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Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?

21 Sep 07 - 03:51 AM (#2154089)
Subject: Isthe1954defining,improvable
From: The Sandman

Definition of Folk Music, decided by the International Folk Music Council in 1954.
    Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
    The term can be applied to music that has been evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular and art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of a community.
    The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character.
Is this definition open to improvement, and do you have any suggestions as to how it can be improved. Dick Miles


21 Sep 07 - 04:06 AM (#2154091)
Subject: RE: Isthe1954definition,open to improvement
From: PMB

It excludes most "folk music" played and sung these days, as major (the major?) transmission mechanisms are recorded material, whether written or electronic.

I don't know why they needed the qualification of "popular" on music which has not been re- created. And if re- creation is a major criterion, most jazz, other than the strictest New Orleans variety, would qualify as folk. Unless of course you define "community" to exclude (jazz) musicians.

Or to put it another way, why bother trying to define a process as a static object?


21 Sep 07 - 04:13 AM (#2154093)
Subject: RE: Isthe1954definition,open to improvement
From: Les in Chorlton

Oh, bring me my tools of misunderstanding
Where is my spear of sarcastic rhetoric
With the unavoidable opportunity to open old wounds
And deliver me the utter joy of personal abuse kindled afresh
Without a care in the world for a perfectly reasonable request

(Jones 2007 ©)


21 Sep 07 - 05:03 AM (#2154109)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Richard Bridge

Nice to see an intelligent discussion on this, but how long will the horse brigade stay away?

I suggest that the point about "popular" was that it was the most likely source of taint, and that rather than simply deleting that word, it should be replaced by the words and symbols "popular (or other)"

Much jazz would I think fail branch (i) of the 1954 definition but "trad" jazz would get within it and IMHO rightly so since it is the "folk" music of a particular part of the community. The borderline could get a bit iffy though!

This particular form of the definition does not require that the work should be of no known authorship, and so long as the other branches of the test are satisfied that might be a good idea and resolve part of the argument with the ARSS tribe.

The consequence would be that (for example) "Fiddlers Green" and "Ride On" would then be "folk".


21 Sep 07 - 05:29 AM (#2154120)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,doc.tom

Well said Richard! The IFMC were happily going with thier definition when Douglas Kennedy, the then Director of EFDSS, proposed the addition of the third paragraph. It addresses, specifically, the issue of contemporary popular music - very well in my opinion. To quote my own PhD (sorry!)

"It is debateable that there had been 'a community uninfluenced by popular and art music in England for several centuries. The three 'factors' given in paragraph one of the definition, together with the 're-fashioning' and 're-creation' cited in the third paragraph, are important aspects of the definition. They actually focus not on the music but on the performer and, crucially, define him or her as creator rather than copyist - even though the material may be received, rather than invented by the performer(s). The definition distinguishes between this and meterial that has been 'taken over ready made' - and thus suggests that manner or style of performance mat be at least as important as the content. The question of context appears to be crucial to any definition of folk material although this is not considered within the IFMC definition which seems to have assumed the retention and performance of the material only within the communities within which it was 'discovered'. The IFMC definition also precludes any newly written material being classed as 'folk' until, and unless, it has undergone the process of 're-fashioning' and 're-creating."

The people who created the definition knew what they were talking about (I don't mean they were correct, just that they understood what they were talking about!) - and it was very different to what the folk revival calls folk! I don't see how their definition can be improved - for a contemporary definition we would need to take a new starting point!

But it's fun trying - and people undoubtedly will.

Tom


21 Sep 07 - 06:03 AM (#2154129)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

It depends what you mean by "improvement". Does that mean, "broadening the definition to include some other stuff you like that you heard a girl singing with a guitar at a folk festival"?
A definition defines what it attempts define.An improvement, surely, would be to narrow and make a definition more precise and less open to ambiguity.I wouldn't consider it an improvement to a definition to broaden it hugely from what the people were attempting to define in the process.
If you say " a biggish animal, somewhat horse-shaped, covered in broad black and white stripes in an irregular pattern", well that's a definition of a zebra. You could of course change that definition by adding "or a very tall animal with an irregular pattern of brownish blotches separated by paler lines, with two little horn things. This would clearly change the defintion, by including giraffes within the definition of zebras. Whether you consider this an "improved" definition is an open question.
   I consider the definition of folk music as quoted above a pretty valiant attempt to get to grips with a very fluid mental construct. As mentioned earlier by doc.tom, it is not all that sound on context as opposed to content.But it is a useful definition.We all know there is a difference between a shepherd singing "Searching for Lambs" and a football crowd singing the latest rude chant on the one hand, and the Halle Orchestra or the Spice Girls on the other. We know there is a difference, even though you could come up with things that sit mid way on the spectrum between the two.The 1954 definition is a good bash at saying just what that difference is. Enlarging the definition to include some other stuff you happen to like as well serves no useful purpose that I can see.


21 Sep 07 - 06:17 AM (#2154135)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,Shimrod

I propose that we 'cut the Gordian knot' and replace the IFMC definition with the one implied by the 'Folk' section of my local branch of HMV:

ie. 'Folk music is any sort of 'acoustic' music, although it excludes 'acoustic' 'Country Music' and includes 'Folk Rock'. The term also embraces any sort of music which doesn't fit in any other category, for example the music of military bands.'

There! That should keep many of the contributors to this board happy, and they can now perform anything they like in a folk club (although why they should seem to need permission from 'higher authority' to do so continues to puzzle me).


21 Sep 07 - 06:31 AM (#2154141)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

I appaud Shimrod's last paragraph. I recall folk clubs in my youth, when I went to such places. Lots of people performed folk music, and for a nice change people occasionally slipped in bits of Dowland lute music, Django/Grappelli type duets, songs they had written about nuclear disarmament/girls friend's departure etc, The Flight opf the Bumble Bee" on the fiddle, the Overture to William Tell on the penny whistle or a bit of redhot Scott Joplin or boogie if there was a piano in the corner etc etc. I enjoyed it all, but did not therefore feel that all the music had to be called "folk music".Some I felt was, some wasn't, some maybe. That's always suited me fine.But it doesnt mean I want to find folk magazines full of reviews of performances of Rossini.


21 Sep 07 - 06:41 AM (#2154145)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

I did not suggest improving it to include, any of my personal
favourites,or anybody elses favourites,Nor has anyone else suggested that.
Neither is every football chant/song rude[Fields of Athenry][youll never walk alone].[the red red robin][I am forever blowing bubbles]or the Norwich city football song.
Richard Grainger was also commissioned to write one for Middlesborough FC which extolled the players skills.
The definition does not take into consideration the use of the computer, Mudcat itself is a community,As is every forum on the internet,so it could be argued that the definition is outdated.
Fiddlers Green is already considered by many ordinary citizens to be folk.
Language and Society are constantly changing [dictionary definitions get altered],Folk music is also by its very nature changing.


