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What makes a new song a folk song?

Related threads:
What is a Folk Song? (292)
Who Defines 'Folk'???? (287)
Popfolk? (19)
What isn't folk (88)
Still wondering what's folk these days? (145)
Does Folk Exist? (709)
Definition of folk song (137)
Here comes that bloody horse - again! (23)
What is a traditional singer? (136)
Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement? (105)
Folklore: Folk, 1954 definition? (133)
So what is *Traditional* Folk Music? (409)
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No, really -- what IS NOT folk music? (176)
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Andy7 25 Aug 14 - 02:39 PM
mg 25 Aug 14 - 02:41 PM
GUEST,# 25 Aug 14 - 02:49 PM
Andy7 25 Aug 14 - 02:54 PM
GUEST,# 25 Aug 14 - 02:58 PM
michaelr 25 Aug 14 - 03:20 PM
Don Firth 25 Aug 14 - 04:04 PM
Steve Gardham 25 Aug 14 - 04:13 PM
mg 25 Aug 14 - 04:38 PM
Don Firth 25 Aug 14 - 04:51 PM
MGM·Lion 25 Aug 14 - 05:09 PM
Bounty Hound 25 Aug 14 - 05:17 PM
GUEST,Tony 25 Aug 14 - 05:26 PM
Joe Offer 25 Aug 14 - 05:50 PM
Phil Edwards 25 Aug 14 - 06:03 PM
Andy7 25 Aug 14 - 06:34 PM
Airymouse 25 Aug 14 - 06:34 PM
GUEST,Stim 25 Aug 14 - 06:43 PM
GUEST 25 Aug 14 - 07:09 PM
Jack Campin 25 Aug 14 - 07:50 PM
Don Firth 25 Aug 14 - 08:40 PM
Don Firth 25 Aug 14 - 08:53 PM
Richard Bridge 25 Aug 14 - 10:52 PM
GUEST,Stim 26 Aug 14 - 12:09 AM
Haruo 26 Aug 14 - 12:17 AM
Don Firth 26 Aug 14 - 01:57 AM
Musket 26 Aug 14 - 03:10 AM
GUEST,LynnH 26 Aug 14 - 03:26 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 26 Aug 14 - 03:38 AM
Musket 26 Aug 14 - 03:41 AM
MGM·Lion 26 Aug 14 - 04:43 AM
Musket 26 Aug 14 - 04:58 AM
Jim Carroll 26 Aug 14 - 05:01 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 26 Aug 14 - 05:20 AM
GUEST,Derrick 26 Aug 14 - 05:31 AM
Brian Peters 26 Aug 14 - 06:01 AM
MGM·Lion 26 Aug 14 - 06:32 AM
GUEST,# 26 Aug 14 - 06:34 AM
Howard Jones 26 Aug 14 - 08:37 AM
Jack Blandiver 26 Aug 14 - 08:52 AM
GUEST,Desi C 26 Aug 14 - 09:08 AM
Richard Bridge 26 Aug 14 - 09:23 AM
Airymouse 26 Aug 14 - 09:38 AM
GUEST,# 26 Aug 14 - 09:46 AM
Bounty Hound 26 Aug 14 - 10:50 AM
Bounty Hound 26 Aug 14 - 10:55 AM
Bert 26 Aug 14 - 11:10 AM
Musket 26 Aug 14 - 11:21 AM
Richard Mellish 26 Aug 14 - 11:31 AM
Bounty Hound 26 Aug 14 - 11:53 AM
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Subject: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Andy7
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 02:39 PM

Hi All, I'm a newcomer to this great site, so apologies in advance, as I'm sure this must often have been discussed before. But I've sometimes wondered, what might make a newly-written song a 'folk song'?

I enjoy writing songs occasionally, just for fun, as I'm sure many of you do. But there are only a couple of these that I might label as 'folk songs' (if anyone asked me); one or two more are just lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek 'pop' songs; and the rest are just, well, songs.

So, the serious question is, what makes a new song a folk song? Should it have a particular kind of tune? Must it carry an important message? Does it need to be about ordinary people's lives?

