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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Tom Bliss The folk process and songwriting (75* d) RE: The folk process and songwriting 01 Dec 09

Stringsinger, it's not the topic which is confrontational, it was your choice of words which managed (as others have done here before) to imply some dishonesty by songwriters (including me - hence my rebuttal) in calling their work folk.

There is a completely legitimate definition of the word 'folk' which does encapsulate new material as well as old, and if you haven't noticed this by now then I can only suggest you've not been paying attention.

Just because someone refers to a new song as 'folk' does not mean they are claiming it is 'traditional'. If someone does, then I'd be right with you in asking them please not to devalue that word any faster than is strictly necessary - because we don't have any other word yet to describe the old oral process.

For most people - specially those in the USA and British people younger than 60 - the word 'traditional' now means what you choose to call 'folk.' And the word 'folk' means both 'traditional' and material that sounds a bit traditional, or is widely used within the 'folk' world (there are other uses as well). If you don't believe me, look the word 'folk' up in any online dictionary. The meaning has changed over time, and that's just a fact of life.

That said, there is a legitimate debate to be had about how new songs might in time become traditional (if ever), about how long the process may take (if ever), and about what the criteria might be (if any).

I agree it's important always to recognise the crucial difference between older material which was passed around and changed and adapted orally, (though may have come to a majority of people today through books and/or recordings), and newer material of which original recordings have been made. New songs may become much more widely known much more quickly than pre-recording era songs, but the existence of recorded versions will tend to slow down the speed at which they change. That's interesting and a valid area for discussion.

There is a second key point for debate: The way in which the old songs did first become traditional. They were written (or, some claim, emerged fully formed from some community by osmosis) and then picked up and passed around. We don't know how quickly they changed, but it's interesting for us writers to think about this and try to postulate on the process by comparing our own experiences - which is what is happening here.

There is a third point for discussion: Plenty of people will reasonably suggest that some modern songs have, in spite of the existence of original recordings, begun to enter some sort of modern equivalent of the oral tradition. Crucially different, because the world is a totally different place and the old methods have almost entirely die out, but still interesting and worthy of discussion. Examples might be Fiddlers Green and Ride On. Not the same process at that which gave is Lord Bateman or The Seeds of Love, but it's interesting and reasonable to compare and contrast.

The fourth point touches on your suggestion about research: There are plenty of writers working today who are deeply knowledgeable about old traditional songs, about folklore and the other disciplines you named. I'm not one of them but I'm no ignoramus either. These people often borrow modes, styles, phrases even whole lines from old songs when making new material. In my case you might compare the lineage of Rue (previously Oh No My Love Not I) or Gentle Maids Ashore - which is a small evolution within The Handsome Cabin Boy strand that tells a properly-researched true story from that era. Other writers go even further.

Again, its legitimate to discuss the relationship of this type of 'as new' material to the old, not least because we can be fairly sure that's exactly what 'song-menders' have been doing to old or damaged songs for centuries.

All of this is interesting and important. To come over all territorial about 'folk' and dismiss the whole idea of new material relating in any way to the various 'traditional' processes, and in insulting terms, is simply not helpful.


Sorry Jerry - but these things do need to be said. SS may not be interested in changing his/her attitude, but other more open-minded people reading might find it useful to have a better handle on the issues.

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