21 Sep 07 - 06:42 AM (#2154146)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Les in Chorlton

Argh, "folk clubs". Different beast entirely.

I always intend to sing a traditional song, a serious one even, maybe a mining disaster or one with dead sailors or maidens. When it's my turn I am following 3 singer-songwriters who have serious relationship issues, (I paraphrase)so I sing a daft song to avoid generating another mass-suicide attempt.

The point being? Dunno really, something about the audience to which we perform?

I went to Cecil Sharp House once, avoided daft songs and played Adderbury-Black Joke but couldn't help explaining that it was one of the many morris tunes the Bob Dylan had collected on his early visits and later used for his own songs.

The old songs are a joy but the audience at folk clubs are many and strangely varied none more so than when we stand up to sing the Lyke Wake and stare them in the face.

But the basic definition will be ok until somebody gets seriously stuck into it.


21 Sep 07 - 07:13 AM (#2154159)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: TheSnail

I'm sorry for asking, but what would you do with a perfect definition if you had one?


21 Sep 07 - 07:14 AM (#2154160)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

"Folk music is also by its very nature changing".You said it, Cap'n. Clearly that change is part of your personal definition of folk, as it is of mine. Other people, however, think defined pieces of music like the new product of a singer-songwriter can also be "folk". I, on the other hand, say "wait and see". Herein lies the difference that sets off the arguments.
    Dictionary definitions change, you point out.Of course. A dictionary definition attempts(in England at least) to explain how a certain word is used by present day writers and speakers. So naturally, as usage changes, it will need changing. But here, we are talking about the definition of a word, which in this case happens to be "folk". That is a completely different philosophical thing from defining a genre of music. One is a word, the other is a kind of music. Just as, in the analogy I used earlier, "zebra" is a word, and it is also an animal. So the definition of the word is a different thing from the definition of an animal, because words are different things from animals.
   To put the matter simply, "folk" is a category, and it is also a kind of music.You have to be clear in your head which you are talking about at any one time. One is a label on a record bin, one is a noise you hear with your ears.


21 Sep 07 - 07:16 AM (#2154163)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Les in Chorlton

Saver(?) it, wallow(?) in it, sorry I cannot spell most of these words, introduce it to all my friends, take it down the pub and give it a good time, take it to bed .................... no, sorry wrong website


21 Sep 07 - 07:27 AM (#2154168)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Ruth Archer

because of the wholesale co-opting of the term "folk" by the music industry (which has pretty much rendered it useless, as is exemplified by the definition at HMV), I would suggest that the 1954 definition now applies to what we think of as "traditional" (though as we all know, traditional singers were often influenced by the popular music of the day).

Folk means whatever you want it to mean.


21 Sep 07 - 08:22 AM (#2154194)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

Ruth, would it be sensible to redefine 1954 the definition ,replacing the word Folk with Traditional?
Would not some Country music,be covered by Clause [111]
if it is,that might be a good reason for redefining,if it is possible to find better wording.


21 Sep 07 - 08:28 AM (#2154198)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Ruth Archer

To be honest, Dick, there will always be people who take exception to aspects of such a definition, no matter what you call it.

Not that I am particularly iconoclastic (oh, that's right, I am), but the minute someone provides an institutionalised definition of a music genre, I instinctively want to kick out against it as a matter of principle.


21 Sep 07 - 08:40 AM (#2154209)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

Folk as process, or folk as product? Completely different concepts, completely different definitions. Does it really matter? Not a lot, except if someone earmarks some lottery money for folk music. Then everyone wants to be folk musicians.
It could be worse. We could be discussing just why some people call Jamie Cullen jazz.


21 Sep 07 - 09:41 AM (#2154237)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Uncle_DaveO

One change that might be an improvement would be a clarification of "community" as referred to in the definition.

I don't know how one is to get around the problem of "uninfluenced by popular and art music". As someone pointed out above, it would be hard to find such a condition in today's world, or even in the world of many yesterdays.

Dave Oesterreich


21 Sep 07 - 10:10 AM (#2154249)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST, Sminky

I agree that the 1954 definition is probably adequate for 'traditional' music.

However, because of its emphasis on the 'creative process' (oral transmission etc), failing to foresee the rapid changes in recording/storage technology of today (or indeed of tomorrow), it falls short as a definition for what came/comes after.

I've always found the concept that a song must change before it can be accepted as a folksong as rather bizarre. If, in 200 years time, people still sing a Bob Dylan song unaltered then, IMO, that's still a folksong. (BTW I chose Dylan deliberately because I don't happen to like his music).

I am not going to suggest an alternative definition because that too will become obsolete in time. Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past.


21 Sep 07 - 10:17 AM (#2154254)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Peace

The only people who do not 'recreate' music are hermits and monks. If you are (one is) a capable musician, then you WILL be influenced by anything and everything y'ever heard. That is hard to get away from.


21 Sep 07 - 10:36 AM (#2154266)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

Uncle Dave O: you have a problem with the"uninfluenced by popular and art music" part of the definition. But that is only in the first part of the relevant sentence. The second part covers folk music in communities where the condition does not apply. They weren't totally stupid when they drew up document, they were perfectly aware that folk music reacted with other forms.
   I have plenty of problems with the definition, and can think of ways it can be modified. But what I am totally sure of is that it is a legitimate attempt to define a branch of music which is distinctively different from some other forms.And "folk" was the word they chose for that branch of music. It's not an old term, it was deliberately coined as a means of classifying the music.Zebras belong to a species, even if they don't use the words "zebra" or "species" themselves.
Tinkering with the definition, therefore, as far as I am concerned should merely tighten up the accuracy of the analysis. It should not broaden the category so as to make folk indistinguishable from other forms of music.
    But remember, folk is defined by a lot of things. There are three questions to ask: how was it made, what does it sound like, and what is it used for? Any one of the answers can make it folk.


21 Sep 07 - 10:41 AM (#2154272)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: s&r

I think any definition of folk will be modified by the folk process until it means what you want. If it matters, define it if not enjoy it

Stu


21 Sep 07 - 10:47 AM (#2154275)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST, Sminky

The only people who do not 'recreate' music are hermits and monks. If you are (one is) a capable musician, then you WILL be influenced by anything and everything y'ever heard. That is hard to get away from.

Maybe. But that's a matter for the individual and should not be a prerequisite for what defines a folksong.

BTW you need to add classical musicians to your list.


21 Sep 07 - 10:52 AM (#2154280)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: An Buachaill Caol Dubh

Interesting debate (as ever). I wonder would it be useful, as part of the process of arguing about the merits of definitions or discussing the qualities of products, to see what happens if we try the opposite tack; that is, define what "folk music", or what "traditional music" is/are NOT? (This is not to imply that "what's left over" can be categorized neatly). Just a thought that occurred.