When we're all singing a well-known folk standard from long ago, we just know it's a folk song. But what about a song written last week, or a year ago? Can that be a folk song? Or does it have to be written by an already accepted folk song writer, or stand the test of time?

Andy7


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: mg
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 02:41 PM

lots and lots of people singing it and passing it on and perhaps thinking it is traditional...I would say a song written last week could be and most would not agree with me..but some can go viral now...but i odn't think you can write one with the intention of it being a folk song and just declare it so. Lots and lots of people have to like it and sing it.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,#
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 02:49 PM

"What makes a new song a folk song?"

Not a blessed thing save age and lots of it. Thus spake the Ghost of 1954. Now stop stirring shite!


Oh, welcome to Mudcat.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Andy7
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 02:54 PM

"Oh, welcome to Mudcat."

Thanks! :-)


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,#
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 02:58 PM

Welcome! :-)


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: michaelr
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 03:20 PM

I'd say that to be a folk song, it should tell a story. Typical singer-songwriter navelgazing (e.g. writing about one's feelings) does not apply.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 04:04 PM

Time, and being taken up by the "folk process," i.e., other people learning it and singing it. And over time, perhaps changing it here and there.

The person who appears at a session or an open mike and announces, "This is a folk song I wrote on the bus the other day," is talking nonsense, and shows a lack knowledge of what folk music really is.

This is like taking a piece of furniture that looks like it's 200 years old to the "Antiques Roadshow" television program and saying, "This is an antique cabinet that I made in my shop last week!" He would be summarily ushered out of the place and find himself and his "antique" sitting on the curb.

One cannot not make an "antique." Nor can one write a "folk song." It may become that eventually. But only time and usage will determine that.

Don't let that stop you from writing songs, though. Just don't put labels on them that they have not yet earned. That's kind of pompous.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 04:13 PM

Depends what your definition of 'folk' is. There are many definitions on this forum. Most of the previous posters are going by a definition coined in 1954, but the media might argue with that, and the 'folk' themselves don't use this definition. Have a look at the 'folk' section in HMV. If Mumfords can do it so can you.

A folk song is nowadays anything sung by a folksinger! Are you a folksinger? Hee hee!


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: mg
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 04:38 PM

I don't think it matters what you sing, just if other people pick it up and sing it.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 04:51 PM

No, Steve, I'm not going by the 1954 definition. I'm going by the definition that people like the Lomaxes, Carl Sandberg, and Cecil Sharp used when they were out collecting songs.

As I just said, you can call something an antique, but only age and use makes a genuine antique. I don't think Tom Paxton, Townes Van Zandt, and other writers of folk-like songs tried to pass them off as folk songs. They knew better.

If it's a good song and other people want to learn it and sing it, it may very well become a folk song in time, but to claim it's a folk song when the ink is still wet is trying to give it a status that it doesn't yet deserve.

Phony. And a bit dishonest.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 05:09 PM

Nothing


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 05:17 PM

Folk song is simply the music of the people, we need to differentiate between traditional music and modern music.

I'm sure there are many here who would readily accept the songs of writers like Stan Rodgers or John Richards as 'folk songs' If you merely apply a qualification of antiquity to make a song a 'folk song' then will everything that is in the charts this week eventually become a folk song? I don't think so!

I think it's got more to do with lyrical style, content and having a musical style that fits the tradition from which it comes. As a 'for instance' I've written several songs based around local historic stories and legend, personally, I'm very comfortable with describing those songs as 'folk songs'

Bounty Hound John


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Tony
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 05:26 PM

Andy, you've asked a very interesting question, one that I would be interested in discussing. But it will probably be impossible on this site. There will be far too much noise.

In general, for every one Mudcat post addressing the subject of the thread there are at least 20 posts by people who have no interest in the subject but simply have a lot of free time on their hands and a hopelessly vain desire to sound clever.

