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Threads on the meaning of Folk

Related threads:
What is a Folk Song? (292)
Who Defines 'Folk'???? (287)
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What isn't folk (88)
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What makes a new song a folk song? (1710)
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Alice 17 Aug 99 - 12:06 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 12:21 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 02:06 AM
GeorgeH 17 Aug 99 - 06:58 AM
Allan C. 17 Aug 99 - 11:10 AM
Alice 17 Aug 99 - 11:32 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 08 Sep 99 - 06:26 AM
Art Thieme 08 Sep 99 - 08:52 AM
GeorgeH 08 Sep 99 - 09:02 AM
JedMarum 08 Sep 99 - 09:16 AM
Frank Hamilton 08 Sep 99 - 01:43 PM
poet 08 Sep 99 - 07:02 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 12:51 AM
katlaughing 09 Sep 99 - 01:05 AM
catspaw49 09 Sep 99 - 01:22 AM
Frank Hamilton 09 Sep 99 - 09:41 AM
Joan Sprung 09 Sep 99 - 12:05 PM
JedMarum 09 Sep 99 - 12:16 PM
Mike Regenstreif 09 Sep 99 - 03:10 PM
poet 09 Sep 99 - 07:43 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 09:24 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 10:28 PM
Sandy Paton 09 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 11:15 PM
dick greenhaus 09 Sep 99 - 11:42 PM
Wally Macnow 09 Sep 99 - 11:48 PM
Val Sommerville 10 Sep 99 - 12:53 AM
Frank Hamilton 10 Sep 99 - 05:22 PM
dick greenhaus 10 Sep 99 - 05:58 PM
Art Thieme 10 Sep 99 - 10:19 PM
Art Thieme 10 Sep 99 - 11:19 PM
Joe Offer 11 Sep 99 - 05:52 AM
Wally Macnow 11 Sep 99 - 08:26 AM
Nancy-Jean 11 Sep 99 - 02:43 PM
Frank Hamilton 11 Sep 99 - 06:01 PM
catspaw49 11 Sep 99 - 10:01 PM
Joan Sprung 11 Sep 99 - 10:46 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM
Joan Sprung 12 Sep 99 - 12:38 PM
Frank Hamilton 12 Sep 99 - 12:55 PM
Sourdough 12 Sep 99 - 12:59 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 01:44 PM
Mike Regenstreif 12 Sep 99 - 03:22 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 08:37 PM
Mike Regenstreif 12 Sep 99 - 08:54 PM
Mulligan 12 Sep 99 - 10:49 PM
dick greenhaus 12 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM
Sandy Paton 12 Sep 99 - 11:18 PM
Stewie 13 Sep 99 - 12:34 AM
Rick Fielding 13 Sep 99 - 01:00 AM
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Subject: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 12:06 AM

This thread is a location for links to the many discussions on the Mudcat regarding the meaning of folk music, the folk "process", what is a folk song, definitions, etc. If you have any threads to add, please add them. I found as many in a forum search as I could, but I know there are others that did not have obvious thread titles.

alice in montana
----

click What is a Folk Song?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2224

click Acceptable in Folk Club
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2225

click How to Create a Folksong (FS for Dummies)
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=2624

click young folkies?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=3532

click Methodologies
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4110

click Methodologies - - who writes the songs?
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4215

click The demise of Folk Music
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4255

click The demise of Folk Music, Part II
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4914

click Oldest Folk
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4913

click Shortest Definition of folk
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=4892

click Old Folkers
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=8373

click Mudcat's Future
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.CFM?threadID=8715

click Brand new folksongs available
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13012

click Art Thieme, Allan C.
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=13044


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 12:21 AM

You will now see a new category for links called "Memorable Mudcat Threads". I am off to add "Spancil Hill". -alice


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 02:06 AM

As I went back looking for these threads and reading them, I was struck by how much more thoughtful the posts seemed to be in 1997 and 1998 compared to recent months. In the thread regarding the Mudcat's Future (Jan 99), we were anticipating the forum being deluged with requests for pop lyrics, but we did not anticipate the type of chat room transformation the threads have developed. Max has created a good method of sending personal messages, in addition to the forum, as well as alternative chat room. I hope to see more of the type of insightful and memorable discussions we have had in the past. Yes, I enjoy the fun of some of the threads, don't get me wrong, but there is a difference between memorable BS threads and BS threads that are only fluff. It's hard to know what will change from fluff to memorable as the thread creeps, but I think if you go back and read some of these discussions, you will see what I mean. no offense intended


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: GeorgeH
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 06:58 AM

Commendable work and bravely spoken, IM(newcomer's)O, Alice. Thanks.

G.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Allan C.
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 11:10 AM

Good job of collecting, Alice! You may want to add: Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Alice
Date: 17 Aug 99 - 11:32 AM

Thanks, Allan, you just added it. The link is to this thread, so any more that start or were missed can just be added here.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 06:26 AM

Think this needs a refresh!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 08:52 AM

Dave Para,

Is this really what you wanted to see?

Art ;-)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: GeorgeH
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:02 AM

For anyone interrested in these discussions (#1), currently over on uk.music.folk there is an enormous thread on the subject of "Folk wannabes" which has digressed into "what is (English) Folk" - in a very thoughtful and intellegent way. Mainly talking about folk music (it the traditional sense) vs. art and religious music rather than "is folk and if not why" stuff.