21 Sep 07 - 10:55 AM (#2154282)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Peace

I agree. I think that 'defining' which pigeonhole to put the song in is good for collectors and scholars. Me? I'm just a guy who likes to play songs. So, really, I don't give a rat's ass.


21 Sep 07 - 10:55 AM (#2154283)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Peace

Sorry--post was for Sminky.


21 Sep 07 - 11:27 AM (#2154299)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST, Sminky

Me? I'm just a guy who likes to play songs. So, really, I don't give a rat's ass.

Me too Peace, (especially on a Friday afternoon). High fives all round!
Though I've an idea this debate is far from over....there are some notable absentees ;-)


21 Sep 07 - 11:30 AM (#2154302)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

The amusing thing about Greg Stephens earlier comment about favourites,is that of all the people on the uk folkscene.
I have consistently sung,99 percent, traditional material,even at times when it wasnt very fashionable.
And most of my favorite songs happen to be traditional.


21 Sep 07 - 12:02 PM (#2154327)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

Most of what I have recorded is of traditional origin too.The Boat Band's six albums have I think three "known composer" numbers on. Though the majority of my record collection is the opposite.What I mean is, I don't confuse "what I like" with "what I call folk".


21 Sep 07 - 12:11 PM (#2154333)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Bill D

Seems to me there is a difference between what you can get away with singing in many gatherings of those who consider themselves 'folk aficionados', and what was sung by those in an earlier day who didn't KNOW they were doing 'folk'.

I see several posts in which those who espouse a pretty broad definition also note the limits beyond which they would NOT consider certain music to be folk. Perhaps if we take all the definitions and combine them, almost nothing would be excluded.

I have tried for years to make the point that if you are going to use the word, it has to have a narrow enough meaning to be useful....otherwise, the category ends up just being "music"..(or "music *I* like").

   I have proposed more than once the concept of taking a bunch of music/songs and submitting them to some sort of analysis, such as greg stephens notes above..."There are three questions to ask: how was it made, what does it sound like, and what is it used for? Any one of the answers can make it folk.?"
   There could even be several more criteria, depending on whether you refine those 3 ...'age', 'anon', 'method of transmission'...etc..but the idea is there.
Given this concept, I'd guess that most of the songs in the Digital Tradition database would pass the test...that is, that most 'folk aficionados' would agree that they are 'folk/trad'.

Now...take a bunch of music that is not in the DT, but is widely heard done by people with guitars and much of which is written BY self-proclaimed folk aficionados, and you start to get some differences of opinion. You begin to get those "grey areas".
   At this point, it becomes a matter of what you can get away with. You know that there are some places and some groups where you will cause an uproar if you try to do music outside certain bounds.
So...are we just interested in deciding what grey areas will be tolerated in lots of places, or are we concerned with abstracting from all this a reasonably concise linguistic definition, like the 1954 attempt, which attempts to explain why those difference exist and keep the term narrow enough to have real usefulness?

We will go on singing the same songs...songs we like to sing: but maybe we can at least be more aware of their place in the hierarchy, even as we participate in the eternal process of 'processing' them INTO 'folk'. ...(I know *I* sing many songs which would not fit under the narrowest type of 'folk/trad', but I also know that I am deviating, and there are places & circumstances when I would avoid those from the grey area.)

So,,,is that convoluted enough?


21 Sep 07 - 12:16 PM (#2154337)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Ruth Archer

"I don't know how one is to get around the problem of "uninfluenced by popular and art music"."

Indeed. I'm reminded of the song "I'm a Romany Rai", which has been throughly adopted by the traveller community - of course, it started out as a music hall song. What about broadheets? Were they not popular music? They certainly weren't being disseminated orally...

The idea of some pristine community untouched by popular culture is a load of romanticised nonsense, surely.


21 Sep 07 - 12:56 PM (#2154365)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

IN THESE HARD TIMES,a fine song but a music hall composition[Weston and Lee]?,strictly speaking it fails the 1954 definition,yet it has been recorded by Roy Bailey and is frequently heard at folk festivals/clubs.,and stylistically fits
GENTLE ANNIE,written by Stephen Foster and originally a popular/art song ,has become a folksong?
,because it has acquired additional australian verses,or is it still an art song.


21 Sep 07 - 01:00 PM (#2154368)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

At this point in the proceedings, someone generally introduces another angle: is a folk song necessarily folk music? For example, I am sure we all agreee with the statement that the version of the Foggy Dew as sung by Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten accompanying him on the piano is "a folk song". But is a recording of that performance(or the live performance) "folk music"? Or, for that matter, "folk song"? Or is it just "music of folk origin"? Hmm, some doubt creeps in,doesn't it?


21 Sep 07 - 01:05 PM (#2154371)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: TheSnail

Black Joke mentioned by LesinChorlton was a (very smutty) "pop" song in 1730. @displaysong.cfm?SongID=669


21 Sep 07 - 01:15 PM (#2154376)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,John Garst

The 1954 definition would eliminate from consideration most of what people, even scholars, consider to be American folk music.

I think that definition is best forgotten.


21 Sep 07 - 01:19 PM (#2154378)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Les in Chorlton

Greg, what an idea: "music of folk origin". Oh yes! We can have the MOFO Awards!

And the MOFO Award for a song with one toenail in the morris tradition and another in a pre-christian fertility rite goes to .................


21 Sep 07 - 01:19 PM (#2154379)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego

I don't dispute the definition - it is what it is. But, if that is our standard, much of what we have been hearing and performing over the past 50-60 years or more will have been disqualified as "composed." Though I have affection for many of them, I seriously doubt that there is, in reality, a very broad audience for songs that spring only from the oral tradition. They are for scholars to pursue; a rather arcane pursuit for a passionate few. To be frank, for most modern audiences, even in the coffee house venues, you can only do songs like Barbara Allen or The Golden Vanity so many times before eyes begin to roll back in the audience's heads.


21 Sep 07 - 01:23 PM (#2154380)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

I don't follow you, John Garst. I have a huge record collection of American folk music, and it fits the definition perfectly in every respect. From Leadbelly to Charlie Poole, Robert Johnson to Georgian Island singing, Jean Richie ballads to chain gang songs. All straight from that definition. Wonderful music. Pure folk. How do you mean that most American folk music doesn't fit?


21 Sep 07 - 01:25 PM (#2154382)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

TJ: I thought we were trying to define folk, not discussing whether or not people want to hear it in coffee bars.


21 Sep 07 - 01:36 PM (#2154393)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,countrylife

"Definition of Folk Music ,decided by the International Folk Music Council in 1954."

well there's those that perform and those that have meetings about musical definitions

" a perfect definition if you had one?"

there isn't any such animal.


21 Sep 07 - 01:43 PM (#2154400)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: dick greenhaus

Why not just leave it as it is, and make up a new category for the composed stuff?


