuances and all that as SM said, you have also reached the age where brain farts start occurring and you begin to have trouble remembering your dearly-bought improvements. O, tempore, o mores, whatever the Hell that means--I used to know.)

Chicken Charlie


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Suffolk Miracle
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 09:04 AM

"Don't get up there and tell me you haven't had time to rehearse--go home and get the damn thing down and then come back and do it right"

Thank God someone has said it out loud at last! I feel purged. How many more times do I have to listen to someone say 'I may not get this quite right because I only learnt it this morning'? Of course theyl not get it right. Even in the unlikely eveent that they manage to remember both the words and the tune they will still not get it RIGHT because they will have no familiarity with the song. They will never have investigated the nuances of the song and made the decisions about what works and what doesn't which makes the song their own and makes the song an interpretation for their audience. If they are not going to do that, their is no point in being a performer. They may as well hand out photocopies of the words to all those present and let them read it for themselves!
OK I know I am a bit sad - I am the man who once spent an entire day singing Robin a Thrush over and over again some 50 times to decide whether I preferred Hippety Hoppety or Jiggedy Jaggedy as the best s line. But that's what learning a song is about.
(The answer by the way is Jiggedy Jaggedy!)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 08:28 AM

"One of Australia's leading trad Australian bush singers admitted that he knew most of the Robin Hood ballads but couldn't sing them because it was not what was expected of him."

Wow! Has he been recorded?


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 07:05 AM

>> 17 pints of lager and a vindaloo is commonly used to describe a certain sort of person. <<

OK, granted. I was thinking about William Hague (though to be strictly accurate, Ol' Shining Pate's boast was of having drunk a mere sixteen).

The rest of your description actually fits my son pretty well (although he can't as yet afford the Impreza).


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,bill S from Perth
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 07:01 AM

Finger in the ear
I was too lazy to learn an instrument so I sing without, very occasionally I find my finger in the ear to adjust the pitch. In my local folk club the floor spots are mainly unaccompanied, we've had guests who were unfamiliar with this and amazed that people could sing without hiding behind a guitar. No fingers in ears though. I must admit to grasping a tankard now and again especially when it suits the theme of the song and I have walked through Sidmouth with one on my belt many years ago. We don't wear sweaters in Perth or anoraks. Favourite intro in Cairns "well there's this bloke and he doesn't play guitar and he doesn't use mikes and he's called Bill"
97 verse ballads
The longest song I remember following was in Gorton and was sung by a West Indian band, we asked how long it was and were told 123 verses, where are they now, we asked, he listened and said 61, so we asked if we had time for a pint, were told yes and went to the pub.
One of Australia's leading trad Australian bush singers admitted that he knew most of the Robin Hood ballads but couldn't sing them because it was not what was expected of him.
Back in Uni days we had a resident regularly singing Queen Eleanors Confession slightly flat and that was our sign for a beer break, it was years before I realised what a good song it was.
Sorry I couldn't reach 20 lines


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 06:50 AM

Oh no, 17 pints of lager and a vindaloo is commonly used to describe a certain sort of person. They probably drive a modified Subaru Impreza with an exhaust the size of the Blackwall tunnel and have two mobile phones both with cameras which play some fusion-pop-mobo song that you have never heard of and it tuneless anyway as a ringtone.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Waddon Pete
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 06:43 AM

".....he's doing a 97-verse ballad"

I must say I've never heard the phrase used in this way...mayhap I've been lucky! It is used differently in our neck of the woods, (see my posting near the top of the thread).

Some songs are long while others just seem that way!

Best wishes,

Peter


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Brian Peters
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 05:32 AM

>> I think "97 verse ballad" is a perfectly acceptable bit of humorous hyperbole. Much like "17 pints of lager". The terms just mean "a very long song" and " a lot of beer" and that is fine by me. <<

Yes, Greg, but the former is invariably used in the third person ("Oh Christ, he's doing a 97-verse ballad") and the latter in the first ("What a great night, I must have drunk 17 pints of lager"), which suggests a subtle difference of intent. While it's best not to take this kind of thing too much to heart, it does sadden me - as one who thinks that the ballads are the cream of the traditional song repertoire - to hear them either dismissed out of hand as of necessity long and boring, or performed so indifferently that they *become* long and boring. I once sat through a performance of Matty Groves of spectacular melodic inaccuracy and lack of committment, only for the singer to finish a couple of verses prematurely with the words: "I can't remember the rest - anyway they all end up dead." It would have been preferable (although still incorrect) if he'd said that after verse 1.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 05:22 AM

Songs about lovers parting are hardly a new phenomenon. It's even been known to happen in real life. The relevant thing is whether a particular song about such matters is a good song or not.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,doc.tom
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 03:54 AM

Hello Jim

Well this turned into a more sensibly argued thread than I would have expected! even though it's drifted a bit lately.