As I said, it's a large convoluted thread; if you want to find the interresting branches you could scan the messages from Jack Campin (posting as BogusAddress) and Pete Wilton.

George

#1] Generally I'm not, but the messages referred to have almost changed my mind . .


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: JedMarum
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 09:16 AM

You may also want to add Is Lyric Creep a Sin?, since it is a discussion on the evolutionary 'facts-of-life' of folk music.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 01:43 PM

I am still wading through the voluminous amount of posts on this thread. I think I may have more to add. Definitions seem to indicate anomalies. There are exceptions to rules. When you nail down a definition there's always "well what about this?" that may not fit but must be considered.

I am interested in why this discussion is so important. I co-founded a School of Folk Music in Chicago and spent six years teaching there. This discussion was on my mind every day because people were coming into the School to learn something. Even today, there is a dialogue taking place at the School and it's affecting it's direction for the future. I've devoted a good deal of my life tracking down what I considered to be folk songs. At age 65, I'm still tracking 'em. I've had to ask myself many times why I continue to do this.

Here's something I found. People who are interested in folk music want to be a part of it. This informs their arguments about what it is. I think that it's a good thing that people want to be a part of what they think is folk music. But they see it in terms of how it relates to their participation in it and not always for what it is.

I wrote to the president of the Board of Directors at the Old Town School and said this. "It's important to see what it is and not be concerned to much about what it isn't." How do we find out what it is? Well as in any subject worth it's salt, we need more information about it, not just emotional opinions and subjective views. For example, does anyone really know who coined the term "folk music"? Do people who define the music for themselves know about the range of the music and have a working knowledge of all of the performers in the field? One might know of the role of the Kingston Trio but how many people know of say, for example, Vera Hall or Obray Ramsey, Horton Barker or the repitiore of "Blind" Lemon Jefferson? In short, all of the people who have such heated opinions on the subject need to give us information rather than just opinions. This requires a good deal of study in the field. There are damn few people I know who really have studied this field carefully. Bess Lomax Hawes is one I know. Sam Hinton is another one. Pete Seeger knows a good deal about it but is reluctant to get into a discussion of this kind. There are many folklorists, song collectors, musicologists, anthropologists, as well as "revivalist" researchers like myself who have spent a long time on this question. It's not an easy topic to come to hard and fast conclusions about but it's an important one because it brings the light to bear on the subject and what we need to know about it. Why is it important? Because there is a world of wonderful song material that has been handed down from generation to generation and young kids in the public school system are rarely exposed to it compared to the pop music on the boom box. We are paving over the cultural landscape with the cement of limited musical tastes. Has someone noticed what's happening to the NEA these days? What does it say about a country when the NRA is more powerful than the NEA? Can we afford to turn our back on our heritage?

There is a role for the folk song "revivalist" in this picture. And there is an intersection that takes place between popular music and folk music that can't be denied or neatly segregated. This needs to be cleared up by information, not opinion. For example, a student of mine by the name of Roger McGuinn researched folk songs at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He developed a 12 string guitar technique by listening to Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson and had some acquaintance with what Leadbelly did with it. He learned many traditional folk songs and much of this information was carried with him when he did his first recordings with the Byrds. There are other intersections that show the marriage between folk and pop. This is what we need to be talking about. What about a Pete Seeger? Who did he listen to? Why did he decide to become "America's Tuning Fork"? Rather than concentrate on what folk music isn't, let's educate as to what it really is and show us examples.

Stepping off the soapbox, now.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: poet
Date: 08 Sep 99 - 07:02 PM

Frank
Here in England Folk Music is regarded as a continuation of the early Newscast System wherin travelling players etc went from town to town crying the news of the day, It then Became easier to put the news to a simple tune. Hence most early Folk songs were about memorable events. Bards of the time also considered it their duty to put to music the history and lessons of their world.It has grown since then into a far wider concept than can be explained by anyone. I believe Folk Music can only be recognised by its Intent and not its style.

Graham Hyett (Guernsey)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:51 AM

I thought I'd simply quote a note that was sent to the FOLKDJ-L. I'm sure the author won't mind, since he went public with it there. Apologizing, and explaining how he managed to post a "private" note to a public forum, he said:

"It's just that I was distracted. I was talking on the phone and typing the e-mail at the same time and another call came in on the call-waiting and I pressed the send button when I shouldn't have and besides that it's hot and the air-conditioner is broken and Sylvie has a cold and the second phone call was from a singer-songwriter whose over-produced CD, a CD-R really, I really didn't like and I tried to be nice to her and then she said she thought the real folk songs on the CD would be perfect for my show and I said that I didn't notice any real folk songs on the CD and she said that meant I probably didn't really listen to her album because it was quite obvious which ones were the folk songs. So I said what exactly do you mean by "real folk songs?" And she said her "folk songs" were the ones on which she played acoustic guitar and didn't have drums and I said that she and I must have a different concept about what a folk song is and she said something like thanks for nothing and hung up and that's when I hit the send button when I shouldn't have."