21 Sep 07 - 01:46 PM (#2154402)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Borchester Echo

Well, of course, Black Joak is qute obtusely smutty and all about people doing what they do.
It's going to feature on the next Morris On recording by the Jim Moray 3: Black Joak, so it's bang up to date.

I've defined what f*lk music is, many times. If you have any interest in knowing what I said, look it up. It was mainly in the context of what tossers like Smoothops try to lay down in the context of the Folk Awards and is therefore of little consequence.

However, in repy to the Californian person above who decries performance of Barbara Allen and The Golden Vanity, just what sort of venues are you frequenting at which audience's attention begin to roll? I wonder just how these amazing songs are being portrayed. These are two of he most significant songs in English social history. To become platitudinal, if people don't understand where they have come from, however can they know where they are going?


21 Sep 07 - 01:50 PM (#2154407)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Bill D

There IS one, Dick.."Singer-songwriter",,,it just ain't short & catchy enuf to put on their sign. So they use that 'short' word, whether it fits or not.


21 Sep 07 - 01:51 PM (#2154408)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Richard Bridge

It seems to me quite a number of people are not taking a balanced reading of the definition given above by the good Captain before weighing in with criticism.


21 Sep 07 - 02:08 PM (#2154429)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,Russ

The concept of "Folk" has consistently been exclusionary and usually evaluative in a positive way.

As in
"folk" good.
"non-folk" bad, or less valuable, less worthy, etc.

I know this is hard to believe if you've heard the term "folk music" being used pejoratively. That's a fairly recent phenom.

The history of the concept is quite interesting.

It has never been value-neutral.

That said, it's never surprising when a definition of "folk" excludes large swaths of musical terrain.

In the definition above note the implicit contrast between
"folk" and "popular." Now that's a real can of worms.

Russ (permanent GUEST)


21 Sep 07 - 02:43 PM (#2154447)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego

Sorry to create such a maelstrom with my comments. For all of you who are passionate about folk music, as opposed to slickly produced and packaged compositions, I certainly have no brief. In truth, I'm not judging what should or should not be played in any venue, just taking stock of the fact that folk music that adheres to the stated definition has a fairly narrow audience when compared to pop, country, jazz or classical music. Since the advent of recorded music, I suppose it has always been that way. Horses for courses, I supposes.

And, by the way, I happen to love both the songs I mentioned, and have often done them myself. It's the audiences who seem to have less patience these days for traditional pieces. And, I must admit, I can only judge from local experience in recent years. I truly hope you have had a better one.


21 Sep 07 - 03:55 PM (#2154478)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,John Garst

I don't follow you, John Garst. I have a huge record collection of American folk music, and it fits the definition perfectly in every respect. From Leadbelly to Charlie Poole, Robert Johnson to Georgian Island singing, Jean Richie ballads to chain gang songs. All straight from that definition. Wonderful music. Pure folk. How do you mean that most American folk music doesn't fit?


21 Sep 07 - 04:00 PM (#2154483)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,John Garst

I don't know how the previous message got sent without my sending it, but there it is, just a copy of what Greg Stephens wrote without any attribution, as if it were mine, which it isn't, obviously. Sorry.

Greg Stephens wrote:

"I don't follow you, John Garst. I have a huge record collection of American folk music, and it fits the definition perfectly in every respect. From Leadbelly to Charlie Poole, Robert Johnson to Georgian Island singing, Jean Richie ballads to chain gang songs. All straight from that definition. Wonderful music. Pure folk. How do you mean that most American folk music doesn't fit?"

The first line of the definition reads, "Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission."

If this means that folk music relies solely on oral tradition, then we don't have any such music.

I haven't really read the thread, but I'm certain that others must have made this point already.


21 Sep 07 - 06:16 PM (#2154573)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

John Garst: what the definition actually says is"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission ". You completely reinterpret this as"If this means that folk music relies solely on oral tradition, then we don't have any such music". Of course it doesnt mean that, it means what it says. "A musical tradition that has evolved through the process of oral transmission".Of course that applies to American folk music. Are you seriously claiming that no American music has ever been performed by one person to another, without the intermediaries of microphone and record? Have a look at the definition, even better have a think about what it means, than come back and tell us your opinion..


21 Sep 07 - 06:19 PM (#2154575)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Richard Bridge

Quite so Greg.

Other points attempted above suffer from similar mis-reading.


21 Sep 07 - 06:41 PM (#2154587)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Tootler

Greg Stephens wrote in part,

Of course it doesnt mean that, it means what it says. "A musical tradition that has evolved through the process of oral transmission".Of course that applies to American folk music. Are you seriously claiming that no American music has ever been performed by one person to another, without the intermediaries of microphone and record?

At the time the definition was drawn up, I suspect, though I have no way of proving it, that the authors of the definition were likely as much concerned with written records as they were with audio records.

I was a little uncomfortable about the oral transmission part of the definition but if you think of this as a folklorists or collectors definition it makes perfect sense. They will be concerned with trying to capture the songs and tunes that were stored only in peoples heads. Once a person who had a store of songs in their head died then those songs might be lost unless they could be captured and a record made of the song - this was of course the concern of Sharp and his contemporaries and of other collectors since. Once the songs had been committed to some other "more permanent" medium they would not be lost if the only person who knew that song died. Anything that had been previously written down was not lost.

However as a singer, while the definition is useful, it is not the whole story.

Also there is the thorny issue of the Broadside Ballads and other written down popular music.

Rather than refer to "improving the definition" I think it might be better to talk about revising it to reflect changing circumstances. Like any definition it always has fuzzy edges and it should be revisited from time to time.


21 Sep 07 - 07:02 PM (#2154594)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: McGrath of Harlow

I can't see that the expression "oral transmission" needs to be taken as excluding recorded performances, or pen and paper or print or computer screens, as part of the chain. People can learn a song from anywhere - what matters is what happens next as they sing it and pass it on. That's where "the process of oral transmission" come in.

Still seems a pretty good definition to me. 1954? What's fifty or so years, after all?

I think about the only thing I'd alter would be that in "The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged" I'd remove the word "popular".


22 Sep 07 - 02:15 AM (#2154761)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

The IFMC were happily going with thier definition when Douglas Kennedy, the then Director of EFDSS, proposed the addition of the third paragraph. It addresses, specifically, the issue of contemporary popular music.
Douglas Kennedy must have attended the congress in his capacity,asDirector of EFDSS.
EFDSS remit then, as it is now,was the preservation, encouragement promotion of International Dance and English Song[please note English Song]not International song.
Music includes both dance and song,yet his input effectively,affected International Folksong which was not his concern.other than how English Folk song was affected.
Tootler, you are quite right,revising would be better.