When the subject includes the word "folk," that ratio becomes much higher: for every one post addressing the subject there will be at least 50 posts by people who just dropped in to tell you that's not what "folk" means, despite the fact that 95% of the American public take it to mean the same thing as you take it to mean. They think they are something akin to the immortels of the Académie française, with the authority to dictate language and overrule common usage.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Michaelr is certainly on the right track. The songs that we call folk tend to be story songs, rather than, as Bob Dylan said, "tell your ma, tell your pa, our love's a-gonna grow; ooh wah wah."

But there's also a difference in the music. I don't know enough about music theory to describe it, but I can tell a folk song from a rock song without hearing the words, even if the latter is played on acoustic guitar and sung without a microphone. And I can spot a rock musician by his guitar style, even if he's playing a folk song.

It might not be the song itself, but only the manner of playing it. When George Strait sings "Red River Valley" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PupeWwhMbQc), it sounds like a folk song, though most of his songs sound like country-western and not folk. But the Ventures did a rock version of it so trite and commercial that no one would have guessed it was based on a folk song.

One thing that might help the discussion (if we can weave it in between the noisemakers) would be to consider other examples like that, or songs that are on the cusp between folk and something else. I think even the pseudo-immortels would call "Red River Valley" a folk song, since they don't know who wrote it. But we could similarly discuss Stephen Foster's "Oh Susanna" or Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine."


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 05:50 PM

The 1954 definition is so old and has been interpreted and reinterpreted by so many people that it, too, has become "folk."

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 06:03 PM

The trouble with folk as marketing category (the 'Mumford' approach) is that it's a label without a definition - and that means that you could find two songs, one labelled 'folk' and one labelled 'pop' or 'rock', and be unable to explain to anyone why one is called folk and the other not.

We can say, more or less, whether a song is traditional or not, and we can dig around a bit in the traditional repertoire and identify different flavours of folk - this song escaped from a parlour songbook, this one's a music hall number, this one was circulating on broadsheets when Pepys was writing his diary, and so on. (And, incidentally, if you can identify the song itself as traditional it ceases to matter what it actually sounds like - ambient trad, electro trad, death metal trad, go nuts.)

What makes a newer song sound folk-like is another question. Some people set words to traditional tunes, or actually emulate the style of traditional songs; some people hear 'folk' and think 'protest song'; and lots of people think James Taylor writes folk songs, so that's what they try to emulate.

Ceterum censeo the Bad Shepherds delenda est.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Andy7
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 06:34 PM

Thank you for all your interesting replies! I've been going along to folk clubs and folk weekends for some 10 years now, but I still consider myself a newcomer to the folk scene. (No, I'm not being humble, just honest!)

I like what Tony said, "The songs that we call folk tend to be story songs". But some of the older folk songs that we often sing are actually love songs, not story songs.

How about 'Scarborough Fair', for example? It's very cleverly written, and because of its age it's accepted as a folk song; but it's really just another love song, after all! It doesn't carry any message about oppressed workers, world peace, or an idealistic way of living that we might all aspire to.

Any way, these are just a couple of thoughts. I'm not trying to prove anything; I'm just genuinely interested in understanding what the style of music - folk - that I've grown to love, actually is, haha!

Andy7


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Airymouse
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 06:34 PM

Today I learned that my granddaughter, Nell, is learning a folk song in her music class. It is called Tom Dooley. I haven't heard the song yet, but I fear that it devolved from a song written by Frank Proffitt, which he called Tom Dula. We could drive to Bedford county in 1 1/2 hours and to Franklin county in about 45 minutes, and Cecil Sharp collected 200 "tunes" (as he called them) in these two counties. There is an important distinction between one of these 200 tunes and "Tom Dooley," but obviously that the term, folk song, does not mark this distinction. That is why you hear the terms "vernacular song", "traditional song", "old time song", etc. I think it is time to retreat: let people write folk songs, and let us honor and cherish the kind of songs that Cecil Sharp called tunes.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 06:43 PM

To my way of thinking, folk songs are the songs that most people can sing or play.

This excludes a lot of narrative ballads, which some seem to think are the heart of folk music, and includes a lot of other stuff that those same people wouldn't ever bother with. Sorry about that. The "folk" are people in general, not just the people who go to folk clubs.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 07:09 PM

Traditional folk songs are commercial songs which have been remembered after their authors have been forgotten. We remember Stephen Foster's name because so many of his songs remained popular for a long time, while songs composed by his less enduringly successful contemporaries are now called traditional.

