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What IS Folk Music?

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)
What makes a new song a folk song? (1710)
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)
'Folk.' OK...1954. What's 'country?' (17)
Folklore: Define English Trad Music (150)
What is Folk Music? This is... (120)
What is Zydeco? (74)
Traditional singer definition (360)
Is traditional song finished? (621)
1954 and All That - defining folk music (994)
BS: It ain't folk if ? (28)
No, really -- what IS NOT folk music? (176)
What defines a traditional song? (160) (closed)
Folklore: Are 'What is Folk?' Threads Finished? (79)
How did Folk Song start? (57)
Traditional? (63)
Should folk songs be sung in folk clubs? (129)
What is The Tradition? (296) (closed)
What is Blues? (80)
What is filk? (47)
What makes it a Folk Song? (404)
Article in Guardian:folk songs & pop junk & racism (30)
Does any other music require a committee (152)
Folk Music Tradition, what is it? (29)
Trad Song (36)
What do you consider Folk? (113)
Definition of Acoustic Music (52)
definition of a ballad (197)
Threads on the meaning of Folk (106)
Does it matter what music is called? (451)
It isn't 'Folk', but what is it we do? (169)
Giving Talk on Folk Music (24)
What is Skiffle? (22)
Folklore: Folk, Pop, Trad or what? (19)
Folklore: What are the Motives of the Re-definers? (124)
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A new definition of Folk? (34)
What is Folk? IN SONG. (20)
New Input Into 'WHAT IS FOLK?' (7)
What Is More Insular Than Folk Music? (33)
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'What is folk?' and cultural differences (24)
What is a folk song, version 3.0 (32)
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What is a folk song? Version 2.0 (59)
FILK: what is it? (18)
What is a Folksinger? (51)
BS: What is folk music? (69) (closed)
What is improvisation ? (21)
What is a Grange Song? (26)


Charmain 12 Mar 07 - 05:53 PM
katlaughing 12 Mar 07 - 05:55 PM
Stringsinger 12 Mar 07 - 06:03 PM
Charmain 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM
Andy Jackson 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM
terrier 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM
Peace 12 Mar 07 - 06:11 PM
Jeri 12 Mar 07 - 06:13 PM
Old Grizzly 12 Mar 07 - 06:14 PM
Peace 12 Mar 07 - 06:16 PM
terrier 12 Mar 07 - 06:29 PM
Tootler 12 Mar 07 - 06:45 PM
Jim Lad 12 Mar 07 - 06:58 PM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 12 Mar 07 - 06:59 PM
Stewart 12 Mar 07 - 07:05 PM
Nancy King 12 Mar 07 - 07:08 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 12 Mar 07 - 07:17 PM
Don Firth 12 Mar 07 - 07:43 PM
GUEST,Greycap 12 Mar 07 - 07:47 PM
Bee 12 Mar 07 - 08:05 PM
PoppaGator 12 Mar 07 - 11:09 PM
greg stephens 13 Mar 07 - 07:12 AM
bubblyrat 13 Mar 07 - 07:27 AM
Dave Sutherland 13 Mar 07 - 07:38 AM
Scrump 13 Mar 07 - 07:39 AM
pirandello 13 Mar 07 - 09:15 AM
Kevin Sheils 13 Mar 07 - 09:40 AM
The Shambles 13 Mar 07 - 09:46 AM
Scoville 13 Mar 07 - 10:11 AM
Lox 13 Mar 07 - 10:21 AM
Scrump 13 Mar 07 - 10:21 AM
Scoville 13 Mar 07 - 10:25 AM
Bill D 13 Mar 07 - 10:46 AM
Scrump 13 Mar 07 - 10:48 AM
Scoville 13 Mar 07 - 11:04 AM
Stringsinger 13 Mar 07 - 11:10 AM
Scoville 13 Mar 07 - 11:14 AM
Scrump 13 Mar 07 - 11:33 AM
Dazbo 13 Mar 07 - 11:37 AM
Scrump 13 Mar 07 - 12:32 PM
The Sandman 13 Mar 07 - 02:00 PM
GUEST,lox 13 Mar 07 - 02:37 PM
GUEST,M.Ted 13 Mar 07 - 04:03 PM
Scoville 13 Mar 07 - 04:10 PM
Charmain 13 Mar 07 - 06:31 PM
Richard Bridge 13 Mar 07 - 07:50 PM
GUEST,Shimrod 14 Mar 07 - 04:37 AM
Scrump 14 Mar 07 - 05:29 AM
Dazbo 14 Mar 07 - 05:43 AM
GUEST,Crag Rat 14 Mar 07 - 06:09 AM
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Subject: What IS Folk Music?
From: Charmain
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 05:53 PM

