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1954 and All That - defining folk music

Related threads:
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Jack Blandiver 20 Mar 09 - 11:17 AM
Uncle_DaveO 20 Mar 09 - 11:54 AM
Richard Bridge 20 Mar 09 - 11:57 AM
John P 20 Mar 09 - 12:13 PM
Don Firth 20 Mar 09 - 12:20 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 20 Mar 09 - 12:21 PM
Will Fly 20 Mar 09 - 12:22 PM
curmudgeon 20 Mar 09 - 12:51 PM
Joe Offer 20 Mar 09 - 01:02 PM
curmudgeon 20 Mar 09 - 01:03 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 20 Mar 09 - 01:11 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 20 Mar 09 - 01:13 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 20 Mar 09 - 01:34 PM
Jack Blandiver 20 Mar 09 - 01:49 PM
Amos 20 Mar 09 - 02:44 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 20 Mar 09 - 02:51 PM
The Sandman 20 Mar 09 - 03:07 PM
Richard Bridge 20 Mar 09 - 03:07 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 20 Mar 09 - 03:11 PM
Don Firth 20 Mar 09 - 03:19 PM
VirginiaTam 20 Mar 09 - 03:21 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 20 Mar 09 - 03:27 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 20 Mar 09 - 03:50 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 20 Mar 09 - 03:52 PM
Uncle_DaveO 20 Mar 09 - 03:54 PM
John P 20 Mar 09 - 04:40 PM
Stringsinger 20 Mar 09 - 04:57 PM
Jack Blandiver 20 Mar 09 - 05:36 PM
Phil Edwards 20 Mar 09 - 08:21 PM
Howard Jones 20 Mar 09 - 08:51 PM
Don Firth 20 Mar 09 - 09:54 PM
WFDU - Ron Olesko 20 Mar 09 - 10:39 PM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 04:45 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 04:47 AM
Darowyn 21 Mar 09 - 05:08 AM
Jack Blandiver 21 Mar 09 - 05:33 AM
Jack Blandiver 21 Mar 09 - 05:41 AM
Howard Jones 21 Mar 09 - 05:49 AM
Howard Jones 21 Mar 09 - 06:11 AM
TheSnail 21 Mar 09 - 06:31 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 06:58 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 07:00 AM
TheSnail 21 Mar 09 - 07:09 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 07:39 AM
Howard Jones 21 Mar 09 - 08:25 AM
Sleepy Rosie 21 Mar 09 - 08:37 AM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 08:49 AM
VirginiaTam 21 Mar 09 - 02:31 PM
Jim Carroll 21 Mar 09 - 04:09 PM
Rifleman (inactive) 21 Mar 09 - 04:13 PM
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Subject: 1954 and All That
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 11:17 AM

Further to what is currently going down on the What Makes it a Folk Song? thread, I'm opening this up specifically to discuss what relevance, if any, the 1954 definition has to do with what actually happens in the name of Folk in 2009.

The 1954 definition:

Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are:

      (i) continuity which links the present with the past;
      (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group;
      (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.

The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community.
The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character.


My feeling is that a Folk Song is any song sung in a designated Folk Context. At other times, and in other contexts, the same song might be something else entirely, a Pop Song for example, or yet a Jazz Standard, a Victorian Parlour Ballad, a Musical Hall Song or even an Operatic Aria. All of these I have heard sung in Folk Contexts and have, by dint of that context, accepted them as being Folk Songs. So what makes a song a Folk Song is the context in which it is being sung and appreciated as such.

I don't believe there is anything in the 1954 definition to contradict this, although others obviously do, for reasons which haven't as yet become clear. Your thoughts & erudition in this respect would be most welcome. Likewise, if you will, your experience of what is actually being sung in The Name of Folk these day and how you feel this fits, or doesn't fit, with the 1954 definition.

Where is WLD when you need him?


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 11:54 AM

I don't see any reason to change a word of "the 1954 definition" (by whom?) as you quote it.

Modern commercial pop has its place, and may in many instances (I'm being kind here) be good stuff. But the nature of folk music has to do with the live, continuously changeable nature of songs which live and are propagated by "just folks", and just because they like 'em, with (little or) no profit motive or official sanction.   