Hope this amuses you as it did me.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: katlaughing
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 01:05 AM

LMAO, Sandy! That was great!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: catspaw49
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 01:22 AM

LMAO too....and it's too damn late to be laughing like this!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 09:41 AM

Hi Graham, I agree that intent does influence folk song singing. And this in turn affects the style. For example, if Frank Sinatra chooses to sing a folk song in his inimitable manner, the folk song remains a folk song but the singer's style is antithetical to it's application in the tradition of the music. Nelson Riddle's orchestrations are not specifically related to the musical style of the tradition.

Sandy, this illustrates the point perfectly. The intent of the young lady singer/songwriter was to write what she thought was a folk song. That intent, however, influenced her singing style. Since she didn't know about the tradition of folk music, her style was inappropriate for the content of the music. There are those who might enjoy a rock and roll version of Mozart. I might even like it for fun. But I don't confuse rock and roll with Mozart even if I thought it was a fun idea. Musical style dictates a different approach, an acknowledgement of the tradition of the music otherwise known as folk music. If a performer wants to do something else with it, that's fine.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:05 PM

Here's another topic that's dear to my heart. Saw a newspaper article about a local "folksinger" who is in demand in the area as an entertainer. When questioned about how she chooses the material she uses, she said she writes folksongs using subjects that people never tire of...like Love, for instance. It seems that people don't not equate "folk" with aurally/orally transmitted song from a particular region, consciousness or time. As Sandy mentioned, anything that's accompanied on an accoustic instrument is often designated: "folk." The perpetrator of this music is frequently unaware of ballads - native and naturalized, old time string bands, collections of family songs that document other times and events, blues and kidsongs. etc., etc.. Question? How do people get exposed to the real thing? Through cultural visits to schools? Community concerts? More programs on the media using trad. music as themes? Hmmm. Joan


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: JedMarum
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 12:16 PM

People gain exposure to folk music through many means ... primarily the artists who play these wonderful tunes, ie. those of us here who perform at clubs and acoustic music venues all around the country ... most of us a play a mix of traditional folk and contemporary ... most audiences cannot see the difference, and, in my humble opinion; that's OK!


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 03:10 PM

Sandy,

The author of the note to FOLKDJ-L does not mind that you reposted it here.

Mike Regenstreif


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: poet
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 07:43 PM

To Liam Devlin
A true story but off the subject. I once had the honour to present Liam O'Flynn at my small but Freindly Folk Festival, and i announced him perfectly remembering all the credits and honours due this top Irish piper. Then in front of a rapt Irish Audience I said "now please give a wonderfull Guernsey welcome to LIAM DEVLIN" amidst the horrified silence Liam was heard to say, "you read too many Jack Higgins Books" and my Embarrassment was complete. A Great talent and a gentleman also.

Graham Hyett (Guernsey)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 09:24 PM

To Mike Regenstreif:

Mike, m'lad, if I'd known you were the author, I'd have given proper credit. I saw the note only as it was appended (without your name attached) to the reply that added: That's okay, as long as you weren't talking on a cell phone in your car at the same time" (or words to that effect). That's a great piece of writing, Mike! You oughta forward it to SING OUT! I think Mark Moss would love it, too. I'd even suggest contributing it to "Life in these United States" at Reader's Digest, but for the fact that you're in Canada and the editors of Reader's Digest wouldn't understand your point at all.

I see you're gonna have Rick Fielding on your show next month. Be sure to remind all these Mudcatters when it's gonna happen. They'll sure want to tune in.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 10:28 PM

Frank,

I dunno about the settings. I knee-jerk to agree with you about Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. But what do I do about The Weavers with Gordon Jenkins? Or The Norman Luboff Choir? They sure had an influence on me when I was a kid. I figure they're all bridges. Just as the Kingston Trio leads to Frank Profitt and Peter, Paul and Mary lead to Rev. Gary Davis.

And some of the songs of Earl Robinson's and Yip Harburg's that moved into the folk idiom. Did you know that "Free and Equal Blues" was supposed to be the opening number in "Finian's Rainbow"?

If you listen to the cuts on "Songs For Political Action", it's all so unclear. Maybe Pete's "All Mixed Up" should really be our theme. I guess I just go by my gut.

My problem with most contemporary "folksingers" is that they've never heard traditional music. Many of them are third or fourth generation now and "roots" to them means Bob Dylan or Paul Simon.

I'm sputtering out on my soapbox too.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM

I read the FOLKDJ-L posts of playlists every day, Wally, and I must confess that I don't understand what these people mean when they refer to "roots" music. Is there some sort of recent re-definition that I've missed? I'm sure I know what you mean when you use the term. But these guys...??

Somewhere, Frank, you talked about playing Almeda Riddle for a class of rock fans to illustrate traditional music. Their reaction was negative. Maybe you challenged them with too great a leap for the first step. I love Almeda Riddle, but what might have been their response if you had played Vera Hall singing "Another Man Done Gone" (A Treasury of Field Recordings from the Library of Congress), or Bozie Sturdivant singing "Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down" on the same CD, or Alfred Karnes singing "Called to a Foreign Field" on (Traditional Music of Kentucky, Volume 1), or Laura Henton singing "I Can Tell the World About This" (How Can I Keep from Singing, Volume 1) or if you'd played that fabulous cut of the Pace Jubilee Singers singing "Oh, Death" on the second volume of How Can I Keep from Singing from Yazoo? Or almost anything ever recorded by Mississippi John Hurt?