Quite often when reading threads I see people writing that this or that performer is not really playing "folk" music. So what I'm asking is - What IS folk music?
Is it just traditional stuff or just stuff played with certain instruments or is there a more technical definition to do with structures or rhythms or subject matter?

To paraphrase the late lamented John Peel (bless his soul):
Never quite understood the definition of folk music or world music - isn't all music played by folk for folk in the world?

I'd be interested to hear what people think...


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: katlaughing
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 05:55 PM

Here's one Can o'worms. **big smile**


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:03 PM

It's music that has been handed down through the generations and is accessible, not so complicated so folks can play and learn it quickly.

It is not an academic excercise in exclusivity.

It generally isn't complicated like jazz, classical or swing music.

It lives because of a natural selection. (You could say it was a "meme")

There are different kinds of folk music because there are different cultures.

It isn't rocket science. Generally, you can recognize it when you hear it.

The more complicated it becomes, the less folk it is.

It generally has lyrics that tell a story. (Narrative ballads etc.)

Now the problem will be when you ask the next question. What is a folk singer?
That's the real can of worms, right there.

Frank


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Charmain
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM

Ok - but what about new folk music - surely there has to be some someday - otherwise its just the same stuff all the time -
Where do you draw the line for according something the title of being folk music?
Do you have to give something 20 years and have people mistake it for trad before it is folk music?


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Andy Jackson
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM

Think I'll just chuck in one of favorite sayings
"Today is tomorrow's rose coloured yesterday"
and leave it at that.

Andy


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: terrier
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:10 PM

Listen to some music. Try and place it in a certain genre,ie pop,beat,rock,indie,boy band, girl band, whatever you like, there's plenty to choose from. If you can't place it in one of these, then it's probably folk, but don't tell anyone or else you'll have an arguement on your hands. Probably the best person to ask WAS John Peel.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Peace
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:11 PM

It is the music I like.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Jeri
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:13 PM

A enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, wrapped in a riddle, onna stick.

Seriously, the more people argue about this, the more I think it's anything horses don't sing. Genres are categories invented for people to communicate. These days, if someone says they like 'folk', it's impossible to know if they like listening to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or Ewan McColl or the Copper family.

I think there ARE traditional songs and tunes, but they all got into the tradition somehow. I'm of the 'throw it at the wall and see what sticks' school of thought. We sing what we like and whether it has any meaningful shelf life isn't really up to us, but whoever's next in the chain. If categories get in the way of fun, they aren't worth it.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Old Grizzly
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:14 PM

What is folk music ?

Why is custard yellow ?


I doubt I'll ever get a clear answer :o)

Dave


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Peace
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:16 PM

I could help with the custard question, but you likely wouldn't want to know.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: terrier
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:29 PM

Jeri, I take it that this isn't Folk Music   ;-)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Tootler
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:45 PM

On a forum like this you will get definitions that refer to things like tunes (songs) with no known author, oral transmission, songs that have been subjected to a kind of Darwinian selection known as the "folk process" etc. etc.

Then you go to a folk club and, yes a great many of the songs that are sung have been composed by that most prolific of authors "Trad". But the rest of the songs sung have been composed within living memory and their authors are known.

At that point you shrug your shoulders and settle back to enjoy the music.

Oh! and don't forget, you too can take your turn to sing a song - or play a tune, if that is your preference.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:58 PM

(((The more complicated it becomes, the less folk it is.))) I like that one, Stringsinger.

"Folk" is the nice music that doesn't annoy me.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 06:59 PM

Or even write one, for you will hear plenty of those at almost every club, and some of them are damn good. Yours might be as good or better, who can tell?

