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Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?

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GUEST 09 Dec 06 - 06:06 AM
Declan 09 Dec 06 - 06:29 AM
The Borchester Echo 09 Dec 06 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 09 Dec 06 - 11:33 AM
GUEST 09 Dec 06 - 12:07 PM
The Borchester Echo 09 Dec 06 - 12:20 PM
Willie-O 09 Dec 06 - 12:36 PM
GUEST 09 Dec 06 - 12:49 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 09 Dec 06 - 12:50 PM
GUEST,Brian Peters 09 Dec 06 - 01:32 PM
Willie-O 09 Dec 06 - 01:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Dec 06 - 02:45 PM
Big Al Whittle 09 Dec 06 - 03:03 PM
GUEST,thurg 09 Dec 06 - 03:40 PM
Willie-O 09 Dec 06 - 07:12 PM
dick greenhaus 09 Dec 06 - 07:31 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 09 Dec 06 - 08:29 PM
GUEST,Art again 09 Dec 06 - 09:00 PM
GUEST,thurg 09 Dec 06 - 11:24 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 10 Dec 06 - 05:42 AM
Darowyn 10 Dec 06 - 05:58 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 06:42 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 06:50 AM
The Borchester Echo 10 Dec 06 - 07:28 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 07:51 AM
Declan 10 Dec 06 - 07:55 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 08:02 AM
Declan 10 Dec 06 - 08:17 AM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 08:28 AM
GUEST,Russ 10 Dec 06 - 08:54 AM
GUEST,Russ 10 Dec 06 - 09:06 AM
GUEST,Russ 10 Dec 06 - 09:10 AM
The Borchester Echo 10 Dec 06 - 10:24 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 10 Dec 06 - 12:12 PM
The Borchester Echo 10 Dec 06 - 12:41 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Dec 06 - 01:28 PM
GUEST,Brian Peters 10 Dec 06 - 01:36 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Dec 06 - 01:38 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 02:01 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Dec 06 - 02:16 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 02:25 PM
The Sandman 10 Dec 06 - 02:27 PM
Big Al Whittle 10 Dec 06 - 02:51 PM
GUEST 10 Dec 06 - 04:32 PM
Folkiedave 10 Dec 06 - 06:18 PM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 10 Dec 06 - 07:02 PM
Declan 10 Dec 06 - 07:22 PM
GUEST,thurg 10 Dec 06 - 08:05 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 10 Dec 06 - 08:55 PM
GUEST 11 Dec 06 - 03:41 AM
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Subject: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 06:06 AM

There have been many, many, many threads on this board which seek to define such terms as 'Folk' and 'Traditional' and, you'll be pleased to know, I don't particularly want to start another one. But, I can't help noticing that some of the contributors to these threads seem to be desperate to re-define these notoriously fuzzy words.

What I would like to explore, in this thread, are the MOTIVES of the re-definers.

Just to start the ball rolling I would like to draw your attention to the witilly titled thread, "Eclectile Dysfuntion" by 'Rabbi-Sol'. He is the organiser of a House Concert series in Rockland, NY. Although he makes it clear that his venue is devoted to traditional material he is inundated by "...performers who have the nerve to call themselves "folk singers" but do only hard rock". I would submit that these performers motives for re-defining the words 'folk' and 'traditional' are just to get themselves a platform for their particular brand of music.
The other topical example is, of course, the BBC Folk Awards debacle over Seth Lakeman's 'White Hare' track ... but that's been more than fully explored elsewhere.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Declan
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 06:29 AM

There may be people who are tring to 're-define' the words as you suggest. I think mainly people are trying to get some clarity as to the definition of the words, which as you say yourself are notoriously fuzzy.

My own persnal problem with the 'T' word, is that if you define it in a narrow way, you can assert, as many here do, that the tradition is dead and all new material is henceforth not traditional (and can never be, by some definitions).

Given that there are vibrant living traditions at least in some coutries where the body of material is being added to regularly, I find this view gives a wrong impression of the reality.

As for the two examples you quote, Rabbi Sol is perfectly entitled to defint the term traditional in the context of his concerts and to select the acts he books accordingly. The White Hare selection appears to be an error arising from a combination of an attribution given for the song on some versions of the album and a lack of a precise definition of the word trad within the context of the award process by the organisers.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 07:24 AM

I tried a definition in Another Place citing three factors which have altered irrevocably the nature of the traditional process. No-one argued against it and some even liked it:



OK, try again with greater precision (though more words):

'The tradition' comprises art forms of a distinctive national, ethnic or social group rooted in that community's lore and customs and passed on orally, aurally or by demonstration rather than by written/recorded or formal didactic means. It has thus belonged collectively to that community, rather than to individuals or the state, and tells the history of the people from their common experience.

In the case of music, its platform has been predominantly the informal social gathering, the workplace or the home rather than the theatrical stage or concert hall, and pieces tended to be known by what or who they were about rather than by composer. This is not, of course, to say that trad musicians have not borrowed and adapted from formal composers or from other cultures. Obviously they have, and do, which is why the tradition continues to evolve.