Perhaps we should let our students take smaller steps. For an audience used to strongly African-American influenced popular culture, some of the superb non-professional African-American artists that represent the "roots" of that music would be more apt to win their admiration. (Karnes happens to be the only non-African-American artist in the above list.) One small step could lead to another.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:15 PM

Sandy,

I gave up reading them. They had no meaning for me. Toward the end of the period when I had my radio show, I also stopped posting them 'cause I thought no one but Paul Stamler had an interest and I can email him directly.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:42 PM

Listen up- There is NO meaning to the word folk in "folk" music. There are many many meanings, all of them valid: a continuation of a musical tradition, a musical style, an expression of ethnic identity, an un-amplified performance,a song at least XX years old with an unknown composer, a song that has been changed in the course of oral/aural transmission, a song that's performed by amateurs only, a song that's sung to members of the same cultural group as the singer,anything that's heard at a folk festival....There's also no agreement, so these discussions, besides becoming teejus, tend to resemble the blind men's discussion of the nature of an elephant (who, like a horse, doesn't sing folk songs),

If anyone cares, the Digital Tradition's definition of a folksong is anything anyone likes enough to send in. It's not necessarily my definition, but wotthehell.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 09 Sep 99 - 11:48 PM

Ah, Dick, you're a party pooper. Some of us just need to BS about something serious like late teenagers talking about how they'd solve the problems of the world.

I bid you goodnight.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Val Sommerville
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 12:53 AM

It seems to me that Folk is any music that folks like to play or listen to. So rock and roll is folk muic to some.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 05:22 PM

Sandy, you're right. Should have played something more accessible for those students. But there is something to be said for the shock value of it all. They had to realize that there was something unfamiliar than what they thought they knew. The idea that folk music could mean something else to them besides the Kingston Trio or Joni Mitchell at least opened a door whether they liked the music or not. And Almeda Riddle was memorable to them whether positive or negative in their reactions. Some of them may think it over later and decide there was something there. My point was to underscore just how important it is that the "Almeda Riddles" become recognized by the general public. Why? Because it's our cultural resources that have value just as our American history is important.

Dick, I know that you think that the word "folk" is too vague to represent any decent discussion on this issue. But we're not just talking semantics, here. I feel folk music and I know it's different in it's primary source (original traditional folk singing) than it is in it's secondary source (popular "folk revival" singers.) I know that Alan Lomax and many other collectors such as Harry Smith, Ralph Rinzler, Mike Seeger and the many other people who have devoted their lives to collecting this music know the difference between Iron Head Baker and the Weavers. And there is a cultural difference that is shown in the music. All you have to do is hear it to know that.

The original purpose of the "folk revivalists" were to bring this kind of music before a public, albeit a limited one at the time. Then it became a vehicle to eexpress the values of a political left. Who knew it would become "pop folkie"? Pete traveled a year with Sonny Terry because he wanted people to hear this folk musician. As it was, there were many who might have come to hear Pete and came away with an appreciation for Sonny. Bonnie Raitt did this with "Sippie" Wallace later. I submit to you Dick that you didn't travel to Ashville or anywhere in the South to hear Harry Belafonte, Limelighters, KT or Joni, Dylan, PP and M, Weavers or any of the secondary sources ("folk revivalists"). If you don't want to call that kind of music "folk" I can see your point. Call it anything you want to but it is different than the singer/songwriter in the coffee house, the professional entertainer/performer on the concert stage who sings folk songs, the newest profundities from the abstruse navel gazer who puts words together to convey life's deepest meanings. Sometimes the music overlaps into the pro entertainer's domain such as Uncle Dave Macon, or Leadbelly on his college concert tours but the music is different because it reflects a cultural connection with a sub-society that has existed and developed a tradition base.

Wally, the Weavers with Gordon Jenkins were a fine example of the "folk revivalists" who learned the music from primary sources. A lot of what they did was folk music and some were composed songs or popular songs of earlier days. This doesn't at all invalidate what they did. They were the popularizers and what's wrong with that?

But the Mad Tea Party approach that says "Folk music is what I choose it to mean and nothing else" is doing a disservice to a kind of music that has it's own value and is different than popular music or popularized folk songs.

Hangin' on.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 05:58 PM

FRank- To quote Bert Lloyd: If The Cruel Mother is a folk song, then we have to find something else to call Four Pence a Day.

I'm delighted to discuss folk music with anyone, if we can precede the discussion with at least a rough definition of terms. From a cultural anthropology viewpoint, Pete is certainly not a folksinger (something he used to make a point of stating); The Weavers were even less so. From a musical style viewpoint, you could make a case that he is.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 10:19 PM

Frank Hamilton hasn't been around Mudcat long enough to get burned out on this topic yet. I'm just about at that point. It's enough for me to know that Frank is correct. My intention was to stay out of this--yet another "what is folk" discussion. But Jeff Davis wrote a great "TRADITIONAL" column in the recent Folk Alliance Newsletter. Among other pretty brilliant observations was this to end his column:

"What we need is artists who, like the iconographers of the Eastern Church, labored on works that were themselves sacred.The job was to keep things for the next generations. The art and the icons (the songs) were greater than the artists. It was art done with great passionate care; art done with a God watching over their shoulders. In our culture (whatever that is) recovering the word icon for a greater meaning might not be a bad idea. With iconographers we might treat the old texts and singers with the respect they deserve. (my italics) In these times of disregard, plastic, trash, over-packaging, asphalt, junk mail, junk food and junk music perhaps we will find, beneath the rubble and wrappers, that the spirit of the old singers and songs has not died but has simply been buried alive."