Maybe one of the differences is that in the past popular songs had a different message than the ones Miley Cyrus sings. Or maybe we should borrow from Marshall McLuhan and say they have a different massage, one that massages the soul rather than the genitalia. Then maybe a new folk song is a new song that carries the older type of message, despite the fact that it's less likely to make a pot of money for somebody.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 07:50 PM

I think you all mean a real folk song is longer than a piece of string?


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 08:40 PM

Be aware, Andy, that the song "Scarborough Fair" has been around long, long before Simon and Garfunkel, and over the years--centuries--it has gone through a number of changes and has spawned many different but obviously related versions.

In fact, it dates back at least as far as the 1600s, and probably much, much further. It is related to both "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (Child #1) and "The Elfin Knight" (Child #2).

Definitely a true folk ballad.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 08:53 PM

And "Tom Dooley" ("Tom Dula") was not written by Frank Proffitt. Proffitt learned the song from his Aunt Nancy Prather, whose parents had known both Laura Foster and Tom Dula.

Did one of them write the song? Don't know. Perhaps.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 25 Aug 14 - 10:52 PM

The 1954 definition.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 12:09 AM

Why, Richard, are you obsessed with "The 1954" definition? It was neither the first or the last definition offered, and it never was intended to define, it was only an explanation the scope of the work members of the organization.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Haruo
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 12:17 AM

So is the narrator in "Key of R" singing a folk song?


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Don Firth
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 01:57 AM

Richard, my ideas of what constitutes a folk song and what doesn't does not spring from the "1954 definition," which I never heard of before I started frequenting Mudcat some years ago, in 1999 to be exact.

In the late 1950s, while studying music and English Literature at the University of Washington, I took a course entitled "The Popular Ballad," taught by Prof. David C. Fowler, author of a scholarly work on "Piers the Plowman" and a number of other works on early English Literature. Prior to that, I had taken another course in the English Lit. Department on Early English Literature going back as far as "Beowulf." I have a thorough acquaintance with the Child Ballads and the very early collections of songs and ballads by such collectors as Bishop Percy, Sir Walter Scott, and others—along with, of course, Cecil Sharp. And of course, I'm very familiar with the collections of the Lomaxes, who began by collecting cowboy songs sung by real cowboys (and learned that some of them had English ballad forebears), Frank and Ann Warner, and other American collectors.

Dr. Fowler introduced the ballad class to early troubadour and minstrel songs and ballads, some going back to the 12th century, and the bardic tradition, and touched on the traditions of the scops and skalds of the Scandinavian countries. And songs of the Goliards, along with introduced the class to the early poetry that went into the Carmina Burana. A quite extensive and comprehensive course indeed—with one killer of a term paper assignment that required a great deal of research on my part.

I have long been fascinated by the history behind these songs, ever since, as a teen-ager, I heard a broadcast by Burl Ives on the history of the Erie Canal along with songs connected with it. I learned more about the Erie Canal and its importance in opening the interior of the country in that half-hour than I ever learned in any history class in school.

I have a fairly extensive collection of books on folk music and ballads, from academic studies to song books. A whole bookcase full, in fact. Which I have read.

Real folk songs and ballads have some meat to them!

Therefore, I'm given to snort when I hear someone say, "This is a folk song I wrote this afternoon. . . ."

But my view has nothing to do with the "1954 definition," about I knew nothing until I read it posted here a few years ago, and about which you seem to be so contemptuous.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Musket
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 03:10 AM

Sing it in a folk club. It instantly becomes a folk song.


Morning Jim!


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,LynnH
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 03:26 AM

Or, following on from Musket's comment above, get June Tabor to record it? (With or without The Oyster Band!)


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 03:38 AM

Oh God! I'm so boooooorrreddd with this 'what is folk?' 'debate'!!!

What questions like this usually boil down to is: "Can someone please give me permission to call the (usually guitar based) music that I like 'folk'? And if you won't I'll scream and shout and stamp my foot!"