However, three factors in the current revival are forcing ever more rapid and inexorable changes:

(a) digital archiving, obviously, as mentioned
(b) writing, consciously, 'in the tradition' and registering the result with MCPS/PRS
(c) population mobility resulting in monumental cross cultural influence and collaboration.

It will, thus, never be the same again. 'The tradition' will remain that static body of information that has been quite literally passed down before the irrevocably altered times put an end to the centuries-old process (cue Richard Thompson . . . ). What is NOT traditional, by definition, is a recently composition of known origin. Even if you call it The White Hare.



NB No reference works were harmed (or even consulted) in the concoction of this definition.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 11:33 AM

Hi 'countess richard',

Thanks for your contribution. I always enjoy your comments but, in this case, may I respectfully suggest that you may have missed the point of this particular thread? I'm not trying to seek yet more definitions but to seek to understand why some people seem to be so desperate to ditch any existing definitions and come up with new ones. I also think that if we could just get a handle on motivations we just might be able to nip this, rather tiresome, plethora of 'definitions' threads in the bud!
Here are a few possible motivations, off the top of my head:

- People who really want to play rock music in folk clubs (see above).

- People who desire a situation in which 'anything goes' in a folk club.

- People who like folk music, and also like other types of music, and, therefore, think that the other types of music that they like qualify as folk music (pathetic, I know, but I've met a fair number of them!).

- People who can't live with uncertainty. In a recent 'Musical Traditions' article (article MT 184) the great Folk Song Collector, Mike Yates wrote the following: "...many people today want a world of certainties, a world where our every thought and desire can be seen in terms of black and white. But, of course, life is not like that, and kicking against this, we so often find ourselves suffering from the unsatisfactory nature of things." I happen to think that that is very profound and that every school child should be required to learn it by heart and to be able to discuss what it means (dream on, Shimrod!).

Can anyone come up with any more possible motivations? More importantly, can any of you who seek to re-define 'folk', 'traditional' etc. tell us why you want to do so?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 12:07 PM

so writers don't get ripped off so often.

so publicly-owned material stays publicly-owned

err that's it


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 12:20 PM

Shimrod, I didn't mean I wanted to push my cobbled up definition above any other particularly, but to suggest that the motivation to redefine was that it really has to be done because the world has changed so. You can't uninvent digital archiving, MCPS/PRS registration or the shrinking global viallage, can you?

Yes, I've come across the motivations of the three groups you describe. I just want to slap them really. Not very constructive, I know but . . .

Ah, Mike Yates. A hero.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Willie-O
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 12:36 PM

To call it "re-defining" implies rather specifically that it--the terms "folk" and "traditional" were conclusively defined in the first place.

Which they were...by numerous people, at different times, in very different ways. Whoever the first hapless wise one who ventured a definition--whether it was Child, Sharpe, Seeger, Broonzy, or Jesus Christ--everyone since has been a "re-definer".

Times and traditions change. If you want to put a shingle over the entrance to your "folk club" explaining what kinds of music are acceptable there, feel free. But that's all you be able to conclusively define.

BTW, I think I would quibble with your and Rabbi-Sol's definition of "hard rock". The equipment those guys--the real rockers--need doesn't fit through the door of any known folk club. I'm guessing you don't like music that may be traditional in origin but is recast with modern (post-60's) instrumentation and amplification.

Anyway, I think you answered your own question quite conclusively there. Everyone of course wants their own style of music included. Beyond that, not many people (Mudcatters excluded) care about the "definition", as much as about the "upcoming gig" or even the "money". Your search for motives (as if you hadn't already made up your mind what they are) suggests some grand conspiracy to ruin folk music...shame about that.

Well...I'd write more but I have to go practice my mandolin for my hard rock gig tonight.

Regards
W-O


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 12:49 PM

Guest,
Nice one to think about.
It should be said from the outset that the terms 'folk' and 'traditional' in relation to song and music are not as ill-defined or 'fuzzy' as many would have us believe. The ITMC definition still stands as far as I know; I am not aware of any re-definition having taken place. The Funk and Wagnall Standard Dictionary of Folklore devotes 16 double columned pages to a definition of folk song, fairly clearly laid out.
I could go to a couple of hundred books on my shelf where the terms are used without ambiguity, so they can be said to be well documented.
It may well be that a re-definition is necessary; A L Lloyd suggested as much in the last pages of his book Folk Song In England; but any re-definition must take into consideration existing definitions.
I believe there are a number of reasons why some people would wish to abandon the terms, some of them already touched on by Shimrod.
I am one of the people who believe that the tradition, when applied to song and story, is dead. For me, a continuing tradition requires three essential elements; creative composition, general acceptance by a community (no - I don't count a folk club as being a community) and transmission both within and outside that community.
Countess Richard's definition, to some extent, includes elements of the existing definition of tradition, certainly as it relates to the community.
Unless I have missed something, people no longer create, communities no longer accept and members of the communities no longer pass on - we have become passive recipients rather than creators.
I would like to be proved wrong, but I believe the best we can do is accept where we stand and recognise that we are borrowers from a tradition rather than part of one.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 12:50 PM

'countess richard' perhaps I was too hasty (sorry - this is one of my personal obsessions and I got myself all fired up over it! Must learn to put my brain in gear before I attack the keyboard!).
For a start I think your definition is, actually, pretty neat - I like it! I also think your points about digital archiving etc. are also interesting - but haven't got my brain round them yet.