Don T.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Stewart
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:05 PM

Then when someone asks you what kind of music you play, does the answer "folk music" have any meaning. How do you explain it? Or do you even try? Just play the music!

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Nancy King
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:08 PM

As for the question of new music, consider the phrase Mary Cliff (who has hosted a folk music program on public radio for many years) uses to describe the stuff she plays: "Traditional music and music in the tradition." By that she means both the old stuff and newer stuff that sounds like the old stuff.

Seriously, there are several very strict definitions of "folk" or "traditional" music, and we've hashed them out repeatedly (ad nauseum, even), as you can see if you read some of the threads katlaughing linked to. Perhaps the strictest definition is music that has been passed down in the oral tradition (i.e., not written down) until its origins are obscured in the mists of time. But nowadays that doesn't happen -- technology has made it possible for huge quantities of music to be recorded and thus heard by a far wider audience than the troubadours of old could reach, and we know who wrote a lot of it. To me, that just means the old "folk process" of passing songs along has been speeded up and opened to a wider audience. So much the better, I say. Of course the bad gets recorded along with the good, but it's the good stuff that people remember and learn and pass along.

Stringsinger outlined some of the characteristics of folk music (simple, uncomplicated, etc.), and noted that it lasts because of a kind of natural selection. That's pretty much right, as far as it goes -- and I don't think I want to go a whole lot further, except to say that there are lots of other kinds of "folk" music besides the narrative ballads he mentioned (work songs, lullabyes, nonsense songs, to name a few). When Mary said "music in the tradition," she meant music that respects and emulates the sound and style of the old, traditional music passed down from generation to generation in the old-fashioned way.

Does that help at all?

Nancy


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:17 PM

According to the marketing 'geniuses', in my local record shops, Folk is anything acoustic (apart from 'Folk Rock', of course)but excluding (acoustic) 'Country', 'Blues' and 'World', plus anything that doesn't fit into any other category, like Welsh Military bands.

I hope that's clear?

It isn't clear to me, but what do I know?

So ignore marketing people and any idiot who tries to tell you that there is "no accepted definition of Folk" (these are usually people who are desperate to play Rock Music in Folk Clubs) and read some of the zillions of threads on this Board, some of which give very clear definitions and explanations of what Folk Music is. And, no, most Rock/Pop Music probably won't be the "Folk Music of tomorrow".


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:43 PM

Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), a Prussian-born poet, critic, theologian, and philosopher, is the first person (as far as anyone knows) to use the term "volkslieder"—folk songs. He was referring to songs of the "rural, peasant class," and he recommended that composers collect and study this music as a means of helping them make their own compositions have a more regional or national character, thus giving their music some roots.

Back then, most people knew what kind of music von Herder was talking about.

But "rural, peasant class?" In this day and age, and in this country, we don't like to think of society being stratified into classes. This is a democracy, isn't it? Therefore, there are no classes. Especially a "rural, peasant class!" Dear me, NO! We can't have that sort of thing, now can we? Aren't we all "just plain folks?"

Thus, one gets non-definitions like "folk songs are the songs folks sing." Or the comment often attributed to Big Bill Broonzy when asked if a particular song was a folk song:    "Well, I've never heard it sung by a horse!" Or the ever popular introduction you hear at open mikes:   "This is a folk song I wrote yesterday when I was riding home on the bus."

There is a body of songs that are "traditional" or "folk songs." But these days, no one seems to be able to agree on where the boundaries are. I think most people would agree that a Child ballad is a folk song. And they would generally agree that "La donna e mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto or the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah or "Wouldn't it be Loverly?" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady are not folk songs, even if they are regularly sung by human beings rather than four-legged livestock.

But are the songs Bob Dylan wrote "folk songs?" Or Woody Guthrie's songs? Or Tom Paxton's? How about "Greensleeves," which many people believe to be the quintessential English folk song (background music in a lot of movies when they want to evoke rural, pastorale England)? I have seen little evidence that "Greensleeves" was sung much by von Herder's "rural, peasant class' or that it meets the criteria usually set by ethnomusicologists to classify it as a folk song rather than an art song.