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 11:57 AM

Maud Karpeles, World Folk Music Council. And yes, she was obviously right.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: John P
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:13 PM

I prefer a musical definition to a venue-based one. Traditional music sounds different than most newly composed music. As a musician, this is the only definition that makes sense to me. I generally like melodies that have been through the folk process more than I like melodies that haven't. Please note: I'm not saying I dislike all modern music; I like a lot of it and play a lot of it. I'm also not saying that I like something just because it's traditional -- there are thousands of dreadfully boring traditional songs and tunes. But it's pretty easy to tell the old melodies from the new ones. I consider them different genres of music.

All that said, I like a lot of melodies that have been written by folks who are very immersed in traditional music. If the melody sounds just like traditional music, I don't have any problem calling it a traditional tune. The living, on-going tradition and all that.

Something I've been having fun watching lately is the folk process taking place in my own playing. I sometimes purposely "fix" a song to make it make more sense to me, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't as well. But I've had the opportunity lately to hear my source for tunes I've been doing for years. There's been an amazing amount of processing, totally unconsciously. These types of changes seem to sound more natural more consistently.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Don Firth
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:20 PM

Okay, Sinister, so if I sing a folk song in my local opera house, that makes it an operatic aria?

That door swings both ways.

I'm with John P. on this.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:21 PM

"Maud Karpeles, World Folk Music Council. And yes, she was obviously right"

a personal opinion surely, so hardly objective


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Will Fly
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:22 PM

I've always worried over the 1954 definition ever since I first read it, not because it's obscure or ill-defined or wrong, but because of the "known-ness" or "unkown-ness" of the historical process for any individual song.

For example, if the origins of a particular song, which has little variation in it and which has been supposed to have been "absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community", are - for whatever reason - made clear, does that change it from folk music into something else? Does the discovery of the original manuscript of the song - say - suddenly put into perspective as something else?

I'm not trying to be trivial or nitpick here, but to indicate that, from one viewpoint to another there are many shades of grey. And do we say that, by definition, all folk music ceased to be such the moment it was written down, recorded and fixed in time and space.

And I've always thought - as I indicated in a thread to that purpose some time ago - that the definition seems limited to songs and words, and that, the moment you consider tunes, a haze spreads everywhere. To Carolan or not to Carolan - that is the question?


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: curmudgeon
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 12:51 PM

"...a personal opinion surely, so hardly objective"

Maybe, but an opinion from one withar greater knowledge and understanding of the subject than most of the prattlers posting here.

Consider the term, "expert opinion" - Tom


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:02 PM

There's a proliferation of threads on this topic, and it's getting a little much.
Active today, we have
    1954 and all that
    What Makes it a Folk song
    What is a traditional singer
    Trad Song
    Steps in the folk process

Our usual policy is to have one thread active at a time on any given subject. In the future, try to continue discussions in a single thread and refrain from creating such a plethora of threads. It splits and confuses and duplicates the discussion when you do that.
"1954 and all that" doesn't fit our requirement for clarity in thread titles. I'm going to add something for clarity.
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That
From: curmudgeon
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:03 PM

Thanks, Joe - Tom


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:11 PM

I've yet to see anything written here that would convince me that the so-called 1954 definition is right in any way shape or form.

It's an arguement that will never be settled one way or the other

and you're right, there are way to many prattlers on these threads.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:13 PM

The 1954 definition is open to interpretation depending on how you look at it. I think it opens to door for our current crop of singer-songwriters.

If anyone needs a defintion to justify folk music, it isn't worth listening to.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:34 PM

"We just sing for the joy of singing. We love to sing these songs, and see the people join in and the atmosphere it creates."

- Bob Copper. 2002


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 01:49 PM

Okay, Sinister, so if I sing a folk song in my local opera house, that makes it an operatic aria?

That door swings both ways.


As I said, an Operatic Aria becomes a Folk Song in a folk context. So if any song can become a Folk Song, what you should be asking is, can any song become an Operatic Aria if sung in an Operatic context? To which the answer is, undoubtedly, yes, with some considerable evidence.

Otherwise:

As for what makes a Traditional Song, the lines are clearer with respect of a canon of material collected, recorded, catalogued, cut and dried, sourced and analysed, numbered, indexed, with occasions, performers and variations duly noted. Sometimes Traditional Songs might be sung as Folk Songs, other times they might be sung as Classical Songs, Rock Songs, Wyrd-Folk Songs, Jazz Songs, or Pop Songs. Anything is possible with a Traditional Song - but the song, essentially, remains the same, whatever the context.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Amos
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 02:44 PM

But really....what IS folk music????