Feel free to slap away - it would serve the silly buggers right!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Brian Peters
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 01:32 PM

One of the problems with the folk revival (in England at least) is its self-consciousness. Many of its movers and shakers have been intellectuals, which inevitably leads to a degree of navel-gazing probably more intense than in countries or communities with more vibrant, continuous traditions, in which people can just get on and play the stuff without too much hand-wringing (although I don't doubt that the Irish, for instance, are well capable of navel-gazing over their music as well).

Over the years I've heard pretty much every genre of popular music - rock'n'roll, country, punk, rap, techno, etc., touted as being the True Folk Music of the age, usually by clever people whose main aim is to prove that people who still choose to sing old songs are wankers. Doesn't make me want to sing old songs any less, though.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Willie-O
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 01:50 PM

Hmmm, there's another one for your list:

"to prove that people who still choose to sing old songs are wankers"

I don't buy it (it implies that ambitious singer-songwriters are actually thinking about other people) but it's got a certain cachet!

W-O


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-defin
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 02:45 PM

Sometimes it's a matter of different people having different definitions to start with. The discussions are so much about trying to redefine the word, but, rather, declining to redefine it, ie refusing to accept a definition that someone else has which is different from the one you have.

For example for one person the essential element is the content (eg the words, the notes), for another it is the style (eg the instruments, the way they are played, the way the voice is used).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 03:03 PM

I am re-defining folk music to attack the very basis of the capitalist system. Once I have English Folk Song and Dance Society cowering at the sheer power and remorseless logic of my dialectic, I will render impotent their power base - the so called Morris Dancers.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 03:40 PM

Jim - "a continuing tradition requires three essential elements; creative composition, ... ": I'm wondering why you consider "creative composition" so essential. If you have a community (hypothetically speaking) in which only old, handed-down ballads are sung, would this not constitute a "continuing tradition"? I know of instrumental traditions - as I'm sure you do - that could be robbed of all their relatively modern tunes without great damage having been done to their continuance. In other words, there would be plenty of well-known tunes left ...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Willie-O
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 07:12 PM

...(continuing Thurg's line of thinking)...but the people playing and singing them would be re-enactors, not folksingers...

After all, lyrics get forgotten...tunes get forgotten...either because the communities of musicians die out, or because they are inferior or irrelevant and are replaced with stronger ones, which are created.

And as you observe, you're talking hypothetically. If you want to have a strong community of musicians which recognizes excellence, whatever your hypothetical constructs may suggest, you don't tell people to stick to the old stuff and don't go coming up with anything new.   Cause if you do your community disappears up its own asshole, y'know?

W-O


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-defin
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 07:31 PM

Well, if you have a folk music radio or TV show, redefinition lets you add acts that would otherwise have to find their own venues. Then too, the performance standards for "folk" acts have generally been much lower than those for performers of other genres, so that being a "folk" act requires much less effort in terms of stagecraft and presentation.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 08:29 PM

My being primarily from a whole other musical paradigm, and preferring and liking it that way, gives me a view of folk music as being nuggets of great historical import that we had to search diligently for. As I've said before, we must sweep the scum of the present off the top of the pond so we can more easily view the depths where these vivid and graphic historic folkloristic artifacts might be found. We owe a great debt to those that were the collectors. Hopefully, we did some of that ourselves.

The new "Re-definers" are looking for a niche that leads them to at least an acceptable bottom line. Money again?!

There it is, the rub. There is an entirely new bottom line that crept up on us. And it is, because of inflation etc. making everything cost quite a bit more than in the days of the old bottom line. We seem to need huge umbrella organizations like the Folk Alliance to maximise the take. Remember that gasoline was thirty cents a gallon in 1965! But kids, go for it! (You will anyhow, I know. We did!)

Yes, I do think I understand. Just, please, don't trample and trounce our other sensitivities from other times. When you back us into a corner, it's only natural that we snarl back!! Just see some of my posts from those other years' threads to see how an old folkie can snarl when his certainties get tread-ed upon.

Art


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Art again
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 09:00 PM

Thurg and Willie-o,

Re-enactors! Yes, as folksingers, we were certainly re-enactors. And we were presenting the artifacts we had found in order to allow today's audiences to hear and have the passed down musical tale from those other times. We did it somewhat close to the way we found it because we wanted to present it like folks from the other times might do it---to the best of our ability. A time machine of sorts!

Sometimes, though, the artifact was not accessible to modern ears and minds, so I used humor to set it up and put people in a place where they could be more "into" this old museum piece.

All of it was to hopefully show how close we were to each other--our shared humanity---over time---over oceans--over national borders---over religious chasms. For that ethic, the ideal if not the actual end result, I owe Pete Seeger more than I can ever say. (Pardon the thread drift.)

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 09 Dec 06 - 11:24 PM

Willie-O: I'm afraid you don't quite get what I'm saying. I'm not taking a position on the defining/re-defining issue; I'm just trying to understand the thinking behind one aspect of Jim's definition. My "hypothetical community" is just that; I'm not trying to make a sly comparison with anybody's scene or anything like that ...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 05:42 AM

Yes, WLD, I DO know where you're coming from! Previous generations have been 'guilty' of re-defining folk for their own purposes as well.