Where will the new folk songs come from? Anybody's guess. Just about any song can become a folk song if enough people learn it and sing it simply because they like it for some reason. And my bet is that the "folk song" that was written on the bus the day before singing it at the open mike probably won't make the cut, unless it appeals to enough people who learn it and sing it, and it continues to be learned and sung by more people over a substantial period of time.

What is folk music? As "Deep Thought," the monster computer in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy said when asked "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?"    "Hmm. Tricky."

If anything and everything can fit the definition of "folk music," then "folk music" has no real definition. A definition specifies that something is this, but not this, this, and even this.

For now, I guess about the best one can do is figure that folk music is whatever is found on the CDs you find in the bin marked "Folk Music" at your favorite record store.

And I pretty much agree with what GUEST,Shimrod says just above.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,Greycap
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:47 PM

I know it when I hear it - I've got 47 years of interest & experience backing me up. 'Course, I'm sometimes wrong, like most people.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Bee
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 08:05 PM

If I can sing it, it's probably folk music, or well on its way. If I can play it on guitar, it's definitely folk music, 'cause I can't play anything more complicated (and damn those complicated folk tunes, anyway, like that #@%$&#*@ Night Herding Song, which I've now got two sets of chords for, neither of which works with the only tune I've heard, must be only cowboys allowed to sing it).


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 11:09 PM

THIS again???

There are so many different opinions, and my own is so different from that of most of the rest of you, that I won't even bother to try nailing it down. (Well, not at first, anyway.)

Regardless of a given person's prejudice, er, I mean, opinion, the term "folk" music normally makes some reference to musical expression that grows (or once grew) naturally out of some culture, i.e., some community of real people, and has some relationship to a living or dead "tradition."

I find myself interested in many discussions of "folk music," including the contributions of folks whose definition is very much different from my own, because I can apply their insights to the often-very-different traditions in which I am most interested. My understanding of what some such people have to say may be entirely different from what they had intended to communicate, in cases where their idea of "folk music" is nothing at all like my own, but it often leads to extremely interesting and valid conclusions.

As a New Orleanian, I have a number of favorite grassroots musical traditions. Some involve brass instruments; others are built around electric guitars and drums, and still others feature dissonant vocal chants accompanied only by the simplest percussion instruments. And, oh yeah, then there's the sound of huge gospel choirs accompanied by pipe organs, electric pianos, and rock-style rhythm sections.

As an Irish-American, I have a degree of interest (if not expertise) in deeply "traditional" Irish folk music, where songs are unaccompanied and instrumental tunes are never sung; also in more modernized versions of music from the same tradition, often performed along with contemporaray compositions in similar styles; and even in the most vilified, commercial, Americanized, sentimentally Irish songs like those popularized by, say, Bing Crosby. And just as I entertain an interest in this very broad spectrum of Irish music, I enjoy at least as wide a variety of American folk and popular song.

Years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I applied for a position at Rolling Stone magazine as a very simon-pure enthusiast of traditional blues music. The editor who interviewed me suggested I contact one of their freelance "stringers" who fairly regularly published articles about his own various quirky musical interests; maybe I would get a better idea of how to put together something I might be able to sell to the magazine. (An actual salaried position was obviously out of the question, at least for the moment.) The guy was very friendly and very interesting, but at the time I just couldn't accept the premise for his latest project: he was intent upon promoting the idea that Dick Dale's electric "surfer" guitar sound was a valid, genuine, American folk-music genre.

Even though I had long been willing to accept electric blues guitar as part of a genuine "folk" tradition, I was unable to buy into electric surf music as anything remotely comparable.

Now that I'm much older and hopefully at least a little bit wiser, I've come to believe that my would-be writing mentor was exactly correct: for my money, now, surfer-style rock ~ and indeed all forms of live "garage-band" rock 'n' roll ~ does indeed belong to a living musical tradition. And any insights that might apply to one tradition can validly ~ and quite interestingly ~ be applied to another tradition, even one that very few people would characterize as "folk." Hell, it's usually especially interesting to apply the insights of a "folk-music" discussion to an upstart or unconventional musical tradition.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: greg stephens
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 07:12 AM

Sure some music composed today will bec ome the folk music of tomorrow, but you'd need to be pretty clever to predict which songs/tunes would make it. Go down to your nearest garden centre, open all the seed packets, pour contents on the floor and then stir well. Most people would have extreme difficulty picking out the primrose seeds.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: bubblyrat
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 07:27 AM

Folk Music is what you want it to be !!---That"s the beauty of it.People can,and do,have all sorts of notions and opinions about it, but put them all in a room together, lubricate well with oil of oblivion, then commence to play some song that everybody loves to hate, and listen to them all join in with it !! That"s what Folk Music is !!