If it's four week out of date, perhaps it's becoming traditional.

'no possible relevence to modern life'? - if that's true then either we've all stopped being human beings or I've just given up on modern life.

Tom Brown


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 03:30 AM

PS
Nerd wrote:
"Jim, do you really think singer-songwriters sing three-verse songs about their "chick" who "split?" I think you're engaging in the same type of silly stereotyping you're decrying..."
My point exactly - stereotyping is wrong, wherever it comes from.
".....and 40 years out of date, at that.":
I don't go to many clubs nowadays, but I heard this one at a singing session recently - which makes it around four weeks out of date I'm afraid.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Mar 08 - 03:23 AM

"The optimum length of a song is three minutes."
Bert;
I assume this is the limit of your attention span.
Coincidentally, the BBC adopted the 'three minute' rule back in the sixties, on the basis that this was the maximum length of time an audience could be expected to listen to a song. There was a heated debate about it at the time. To me, is smacks of patronising arrogance.
If my postings at too long for you - please feel free not to read them.
I was a little surprised at the response to the 'hand over ear' technique. There are illustrations of it being used in England as early as Tudor times; Tuer's 'Street Cries of Old London' has a half a dozen examples in woodcut form. It was used by many singers in the early revival, Ewan and Bert being the best remembered. I have always assumed it was introduced by Lloyd though his work in Eastern Europe, where it was a common technique.
Folk Police.
Not a term I use or like, and certainly not confined to lazy journalists.
I have always considered it a phrase used for scoring points and diverting attention from an argument by people running out of ideas.
To me, it is the myth of being 'instructed' how to sing and what to think, rather that the reality of vociferous argument.
The nearest I ever got to 'folk policing' was to be told on this forum (a couple of weeks ago) that what I (and many others) have been listening to, singing and studying over the last four decades 'can have no possible relevence to modern life' - now there's a descision made on my behalf!
If some people find Fascist (and even Nazi) acceptable terms to be used when discussing music, well..... it takes all sorts I suppose.
Personally, I thought I'd left juvenile name-calling back in the playfround of Birchfield Road Junior School all those years ago.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:10 PM

I guess I've always been much less concerned with what went into a singer's ear than what came out of his mouth.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: TheSnail
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 07:48 PM

we should've seen before now that they've inhabited the Oval

WHAT? The Ferenghis play cricket?


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Art Thieme
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 07:15 PM

In the 1950s I collected songs from a street singer who was the original Elvis imitator. More often than not, his finger was not in his ear---it was up his nose. He said folks told him he sang through his nose, so plugging up one side of it helped him a lot with diction and tone quality. I asked him what was wrong with his diction? I didn't hear any problem at all. He answered, "Where my diction is concerned, my main problem is that the damn thing keeps falling out of my pants!" ----- So I gave him a rim-shot!!!

Just about then a cop started to hassle him about playing on the street and he, without missing a beat, stuck a broomstick up his ass and went into "You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog"----The shaking of his legs and hips got that broom to moving so good that he was doing a real credible job of sweeping that street and immitating The King all at the same time. With an exhibition of civic pride like that, there was no way the cop could bug him. He was, at long last, an asset to the community.

As far as Ferenghis are concerned, I've always felt they should all be given lobe-otomies. That'd help their hanging lobes problems with their unique ears for sure. The question we're left with is: Can Ferenghis all play by ear?

And do they get calluses on their lobes from doing that??

Truth be known, Ferenghis, being the devious super patriotic pure Capitalists and dollar hoarding, money grubbing creatures that they are, we should've seen before now that they've inhabited the Oval
Office here in the USA for the last eight years--. PEOPLE, Euros aside, we are in a ton of trouble when the dollar falls behind a bar of gold pressed latinum! -- 'Nuf said...