Sharp, RV-W etc. had a decidedly nationalist agenda whereas the the architects of the post-war Revival made no secret of their left-wing aims.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Darowyn
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 05:58 AM

You can equally legitimately ask what are the motives of the "keep it traditional" faction.
Surely it's a question of people needing their own comfort zones,
The Trad faction want everything to stay the same as they believe that it ever was.
The redefining faction want to hear a majority of songs in the newer styles that they prefer.
The Folk and acoustic movement as a whole can only suffer if both or either side retreats into an attitude of self righteous insularity.
Chill out, it's only music!
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 06:42 AM

No no no.

The issue is not about 'keeping it traditional.' Nearly all the people I know who love old songs with the provenance everyone calls Trad (whatever else they may ascribe to that word) are PERFECTLY happy so hear adaptations, new instrumentation, rewrites of lyrics etc.

Most of the 'old guard' (rubbish term, sorry) are actually very open minded in my experience.

The debate that's been running through a lot of threads recently is about attribution. About only calling works trad if they come from that place. Not about what you do with them once you pick them up and decide to work on them.

About describing on the tin what is IN the tin.

Some people don't get so excited about new songs, some don't like old. That's not a debate, that's just a preference.

The problem is this:

There are four main interpretations of the word Traditional.

One describes a body of work which was created in another time, and which - because of changes to the world - can no longer be added to. The Countess and JIm Caroll have both defined this definition very well.

The second describes a process of popularisation of any type of material of any age. Sometimes aurally, in clubs, but mostly from CDs. This is the process that has Galway Farmer, Blowin in the Wind, Fiddlers Green and Streets of London defined as traditional. It also has Three Lions on Your Shirt and Happy Birthday down as Trad.

The third is a description of a style of singing or playing. A cappella, certain guitar styles, use of squeezeboxes, certain harmonies, and certain vocal deliveries - nasal, bel canto, strong regional accents (specially any not used by the singer when talking).

The fourth means 'in public ownership.'

Now.

At the moment all four of these definitions are valid, to some people, to some extent.

But this venn diagram leads to all kinds of confusions - not least writers being denied royalties and songs in common ownership becoming private property.

The redefinition debate is about trying to separate out these definitions. To prevent the confusion. To find new words which each describe ONE and only one of the above.

It has NOTHING to do with what people like or dislike, or about money.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 06:50 AM

I should add to numner three certan types of song. There are lots of writers who make new songs in 'trad' style - Jez Lowe, Pete Coe, Steve Knightly - but this a description of style, not provenance. It must not be confused with number one.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 07:28 AM

One of the building blocks upon which musician and composer Chris Wood founded The English Acoustic Collective was that the tradition must be respected but convention can be broken. Not his own words, but those of a tabla player when asked about the proliferation of external influences on his music. This led Chris Wood to reflect on the peculiarly English 'good taste' theory which is based on the supposition that for anything to be serious, worthy or fine it had to come from the upper echelons of society. This is in contrast to his own work which focusses increasingly on 'ordinary people', typified by Listening To The River, a piece based on the relationship between folk music and the regional speech of those who live and work along the river Medway. These are people, he says, with a sense of place, who know who they are. The rise and fall of their voices, he says, have drawn him to follow them with his bow and the result has been described as contemporary English music with a deep and living root.

I would suggest that this is music written 'in the tradition', but this is a description not just of style but of provenance too. It's not (3), it's more than that, but it's a moving on from (1) as it involves the English taking a look at themselves and revising how they view their cultural heritage as it exists now and redefining the relevance of tradarts not just as a marketing opportunity in our lives.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 07:51 AM

Yes - I can see that. And there are other examples too (including 'uncollected' works - though that's a moot point in it own right - within social groups where the aural process does still operate - such as travellers, perhaps, and maybe some island/isolated communities), so perhaps we need a fifth defintion.

But these examples are faily few and far between, so in the main I think my four will do for the purposes of this debate.

As I say it there's a lot of overlap between the defintions, and it's in these overlaps that all the problems occur, because people will use the word traditional and mean, for example 1) and then others will take it that they mean 3). Or 2), and next minute it's listed on some album as 1) and treated as 4).

That's why this debate is important.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Declan
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 07:55 AM

Guest 6:43

I think your separation of the debate into strands is very useful, although your examples with regard to style are a bit limiting and seem to refer almost exclusively to singing (with or without "Sueezebox" accompaniment).

I find the Countess' original definition a bit paradoxical - a "static body of information" which "continues to evolve", but I can see how these two notions might not be entirely mutually exclusive.

Fortunately in the context of the Irish traditions, (certainly the dance music, but also the singing traditions), I would find that all three of Jim Carroll's criteria are still met. There is a lot of new material being created (of variable quality, but there were always bad tunes, and some of the newer ones are excellent), it is accepted by those in the community who are interested in it (was the tradition ever widely accepted by the whole community, and it is trasmitted both within and outside the community, both orally and by means of modern communications technology.