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 02:51 PM

Music sung by the folk I suppose.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: The Sandman
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:07 PM

WLD,has left the forum.I cant say I blame him.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:07 PM

Oh shit, here come the horses. I'm gone.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:11 PM

More like "here comes the horseshit". Yet another thread designed only to flame.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Don Firth
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:19 PM

Where's my parachute. . . ?   Oh, hell, just open the door!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:21 PM

Could someone please define "community" in the context of the definition? Exactly who is the community?


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:27 PM

In all honesty I simply can't take this 1954 definition of what is folk music very seriously at all, nor the people that support it. I simply play the music for the love of it, that's why I got into the whole trad scene in the first place, just to have some fun. It really is that simple.

Community? Of that I have absolutely no idea at all.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:50 PM

Try defining "definition"

It boggles the mind why so many people enjoy fighting about a definition- and the discussion is usually brought up with full knowledge that no one will agree, and that any contrary opinion will automatically be considered wrong. Most people refuse to see a middle ground.

You can subtitle this - "When Altercockers Roamed the Earth"


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:52 PM

For better or worse, the "Ellis Island Syndrome" has its way with music in much the same way it did with people whose names were altered when they arrived here. We have, in this country (US) and, I'm sure, elsewhere a tendency to make things more understandable by filtering them through our peculiar experiences and expectations. When a piece of music gets to us from abroad, the language may seem stilted or difficult to manage for whatever reason, so we amend it to fit our needs. Sometimes it improves, sometimes it bastardizes, but, it is certainly effective. I suppose that this is a part of what we call the "folk process" too.

On another front, take any song with which you have enjoyed success and which you are repeatedly asked to perform. How many times have you varied the song if for no other reason than avoiding boredom?


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 03:54 PM

Will Fly commented/asked:

And do we say that, by definition, all folk music ceased to be such the moment it was written down, recorded and fixed in time and space.

It depends on the result of the writing down or recording, and whether the song is in effect "fixed" thereafter. There has been a good deal of discussion on just this subject on Ballad-L recently (surprise!), and focusing on "Red River Valley". Most posters agreed (as I read it) that "Red River Valley" has become pretty much fixed in form, so that to that extent it's no longer alive and developing. It was a folk song, and is deserving of study on that account today, along with its earlier forms, but if it's fixed, no longer changing, it's no longer a live folk song. That is not to say that it won't at some time come back to life, although I personally tend to doubt that will happen.

On the other hand, quite a few folk or traditional songs, after publishing in print or recording, live on in the tradition and continue to change in parallel with the fixed, published version, and may indeed outlive the fixed form.

Someone on Ballad-L made the wise (I think) observation that the traditional nature of a piece of music or folk song is more a matter of process than of content. The judgment in that case should be whether the given piece develops and changes on its way through the minds, mouths, and fingers of "the folk". If a song (either the words or the music)--say through mondegreens, parody, singers' PC editing of words, or narrative recasting in some way--changes, and keeps changing, then that's a sure sign that it's part of the folk process.

If such a song is found to have been fixed as given in some published form (like RRV, above), and no further change takes place because people only know or remember or only approve of the "official" form, then it's not "in the tradition" any more. To put it another way, "tradition" is not a heavy hand, holding subsequent practitioners to the way things used to be, but rather a live arena for changing and developing both songs and instrumental music.

A song which began, say, in the 16th Century and still is around, being sung today, has been through the hands and minds of thousands of "editors" on its way to today, who may have improved it, may have harmed it, but assuredly have changed it over that time. A new song, however meritorious, which has not had the chance to run that gantlet of "editors" and the resultant change, can't, I don't believe, be considered "folk music" or "traditional music".

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: John P
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 04:40 PM

I've actually started using the term "ethnic folk" to try to describe what we play. "Folk music" has come to mean pretty much anything, and "traditional folk" makes peoples' eyes glaze over, expecting dead boring performances by socially inept fuddy-duddies.

By the way, I don't care much about defining folk music as a part of my playing. Like most people, I play what I like and introduce it as seems appropriate to the situation. My only interest in definitions is so we can actually talk about the music. If we want to do away with definitions, we'll end up with classical, rap, and country western all in the same bin at the record store, and audiences that don't have any idea what they are in for when they go out to hear music.

Any musician who can't hear the difference between a traditional melody and a contemporary melody isn't paying attention.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Stringsinger
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 04:57 PM

Has the song survived the test of time?

Does it reflect a specific cultural milieu?