And another thing,
getting back to that folk terminology discussion palaver: I've known for the last decade, at least, maybe three or four decades, that nobody knows what the hell folk music is but me!!! (Maybe Joe Hickerson and Barry Finn too.) Like George, I will stay the damn course!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love,

Art


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 06:54 PM

These days I tend to sing unaccompanied into mics at places I'm pretty sure people are going to shut up and listen most of the time, and hear myself pretty well. But I resorted quite naturally to finger in ear recently while at band practice, when I couldn't hear myself for the others playing, until I realised I could turn myself up!

To all those who think it's an affectation - nope, it really does work, and in noisy places can be crucial, I imagine.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Bill D
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 05:19 PM

Well, with some hearing loss accompanying old age, *I* certainly hear better with my hand cupped to my ear...for my own singing particularly, but sometimes to hear others in an acoustically difficult room.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Nerd
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 04:30 PM

I live in the U.S., and we don't really have the finger-in-ear stereotype. I guess we don't have a Ewan MacColl-type figure who did it.

I put my finger in my ear when I sing in a noisy bar, so I can hear myself. It's not delusional, Frank--try it sometime, if you're at a gig with lousy monitors and can do a song without the guitar. Or better yet, if you're in a noisy bar!

Amos, the Soup Nazi was a character on Seinfeld, not Saturday Night Live. Just sayin'....

Jim, do you really think singer-songwriters sing three-verse songs about their "chick" who "split?" I think you're engaging in the same type of silly stereotyping you're decrying...and 40 years out of date, at that.

Nowadays they sing about their "feelings..." Uh, oh, now I'M doing the silly stereotyping...and probably twenty years out of date! Sorry, singer-songwriters!


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Acorn4
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 03:39 PM

You can sometimes have affection towards something you appear to be mocking - don't take yourself TOO seriously! - I like to hear anything that's performed well, or if not technically well, at least with character -some traditional singers can make it seem like 97 verses, some singer-songwriters can have you reaching for the Wilkinson Sword within 3 minutes - there are a range of clubs all with a slightly different focus -it's a case of "when in Rome!" sometimes.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: stallion
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 03:31 PM

I go with guest john B, recently we were singing with a PA and I couldn't hear myself on the monitors , I had no idea what sound was coming out which made me incredibly self conscious, I cupped the dreaded ear and heard the right sort of sounds, such was the blend I just couldn't pick my voice out of it, it was there but I needed the reassurance cos with only three voices one is a tad exposed if you hit a bum note and at worse several!


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: greg stephens
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 03:26 PM

I think "97 verse ballad" is a perfectly acceptable bit of humorous hyperbole. Much like "17 pints of lager". The terms just mean "a very long song" and " a lot of beer" and that is fine by me. In general, I share Jim Carroll's viewpoint on this.I especially get rather tired of the tankard/sweater/finger in ear school of journalism.. I am a traddy(though also one of the dreaded multi-cultural fusion innovators as well),but I have never worn an Aran sweater, never sung in public with a hand anywhere near my ear(though I've tried it out at home), and I have NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER walked along the front at Sidmouth with a tankard attached to my belt, or to any other part of my clothing or my anatomy.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Bert
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 03:09 PM

The optimum length of a song is three minutes.
The optimum length of a Mudcat post is twenty lines.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: michaelr
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:55 PM

Just remembered a guitar workshop I attended where the brilliant guitarist Nina Gerber talked about the evolution of her craft and said "...and I turned into a theory nazi".

While this usage may be frivolous, it's pretty easily understood. It's just shorthand.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: KeithofChester
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:38 PM

Posibly the funniest parody.

Springtime for Hitler

I'm sure with a good camcorder, some arran sweaters and tankards it could be updated...


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Folkiedave
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:30 PM

Brian Peters has it absolutely spot on, except it isn't just lazy journalists and it seems particularly prevalent in the BBC with the honourable exception of Woman's Hour. Even when discussing with Chris Woods in a reasonably sensible way last week - Libby Purvis just had to mention it.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Amos
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:21 PM

By the way, Fascism and Nazi-ism are two different things. Fascism is the authoritarian marriage of state and corporations. While the Nazis were also fascistic, the classic paradigm of Fascism, and the original definer of the word, was Mussolini.