Personally, as I said above, I believe that it is the fact that is transmitted which makes the music traditional. While the means of transmission is not necessarily the traditional one, I don't see how it makes a tune/song any more or less traditional whether I learned it orally from an old man in a thatched cottage, or recorded on an MP3 player via a download from the internet.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:02 AM

You're right. And you are chosing my definition 2) (which does include tunes) as the overriding one, which is perfectly ok.

For you.

But when you call a tune like Dusty Windowsills or Spooterskerry or Leaving Lochboisdale as trad under definition 2), then label it on your album as Trad, other people may ascribe it as 1) and treat it as 4). So the writers won't get their due.

Now, some tune-writers are happy about that (I'd love my own tunes to by so used), but in the greater scheme of things it's wrong.

The word needs to be re-defined to prevent this, and that's my motivation


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Declan
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:17 AM

I don't think I'm choosing 2 as my definition. I don't think tunes that are not in the spirit of a tradition will ever be regarded as part of that tradition however popular they become. But some recently composed pieces written in the traditional style (hence 3) will become part of that living tradition, and will be passed on to others. That is how we have the older ones we have today.

I must stress that I am not talking about this in the context of commercial attribution of the tunes. If someone records a tune (or song) with a known author (and there is an onus on them to research this as best they can) then they should properly attribute authorship and pay whatever rolyalies that are due.

But there is more to the folk traditional scene than the commercial side, and I do not agree with the declaration of closure of the body of traditional work.

By the way I am not in any way trying to apologise for those who want to assert that forms of rock and pop music are traditional, for commercial or other motives. I would stop short of capital punishment for this crime however, as this form of punishment should be reserved for rhythmically challenged percussionists.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:28 AM

I think you decribe my 2) extremely well. For you it is the process that matters, and because you'll allow a wider process than Jim or The Countess (e.i. non-aural/community based transmission) you accept some of 3 within your 2.

That's what I mean by overlap. There are lots of other examples.

But your definition i.e. 2 (old or new - as long as they sound right = 3) cannot mean the same thing as 1) or 4) (as you accept) - thus proving my contention that there are four definitions of the word Trad and that in most circumstances these are incompatible - ergo we need to find new words which cannot be misunderstood so you and Jim and the Countess don't have to disagree.

I keep returning to the legal, financial issue because its the one area about which there is no debate. Material is either in copyright or it's not. Which is not the same as anon (ref O'Carolan)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:54 AM

To deal with the original question,

Old words are appropriated and their denotation is changed because of the connotations of those words.
The appropriators hope to benefit from those connotations.

Example,
In the dairy case of my local supermarket is a product called "soy milk."
Soy milk is not significantly like or related to or derived from the milk of cows.
It probably does not even need to be refrigerated, but it is there for good economic reasons.
This annoys the hell out of a friend of mine who is a dairy farmer.
The vendors of this product are taking advantage of the connotations of the workd "milk" and the advertising dollars invested by the dairy industry.

I am sure that some folks appropriators of the word "folk" do so because of what they perceive to be good connotations. They want you to think of their music as hand crafted in small batches by local artisans. Like artisanal cheese and hats from Bolivia.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 09:06 AM

Re: the original question


Sometimes words are useful precisely because they are vague.

Back in the old days we might've been hazy about what folk music was, but we were very certain about what it wasn't. It was not rock 'n' roll, or pop, or jazz. It was not commerical, or at least not very commerical. It wasn't the product of the popular music establishment. Etc.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 09:10 AM

The interesting question is not "What IS folk music?"

The interesting quesiton is "What has been called 'folk music' in different times and places and why?"

What do the definitions tell us about the definers and their context?

The most interesting definitions are always about the definers.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 10:24 AM

I find the Countess' original definition a bit paradoxical - a "static body of information" which "continues to evolve", but I can see how these two notions might not be entirely mutually exclusive

They're not, and that's the point. The tradition continues to evolve as it always has done, but now it does so in a very different way and on a vastly accelerated timescale. The 'static body of information' is a term to define what was handed down orally/aurally until the first collectors who, often for the first time, wrote down the tunes and lyrics a century ago. Before that, musicians incorporated new instruments and what they heard from wherever: the musical theatre, popular songs and the classics. Now, all musics from the world over are available at the click of a mouse. They can be, and are, incorporated though there is, of course, far less excuse for non-attribution. But there is a continuing tradition. of which the work of people like Chris Wood is an example. This is so not helped by those who write f*lk-tinged pop songs and then, inexplixably, eschew their royalties and pass their work off as 'traditional'.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 12:12 PM

"The most interesting definitions are always about the definers."

Nice one, 'GUEST,Russ' - that's exactly why I started this thread!
All too often the 're-definers' (for want of a better word) seem to be on some sort of quasi-moral crusade, ie. "you/we shouldn't be interested in these old songs and tunes because they aren't 'relevant' any more". Note that the Edwardian and post-War revivalists seemed to need relevance as well (ie. folk songs represented an embodiment of 'national characteristics' for the former and aspects of 'class struggle' for the latter). I suspect that many contemporary critics/re-definers want to replace the traditional/folk song genre with rock/pop (for reasons which are explored above).
My motives for liking traditional songs and music are that I find them beautiful and they appeal to my imagination; the motives of the re-definers and critics are not so clear (at least, not to me).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Borchester Echo
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 12:41 PM

Shimrod, you said earlier on that you thought I was missing the point of this thread. Certainly I was ignoring quite deliberately one obvious aspect simply because I think that such motivations are not of overriding importance. By this I mean:

(a) those whose sole interest in traditional music is academic
(b) those who think it will singlehandedly change the world
(c) those who just want to sell it.