22 Sep 07 - 05:08 AM (#2154800)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: steve_harris

I think the definition started off very promisingly - then it rather unnecessarily excludes certain pop music. That detail probably originates in the organisational politics of the time.


22 Sep 07 - 06:29 AM (#2154821)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Richard Bridge

The trap many seem to be falling into is that there is an undistributed middle between the second and third paragraphs.

What happens to composed music (I suppose that must include all music, mustn't it) that is taken over by the community (I wonder what the words "ready-made" add?) and re-fashioned or re-created and written down (I wonder what forms of writing are necessary).

If the refashioned form remains unwritten, then it seems the work becomes folk, within the definition, and that would presumably satisfy many of the "horse" brigade since thier football chants etc, based on composed songs but with lyrics that incite violence tend to remain unwritten in that form.

But if "writing" includes recording as well as manuscript (and it does for many copyright purposes) then when John Barden re-arranges "Slipjigs and reels" and the rest of us tag along - it's folk, and then when he records it it isn't.

When Barden, Kenneth Ingham, and I do the "belter" version of "Ride on" (in A minor) an everyone goes along with it, it's "folk" within the definition, but when Fiddlefit do thier version (a very different timing, and with an added middle verse" - because they wrote the middle verse down it isn't folk? Something is awry in this middle area, concerning the way in which composed music (not a very happy term) becomes modified and adopted into the community and may or may not become "folk".

A consequence of this adoption mechanism is that the musical tests, and the statements that folk songs occur only in certain modes (see, for example Oxford Dictionary of music) have to become wrong, for the adoption process may bring in any musical form or mode.   

When Fiddlefit take


22 Sep 07 - 08:30 AM (#2154852)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: MarkAustin

Two points.

First, the 1954 definition seems to me perfectly reasonable except for what is, I feel, an over-emphasis on oral transmission. At its strictest this definition would exclude the Copper family: who had all there songs written down in a book, and thus not transmitted orally. Don't exactly know how i'd improved the definition: something like mediated or modified, by an oral process, making the point that it is not oral *transmission* that is important, but oral *interpretation*. Slightly off-topic, at a concertina beginners workshop I was helping with a few years ago, I got into a minor disagreement with the (classically trained) leader by stating that the notes, as written, were a guide and not a gospel. That's the sort of thing I mean.

Secondly, Captain Birseye said "[the] EFDSS remit then, as it is now,was the preservation, encouragement promotion of International Dance and English Song[please note English Song]not International song.". Actually it was the other way round. EFDSS was formed by a merger between the Folk Song Society - which always had an international remit - and the English Dance Society - which saw itself as preserving the dances of England.

Mark Austin


22 Sep 07 - 08:55 AM (#2154861)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Richard Bridge

Mark you have not carefully read the 1954 definition. The songs in Brasser's song book were already folk songs when written down by Brasser, and the 1954 definition does not exclude them. Indeed, even if they were popular songs and taken over ready made by a community they would still become folk songs unless they remained unchanged. You have been beguiled by the undistributed middle of which I spoke.


22 Sep 07 - 09:14 AM (#2154872)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: greg stephens

Mark Austin: you are a bit confused. Of course Brasser did not change the nature of the music by writing it down, and of course the definition(as pointed out earlier more than once) nowhere says transmission has to be only oral. That would be nonsensical, which is why it doesn't say it.
In practise, by the way, within the Copper family, I would say transmission has been oral as far as I know. The songs are learned by singing. The books are used as an aide-memoire.


22 Sep 07 - 09:55 AM (#2154891)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

Mark,re EFDSS remit,I was of the same opinion as yourself ,until I was gunned down by Derek Schofield and John Adams,.
Now I hardly dare mention the word EFDSS,In case Folkie Dave admonishes me for crimes against the Society.


22 Sep 07 - 11:28 AM (#2154941)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Kent Davis

Isn't the purpose of a definition to clarify communication? How would changing the 1954 definion clarify communication?
If we wish to talk or write about something that fits the 1954 definition, then we have precisely the word we need. If we want to talk or write about something that doesn't fit that definition, then we can use other terms.   
Suppose we are trying to talk about violins. Suppose further that I have updated my definition of "violin" to include violas, cellos, and basses.
Wouldn't you rather I say "violin" when I mean "violin" and say "bowed instrument" when I mean "bowed instrument"?
Kent


22 Sep 07 - 11:33 AM (#2154943)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: McGrath of Harlow

Or, of course, "fiddle" - which would cover all those instruments. "FIDDLE. A colloquial term for any kind of bowed string instrument, especially the violin" (The Oxford Companion to Music.)


22 Sep 07 - 11:42 AM (#2154950)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: McGrath of Harlow

As the unsuccesful song collector said to explain his lack of success on a field trip in Norway "I never heard a Norse sing."


22 Sep 07 - 11:53 AM (#2154958)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Borchester Echo

Norse horses?
Nah, you've got to go to the Baltic states:

Singing Ponies

Gawd, how many times have I posted this?


22 Jul 13 - 08:49 AM (#3540239)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

but borchester you are not supposed to possess a sense of humour, how dare you break out from the way you have been stereo typed.


22 Jul 13 - 09:23 AM (#3540244)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Mr Red

putting my head above the parapet.

Surely the buying of CDs LPs etc etc is what folks do. ie Folk.
The contents of those media are commercial fare. Some of it even popular.

Singers & musicians in pubs and at folk festival sessions & SAR are Folk.
Headline acts are entertainment.

If someone selling says it is Folk - it probably ain't.
If the Folks in the pub are singing they mostly ain't calling it Folk they is filling their hearts, they is singing!

Folk is what Folk does. Light bulb jokes are Folk, because there is not much commercial value in it and thereby is an oral tradition. And given it has gone out of fashion, by and large, adds more credence to my (most earnest) assertion.

Is Music Hall (Burlesque) Folk? Now it is not part of "Popular" culture but is part of what can be heard in Folk Clubs - probably.

Whatever we do here, please don't ask an estate agent (realtor) or marketing guy for a definition.

Q. How many Folkies does it take to change Folk?



A. At least one generation, probably 2.


22 Jul 13 - 09:35 AM (#3540250)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Airymouse

Looks like a pretty good definition to me, but a good many respondents have disliked "oral tradition". Perhaps "aural tradition" would be better. That would cover a fiddle tune learned by watching the fiddle player and listening, but not talking to the fiddler. Also it would cover all those field recordings of folk songs that would have been lost had they not been recorded.
My definition of a folk song, which is not an improvement on the given definition, is that a folk song is a non-degenerate equivalence class of tunes and words hand down aurally from generation to generation, where two sets of words and tunes are equivalent provided any reasonable person on hearing both would say,"the words are different and the tunes are different, but they are obviously the same song".