The use of fascism and naziism as joking references to people who get puffed up with arbitrary authority and act dictatorial is pretty wide spread. Saturday Night Live created a classic in their skit about the Soup Nazi, "No zoup for you!!!" routine. People have coined terms such as fashion-nazi and such, and folk-fascist is just an extension of this describing people who elect to dictate to others what is acceptable enjoyment in the folk circus.

A


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:19 PM

"97 verse ballads."


"Is there an optimum length to a song when performed at a club; if so, what is it?"

I was wondering the same about some postings on Mudcat....

Charlotte (the Sunday view from Ma and Pa's piano stool


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Bert
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:14 PM

Alternatively, is the act of singing without accompaniment now frowned on by the folk establishment?

There are clubs where you won't get to sing if you don't have a guitar.

AT one song circle I used to frequent there was a woman with a beatiful voice who complained of the same problem. So every now and then just for fun (or if I didn't know the chords) I'd put my gutar down and sing unaccompanied. It is something we should all do from time to time to improve our singing.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 02:00 PM

"Finger in the ear", is the cheaper equivalent of "a bit more vox humanis in the monitors please" or the even more expensive single or double "in ear" monitors which lots of the richer bands use these days.
I personally only resort to a quick shutting off of my right ear with the middle finger, when I hear a "strange" note in the harmony.
I just want to check that it isn't me.
JohnB


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Stringsinger
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 01:38 PM

Hi Jim,

I'll throw in my 2 cents here.

" the term 'folk', which appears to have no definition whatsoever to many people who take part in these discussions."

I wouldn't say it has no definition but certainly conflicting ones depending on your vantage point and reason for being a part of a "folk process".


"1.   Finger-in-Ear.
It has always been my understanding that this term originated from the timeless and universal practice of cupping the hand over the ear while singing unaccompanied.   
Does the fact that it has now become a term of abuse mean that, in today's clubs it is no longer necessary to sing in tune."

Singing in tune is an arbitrary discussion since from the time of the tempered scale,
there has been no precise tuning in music. Many folksingers who are authentic sound
out of tune to those who are not familiar with the vocal folk styles. Some notes are deliberately or unconsciously altered to reflect a musical tradition or history. Some consider that they can hear themselves better if the mess with their ears. This may be
delusional on their part, however.


"Alternatively, is the act of singing without accompaniment now frowned on by the folk establishment?"

I don't think so. There are plenty of a capella small groups who like singing that way.
The "folk establishment" is not specific enough. There are many "folk establishments".

"I seem to remember from having seen them perform in the past, that singers such as Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and the late Peter Bellamy sang with both hands cupped over their ears; does this make them 'finger(s)-in-ear(s) singers, and therefore, doubly reprehensible?"

Agreed that this could be some kind of affectation. But it also made them shut out extraneous noises such as out-of-tune accompanists or well-meaning players who didn't know the songs.

"2.   97 verse ballads.
In my experience a ballad performed at a folk club can have anything from 2 to around 20 verses on average. Though there are ballads and songs in print that exceed this number, I have never heard them performed, though I did once hear an octogenarian sing a 17 verse, 8 line song (The True Lover's Discussion) which lasted nearly fifteen minutes. So popular was his performance, that he was persuaded to repeat it later in the same session.
Is there an optimum length to a song when performed at a club; if so, what is it?"

I think it's what the market will bear. I once sang with Alan Lomax and we traded fifteen
minutes on verses to John Henry. The audience was highly amused.

The griots of Africa are able to present verses to their epic songpoems that can last for many hours. I personally like long ballads if they tell a story in an elegant way.

More responses to your questions later.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Brian Peters
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 01:24 PM

1.   Finger-in-Ear.
A term employed by lazy journalists (usually in conjunction with the phrase 'woolly sweaters') to describe any activity within the folk scene over the last fifty years. Also used by a few folk club organisers who don't enjoy traditional songs to rebuff performers who sing them (as in: "We don't go for that finger-in-the-ear stuff at our club"). A stereotype possibly to be blamed on MacColl imitators who adopted the head-back, eyes shut posture, as well as the hand over the ear. However, I can't say I've seen one of those in a folk club for twenty years or more.

2. 2.   97 verse ballads.
A term used by people with a short attention span to describe any traditional song over four verses long. Alternatively, a bad performance of a five-verse ballad.