This is because I think those who sing, play and dance it are the most important. It is with their voices, hands and feet that it will survive and develop or not. And yet it is the music itself which is most forgiving about what is done to it and with it. In Dave Swarbrick's immortal words, 'the music doesn't mind' and in Martin Carthy's, 'the only harm you can do it is not play it'. We get angry about the ridiculous things some people do and say where trad music is concerned but perhaps we are worrying unduly. It's stronger than stupid human mistreatment and will get over it, possibly sooner than we can.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-defin
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 01:28 PM

Basically it's a tension between seeing it as a literature, to be preserved and appreciated and seeing it as a language, to be used and which inevitably changes in use. It's a tension that is always there, and which can never be resolved, because thy are both valid ways of seeing things.

It's no different really from something like a regional or national type of cookery. There's a tradition, which provides a kind of basic identity - Indian Cookery is different from Chinese, or French - but it isn't just a matter of sticking to tried and tested recipes, because new ingredients and new ways of cooking come in. There's a balance somewhere, but there's nothing hard and fast about it. Except for some people it is hard and fast, and they stick to teh old ways, and they can have a valuable role as guardians of continuity.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,Brian Peters
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 01:36 PM

Darowyn:
'You can equally legitimately ask what are the motives of the "keep it traditional" faction.
The Trad faction want everything to stay the same as they believe that it ever was.'

No they don't. Anyone with a more than superficial interest in traditional music and song knows that they evolve, that there is no point in trying to make music now that sounds identical to some notional form of two hundred years ago, and that the very squeezeboxes etc. cited above as 'traditional-style' instrumentation were rarely used by traditional singers in the past. As Anonymous GUEST remarked, afficionados of traditional music are far more open-minded than they are usually given credit for when it comes to new adaptations, or music in other styles and from other traditions. What we do believe, though, is that deliberate, wholesale changes to traditional material made in order for it to appear more 'relevant' tend to rob the original of much of its magic, and that it's possible to learn much from old styles without having to sound like carbon copies of them. As for being "Re-enactors", do we call people who play Shakesperean roles "re-enactors" because they work from material over 400 years old? No, we call them "actors" because they are constantly re-interpreting old texts.

The Countess is dead right about the accelerated rate of musical evolution, and probably right also that the music and songs will survive in some form whatever happens. It's for each of us singers and musicians to decide how we respond, whether that be by trying to retain essential elements of what we see as the tradition, by making bold adaptations of it, or by composing new stuff. We need all of those approaches, and the only time I get really hacked off with the discussion is when someone starts trying to tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong or worthless.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 01:38 PM

Surely the point is all of us who carry in our hearts a commitment to folk music are trying to make a synthesis - the man holding the guitar, the unaccompanied, the folk music idol pleasing fields full of people at a festival, the man singing to nobody but a field full of cows.

Personally I spent my working life as a musician in the pubs of the north of England - I made the deals I had to, to work - but in the back of my mind was the idea that I wanted to write about about my life - make up songs explaining who I was, and where I came from.

I just don't feel that someone has the right to decry, or decide arbitrarily - that is folk music, or that isn't.

Quite frankly I think all this stuff about a tradition has become damnable. So often it is just the mucking about clothes that middle class people want to wear at the weekend, whilst intense creative effort by serious artists is considered unworthy because the artist was not 'in the tradition'.

I really felt for Art Thieme in what he was saying. Just who the hell are these pseudo intellectual halfwits to discount what a talented man did with his life.

I get so pissed off with these snotty put down thread contributors on mudcat who are masters of the snotty putdown - "well in MY opinion THAT isn't folk music". It's like these tossers who look at a Kandinsky and say, well I don't call THAT art - just cos they have the brain the size of a peanut.

My fathers house has many mansions. Rather like folk music. I have a granny flat.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:01 PM

It does help to separate the 'what is folk' debate from the 'what is trad' debate.

I don't think many would say trad wasn't folk. But anyone trying to define 'folk' is heading for failure. The term is now so widely defined that there's no point in trying to narrow it down.

Saying something is or isn't folk is pointless. Call it what you like, let other people call it what they like. Just have an opinion on whether it touches you or not.

But trying to sort out the Trad Tangle is, however, a challenge we should embrace, because of the confusions and damage caused by these conflicting definitions. I don't think this has anything to do with class or pseudo intellectualism, it about having a way of communicatin which doesn't lead to conflict.

The problem is not the individual definitions - they are all correct in themselves and they all define something which can be clarly understood by everybody if other words are used.

The problem is ONLY that we use the same word for four very things - and then fight over who has the right to that word. It's like Jerusalem!

Whoever said we should ban the word Traditional had a good point! (Oh, it was me :-)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:16 PM

How does it help, and more to the point who does it help?

The only people it can possibly help are those 'King of the midden' types who have made some sort of capital out of putting other folks down.