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Musket
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 03:41 AM

They don't allow stomp boxes in 1954 folk clubs Shimrod...


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 04:43 AM

& am I boooorrrrreeeddddd with idiots who open threads that they know they are going to find boring & then complain they are bored!! Why open the bloody thread for christs sake, shim, if you're so bloody bored with the topic? What did you expect to find on it? Discussion of the Retail Price Index or the latest enormities by IS?

You - ahh; umm; err - intellectually challenged fellow, you!

≈M≈


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Musket
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 04:58 AM

Does your dictionary (free with Boys Own 1932) have the word "affinity" in it ?

Me? I love threads describing what folk music is or isn't. Far better that people get all worked up over something they claim to love and understand than the BS topics you err.. they, (phew I think you got away with that Musket) have no understanding or grasp of other than their inbuilt bigotry.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 05:01 AM

"Traditional folk songs are commercial songs which have been remembered after their authors have been forgotten"
'Fraid not
Some traditional songs were sold as broadsides which probably borrowed from an existing song tradition, but there is no evidence whatever that any of them began life as commercial products.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 05:20 AM

Hmmm! Obviously hit a nerve there, MGM ... and, err, Musket (?)


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Derrick
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 05:31 AM

Folk songs came from everywhere,some were composed by every day people,
some by scholars,some by political activists,name a source and somewhere exists a song that originated there.
The thing that unites the songs is they have some quality that touches people in some way.
That quality be it sentiment,tune,national pride or whatever is the thing which encourages singers to learn and sing the song and others to learn it themselves.
The songs have travelled through time largly by oral transmission and have been shaped a little by each of the singers who have transmitted them.
The songs of today if they travel in a similar way could well be considered a folk song in 50 or 100 years time.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 06:01 AM

Come on, chaps, did you all miss the definitive statement further up the thread by Guest Tony? Folk music is what 95% of the American public says it is. Anyone who disagrees with that proposition is a 'noisemaker'.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 06:32 AM

rhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarb


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,#
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 06:34 AM

Much too derivative.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Howard Jones
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 08:37 AM

Because the genre is so undefined it is truly impossible to say. I think it has a lot to do with the background of the person performing it - if they regularly perform in folk clubs, or used to, their songs are more likely to be thought of as 'folk'. On the other hand you get people writing acoustic songs which might be considered 'folk' who strenuously resist the label because 'folk' is usually unfashionable and commercial death.

Often it's a label of convenience for anything vaguely acoustic which doesn't conveniently fit into the charts' straitjacket.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 08:52 AM

I suppose once it gets a Round Number then the jobs a good 'un. Plenty new songs have these (Shoals of Herring, for example) having been subsequently collected from Bona Fide Traditional Singers - whatever the hell they might be in this day 'n' age; even in that day 'n' age the implications of pure blood cultural innocence are really too much to cope with. One would have thought singing such material would automatically disqualify them - innocence lost and the pure blood sullied.

*

Last night a bunch of us did a gig of entirely Brand New Folk Songs on board of a trawler as part of the opening stages of The Fylde Festival. All the lyrics were newly composed in various Traditional Styles on subjects of Lancastrian Folklore (Folk Dancing, Ritual Bonfires, Witchcraft, Visiting Royalty and Trawlers) by Ron Baxter and set / adapted to Idiomatically Traditional Melodies by the individuals in the band.

Any Fylde goers will have a chance to hear us do it again at The North Euston on this coming Friday noon and Saturday PM (look out for 'Lancashire Curiosities' in your programmes) and I trust no one will be in any doubt as to what qualifies the material as being Folk, however so recent in its composition. In terms of the 1954 Definition it's all bang on anyway - lots of continuity with the past and chock full of creative impulse & variation with the ultimate form determined by the community with plenty of unwritten collective remaking & remodelling to give it that all-important folk character which guarantees that it never comes out the same way twice.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,Desi C
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 09:08 AM

As with singers themselves age mainly. Or a current topical/historical theme tends to got a song classed as Folk


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 09:23 AM

It's because the 1954 definition is right.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Airymouse
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 09:38 AM