Are the many variants of the song?

Has the song been collected from a traditional source?

Is it accessible so that it can be learned more easily than an art, show or jazz song?

Has it been sung by many people who sometime change it along the way?

Usually, a folk song comes from an isolated community, most often rural.

A song can be written in a folk-style.

If you can copyright it, it probably isn't a real folk song although many folk song collectors have attempted to copyright public domain material. This was done
a lot in the Sixties.

General popularity of a song doesn't make it a folk song. If you don't believe that,
attempt to take a popular song and change it without eventually getting sued.

This is the flaw in thinking about ASCAP, BMI and commercially licensed songs, they are not part of the folk process of change and variation. This is what separates the folk song
from a commercial product whereby the author/composer receives compensation
for the use of the song.

In time, a commercially written song may become a folk song if the author/composer
is forgotten and the song changes with many variants.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 05:36 PM

More like "here comes the horseshit". Yet another thread designed only to flame.

If you'd bother read the OP, you'd see that this thread was designed to consider Folk Music in relation to what actually happens in designated Folk Contexts. What I'm proposing here is an inclusive definition of Folk Music based on the empirical evidence.

On an average night in our Folk Club (see HERE) we might hear Blues, Shanties, Kipling, Cicely Fox Smith, Musical Hall, George Formby, Pop, County, Dylan, Cohen, Cash, Medieval Latin, Beatles, Irish Jigs and Reels, Scottish Strathspeys, Gospel, Rock, Classical Guitar, Native American Chants, Operatic Arias and even the occasional Traditional Song and Ballad. We once had a floor singer who, in his own words, sang his own composition which he introduced with the Zen-like "...this is a folk song about rock 'n' roll...".

It all goes down am absolute storm, warmly welcomed and appreciated, irrespective of ability (don't worry, I'm not about raise any GEFF Ghosts here, even though I feel half the charm is in the shortfall between intention & result) and I'm sure we're not alone is this - a Folk Club being a place where people come to do pretty much what they like, but it remains, somehow Folk Music.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 08:21 PM

What I'm proposing here is an inclusive definition of Folk Music based on the empirical evidence.

I don't think you're proposing a definition at all, unless it's "Everything that's ever been heard (and enjoyed) by someone who went out that evening expecting to hear something called folk music".

I'm in two minds. I do like folk clubs - something happens there which is worth celebrating, even if you do sometimes end up listening to acoustic renditions of the works of Robbie Williams or heartfelt laments for the passing of apartheid. But I like traditional music more, and I think most folk clubs could benefit from putting on more of it.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Howard Jones
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 08:51 PM

WTF is a "designated folk context"? Who is doing the designating? Or does it mean a place where folk music is performed? In which case, the OP's definition of a folk song is taking us around in circles.

If "folk song" means anything, it must mean traditional song, and the 1954 definition is as good an attempt at pinning that down as I've seen. All sorts of other music may be accepted in folk clubs (although that varies) but usually what determines its acceptability is the style of performance - if it's performed in a "folk style", whatever the origin, you'll probably get away with it. But they're not folk songs.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Don Firth
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 09:54 PM

If I were to come to a folk club (presumably a "designated folk context") and sing "La Donna e Mobilé" from Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, even if I accompanied it on my guitar, or sang it unaccompanied with my hand cupped over my ear, I don't think very many people would nod vigorously if I proclaimed it to be a folk song.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 20 Mar 09 - 10:39 PM

"If you'd bother read the OP, you'd see that this thread was designed to consider Folk Music in relation to what actually happens in designated Folk Contexts. What I'm proposing here is an inclusive definition of Folk Music based on the empirical evidence. "

...or, as I said, another thread designed only to flame.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 04:45 AM