If it had been traditioned down to any significant number of us - we shouldn't need telling. Folk culture is by definition "ours". We don't need some bloody factitious alternative version of reality imposed on us, by 'those who know better'.

MacColl had his audience, I had mine, the guy in the field of cows had his. We all made the synthesis we felt worked.

Respect the creative endeavour, for god's sake. What is so difficult about that?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:25 PM

sorry?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: The Sandman
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:27 PM

I have been playing music most of the day,apart from that i,m unmotivated.
even though we cant define FOLK orTRADITIONAL MUSIC precisely,we all of us have a fairly good idea of how we envisage it.
Somehow I dont think we can redefine it,.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:51 PM

exactly - you don't need a description or a category to see what something is. If you are playing something that isn't where it should be, the audience will inform you.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 04:32 PM

Thurg,
Sorry; about not replying sooner. I wanted to think about the question before I went in with both feet – a tendency I'm trying to conquer! I realised that while I have held my stated view for a long time, I have really never had the opportunity to articulate it – so hear goes.
Two answers to 'creative composition'
1   I believe that within a healthy tradition, the singing of the old songs is creative composition – the songs are re-created to suit the particular community – hence 200 plus versions of Barbara Allen. I am fascinated, but not entirely convinced by David Buchan's theory that there were no set texts to the ballads, only plots, commonplaces (milk white, snowy white, dapple grey, as I roved out, etc.) and a set form by which the singers re-composed each time they sang. I thought he weakened his own argument by presenting unrepresentative representatives (Gilbert and Sullivan move over) of the tradition, but it's a lovely idea which I would very much like to be true.
2   It has been our experience in communities where the tradition is in any way healthy (West Clare and Travellers in particular) that alongside the old songs in circulation there has been a local songwriting one (or indication that there once was one). In West Clare we were recording songs that must have been composed during the singers' lifetime, mainly on the theme of political struggle, and probably the second largest subject in the repertoire, emigration. Among Travellers it was still common, so much so that we were given one song (about an arranged marriage) which we were asked not to make public because the subjects were still very much around and "He's my cousin and he'd kill me if he knew I sung it for you". I know song-making happened in Scotland among both Travellers and settled people, and I believe it once happened in England, though I can't think of many examples of the latter. It may be that the singing tradition was caught too late and the practice had stopped, or maybe the early collectors rejected the songs because they didn't recognise them as being 'traditional'. I do know we have somewhere between 30 to 40 'contemporary traditional' songs in our own collection and one of the characteristics is that they are nearly all anonymous.
Re-definition.
The re-definers seem to fall into two groups, the main one being revival singers who seem to get some sort of 'Linus blanket' comfort from describing themselves as being part of a living tradition. I used to think that this stemmed from singers and organisers using the terms 'traditional' and 'folk' as a cultural dustbin in order to give themselves a platform, whatever they were performing or presenting, but I'm not sure this isn't too simplistic. It seems from discussions I have had (including some on Mudcat), that some people define 'community' to include folk clubs and consider themselves as part of the tradition of that community, which in turn is part of the older tradition. I don't agree, but I'm not sure it's important enough to fall out of bed over, except to pedants like me.
The second group is the academics who appear to wish to give themselves a new slant on the song and musical traditions, even to the extent of denying that they never existed other than in the romantic imaginations of people like myself. One of the pioneers of this school of thought is (or was – he seems to have disappeared from the scene lately) was Dave Harker whose 'Fakelore' set out to systematically debunk virtually all the early collectors. I have to say I found 'Fakelore' a somewhat unpleasant read, basking somewhat smugly in the glow of hindsight. It certainly didn't convince me.
I haven't read Georgina Boyes' 'Imagined Village', but from what I can gather, she takes a somewhat similar line to Harker.
I witnessed one of the finest examples of both these groups at a conference I attended some years back where a nationally known revival singer turned academic showed a film she had made on the singing traditions of an East Anglian pub, which included a longish section of herself performing there. Her answer, when challenged was as she had moved in to the area she was now part of the tradition.      
Sorry; I seem to be going on far too long – as usual.
Perhaps I'll finish this by saying that the more I read countess Richard's definition, the more sense it makes to me, and if I believed it was necessary to redefine folk and tradition, that's the one I'd be prepared to think about. As it stands, I don't really thing there to be a need for radical re-definition (god, please don't tell me I have to have all my books re-bound with new titles!) – at least not till we have scrutinised the old one with a far more careful scrute.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-defin
From: Folkiedave
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 06:18 PM

Some discusssion points.

I am certainly not entirely happy with Jim's assertion that the tradition is dead. Cecil Sharp had made much the same belief and that is why he raced around on his bike collecting like mad. Similar assertions were made when the two societies merged in 1931.

And yet fine singer Gordon Hall was a recent discovery and his mother Mab seems to have been missed altogether though she had a vast repetoire of songs. Odcombe carollers were missed until the 1970's. The amazing carol tradition of Glen Rock Pennsylvania (which was carried over from the South Pennines, and has continued over there from 1848 onwards is a discovery from 2000. The traditional carol singing of Kilmore County Wexford is hardly known outside its immediate area except by specialists.