I called Jeff Davis today to see if he'd mind if I post his entire column. He wasn't there. But I suspect he's out doing what he ought to bring his songs to the fore. And he does that the same way I always hoped I was doing it---by putting the songs and where they came from way before the guy who was singin' 'em.

Uniquely, whether it was intentional or not, nowhere in that entire column did Mr. Davis need to use the word "folk".

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Art Thieme
Date: 10 Sep 99 - 11:19 PM

Dick,

Of course there are many different definitions of folk now. What some of us are saying is that seeing the scene that way is completely WRONG. We are STILL trying to re-educate those that have gone astray into newthink. They're young & don't know any better. You just sound so tired of the argument. I am too! But I've got nothing but time on my hands now. You are most likely very busy with real life but I might as well try to educate somebody here & there as to what this is all about. I probably won't change very many set minds, but I do know that I'll be correct and they won't be.

When I first came here to Mudcat I posted some things where I said---yes, everything is folk". I was trying to, as they say in TWELVE STEP PROGRAMS, "ACT AS IF". I thought that I could re-train myself to lose my trad views and join the 90s, if only I could act as if everthing really is folk music, then that'd actually be the case. But if I'm to be true to all of what I know to be true, I simply needed to go with my original and, I think, correct feelings about the truth of our side of this divisive argument. Trying to be a people pleaser was not good for my self esteem. As Gordon Bok has told me, "Is what is!"

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 05:52 AM

Maybe arguing about labels is useless, but I do think this sort of discussion can help train us to direct our focus. What we need to do as musicians is to find, preserve, and create "music which will endure." I think it's a sacred mission.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Wally Macnow
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 08:26 AM

Frank,

I hope you didn't mistake my meaning. The Weavers with Gordon Jenkins and orchestra or early Burl Ives "popular" music releases acted as bridges and helped in time brought me to seek out traditional and traditional style singers. I think the first folksong recordings that I heard, when I was quite small, were of Richard Dyer-Bennett and Tom Glazer. I was fascinated by this music that seemed to me to be so different from most popular music of the forties.

On a similar theme, do you think that many of the popular artists of that period had closer links to the "trad" music than today's singer-songwriter "folksingers"? I don't mean the black artists like Billie Holiday who were steeped in the tradition but the white singers like Frankie Laine who recorded songs like "Rocks and Gravel" or Guy ? who recorded a version of "The Fireship" that made it onto the hit parade. When I have the occasion to talk to today's young singer-songwriter/folksinger, I find that often they've never heard a "source" singer.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Nancy-Jean
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 02:43 PM

Heard on the radio this morning, "a folk song is a song which does not have a definitive version". It gets passed around, fooled around with, changed, arranged every which a-way. Pretty broad definition, eh?

Perhaps some of us would like to talk about traditional ballads and traditonal ballad singing. That narrows the style definition, doesn't it? When you add, for example, piano background to what was intitially a simple traditional ballad and the text plays less of a role than what is being done to embellish the tune, I question whether the presentation remains "traditional ballad".


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 06:01 PM

Great thread! Now we're getting to the real issues. Yes Wally, I think that when Jo Stafford recorded Red Rosy Bush she was closer to understanding the folk tradition than many of the contemporary songwriters of today. She knew what a source singer was.

I agree that the role of the "revivalists" were as bridges to connect people to the understanding of the traditional singers and their heritages.

Joe, I agree wholeheartedly. Point to the music.

Dick, I think that Pete is more eclectic than a traditional folksinger musically. For example, he uses thirteenth chords in his accompaniments and sophisticated counter-lines in his bass notes. He messes with the musical traditions by interjecting his own musical personality and there's nothing wrong with this. I do it myself. But this in my view keeps him and me from ever being a primary source for the music, at least not today. His style of banjo playing is his own. I guess Pete's closest influential primary source might be Pete Steele, coal miner of Hamilton, Ohio. Pete Seeger is reputed to have learned to love the five-string from the playing of Aunt Semantha Baumgartner, the octegenarian folk singer and banjo picker when he was exposed to her at the Ashville Folk Festival as a youngster. He was brought there by his parents.

Nancy-Jean,

There is a danger in accompanied ballads on the piano. People who set the arrangements often come from a classical music background. The danger with a song in printed form is that as it is being annotated for expedience, the "rough edges" are often lopped off or time signatures smoothed out to accomodate standard 4/4 or 3/4 time or 6/8 time and the asymetrical rhythm patterns are deemed incorrect and changed to conform to accepted "classical" music standards. Many traditional singers particularly true of the Appalachian tradition do not sing strictly in a major or minor tonality. Almeda Riddle is a case in point. There are bent notes, and vocal nuances that often are missed in their musical annotation. Sometimes, such as in the case of John Jacob Niles, the tunes are changed delibiberately (and copyrighted). This may or may not be part of the folk process because a lot has to do with the musical elements of the tradition and whether or not the singer or musician who changes the tune does it naturally as a part of that musical tradition or is doing it self-conciously as was done to many of the popularized variants of folk music. One of the giveaways of the self-conscious approach is that the tunes were changed to be smoothed out for public consumption. Hedy West's "500 Miles" comes to mind. Or what the KT did with Tom Dooley.