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Dave Sutherland
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 07:38 AM

Bert Lloyd often stated that is was as easy to define a folk song as it was to pinpoint the exact moment that dawn breaks and night turns into day.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 07:39 AM

To me, folk music is what I define it to be.

To you, folk music is what you define it to be.

Some of what I think is folk music, you also think is folk music, but some of what I think is folk music, you don't think is folk music. And vice versa.

There's no problem with that, until I mention something that I think is folk music, and you don't think is folk music. Then we get into a bloody great argument. So it's best not to ask what folk music is, but as others have said, just enjoy listening to it and playing or singing it.

:-)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: pirandello
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 09:15 AM

Shimrod, what you probably have forgotten is that what we call 'folk' today was the pop music of its time.
You might not like the idea but some of todays great songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Townes Van Zandt will doubtless become the folk heroes of the future.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Kevin Sheils
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 09:40 AM

W B Yeats wrote the following about Folk Art, which of course includes Folk Music.

"Folk-art is indeed the oldest of the aristocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered into itself the simplest and most unforgettable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all art is rooted"

Now as a starting point that's good enough for me. Of course you can manage to fit much into that broad definition, but it certainly gives pointers as to what to leave out.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 09:46 AM

House of Commons
May 8 2003

Dr. Howells:
I shall tread carefully, given the adult and fascinating debates that I have had with representatives of the folk music industry. I have thought a great deal about the matter over the intervening period, and I always worry about the definition of folk music.

Does some kid singing about the fact that he can't get no satisfaction in the late 20th century constitute a reflection on the quality of his life at a certain point in history? Is that any less valid than somebody who sings about canal boatmen, and the problems that they suffer because they cannot reach their sweethearts, in the 19th century? I always worry about such distinctions, not because I am doubtful of the validity and beauty of folk music—


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:11 AM

Please, please, please, do a search and read some of the older threads before we start beating this particular dead horse again.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Lox
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:21 AM

It's when no one will let you in their band, so you take your songs and your guitar down to a pub where known accordionists, bodhranists and banjoists lurk dangerously in a corner.

You then get pissed out of your skull so that you can enjoy the resulting din, before going home to post some nonsense in the BS section of the Mudcat.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:21 AM

Please, please, please, do a search and read some of the older threads before we start beating this particular dead horse again.

But beating the dead horse didn't do any good, on the umpteen previous times it was done. So what good would that do? :-)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:25 AM

Well, it won't do any more good this time around, will it?


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:46 AM

Why, it's very simple...just do a search of the Mudcat forum for MY name, mostly before 2001, and you'll know all you need to...*grin*.

But what it is NOT is "whatever anyone wants it to mean" ....if you are going to use a word, it's got to have some meaning narrow enough to be useful, else it means almost nothing. It's just a practical matter. 'Antique' collectors have basic definitions of what is 'antique', and people who cook BBQ have rules and definitions of types of BBQ. Other kinds of music, (opera, madrigal, Dixeland...etc.) are reasonably clear....why does "folk" need to be so broad as to mean anything anyone wishes?


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 10:48 AM

I'm not so sure, Scoville. Maybe someone new here who wasn't around last time. might have some fascinating new insights into the subject.

Well, it may be unlikely, but you never know...

[Sorry Scoville - I just realised my previous posting might have offended you. I'm sorry, it wasn't meant that way, and I was careless enough not to realise it at the time. I did put a ":-)" in though!]


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:04 AM

why does "folk" need to be so broad as to mean anything anyone wishes?

I don't think anyone said it did, it's just that there are a lot of definitions being tossed around that are more restrictive than either necessary or fair. Actually, even if you take out what most agree is NOT folk (opera, Mozart, the Spice Girls), even that narrows it down past "anything anyone wishes".