The "bothy" tradition of North East Scotland continues apace and is likely to do so since it is sponsored by Macallan and good for them.
Think what a free glass of whisky would do for folk music audiences in England.

The traditional carols of my own area get more and more crowded with enthusiasts and this week we came up with a carol "rarely sung in the tradition" - well not any more it isn't. It is now sung regularly - well this week at least.

So I do believe that Jim is wrong on this one. They may be only tiny discoveries to be made and we are unlikely to come across another Gordon Hall or Harry Cox but I would hesitate to guarantee it.

The way in which some of the folklorists (Harker et.al) re-define folk music is interesting. I think the real focus is to ensure that the myths associated with the background of music, dance, custom and belief is important. Thus you will read about Fire Ceremony of Allendale at New Year signifying the change from the dark nights to the New Year and the coming of the light nights. The only problem with that theory is that we have a record of when it started written about in the local newspaper around 1863. That's when it began!! That myth was exploded by a "new" folklorist, Venetia Newell.

Do other genres of music go through this introspection and if not why not?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 07:02 PM

"---From: GUEST
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 02:01 PM

It does help to separate the 'what is folk' debate from the 'what is trad' debate.----"

This, to me, is the whole point of the discussion.

In a logical world, what would be the point of having two words to be used in the same sentence, which are synonyms.

Traditional is just what it says on the can, and I don't have a problem with that. It relates to a body of music and song which is still relevant and should be preserved at all costs.

Folk, however, is more than that. It includes, but cannot be limited to, traditional. Otherwise there is no point in talking about the "folk tradition" or "traditional folk".

So, outside of its traditional element, what else is classifiable as "folk"?

That is the point, and the only point, of re-defining the word. It has previously been defined by traditionalists, and used to exclude new compositions entirely from the genre.

Use the phrase "singer/songwriter" to these people, and see the disrespectful, pejorative, and denigratory responses you will get.

I have news for those of that mindset. Singer/songwriters, like other groupings, come in all sorts and sizes, good, bad, and indifferent.

All traditional songs were composed by singer/songwriters, whether we know their names, or not.

I write songs which are, in the main, written in traditional style. They are usually stories in song about the world I live in, which do not fit into any other genre than folk.

I would like one of the "folk is fixed, and cannot be altered" brigade to tell me what exactly I have been producing for the last 40 years, if not folk songs. I wish to hell that my work were definable as pop, I could have been a rich man by now.

I can't quite see what it is that so frightens the folk mafia about new composition. Believe me, if it is all pop or rock, the las thing they would want is a folk club fanbase. Talk about the kiss of death!

Don T.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: Declan
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 07:22 PM

I would also respectfully disagree with Jim's position. I'm reminded of the 'Bring out your dead' scene in "Monthy Python and the Holy Grail", the tradition is dead but may still be slightly healthy among travellers and in West Clare.

Being familiar in particular with the West Clare tradition, I would have to say that I would declare it to be in good health. I know of many musicians whose traditional credentials are beyond question (by most definitions at least) from all parts of Clare who are still playing, singing and composing in a style which has a direct link back to the last century and the previous one, and are busily passing their music on to a new generation.

What may be true is that there is little material of interest to the collector of unrecorded songs and tunes. Even if this is the case, this does not, in my opinion, mean that the tradition is dead. It may mean that material for the sort of folklorist who was around in the last century is drying up, but this does not as far as I am concerned equate to the death of the tradition.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST,thurg
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:05 PM

Jim - Thanks for the reply - I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me! Interesting arguments re: creative composition, although, as you would perhaps agree, a little shaky. Not that what you're saying is not the case, but rather that those points do not necessarily confirm that creative composition - as the term would be commonly understood (the creation of discrete pieces of work, as opposed to tweaking or playing with existing works) - is "essential" to living tradition. I suppose I agree that creative composition is invariably a characteristic of living tradition, but do not agree that it is essential. If that makes sense ...

I'm not worrying about finding a solution to that little conundrum, so don't feel you should respond if you don't particularly want to. It looks like you have several other arguments on your plate that are a little more pressing!

Cheers!

thurg


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-defin
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 10 Dec 06 - 08:55 PM

Early this morning read comments circa 1895 from John Millington Synge and Robert Louis Stevenson on this VERY topic....what a situational irony???

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.

OR...Herbert Spencer:
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance -- that principle is contempt prior to investigation."


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Subject: RE: Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers?
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Dec 06 - 03:41 AM

"folk is fixed, and cannot be altered"

No - they're saying 'TRAD is fixed and cannot be altered'*

Folk is anything you want it to be.

That's why we need to make sure people don't muddle up the two words (as you did - even after saying "Traditional is just what it says on the can, and I don't have a problem with that. It relates to a body of music and song which is still relevant and should be preserved at all costs. Folk, however, is more than that. It includes, but cannot be limited to, traditional" which is of course true.

*yes yes we all know about Travellors, but compared with the huge body of work which came to us via the collectors of the last 100 years or so this is a relatively small repertoire.

The struggle is to find ways to define that 'collected' body (as Traditional) which avoids having it eroded by use of the same word (Traditional) to describe either new works that sound old, or new works that are played by a lot of people.


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