22 Jul 13 - 03:23 PM (#3540443)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Steve Gardham

There have been several threads covering this general subject since 07. At the risk of repeating myself:-
a) like most languages ours is constantly evolving and word meanings change and get new meanings all the time.
b) Many words in the dictionary have a whole range of meanings, some overlapping.

We should consider the word 'folk' in the same way. What was useful in 54 is still very useful to many of us on this forum today, myself included, but I'm afraid we've been somewhat overtaken. The media and hence 'the folk' now have quite a different concept of the word. We can't fight that. You either need to change the word that is covered by 54 or just accept that words can have different meanings to different groups of people. I don't have a problem with any of this.


22 Jul 13 - 03:26 PM (#3540446)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Steve Gardham

Sorry, Dick
I should have addressed your question. I have happily used it for 50 years and don't see any need to 'improve' it now. Early improvements were made when they took out the silly clause about known composers and that's the only quibble I would have had.


22 Jul 13 - 04:36 PM (#3540485)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

The folk in my experience generally consider folk to be the wild rover, the Spinners, Kilgarry mountain, the Dubliners, DIRTY OLD TOWN.
I once heard that Carthy was described as that JAZZ SINGER by a snooker player, when bonny lass of angelsea came on the juke box


22 Jul 13 - 08:26 PM (#3540575)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Bill D

How DID you come to resurrect a 6 year old thread in order to pursue a point?


22 Jul 13 - 08:59 PM (#3540587)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: dick greenhaus

Te study of folk music has so many facets that any attempt to provide a single definition is fairly ludicrous. The 1954 definition addresses only the transmission of lyrics. By that definition, Greensleeves, which survived only in books is not a folk song.


23 Jul 13 - 03:05 AM (#3540668)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Bert

Hey, the true definition.

If it is on Mudcat, it is Folk!!!


23 Jul 13 - 04:50 AM (#3540691)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Big Al Whittle

I've been thinking of a title for a collection of my 'funny' songs. funny as in comedy....

Vulgar Incursions (into the Great Middle Class Artform of Folk Music...)

I think you should re-define folk music. I'm fed up with being a vulgar incursion. And try as I might....I can't Help resenting it. for myself and dozens of other dedicated artists who have pissed their lives up the wall in folk clubs trying to come up with something more reflective of the society we live in.


23 Jul 13 - 06:48 AM (#3540715)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Mr Red

Was it Dr Johnson or the first editor of the OED that defined the English language along these lines:

It has a large circumference has a very definite and well recognised centre, but as you approach the periphery it becomes nebulous to the point that you cannot see what is and isn't inside.

Not a definition of Folk but a good description of the definition.

If the concept is sufficiently large to sustain sub-divisions can we accept the concept of trad Folk and "modern" Folk? along with the myriad: Song, music, custom, story, joke, (etc) on a second dimension. I am sure we could introduce a third axis (at least) say - timescale.

Given the way it is discussed here it is obviously multi-dimensonal. More rounded if you like. Whatever - Folk doesn't have blinkers. folk do.


23 Jul 13 - 07:58 AM (#3540736)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,Howard Jones

Dick, why have you resurrected these old threads on the 1954 Definition?

It was devised by academics to define an area for study. Since academics enjoy dancing on the heads of pins even more than folkies, I would be surprised if it hasn't been discussed, modified and maybe even improved over the last 59 years. However it was never intended to define what is, or "should be", performed in folk clubs, or to help record stores to decide on what shelf to put albums.

It is common for words to have different meanings for different groups of users. As a rule, specialists and professionals need to use language more precisely in order to differentiate matters which are of little interest to the non-specialists. It may be myth that Eskimos have 40 words for snow, but skiers and mountaineers certainly have several. I can get by with describing a tool as a "file" or a "saw", but plumbers and carpenters need to know exactly what type. "Folk" is no different - we need (or would like) it to have a narrower meaning than that used by the general public, while academics need an even more precise definition. These meanings are different layers of the onion, they are not in competition with each other.

I think the 1954 definition is a useful tool to help describe and explain what characterises the music, but it does not limit my choice of what material I consider appropriate to perform.


23 Jul 13 - 08:45 AM (#3540748)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

Howard, why should I not resurrect this thread, this is a forum for discussing folk music, if people do not wish to discuss it thay do not have to participate.
bill d and howard, is that clear enough., if you do not like it go somewhere else


23 Jul 13 - 02:42 PM (#3540898)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Steve Gardham

Calm down, Dick.
They were only asking a simple question out of curiosity presumably, not criticising necessarily.

The 54 definition has been done to death, but asking about improvements is a valid twist regardless of how long ago the question was asked.

There are also new people to Mudcat who might be interested in joining in.


23 Jul 13 - 07:05 PM (#3540973)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

I am calm, it is not necessary in my opinion to ask such a question, it is simple either contribute to a thread or do not contribute.


23 Jul 13 - 08:46 PM (#3541004)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Big Al Whittle

No its the best definition in the world and serves the purpose wonderfully of everybody who thinks folk music stopped in 1914. Everybody who has lived since then and has tried to express themselves to other people is basically infra dig, and not worth shit.


24 Jul 13 - 03:30 AM (#3541086)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Gibb Sahib

Howard Jones is right. "1954 definition" was an academics' concept. Since then, academics have refined, scrapped, moved on, whatever. 1954 definition is irrelevant aside from when you are doing an historiography, or a study of the development of the concept (like a meta-study).

If one rejects academics, great. But if one rejects academics and they want to use this "1954 definition", then what does that make them? Quasi-academic, I suppose. It's like, I'm kinda sorta into history...but not really...so I read some out-dated and out-moded history book from the 50s.

1954 Definition is all about this sort of quasi-academic nature of much of the "Folk Music" enthusiast culture. It's like people want to simultaneously proclaim that they don't have any "book larnin'" because that would taint them somehow, or being something that "elites" (= non-folkies) do, but at every turn that also want to proclaim their deep knowledge of so and so song, and start performances with preambles that take twice the time it takes to actually sing a song.

1954 definition is like the "old" 1990s computer sitting in your house that you can kind of get to work to check basic email and do some word processing and which, for one's purposes "is fine." That's OK, if it really is fine for you. If you try to do much else with it though, you're in for some frustration. And chances are that rather than improve that computer, you'd just get a new model.


24 Jul 13 - 10:42 AM (#3541200)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: John P

I get the feeling that this thread isn't about the 1954 definition, but rather about people who don't like being told that traditional folk music is different than contemporary folk music. This distinction has nothing to do with the quality or value of any piece of music or any performance. It has nothing to do with what sort of music any musician should play -- except when a singer-songwriter wants to play in a club that focuses on traditional music. And that's still not about the 1954 definition, which most people who play and enjoy traditional music have never heard of and don't pay any attention to if they have. Except for scholarly pursuits, the 1954 definition has no relevancy in the real world. But traditional music, for all it is academically undefined for most of us, is still different than contemporary folk music, in much the same way that we don't need a definition of jazz to know that it's different than baroque music.