As an example of the tasteful handling of a folk musical tradition blended with more eclectic musical styles, I recommend Jean Ritchie's new album, "Mountain Born". In my opinion one of the finest recordings of it's kind.

So, to ignore the elements ot musical traditions of folk cultures is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Art,

I think that there is value to show the range of music that can be encompassed in the definition of "folk". I agree with you that there is an issue, here. The reason that it's been circular is that the real issues of the music itself and the texts have not been specifically addressed. As a result, public perception is that a certain kind of marketable music is called "folk" these days. To change, amend or alter that, we need knowledgeable people like all of you here on Mudcat to tackle the issue, not through pointless opinions but observations based on your personal experience with the music. Please bring specific examples and show how they relate to the topic. IE: Pete Seeger's harmonies or "classical" piano settings to traditional ballads.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: catspaw49
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 10:01 PM

I'm just kinda' soakin' it in here........"Mountain Born" is a tremendous album, and I've been listening to it a lot lately juxtaposed to Sandy's recordings of her sister Edna. Relates well to your discussion here.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 11 Sep 99 - 10:46 PM

This thread is getting more intersting as it pays out. Great that many responses are coming from those who have spent a lot of years listening to those primary sources and assimilating the sound and feel of the old songs. It's a treat to soak up the singing and playing of people who learned the old songs and tunes from family and neighbors, and if we didn't get our music that way, then we can hear what collectors preserved for us by taking those recorders into the field or transcribed collections in books--like your grandmother's work, Nancy-Jean. I've been lucky to have gotten to hear with my own ears some of the early musicians who are now dead...but anyone can still get to hear what they sounded like via recordings. And to be sure, they made a big impact on me, and influenced my singing in subtle ways. The point is, if a wannabe "folksinger" has never listened to the old stuff, the songs they choose to sing and even write themselves aren't likely to have the feel of old stuff. This sounds a bit corny, but I think we all filter the songs we like to sing through our individual "paintboxes" and it comes out with the colors that are in there. I'm about to leave Vermont for a week for a visit with daughter, and will come home with a new Mac G3--terribly exciting, but may be off line for a bit. I'm looking forward to checking Mudcat with a lot more speed when I get back--keep this fine thread going. j


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM

Well, friends, I thought I'd just sit this one out. These debates do get a little old, don't they? But then I got to thinking about the contribution to the discussion that Val made a few days ago, and I felt I ought to address it from my point of view.

I can think of no good reason to scuttle taxonomy. It may mean nothing to you, but some very dedicated scientists have spent a lot of time and study trying to draw distinctions that may prove to be important. I recall the story of the city feller who bought a place in Vermont. He saw his neighbors tapping the trees in their woodlots, so he went out and did the same. His syrup didn't turn out so good, since he was tapping elms instead of maples. "What the hell," he said, "they're all just trees, aren't they?" He would have done better if he'd done a little homework and learned to draw the distinction.

Let's create another scenario: You're walking hand-in-hand with a six-year-old daughter through a lovely garden. She points with delight at a beautiful rose and asks, "What's that, Daddy?" You, in your role as her source of all things profound, reply, "That's a plant, dear." "What kind of a plant, Daddy?" "What the hell, honey, they're all just plants. If you want to draw some silly distinctions, that's a flower." "What kind of a flower, Daddy?" "Aw, flowers are all just flowers, aren't they?" Yes, and trees are all just trees, but if you don't know the difference between a spruce and an oak, I don't think I want to buy the guitar or the violin you build.

A lot of very wise people have spent a lot of time drawing similar distinctions, sorting and classifying all kinds of things, describing their differences and identifying their special qualities. . It helps us to communicate, helps us understand one another. Let's look at literature: is there no difference between a novel, a math textbook, and a collection of poems? Nah, they're all just books. Next time you want to woo a lovely youg maiden, try reading some of those math problems to her. And we can take it a bit farther than that by opening the book of poems. Is their no difference between, say, a nursery rhyme and an elegy, or between the sonnet and the haiku? Of course there is. When your English professor assigns you the task of writing a sonnet, you'd better not turn in a haiku! Some people study the use of language, pointing out the functional differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Unimportant? Not if you want others to understand what you're saying. These scholars take it even beyond that, distinguishing between, say, a simile and a metaphor. When they discuss literature, such distinctions enable them to actually understand one another.

And so, at last, we come to songs. It may not seem significant to you, but to those who study folk music seriously, there is a difference between a ditty from Tim Pan Alley, an omphaloscopic melodic ego trip, an orally transmitted occupational song, and a classic traditional ballad from the 15th century. Right now, in another Mudcat Forum thread, some very knowledgeable folk are discussing the differences between delta and piedmont blues. Unimportant distinctions? Not to them! Is it wrong for them to care about the differences? I don't think so.

What I'm trying to say, in my long-winded, old fogey way, is that distinctions can be very important. Some radio people call any slow song a "ballad," which demonstrates their ignorance so plainly that it ought to embarrass them. When Elvis sang "Love Me Tender," he wasn't singing a ballad, no matter what the DJs called it. Look up the definition for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Perhaps I can put it in a way that everyone can understand. If you're talking about voting rights, yes, all people are just people. But if you're trying to make a baby, you'd damned well better be able to distinguish between male and female.