I don't expect there ever to be a consensus about this but everyone is going to have a different viewpoint based on preferences and experiences that is going to conflict with somebody else's preferences and experiences, so asking an open-ended question like, "What is folk" is like popping popcorn with the lid off. Chaos ensues. We've done this over and over again: Is blues folk? Is bluegrass folk? Is rap folk? I've been told they are and that they are not, but where I live I can assure you they most certainly are, by qualifiers that most people here seem to think are the most important. So I say "yes" because that's my experience (if not my preference; I can't stand rap). There's a lot of the Folk Revival that I'm pretty sure is pop but that others will swear is folk. I disagree but, OK; obviously it means different things to us.

As my old boss would say, "It's a bit like a wild bull--you can get him in the corral but you may never get the ring in his nose," meaning that you may have to settle for narrowing it down rather than defining it to a T.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:10 AM

Charmain,

The definition of folk means it has to be around awhile and picked up. It has to be accepted and recognized. Just someone writing a song doesn't make it a folk song. Some day many popular songs will become folk songs as people accept them and make them their own.
Remember that a lot of popular songs require a production value from a recording. Earlier show songs or movie songs are too complicated to really be folk for the most part. Some songs like "Over the Rainbow" or "Blue Skies" are good candidates for future folk songs.
You draw the line when people pick up the songs in a couple of decades or more. It has to be mellowed by time. And usually there are different versions of the song called "variants".
But to say just because someone composes a song, it automatically becomes a "folk song" is silly.

Don Firth,

There is a rural peasant class and a working class today. As you say, it does exist in America and people are aware of it. This is supposed to be a democracy but we know that there are class lines and distinctions based on economics and education.

Big Bill's simplistic comment has confused people. i think when nailed to the wall, people would agree that contemporary pop songs or show, opera, etc. are not folk songs.

Some songs really reach large audiences and have gone into the area of folk songs. This Land Is Your Land is known throughout the world by schoolchildren of all ages. Country Roads was popular in many countries and might qualify easilly.

Greensleeves was essentially a show song in the time of Shakespeare. Was it sung by a peasant class? Could have been as many of the early songs the troubadors from Europe were picked up by rural classes. Greensleeves actually has variants. It was repopularized by Ralph Vaughan Williams but it remains in various tunes.

Dylan, Paxton don't yet qualify. Guthrie, maybe now since "This Land". Popularity of a song for a brief time doesn't give it folk status. Years from now, inconceivable as it may sound to wild-eyed officianados, Dylan's songs might be forgotten or place on an epochal back burner. Then again, "Imagine" might just take off and be remembered eras from now.Who can predict?   Not me.

One thing though, a folk song defies copyright. Why? Because one of the definitions is that it gets changed and reworked. It gets played and replayed and people who play it change it when it becomes relevant to do so.

I think that the reason it is defined at all is that people recognize it for being a folk song or at least a song written in a folk-style. In order to write convincingly in a folk-style, you have to know what a folk song is, sung them and lived with them. As great songwriters as Dylan or Paxton are, there is considerable doubt in my mind that they have written folk songs that stand the test of time. All you can say it we'll see.

But Barbara Allen is a folk song. It has many variants and has changed hands so many times that you can pick it up in different parts of the country or world.

I care about what folk songs are because I recognized the difference between them and art songs, show songs, recently composed songs and if you care to pin me down, I can tell you the difference in terms of music and lyric.

I think the closest to folk music maybe dirty street rhymes, schoolyard chants..."There's a place in France....", "glory Hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler" etc. and stuff associated with work or "Sound Off" from the army. Sometimes sayings get incorporated into songs.

In time, maybe the garage band tunes can become folk tunes. Is the style of playing "folk"? Well, when you get into the subject of what is a "folk performance"...now the waters become muddied. When Doc Watson does "Over The Rainbow", is it a folk song because he does it? I don't think so. (Yip Harburg would raise hell if you thought so.)
Most of the garage band doggerel isn't folk doggerel yet. Why? Because not enough people recognize those tunes and haven't assimilated them completely into their cultures.