There seems to be a subtext that people who play traditional music ought to know and defend the 1954 definition. How silly.


24 Jul 13 - 01:30 PM (#3541255)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

The problem with internet communication is that words get misinterpreted [due to absence of body language].
I cannot see any subtext anywhere about defending the definition, I play trad music and I am not here defending or criticising the definition but trying to discuss the definition.
   traditional music is not necessarily different from contemporary music, let me give you some examples of contemporary songs that have been accepted by many as traditional, fiddlers green, dirty old town, thirty foot trailer, shoals of herring,manchster rambler[four from the master songwriter MacColl]


24 Jul 13 - 01:42 PM (#3541260)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Lighter

Mr Red, it was the OED.

It's an observation that applies to many subjects. Consider the meaning of "poetry" and "democracy."


24 Jul 13 - 04:36 PM (#3541332)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Steve Gardham

Okay,
for those who think the 54 description is outmoded or irrelevant:-

Amongst many other users of the words 'Folk Songs' are book editors and book buyers (nothing to do with academia). One of the most prestigious and sought-after anthologies to be produced recently in the English-speaking world is 'The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs'. It has no subtitle using the words 'traditional' or 'vernacular'. As far as I can see it has no songs in it written after 1900, and precious little in fact written after 1800. Also as far as I can see all of the material conforms to 54.

I don't remember anyone complaining about the usage of this title. Should the book have had a different title? Admittedly it was regurgitating a title first used in 1959, only 5 years after the definition.

I'm not trying particularly to defend 54 but just out of interest adding to the discussion. It's alright saying it is outdated etc. so then what would you alter?


24 Jul 13 - 05:21 PM (#3541343)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Big Al Whittle

We are the English.

We all live a yellow submarine.
And we live a life of ease
Every one of us does what we please......

which I think needs to be taken into account.


25 Jul 13 - 03:26 AM (#3541445)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

The 1954 definition, from its conception, has always been open to improvement - has there ever been a definition that hasn't?
The problem now is that the debate is divided between those who think there should be a definition and those who think there shouldn't -actually discussing what makes up the constituent parts of folk song has become a no-go area (I can't think of any other musical form that doesn't have a more-or-less generally accepted identification of its own).
In our (Pat Mackenzie's and mine) experience as collectors since the early 1970s, every field singer we asked produced a description of their own which more-or-less conformed with our own understanding of what a folk/traditional song was and was prepared to explain why they believed what they did.
None of these 'definitions' can be described as deeply analytically, intellectual or particularly well thought out but they came from how the songs related to the singers, their families, their neighbours.... - it was what the songs meant to them and what made them unique.
Probably some of the the most deeply thought out and articulate statements came from Norfolk singer, Walter Pardon.
I can't find the cutting at present but some years ago Jean Richie was interviewed by The Irish Times where she described how, when she was collecting in Ireland in the 1950s she was given all the pop songs of the past, indiscriminate of type, until she asked if they knew 'Barbara Allen' - "That's when all the beautiful old traditional songs and ballads began to pour out".
The problem is that while we sing the songs we really know very little of the tradition and what part it played in people's lives and consciousness simply because we never got round to asking them.
I believe Bert Lloyd was right when he wrote in 'Folk Song in England' in 1967.

"If "Little Boxes" and "The Red Flag" are folk songs, we need a new term to describe "The Outlandish Knight", "Searching for Lambs" and "The Coal-Owner and the Pitman's Wife".
In any case, no special mystical virtue attaches to the notion of folk song, grand as some folkloric creations may be. Show-business songs and labour hymns have their own qualities, and neither their mass connections nor their artistic character are satisfactorily suggested and emphasized by emotionally applying the description 'folk song' to them. Indeed, it could be argued that in some respects the term is belittling, seeing that folk song proper, modest article that it is, has neither the colossal acceptability of the commercial product nor the broad idealistic horizon of the political mass song."

One thing is certain - if you are going to be involved in any specific form of music, whether it is by writing about it, discussing or arguing about it, running a club to entice people in to listen to it... or simply telling your mates why you like it, you need some form of definition in order to pinpoint what you are referring to, and the deeper you become involved in it, the more specific that definition needs to be.
There's no rule to say that you have to "need" or accept any definition, but nobody should have the right to slag off or interfere in any way with the right of those of us who feel we do, as happens far too often during these discussions.
Jim Carroll


25 Jul 13 - 08:01 AM (#3541508)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Big Al Whittle

'
"If "Little Boxes" and "The Red Flag" are folk songs, we need a new term to describe "The Outlandish Knight", "Searching for Lambs" and "The Coal-Owner and the Pitman's Wife". '

Can't see why - they are all there in English folk clubs.


25 Jul 13 - 12:02 PM (#3541597)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

"Can't see why - they are all there in English folk clubs."
Oh dear (again) Al.
So if somebody sings 'Nessun Dorma' in a folk club it becomes a folk song - do I have that right?
Or, for that matter, if somebody sings Brigg Fair at the Royal Opera House it becomes an operatic aria - if only life (or people) were that simple!!
Can I assume that you are brighter than your remark and your posting was a wind-up?
Jim Carroll


25 Jul 13 - 12:59 PM (#3541625)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: The Sandman

I would have classified little boxes as a contemporary folk song, the red flag i would not have called a folk song, furthermore i cannot explain why.


25 Jul 13 - 01:12 PM (#3541631)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

Your choice Cap'n - not the argument here
Jim Carroll


25 Jul 13 - 07:54 PM (#3541747)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Big Al Whittle

Well I'm sorry Jim - but thats the way it works. some kid turns up at the folk club singing Beatles song and ten years later - they're telling you about what constitutes real folk music and which Childe Ballads are which.

And actually when Nessum Dorma is being sung on the football terraces - well yes it has become a sort of folk melody - certainly one that folk musicians will have a crack at, write variants of = add words to.

Folk music doesn't follow any sort of pattern = folk define it. Not some arsehole with an agenda.


26 Jul 13 - 01:50 AM (#3541834)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

Oh dear!!!
So it wasn't a wind-up!
I'm sure they'll find a cure one day Al
Jim Carroll


26 Jul 13 - 02:16 AM (#3541839)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

Actually - I believe it is a parody of Nessun Dorma that is sung on the terraces, which might have some claim to 'folk' - somehow I very much doubt if the habitués of The Kop have bothered to grasp the subtleties of Puccini's Italian.
Perhaps I'll invite you to the book-burning when I make a bonfire of our collection of the century-or- so's scholarship we've compiled by all those arseholes with an agenda -
By the way - the name's Child - not Childe (wasn't the other one Harold, not Francis J - but what's the spelling of the name of another agenda-driven arsehole between friends)
Jim Carroll


26 Jul 13 - 06:01 AM (#3541895)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,Big Al Whittle

mixed up with Childe Harold who to the dark tower came.....