Don't have too much time to be involved at present - we've just been offered the possibility of publishing some of our field work, including a collection of Irish Travellers songs, which we will probably call (somewhat unimaginatively) 'Folk Songs Of The Irish Travellers'.
In the meantime, a clarification.
If the 1954 definition was 'just an opinion' it was one based on extensive work carried out on the subject, largely by Cecil Sharp, the result of which was published in his 'English Folk Song, Some Conclusions'. The definition was certainly not the brainchild of one person, Maud Karpeles or whoever, but was finally arrived at by a gathering of people, also experienced in the subject, at 7th Conference of The International Folk Music Council at Sao Paulo in 1954 and was written up by 'Auntie Maud' in their journal the following year.
Let's not foul up any discussion with distortions and misinformation so early in the proceedings - there will be plenty of time for that later.
Whatever is 'decided', ie, whatever 'opinions' are expressed here, life will go on as normal elsewhere.
The term 'folk song', more or less coinciding with the details of the 1954 definition has been in use for over a century (see DK Wilgus's 'Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship Since 1898'), and in the field of anthology and research this continues to be the case. Over the last few years I have availed myself of 'A History of European Folk Music' (pub. 1997), the 8th and final volume of 'The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection (2002), 'Folk Song - Tradition, Revival and Recreation' (2004), and 'Folk In Print - Scotland's Chapbook Heritage' (2007).
Whatever happens to the folk revival in the future (I strongly believe that this has been in the balance for some time now), and whatever 'we few, we happy few, we band of brothers' decide what should be the 'correct' definition of the term 'folk', it is titles such as these which will survive as an account of folk music in the 20th and 21st century.
Let the games begin!
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 04:47 AM

PS What is a 'designated folk context' and who gets to designate it?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Darowyn
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 05:08 AM

I think you would probably get away with "La Donna E Mobile" as long as you had an introductory verse explaining that you were walking out on a fine May morning (possibly in order to hear the small birds sing) when you happened to overhear a young Italian, and that these were the words he did say.....
I'm being flippant, but that is because I really do not care about the 1954 definition. It was a good try at the time, but just like folk songs, words are in the public domain and are used to mean what the public want them to mean, at that time. Words come and go and meanings change.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 05:33 AM

Designated Folk Contexts: Folk Club, Folk Festival, Singaround etc. Where Folkies gather.

If "folk song" means anything, it must mean traditional song,

No. A Traditional Song is a Traditional Song. A Folk Song, it would appear, can be pretty much anything (including a Traditional Song). This is based on 35 years of experience of folk clubs, sessions, festivals & singarounds.

But I like traditional music more, and I think most folk clubs could benefit from putting on more of it.

Me too, but that's evidently not the case. I'm trying to arrive at an appreciation, if not an actual definition of Folk Music (in particular Folk Song) based on the reality of the situation rather than any Traddy Ideal such as that set out by the 1954, which, as I've indicated elsewhere (see HERE is really too vague to be of any use whatsoever.

'Folk In Print - Scotland's Chapbook Heritage' (2007).

According to the 1954: "...it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community." So is The Chapbook Heritage a case of exceptions proving rules? Or is it a further indication of just how flabby, ill-considered and unrealistic the 1954 definition actually is?


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 05:41 AM

...it is titles such as these which will survive as an account of folk music in the 20th and 21st century.

Just as when there are no birds left ornithologists will be glad of the books!


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Howard Jones
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 05:49 AM

"According to the 1954: "...it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community." So is The Chapbook Heritage a case of exceptions proving rules? Or is it a further indication of just how flabby, ill-considered and unrealistic the 1954 definition actually is?"

I think too much can be made of this. An individual musician writing down a tune or a song as an aide memoire does not invalidate the idea of it being absorbed into a tradition. Other, different versions may still exist alongside. However if a published text is regarded as the definitive version, and referred to in order to ensure accuracy, then it is not a folk song.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Howard Jones
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 06:11 AM

Whilst the 1954 definition has its faults, it is a good attempt at defining a particular type of music which has special characteristics. Otherwise we are in horse territory.

It is true that the term "folk song" has come to have a wider meaning than this. However, defining a "folk song" as anything which can be heard in a folk club is not only too broad to have any meaning, it doesn't help with defining the popular usage. A pop song may be performed in a folk club, but it is still a pop song. It may have tbe potential to turn into a folk song, but only if it has started to show variations and absorption into a tradition; the obstacle to this is that the original definitive version is usually too widely known for this to easily happen.

For example, Swan Arcade used to do a stunning version of the Kinks' "Lola", which they regularly performed in "designated folk contexts". I don't think anyone, including those in the audience, would think of "Lola" as a folk song.

The problem with the OP's definition is that the audiences at "designated folk contexts" are actually usually fairly tolerant and will accept other genres of music, provided they are performed in a sympathetic way. So a pop song performed in a folk style may be accepted whereas a heavy metal version of a 1954-compliant folk song probably would not.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: TheSnail
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 06:31 AM

Jim Carroll

Don't have too much time to be involved at present - we've just been offered the possibility of publishing some of our field work, including a collection of Irish Travellers songs, which we will probably call (somewhat unimaginatively) 'Folk Songs Of The Irish Travellers'.