So what are the lyrical and musical characteristics of a folk song? The lyrics are in process. They change. The tunes are messed with and sometimes messed up but change.
A song from the British Isles can wind up as an African-American work chant. Ex. Lowlands.

Sam Hinton put it best. A folk song in print or on a record is like a picture of a bird in flight.

Also, watch it when someone claims authorship of a folk song. That's really easy to do and they can clamp a copyright on it. John Jacob Niles apparently delighted in suing those who thought his songs were trad. On the other hand, he re-wrote some of those songs and claimed a copyright.

The Lomaxes copyrighted a lot of the songs they collected. Alan's rationale was that he was keeping the songs from being appropriated by folk-style songwriters looking for copyrights. He said he wanted to "protect" them.

"Streets of Laredo"/"St. James Hospital"/"St. James Infirmary"

"Rockin' The Cradle"/"Whoopee Ti Yi Yo

"Robert Kidd"/"Sam Hall"/"What Wondrous Love is This"

Others with many variants such as "Springfield Mountain"
"Ten Nights Drunk", "Katy Cruel", "Edward", "Geordie"......all defy copyrights and don't count as Art Songs, Pop Songs, Show Songs, Movie Songs...etc.

If Bing Crosby or Elvis sing a folk song, is it still a folk song? I think so.

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, I say it's still a folk song.

Frank Hamilton




















I find myself interested in many discussions of "folk music," including the contributions of folks whose definition is very much different from my own, because I can apply their insights to the often-very-different traditions in which I am most interested. My understanding of what some such people have to say may be entirely different from what they had intended to communicate, in cases where their idea of "folk music" is nothing at all like my own, but it often leads to extremely interesting and valid conclusions.

As a New Orleanian, I have a number of favorite grassroots musical traditions. Some involve brass instruments; others are built around electric guitars and drums, and still others feature dissonant vocal chants accompanied only by the simplest percussion instruments. And, oh yeah, then there's the sound of huge gospel choirs accompanied by pipe organs, electric pianos, and rock-style rhythm sections.

As an Irish-American, I have a degree of interest (if not expertise) in deeply "traditional" Irish folk music, where songs are unaccompanied and instrumental tunes are never sung; also in more modernized versions of music from the same tradition, often performed along with contemporaray compositions in similar styles; and even in the most vilified, commercial, Americanized, sentimentally Irish songs like those popularized by, say, Bing Crosby. And just as I entertain an interest in this very broad spectrum of Irish music, I enjoy at least as wide a variety of American folk and popular song.

Years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I applied for a position at Rolling Stone magazine as a very simon-pure enthusiast of traditional blues music. The editor who interviewed me suggested I contact one of their freelance "stringers" who fairly regularly published articles about his own various quirky musical interests; maybe I would get a better idea of how to put together something I might be able to sell to the magazine. (An actual salaried position was obviously out of the question, at least for the moment.) The guy was very friendly and very interesting, but at the time I just couldn't accept the premise for his latest project: he was intent upon promoting the idea that Dick Dale's electric "surfer" guitar sound was a valid, genuine, American folk-music genre.

Even though I had long been willing to accept electric blues guitar as part of a genuine "folk" tradition, I was unable to buy into electric surf music as anything remotely comparable.

Now that I'm much older and hopefully at least a little bit wiser, I've come to believe that my would-be writing mentor was exactly correct: for my money, now, surfer-style rock ~ and indeed all forms of live "garage-band" rock 'n' roll ~ does indeed belong to a living musical tradition. And any insights that might apply to one tradition can validly ~ and quite interestingly ~ be applied to another tradition, even one that very few people would characterize as "folk." Hell, it's usually especially interesting to apply the insights of a "folk-music" discussion to an upstart or unconventional musical tradition.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:14 AM

None taken, Scrump. I should have put a ;-) after mine, too.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:33 AM

The problem is that even the erudite statements made by Stringsinger above would not be agreed by everyone. That's just his view, and of course he is entitled to it. But he should not expect everyone else to agree (and he probably doesn't!)

The trouble starts when people give their definition of folk music as fact, when it's only their opinion. That's why I said, it's best not to try too hard to define it, because for every one person that agrees with you, there will usually be several who don't.