3.   Folk police.
People who care about the meaning of words.

Incidentally, Jim, I'm not sure who you're referring to as the 'folk establishment', but around the folk clubs I visit an awful lot of the floor performers sing unaccompanied, whether the song is traditional or not.

'Folk Taleban' - that's a new one. I must buy myself a turban.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Barry Finn
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 11:23 AM

At the Press Room we often get a table full of folks that come down to the end of the room where the session's being held so they can hear the music better while they talk & joke & carryy on very loudly. Well, just 2 nights ago I happen to be singing unaccompanied & this table started carrying on very loudly, I was singing only a few feet away, so I had to stand up to sing "over" them, they continued to carry on, they got so loud I did it, I stuck my finger in my ear, so I couldn't hear them, not so I could hear my self, there's a difference. It may be that many people sing with a finger in the ear rather than cupping the ear? If I had had enough fingers I would've stuck everyone at that table in the ears but alas if I had that many fingers I wouldn't be singing unaccompanied.

As to 97 verse ballads, I haven't heard one since the late 60's, I expect never to hear one again. But I could sing you two.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: KeithofChester
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 11:04 AM

The Folk Taleban will be along in a moment to tell you that you are ALL wrong!


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 09:54 AM

At the risk of being de-Mudcatted, Jim, let me actually try to address your original questions.

Never experimented with cupping, but literally putting a finger in one ear does help me hear whether I'm in harmony or not, and since I don't have the best musical "ear," I resort to that when I'm trying to harmonize.

On length, it's the old saw: It's not how long you make it; it's how you make it long. Actually you answered that yourself with the 17 x 8 example. I'm used to the regulars at my usual open mic and I know there are some who'll have me climbing the wall in three minutes and others I could listen to all night. My mental preferences (which I will posthumously publish as the Claremont Protocol), are, so far, just: Don't scream or bellow at me; don't repeat ANY phrase four times; don't be obscene; don't get up there and tell me you haven't had time to rehearse--go home and get the damn thing down and then come back and do it right; and if you have multiple guitars, don't have everybody playing in the same position. Anything beyond that will be gravy.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool lover and performer of old stuff from 1901 back. I have no problem listening to singer-songwriters who say, "Here's a folk song I wrote last week." I WONDER at the use of the term "folk"--they could just say, "Here's a song I wrote last week." But I don't "have a problem" with the usage. I would occasionally enjoy hearing somebody else finger-pick, but hey, that's just me.

I only know one twisted individual who would qualify as Folk Police, and he goes around snorting "that's not TRADITIONAL" at everybody else while innovating like a mad thing himself. "Folk Fascist" is over the top. As someone mentioned, Fascists put people in ovens; even for Mudcat that is IMO not something to joke about or dub someone just because they like "Barbree Ellen."

I don't detect any enmity toward unaccompanied singers; I just don't think many performers are confident enough to try this.


Anyway--good questions. You used the word "rules" a lot, though. I won't say there are no rules--there are rules of etiquette, for example--but whatever builds a connection between you and your audience is valuable, regardless of length, accompaniment, principalities, powers and all that other stuff.

Chicken Charlie


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:54 AM

Try it next time you are singing in a noisy setting, redsnapper, especially if the noise includes other people singing, and I think you will notice the difference. It helps you hear your own voice better. (It can be a chastening experience, if your voice is off that night...)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,redsnapper
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM

hand clasped to their ear

I'm not mocking it... I just don't comprehend it! (;>)


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Jack Campin
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:38 AM

Holding your hand behind an ear is absolutely normal in all genres of singing in the Middle East, from Koran reciters and muezzins doing the call to prayer to folk ballad singers to cabaret performers. I haven't found an image to prove it yet, but I'd bet it goes far back into pre-Islamic times.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:35 AM

I've seen a lot of photos of pop musicians wearing headphones while they are recording, which is high tech equivalent.

Anyone who says that the cupped hand doesn't help them hearing themselves when singing, especially in a noisy environment, either hasn't ever tried it, or they must be deaf in that ear. For an unaccompanied singing, if anything, the affectation is to make a point of keeping your hands away from the ear.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Meggly
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:32 AM

Referring to point 3 I think you may have got the terminology the wrong way round. When hearing the term Folk Police I've always thought it referred to the people stopping the dissidents from performing their own brand of folk rather than the dissidents themselves. But mebe this is a form of defence; by labelling those challenging the status quo as the Folk Police, the real Folk Police become the Secret Folk Police there by causing confusion.