Sandy (finally tired of anti-academic nonsense)


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Joan Sprung
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:38 PM

Analogy city, Sandy! I think the operative word is "homework." Listen AND hear. Hugs to you guys. j


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:55 PM

I see taxonomy as kind of a tool, Sandy. I was wading through Bronson's scale analysis when out visiting Sam Hinton in La Jolla. I found it fascinating. I think that Alan's Cantrometrics is a useful tool as well as Charlie Seeger's "mellotron" (his notational graphic machine to measure microtones. Regarding the accompaniment of traditionally unaccompanied songs, I think that it can be handled tastefully but not necessarilly as an element of that tradition. Bringing a guitar or banjo into it may change it somewhat from the original tradition of the music. Then it becomes a re-interpretation of the original which is OK by me. Alan Lomax had a lot of problems with it though when it strayed too far from the musical traditions, enough so that he was vocal about it. An aesthetic in the re-interpretations is set up sometimes. An example of a violation of this is the lack of understanding that would cause some coffee-house "folkie" performer to play Waltzing Matilda in three-quarter time. (As a waltz). I think that maybe Richard-Dyer Bennett's interpretation of John Henry might be questionable but his rendering of early English and Scottish ballads in the traditon of the Elizabethan Troubadour (ala Campion or Dowland) I believe is interpretively on the mark. Dyer-Bennett is a classically trained singer and guitarist so he would interject this eclectic approach into his music. But he would never refer to himself as a folk-singer or attempt to convey that he was a part of the traditions of the songs he sang. Now what happens when a singer or musician attempts to imitate the primary source folk singer?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sourdough
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 12:59 PM

Sandy,

I'm glad you didn't "sit this one out". Your essay on taxonomy is a gem.

Every so often, I am really stunned at the quality of what gets posted here.

Sourdough


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 01:44 PM

My apologies, guys. I guess I'm getting grumpy in my old age. And, dammit, I STILL can't proof-read on a monitor. I should make myself print out everything I write before I post it, giving poor Joe a rest.

Frank, you'll remember Dyer-Bennett always referred to himself as the "20th Century Minstrel," drawing exactly the sort of distinction you express. I once reviewed a concert he gave in Burlington, Vermont, suggesting that he might do well to pass by the "John Henry" interpretations and stick to the Elizabethan songs he did so professionally. He took it well, and we had a very pleasant chat.

As for Lomax, while I have the greatest admiration for his lifetime of work collecting and publishing folk music, his adamant rejection of what those of us who were not born to the tradition might do in taking a traditional song into our repertoire was undermined, somewhat, by his release of Raise a Ruckus Tonight with the doo-wahs of Dupree Family backing him up. That was in "Hootenanny" times, and Alan was clearly moved to take a little economic advantage of the fad. I'll bet that recording embarrassed him for years! (Actually, I thought it was kind of fun!) As for the headnotes to many of the songs published in his books, well... Read D. K. Wilgus' Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship Since 1898. You'll see why many serious academicians have reservations concerning the use of those books for their research. Alan was offering us some wonderful songbooks, for which we should be grateful, but they were not, and weren't intended to be, scholarly publications.

I thought for a long time that we ought to emulate our traditional sources through what amounted to imitation (or mimesis, as Cantwell prefers to call it - means the same damned thing, just sounds more important). Then I decided that old Petronius was right. We should be true to ourselves. I was never going to be Frank Proffitt when I grew up, couldn't hope to be. Forget it, kid!

So let's sing 'em 'cause we love 'em, folks, treat them with the respect they deserve, but let's not be ashamed of who or what we are. Those great old songs might live longer, and be loved more widely, precisely because we made them more accessible to others. And I think that would be a good thing. It could even improve the quality of our contemporary popular culture, and I know that would be a good thing.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 03:22 PM

Sandy,

You wrote:

"What I'm trying to say, in my long-winded, old fogey way, is that distinctions can be very important. Some radio people call any slow song a "ballad," which demonstrates their ignorance so plainly that it ought to embarrass them. When Elvis sang "Love Me Tender," he wasn't singing a ballad, no matter what the DJs called it. Look up the definition for yourself and you'll see what I mean."

But, it's not just the DJs. The 1991 edition of the Random House Webster's College Dictionary that sits on my desk near the computer gives the following definitions of *ballad*: "1. a simple song; air. 2. a simple narrative poem, esp. of folk origin, composed in short stanzas and adapted for singing. 3. a slow romantic or sentimental popular song."

So when traditional music people use the word ballad to describe a song like "Matty Groves", they're consistent with definition 2. The DJ describing "Love Me Tender" is just as consistent with definition 3.

Seems to me that "ballad" is just an example of a word that has different meanings depending on the context. For example, until I travelled through Pennsylvania, I always thought the "Dutch" were people from (or descended from people from) the Netherlands. But the "Pennsylvania Dutch" are of German extraction.

Mike Regenstreif

Of course, the melody to "Love Me Tender," is "Aura Lee" which many people assume to be a traditional folk melody. However, one recording that I have of it lists it as an 1861 composition by G.R. Poulton.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 08:37 PM

Right you are, Mike, and I have been hoisted by my own petard. I forgot that dictionaries are regularly revised to keep up with contemporary usage. I humbly retract my offensive reference to DJs, and apologize.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 08:54 PM

Sandy,

Personally, I wasn't offended. I'm one of those DJs who use the word "ballad" when referring to songs that tell a story.