I think it's true to say (IMO of course!) that certain types of music or songs would be agreed as being folk, by most people (but again, I expect not all!). Then there are lots of other types of music that some would call folk, and some would not. The line between the 'generally agreed' part and the 'not generally agreed' part is difficult, if not impossible, to define.

For example, many people would consider Guthrie, Dylan and Paxton as folk singers, and (some of) their songs as folk songs, unlike Stringsinger.

If Bing Crosby or Elvis sing a folk song, is it still a folk song? I think so.

Yes, I agree. The song is still a folk song. A 'pop' performance of a song doesn't change that fact (IMO!)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Dazbo
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:37 AM

But you can't go wrong if you follow this: "It's what I (Dazbo) says it is - if anyone else disagrees they are wrong"

Dead simple really






It's like art. Art is what ever the artist says is art.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 12:32 PM

Yes, Damien Hirst thinks shite is art (probably literally) :-)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: The Sandman
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 02:00 PM

folk music is the music, that I enjoy singing.http://www.dickmiles.com


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,lox
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 02:37 PM

If you look in a dictionary, under many words you can find a numbered list of definitions.

So to argue the point over whose definition is right or wrong seems more about self importance than about helping to improve our understanding.

Pehaps there are several definitions, which don't have to be tied together by a common principle?


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,M.Ted
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 04:03 PM

I generally agree with Frank--my addition is that there are a lot of living music traditions that many people who consider themselves experts on folk music know nothing about. Also, I think that American Jazz is a folk /raditional music form, and that it is the driving force behind 'American" music of all kinds.

Also, a lot of music is defined by it's association with a specific place, time, and subculture--like garage music, but we don't really have a term to distinguish those sorts of music from folk and traditional music--


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scoville
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 04:10 PM

Well put, M.Ted.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Charmain
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 06:31 PM

I've been interested to read a lot of what has been written here - a few people have exclaimed "Oh NO not this old chesnut again" or words to that effect - and I can understnd why - but some of us are less regular or newer visitors to this forum so please excuse our lack of knowledge as to what has gone before.

I'm glad to know that most people seem to have a fairly similar view to mine - it being that in folk music are elements of the traditional and the new and sometimes different instrumants fit and sometimes they don't but that essentially it is the spirit of the thing that matters... I think thats what I've gathered anyway...

I'm relieved to know that as long as I think music is folk music thats OK!!


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 07:50 PM

There are some informed contributions here - mostly from Americans.

As for the rest - for !"£$%^&*()_+   sake go away and come back when you understand the DEFINITION from the 1954 World Folk Music Council. It maybe invalid in some cases and respects, but when you understand it you can criticise it.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 04:37 AM

In my ideal (albeit rather draconian) world, people would be banned from contributing to this topic until they had read and demonstrated an understanding of the definition that Richard Bridge refers to above, and/or can display the depth of thought, experience and erudition shown by 'stringsinger' (now that is a really 'openminded' and thought-provoking contribution - for a change).


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Scrump
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 05:29 AM

Charmain, IMO the posts above from Richard Bridge and GUEST,Shimrod demonstrate the intolerance to new posters raising this 'old chestnut'.

Richard - if you would like Charmain (or any other would-be contributors to this thread) to read the document, it would be more helpful IMO to provide a link to it.


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: Dazbo
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 05:43 AM

After some digging:

'Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the traditions are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives. […] The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk-character (Journal of the International Folk Music Council, VII, 1955, p. 23).

Pretty much my own definition that I came up with all on my own (more or less)


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Subject: RE: What IS Folk Music?
From: GUEST,Crag Rat
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 06:09 AM

Trouble with using a dictionary is that it only gives a snapshot in time. Definitions change over the years. When Chaucer used the word "nice", he mean't "not very nice at all" but since the 17th Century the word has had positive connotations. In our own time words like "wicked" and "bad" have been used in a positive way. It's all very well saying that people using such terms positively are wrong but common usage will override any Cnut trying to hold back the tide.

It might well be that the terms "Folk music" and "folk song" have more than one meaning now, and all we can do is treasure our own without being arrogant enough to tell the other fellow he is wrong.


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