Isn't that the point about folk - all kinds of songs and melodies are subsumed into the folk process.

Let's be honest Jim - this folk music business hasn't really worked out to the satisfaction of either of us. Which i think proves my point.

Its a capricious sort of spirit at the heart of folk music. Quite unbiddable by university departments, intellectuals of every political colour, composers like Britten, music industry moguls.....

And thank god for that.


26 Jul 13 - 06:27 AM (#3541901)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

"Isn't that the point about folk - all kinds of songs and melodies are subsumed into the folk process."
The 'folk process' has not operated in Britain for several generations - advance in technology, copyright laws and mass media communication has made sure of that.
We receive our culture ready made, vacuum-pack-wrapped, factory finished and legally protected, it has become a commodity rather than a commonly owned means of self expression.
Tinkering with the older songs in the greenhouse conditions of a handful of folk clubs has nothing whatever to do with the common ownership, re-adaptation re-making of songs that was once an essential part of our creative and reinterpretative culture - it is the "Fascinationg Pastime" of a few rather than the collective voice of many, as it once was.
Jim Carroll


26 Jul 13 - 06:52 AM (#3541906)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: johncharles

Bill Marwick's folk file; a wry look at this and other related subjects is worth a look.
The Folk File: a folkie's dictionary
folk process (see also oral tradition) the method of learning a song, forgetting some of it, adding bits of your own, and then teaching the song to someone else, complete with changes. This happens all the time, with the expected result that there are often no definitive versions of songs. Ancient publication doesn't mean much - if the song has been improved over the years, no one will go back to the authentic but inferior version, but still, the song retains its original form for centuries. john


26 Jul 13 - 08:13 AM (#3541922)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

"no one will go back to the authentic but inferior version, but still, the song retains its original form for centuries"
Sorry to disagree John - even assuming that anybody knew what the "authentic" version was, inferior or otherwise, that wasn't how it worked.
The survival and dissemination of these songs was entirely down to the universality of themes that enabled people from all over the English Speaking world to adapt them to suit their own situations and surroundings - a song from a fishing community in East Anglia was often adapted to suit say a farming area in Somerset, for interest.
That is, or rather was the 'folk' process, and it is basically what we have lost.
Forgetting and mishearing certainly was a part of the re-making of these songs, but the remade versions became just as 'authentic' as the original ones (perhaps "earlier" is a better word")   
I believe that "Improvement" was much more the trade-tools of the early collectors and anthologists rather than 'the folk' themselves.
Jim Carroll


26 Jul 13 - 09:16 AM (#3541952)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Musket

The folk process works fine.

If authentic means sounding like A L Lloyd or McColl cupping your finger in your ear... I put it to you that when Dave Burland many years ago sang The Boomtown Rats "I dont like Mondays" he started a huge debate by saying it ticked every box for a folk song, including being written by an Irish dude with an attitude and describing a high profile event the other side of the pond. The only difference between that and The Ballad of Springhill being err....

If I write a song about wanting to shag someone I have a crush on and sing it in a folk club, or write a song about the demise of steelworks in Scunthorpe and sing it in a working mens club, are either folk songs?

I reckon they both are, but thats because a) folk is a genre and b) I wasn't around to vote in 1954 so can dismiss it. Nobody owns the genre. Nobody at all.

If I sing a song in a folk club and people clap, then I can assume it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.


26 Jul 13 - 09:26 AM (#3541958)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: johncharles

Dear Jim, whether we have lost the folk process or not, is I believe, still up for debate. Here is an interesting paper by John Engenes on the subject.

folk process
john


26 Jul 13 - 09:37 AM (#3541962)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,dick greenhaus

Here's the much-discussed 1954 definiion:
"Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are:

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

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

PLease note that it makes no reference to the function of folksong in a society, nor to the style in which the music is played. It would also appear to exclude the performance-oriented arrangements of people like Carthy and Seeger.


26 Jul 13 - 09:50 AM (#3541967)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: johncharles

For those of an oral persuasion here is John Egenes explain his thesis.

folkprocess
john


26 Jul 13 - 10:34 AM (#3541995)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

"The authors of this article have elected, in the interests of open dissemination of scholarly work, to provide this article to you in open access format. This means that, in accordance with the principles of
the Budapest Open Access Initiative (http://www.soros.org/openaccess/), you may freely copy and redistribute this article provided you correctly acknowledge its authors and source, and do not alter its contents."
Thanks John - I'll read it through when I have enough time to give it the attention it appears to deserve.
A quick observation without pre-judging what John Engenes has to say.
I would be interested to hear your views on whether the internet has the same effect on say folk-song as print did when literacy became not just available but generally accepted; that of fixing the text so it remained unaltered. This was pretty much what we found in Ireland, especially during the time we spent with Mikeen McCarthy, the Kerry ballad seller (who was himself semi literate).
I was taken with the 'copyright' warning at the bottom of your link; applied to songs it would scupper any chance of them entering into any oral tradition - just a thought!
Best,
Jim Carroll

"The authors of this article have elected, in the interests of open dissemination of scholarly work, to provide this article to you in open
access format. This means that, in accordance with the principles of
the Budapest Open Access Initiative (http://www.soros.org/openaccess/), you may freely copy and redistribute this article provided you correctly acknowledge its authors and source, and do not alter its contents."


26 Jul 13 - 10:37 AM (#3541996)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: Jim Carroll

Blunder:
"If authentic means sounding like A L Lloyd or McColl cupping your finger in your ear"
It doen't.
"I can assume it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck"
Then it's probably a duck - doesn't make it a folk song though.
Jim Carroll.


26 Jul 13 - 02:57 PM (#3542107)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,Musket getting bored now

If I sing it in a folk club and call it a folk song it does. The quacking is possibly heckling.

To date, over 30 of my songs, sung by a variety of artistes for which I am grateful can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon MP3.

Go on, I bet you can't guess the genre they are under?

Ok. One or two under rock, one inexplicitly under country (!)

I intend to write a song about a duck between now and the next local run out, middle of next week. I'll let you know when it officially becomes a folk song.





Oh! When you feel down in the mouth
You've been rug munching a duck
Never my dear, go down south
Bill owners don't need a friend.

The bugger writes itself....


26 Jul 13 - 03:25 PM (#3542116)
Subject: RE: Is the 1954 definition, open to improvement?
From: GUEST,big al whittle

'It would also appear to exclude the performance-oriented arrangements of people like Carthy and Seeger. '

In that case, it really is nonsense. I can't see why something copywrighted and published can;t be a folksong. It just means the creator has a slim chance of getting paid for his work.

What folk do with the song when they have taken possession of it - that's what makes it folk music - in my view.

What are the advantages in excluding people and saying - your music is not folk music?