Mike Regenstreif


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Mulligan
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 10:49 PM

Well, I come late to this party....and i know that the subject has already been pretty thoroughly exhausted, but I have my own thought on what makes a song a folk song.

I believe that folk music is the music that people play.

Some of my favorite folk tunes are also "rock and roll." Some are also "Classical." Some are "Celtic." Some are "Country."

Some tunes become "Folk" by becoming a part of the cultural consciousness over a period of years. Other tunes are born "Folk."

"Folk Song" is a label that describes a state of being rather than a style. I think that is where the confusion lies.

Dan Mulligan


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 11:11 PM

Has anybody noticed how "slavish imitation of sources" leads to its own breed of folk-processing? I submit that a really accurate imitation is well beyond the capabilities of just about anybody (especially myself); try comparing a recording of, say, The New Lost City Ramblers or Jeff Davis with one of their sources. The difference between the Ramblers or Jeff and, f'rinstance, Syer-Bennett or Pete Seeger is that, IMO, they've immersed themselves much more thoroughly in the musical traditions of their sources, and are trying hard not to let their more-sophisticated musical background color the music. On a more personal level, I learned much of what I learned about banjo playing from a gentleman named Rufus Crisp. So did Stu Jamison, and Woody Wachtel and (to a lesser extent) Pete Seeger. We each took from Rufus' music the aspects we liked; none of us play banjo in even a similar style.

Re taxonomy: I think it's very valuable...if there's some attempt at definition of terms. Otherwise, you wind up with interminable arguments like "Is it colder in the living room or on Thursday?" or even "Is it really folk music?"


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 12 Sep 99 - 11:18 PM

I knew that, Mike. I read your playlists. When literary people talk about ballads, definition #2 is the operative one. When the milieu is the world of "pop" music, the new definition obviously applies. And we all know that the "pop" world outnumbers our folk world exponentially. Out of curiosity, how many of the DJs posting to that listserv do you feel comprehend or are even aware of the folk and/or literary definition? (No names, of course, just an estimate.) If you prefer, I'll be content with a private reply. ;-)

I guess I've made it pretty obvious that I'm reluctant to see our language change so rapidly and without serious thought as to the consequences in terms of meaningful communication. I'd rather our dictionary editors put up a stronger resistance to the influences of common usage. My old Oxford doesn't include definition #3 at all. Neither does my favorite, the old Century, but I'll have to admit that one's obsolete (even though it's the later, 1897 edition). That's probably why I love it!

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Stewie
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 12:34 AM

I have no wish to join this rather tired debate. As Leonard Cohen once said: 'Let's sing another song boys, this one has grown old and bitter'. However, I mention some pertinent articles on the subject are available on Rod Stradling's Musical Traditions site: http://www.mustrad.org.uk. In particular, Enthusiasms No 3 has a paper by John Moulden entitled: 'Sing us a folk song, Mouldy'. Fred McCormick's excellent article on the Hammonds Family also has some insights for those who have the inclination to pursue these matters. Enthusiasms No 1 [Traditional?] includes some thoughts from Dick Gaughan.


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Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Sep 99 - 01:00 AM

Being of sound mind (and questionable body) I really wanted to stay out of this since there are so few of us who actually care about rather narrow definitions of folk music, and it's the same folks sayin' the same things over and over again. For what it's worth, my definitions haven't changed much over the years. Folk songs were sung first and written down later. Folk singers were the people who sung 'em before the advent of records and radio. Balladeer and Troubadour seem to me to be more accurate terms to describe most folks who sing those songs today, but how many average people would use either term even once in their lifetime? They've heard the term "folksinger", know it means "not as loud as a rocker",so they call the music "folk music". When someone jumps into mudcat with this (hardly surprising) outlook, they might get taken to task (I've done it..albeit gently) or not, depending on who they encounter first. I DO find a surface approach to the music I love greatly annoying, just as I find the folks at a ball game who shoot their mouths off without knowing beans about the history, the statistics and the stategy equally annoying.

These days you have a huge number of people who were influenced by lyrical (basically) solo singer-guitarists from the late 50s to the mid-70s. Perhaps the most influental ones were Dylan, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Neil Young, and James Taylor. Each one of these performers has earned millions of dollars for their work, and I doubt would ever take up valued concert space to encourage their followers to explore the history of the music before starting to write their own songs. Why should they? I doubt their ambition was to teach. More probably it was to express themself musically, period. I really don't expect ANY current singer-songwriters under 30 to care a whit about the past. When it appears that someone does, I'm surprised and gratified. What I DO expect however, is skill, originality, and minimal "attitude". I don't hear too much of that. (especially the second) Every major "Folk" Festival these days counts on performers of original music with "attitude" to bring the average citizen in off the street.

Sandy mentioned a dictionary that was long out of date. I've got a set of Encyclopaedia Americana, that I bought used about 30 years ago. I still read it for enjoyment, but like the music I love, it's hoplessly out of date. Once, on a resume, I wrote (under my name) "Purveyor of Unpopular Songs". Heather insisted I remove it immediately, reminding me that people rarely get my idea of humour. Hmmmmm, she thought it was a joke?

Rick


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