By the way, I wasn't aware that Status Quo had written anything vaguely folky apart from 'Pictures of Matchstick Men'. But I'm now expecting them at a folk club near me any day and I expect that the Secret Folk Police will be out in very secrect force.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: RTim
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:25 AM

I only find it a problem when the audience cup their hands over their ears!

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Waddon Pete
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 08:07 AM

Hello,

Time was, when you saw someone with a hand clasped to their ear you knew they were a traditional folksinger (or a singer of traditional songs),(or a singer singing a song from a tradition).

Nowadays you know they are on their mobile phone.

Seriously tho' the finger cupped round the ear serves the same purpose as musicians with ear pieces...you can still hear what you are doing when everyone else is playing or singing. If you listen to the Beatles recordings of their live playing, in the days before such ear pieces, you'll notice they are out of key in their singing.

People will always mock what they don't comprehend.

97 verse ballads is shorthand for, "he/she is a lovely person, but they do go on a bit" (In whatever genre!)

Folk Police.....when people feel they've been hard done by they need to blame it on some-one other than themselves. Sometimes they're right...sometimes not!

Fascist....reprehensible usage...click past such postings and avoid in future.

Best wishes,

Peter


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Gene Burton
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 07:31 AM

And pass up the chance to inflict my unimpeded singing on said foe? Never!


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: TheSnail
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 07:05 AM

Gene Burton

But that would justify the use of the finger in the ear as self-defence

Nah. The best form of defence is attack. Stick your finger in someone else's ear.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Marje
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 06:44 AM

If it really was helpful to sing with your hand cupped over your ear, you'd think it would have caught on more extensively beyond the folk genre. There may be isolated examples elsewhere, but I've can't say I've never seen a classical or jazz or pop singer do it.

In many informal venues, some of your audience may be on the far side of the protruding elbow. This means that although the singer gets satisfing feedback and enjoys the sound of their own voice more, for part of the audienc the hand and arm muffle the sound somewhat, and block the view of the singer's face. It always seems a bit self-indulgent to me, as if the important thing to that singer is that they can wallow in the sound they're making. To my mind, it makes more sense for singers to tune in to the acoustic of the room and get used to hearing their voice this way.

As for doing it in harmony singing - well, the whole point of harmony is to blend with the other voices, not block them out. If you don't listen to the other parts, you won't tune in properly to them, but come across as 2 or 3 soloists singing together (which, to my ear, is often how classsical/opera singsers sound in trios etc).

I agree though, Jim, that terms like Folk Fascist and Folk Police are ludicrous. Folk is by far the most unregulated and inclusive form of musical activity in our (UK) culture, which is both its greatest asset and its biggest drawback. Any other musical genre will be found to have far more in the way of rules, expectations, auditions, and agreed styles of performance.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 06:10 AM

I have seen woodcuts etc., depicting street singers and the like, cupping their hands behind their ears, presumably so that they can hear themselves above the general din of the streets.

The other night I caught the end of a TV programme about the relationship which developed between the radical black American singer, Paul Robeson and the miners of South Wales in the 1950s. I'm sure there was a clip of Robeson singing with his hand cupped behind his ear ...? Did anyone else see it?

Anyway, as an unaccompanied singer myself I can confirm that it is a useful technique. Sadly, though, it has been extensively mocked by idiots who are upset that Folk Music is different to fashionable, commercial pop and rock music (which is usually just about all the music that they can cope with).


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Gene Burton
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 06:03 AM

Pavarotti, in fairness, had to act as well as sing, which might have constrained his vocal technique a little...


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Gene Burton
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 05:59 AM

"someone else...singing a harmony down each side of you." Could be construed as assault, particularly if uninvited! But that would justify the use of the finger in the ear as self-defence, if nothing else...seriously, though, that's an interesting point.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: TheSnail
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 05:56 AM

Jim Carroll

It has always been my understanding that this term originated from the timeless and universal practice of cupping the hand over the ear while singing unaccompanied.

Never saw Pavarotti do it.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 05:39 AM

Don't be silly Gene. Putting even one hand over an ear considerably handicaps guitar work.