Even in maths it is possible to believe passionately in an idea that is wrong. David Hilbert gave a famous lecture in which exhorted his audience to work on the 23 important questions he had selected, because as he said, there is no such thing as an unsolvable mathematical problem. As it turned out the very first question he posed was an unanswerable question. The information supplied by Don Firth that "Tom Dooley" is a variant of a song of unknown authorship handed down in an oral tradition from generation to generation leaves me believing passionately that there is a difference between folk songs and other songs, but since I believe "Tom Dooley" is some of the other stuff, I see that I don't know what I'm talking about. Having admitted this, I still have some advice for those who are setting about to write a folk song: the topic is of no importance. The song does not have to tell a story, be for peace or motherhood, or against war and injustice. As Gilbert put it in one his wonderful songs, which is not a folk song 'cause Gilbert and Sullivan wrote it, "The flowers that bloom in the spring, have nothing to do with the case." And Don, if you happen to know that Sullivan swiped the tune from an old English air and Gilbert swiped the words from old English rhyme, please don't tell me.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: GUEST,#
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 09:46 AM

"It's because the 1954 definition is right."

The 1954 definition doesn't allow for new songs to enter the folk music lexicon. It condemns the art form to a slow death.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 10:50 AM

"It's because the 1954 definition is right."

So what were these songs before the 1954 definition? were they 'folk' songs when they were first written/composed,however long ago that may have been, or did they only become folk in 1954!!

'Folk' is merely the name we have given to a musical style and the 1954 definition is an attempt to define the heritage of that style. The definition (I believe) says that folk music is the 'product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission' I think the case that a new song which respects that tradition could be said to be a 'product' of that tradition and therefore be 'folk' would not be too difficult to argue!


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 10:55 AM

Should have added for the sake of clarity, the 1954 definition describes a TRADITION that has evolved through oral transmission, it does not specify that an individual song has to 'evolve through oral tradition'


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Bert
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 11:10 AM

Andy7,

basically a new song doesn't really become a folk song.

However many songs from the Fifties and Sixties have been assumed to be folk. So you choose which definition of Folk that you like and go with it, or make up your own definition.

I find that the 1954 definition is somewhat over restrictive; I sing many songs which I introduce as folk songs which don't fit that definition.


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Musket
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 11:21 AM

If you dismiss the 1954 stuff, it becomes irrelevant.

Try it, you'll be surprised. I was playing in a band at a Celtic festival last year and this chestnut came up over beer. You'd be surprised how many well known names in the traditional scene have no idea or concept of the 1954 stuff and are bemused to see that anybody gives a stuff about it.

When I said try it, there are side effects.

You might find yourself saying rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb...   (Looks like you were right Shimrod. I seem to have a wire welded to his nerve permanently these days. Rather good fun really.)


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 11:31 AM

The 1954 definition was "right" for the purpose, time and place for which it was formulated. Applying it more widely may sometimes work but can lead to problems. Notably it excludes songs such as those written by McColl, Tawney et al, which even some of us here (fussy argumentative blighters with a passion for the subject) would like to consider as "folk".

The OP, as an admitted newcomer, asked an innocent question. Unfortunately it's a question to which the classic words of Joad apply: "It depends what you mean by ...". Hence this thread promptly drifting onto what we mean by "folk song". The fact that that subject has been flogged to death several times before on Mudcat hasn't stopped a further round of argument.

The wisest observation that I can recall seeing is that the term "folk" is currently used by different people with such radically different meanings that it has become almost useless.

Many of us know what we personally consider to be folk songs, but that's largely on the same subjective basis as was applied by the early collectors: "I know one when I hear one".


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Subject: RE: What makes a new song a folk song?
From: Bounty Hound
Date: 26 Aug 14 - 11:53 AM

'basically a new song doesn't really become a folk song.'

So are you saying Bert, that it is only antiquity that defines 'folk' songs. perhaps you can explain then what the songs that are now old enough and therefore 'folk' were when they were first written?

perhaps you can then explain how they differ from a song written yesterday that shows a respect to, or an influence from the tradition from which those old songs come?


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