That is wonderful news, Jim. I'm so glad that you have overcome your instinct to "leave it on the shelf". It's obviously done you a power of good; the rest of that post is the most sensible and positive one from you that I have ever read.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 06:58 AM

"Designated Folk Contexts: Folk Club, Folk Festival, Singaround etc. Where Folkies gather."
You mean like the 7th Conference of the International Folk Music Council?
Is it really as arbitrary as that? If a folk club books a string quartet, does what they do automatically become 'folk' or do they have to fight for the title?
Howard just said it all regarding chap books, which were reportings of songs "which had already been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community". The argument as to the effect of writing down songs dates back at least to Walter' Scott's time when he was repremanded by James Hogg's mother for destroying them "bt writing them down".
"Just as when there are no birds left ornithologists will be glad of the books!"
Not sure what this means - I do know that the folk scene lost at least three quarters of its participants when a clear definition of 'folk' was abandoned and audiences no longer knew what they would be listening to when they turned up at a folk club.
I get tired of repeating it, but here in Ireland the music, more-or-less in it's pure form, is thriving, youngsters are flocking to it in their thousands, music teachers are turning away wannabe players because they can't cope, archives and folk music resource centres are springing up like mushrooms and asking for grants for the music (up to the present economic crisis) is an exercise in pushing on open doors - (there/that/teeshirt) - the reason; no ambiguity on what the music is or where it stands culturally, historically and socially.
Jim Carroll
PS - If we can't define 'folk' clearly how can we define what is 'a folk way of singing'.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 07:00 AM

"leave it on the shelf"."
Bit misleading Bryan - as you well know our collection has been freely accessible to the general public for at least twenty years at the NSA and Irish Traditional Music Archive.
Keep it clean lads.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: TheSnail
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 07:09 AM

Jim, I am genuinely celebrating what seems to me to be a real change of attitude on your part. You have so much to contribute.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 07:39 AM

Thank you Bryan - despite my early-morning crankiness, I'm flattered.
As I said, it's no more than an offer at present, and very much dependent on whather we want to spend our declining years producing collections for what appear to us to be a rapidly declining audience for what little we have to offer.
Re 'designated folk contexts' - does this mean that a song sung at one club can be regarded as a 'folk song' and not at another?
Why do I keep expecting a dormouse to emerge from the teapot and a white rabbit to peer at his pocket watch and tell me he's late?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Howard Jones
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 08:25 AM

So, according to the OP:

A "folk song" is any song performed in a "designated folk context"
A designated folk context is anywhere where "folkies" gather
Presumably "folkies" are people who like folk songs.

We seem to be in a logic loop here.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Sleepy Rosie
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 08:37 AM

"whather we want to spend our declining years producing collections for what appear to us to be a rapidly declining audience for what little we have to offer."

I was under the impression that folk and traditional arts was having something of a dramatic incline in interest, and especially amongst twenty-somethings. Which suggests to me, that it might in fact be a most serendipitous time to start dusting off those archives...?

As for expecting visits from white rabbits and suchlike, I'd take it easy on the laudenum there Jim... ;-)


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 08:49 AM

"Laudenum" - nothing so boring.
Jim


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 02:31 PM

Howard... a mobius strip, more like. There is no edge to fall off and so the discussion/argument whatever, never ends. See seventh circle of hell.

I already asked who the "community" is that distinguishes folk from other music. I have some really "impotent" questions to ask. Like:

Who the folk are you and who made you the final authority on the genre?

What are your folking qualifications?

Do you have any idea the kind of devisive havoc you have wreaked among well meaning folk?

Are you prepared to make amends by defining the genre in less woolly jumper terms?

Take that folking finger out of your ear. I am talking to you.


Sorry. Can't be too serious about this. I just want to sing and listen and learn. and I am tired of labels.


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 04:09 PM

Virginia,
The devisive havoc already exists, largely due to the fact that folk clubs no longer do what it says on the tin.
I'm happy for you that you are happy with the way things are - some of us aren't and are prepared to spend time trying to do something about it.
Snide 'finger-in-ear' and 'wooly jumper' comments are as divisive as it gets.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: 1954 and All That - defining folk music
From: Rifleman (inactive)
Date: 21 Mar 09 - 04:13 PM

"Sorry. Can't be too serious about this. I just want to sing and listen and learn. and I am tired of labels."

Well said Virginia!


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