A hand put like an extended ear (or a Ferengi's lobes) helps reflect the singer's own voice into his ear to enable it to be heard more clearly - particularly useful when someone else is singing a harmony down each side of you.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Gene Burton
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 05:29 AM

"singers such as Martin Carthy...sang with both hands cupped over their ears"

Is there a particular technique Carthy used to do this AND similtaneously play guitar? Did he used to have four arms and, if so, when/why did he dispense with the other pair??

I stopped singing unaccompanied trad songs for a while, but recently started again. Done reasonably well, I find it can really grab an audience's attention and make 'em watch during that tricky middle part of a gig when attention can sometimes start to wander...particularly if it's a younger crowd less familiar with the tradition. Would never have occurred to me that cupping my hands over my ears in the manner suggested would help my pitch, though...is there any science behind this? I always assumed it was just a mannerism some singers of a certain generation developed.

I've pretty well said my piece on folk police issues on other threads.

And I agree, calling ANYBODY a fascist for any other reason than literally being one, is reprehensible.


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Subject: RE: Folk terminology
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 04:36 AM

Very witty, Jim. But Heaven's Gate was about 3 hours too long and bankrupted Goldcrest, so perhaps it was not the best example!

By and large I agree with you. But you knew that, I think.


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Subject: Folk terminology
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Mar 08 - 04:26 AM

Being relatively new (6/7 years) to the computer, I have to confess that I am also fairly green when it comes to discussion forums such as Mudcat. While I find these both educational and enjoyable, I have to admit to a certain frustration at not being able to pursue, face to face, some points I don't fully understand; for instance, the term 'folk', which appears to have no definition whatsoever to many people who take part in these discussions.
Leaving that one aside for the time being, I hope people have no objection to my airing a number of confusions that have arisen in my mind during my participation in discussions on Mudcat.

1.   Finger-in-Ear.
It has always been my understanding that this term originated from the timeless and universal practice of cupping the hand over the ear while singing unaccompanied.   
Does the fact that it has now become a term of abuse mean that, in today's clubs it is no longer necessary to sing in tune. Alternatively, is the act of singing without accompaniment now frowned on by the folk establishment?
I seem to remember from having seen them perform in the past, that singers such as Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and the late Peter Bellamy sang with both hands cupped over their ears; does this make them 'finger(s)-in-ear(s) singers, and therefore, doubly reprehensible?

2.   97 verse ballads.
In my experience a ballad performed at a folk club can have anything from 2 to around 20 verses on average. Though there are ballads and songs in print that exceed this number, I have never heard them performed, though I did once hear an octogenarian sing a 17 verse, 8 line song (The True Lover's Discussion) which lasted nearly fifteen minutes. So popular was his performance, that he was persuaded to repeat it later in the same session.
Is there an optimum length to a song when performed at a club; if so, what is it?
Does the same rule apply to, say reading; what is the ideal number of pages in a book, and should I take my copies of Dickens down to the Oxfam shop?
Then again, there's cinema; should 'Ben Hur', 'Heaven's Gate', '1900' and Branagh's 'Hamlet' have ended up on the cutting room floor?
As a footnote to this question, I should confess that personally, I find a singer-songwriter droning his way through a self-penned, 3 verse piece about his girlfriend (or 'chick') having run off (or 'split) with his bodhrán playing best friend (usually delivered in a pseudo-American accent), 3 verses too long; but there again, that's me!

3.   Folk police.
I have always believed that the police are there to preserve the status-quo and protect the privileges of the privileged; yet whenever I encounter the term 'folk police' it is invariable used by members of the present-day folk establishment against those who dare to challenge the status-quo.
Does this indicate that the term 'police' no longer means what it used to mean (sort of like the term 'folk')?   

And finally, the one I have the most trouble with;
4.   Folk fascist.
I am of the generation who associates the term fascist with concentration camps, gas-ovens, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and the systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies, trades unionists, and those considered mentally and physically unfit to be part of the 'world order'.
Does the fact of the term being applied to 'folk dissidents' indicate the existence of establishments for dispatching to a better place, those who, say, prefer the singing of Harry Cox to Seth Lakeman, or Sam Larner to Jim Moray?
Thanks in anticipation,
Jim Carroll


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