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Gibb Sahib What makes a new song a folk song? (1710* d) RE: What makes a new song a folk song? 04 Sep 14


(Sorry to cherry pick a couple points here; I have followed most of the thread, but not necessarily blow-by-blow.)

Perhaps it has been said already, but I understand the label "folk," in several of its uses, as a label to disambiguate (generally, mind you—not too specifically) by making clear what something is NOT rather than what it is.

There were certain assumed meanings (connotative) of what one meant, in the historical and cultural contexts in which meanings of "folk" were produced, of the unqualified terms "music" and "song." People identified something that was different, in some way(s), from other musical phenomena, labeled it, and then tried to enumerate or pick out the qualities of this exceptional music/song phenomenon that could said to be defining traits. By that point, you've created an abstraction. The abstraction is handy—but only in those contexts where the distinction is meaningful.

Both "academic" and "popular" users/audiences have enumerated the defining traits, but in different ways. The "popular" selection of traits is less formal or less conscious, whereas the "academic" selection has tried, at times, to be explicit. Yet both, again, are perspectives that function only in relation to other musical phenomena in their usual world of experience and discourse.

The 1954 definition, as I read it, comes out of the folk-song ideas (articulated several decades earlier) of the Cecil Sharp variety of song-collectors. It was formulated in relation to *English* [so-called] folk-song. and as such had value in making a distinction within that context. It seemed to work with some other European and Euro-American music-cultures, too. By "work" I mean it served as a reliable way of conveying to others, within a similar "world," that one was making a familiar distinction.

As one moves into different cultural spheres and different historical eras, that use of "folk" becomes less useful. It retained its usefulness, defined as such (1954) for several decades within its *limited* musical world. Many people used it beyond those limits and believe this was wrong; we can look at their work and critique this, or else show that their ideas were less insightful than they might of been had they become attuned to other music-cultures rather than applying assumptions from their own music-cuture to them.

Again, the 1954 usage retains validity, today, in its limited context. I am comfortable with Jim's use of "folk" (1954) in the context that he uses it. Indeed, I find it quite convenient to be able to engage Jim, in that context, and to have "folk" used to distinguish something.

It is an incorrect belief that “scholars" generally prefer to use "folk" in that way (1954). They may use it, as a matter of practicality, within that limited context, in which case they are in pretty safe territory - and even are being smart to do so and not overcomplicate. When they presume to do it outside that context they are making an error that in *this* era is barely acceptable. They show themselves as not really scholars at all. (I am judging the people of recent decades, not people of the early 20th century.) Please let us dispense, once again, with this caricature of "academics" who rigidly attach themselves to definitions that are impractical, do not attempt to capture reality, etc. These are not scholars, but rather scholars who suck.

I have done much work on music in Northern India/Pakistan. There, there is a discourse that includes the label "folk." Surprise! It doesn't mean the 1954 thing and it doesn't mean the "folk club" thing. It has developed in its own way, out of antiquarian European uses of "folk," to serve to make a distinction that is wanted in that particular cultural context. 1954 definition is useless because there is no explicit notion - not that I have discovered at least - of "the folk process." Of course, "music" changes over time; it's not an object. Duh! That is the case of music everywhere. But whereas in the 1954 Folk culture that idea of "the folk process" is viewed as quite special and quite lovely, in the Indian context it is undesirable. Many would prefer to think a song has gone unchanged. They would not celebrate the process of change, but rather try to reproduce the past form faithfully. Furthermore, essentially *all* music is learned aurally, without print mediation, and that includes so-called "classical" music. The label "folk" includes music that is both "simple" and "complex," and both that which is performed by "amateurs" and "professionals." The most essential trait of "folk" music in this context is that it is regional - it is particular to people of specific geographic-linguistic areas (similar to the "national music" definition of "volk" in early European use).

Now I know there are some that will have the urge to say that the Indians are wrong. They're using "folk" wrong! Some will believe, rather arrogantly I think, that they are capable of identifying the "folk" music in North India according to a 1954-style definition. But real scholars, in this day in age, do not do this. Instead, one works with both insider and outsider categories. Even when it comes to outsider categorization, it is not wise to use the non-neutral, baggage laden term "folk" if all you really want to say is that, for example, the custom is oral-transmission. Because now you're not just chatting with your buddies. You're not promoting to an audience that you can rather ethnocentrically but safely assume will mostly share your world view. You're trying to be clear and precise and without unwanted connotations. And "folk" is not the word to do that.

I can only define "folk" similarly to how one defines "unicorn," e.g. "A mythical being that some people think/thought runs around in the forest, etc." This doesn't prevent me from reading a story with a unicorn in it and understanding the story. I can see illustrations of unicorn and make the connection and, if asked, point and say, "That is a [picture of a] unicorn." I need to be able to do that to function in the cultural world in which the idea of unicorns exists. But I don't go around living my life expecting to run into a unicorn. It's a familiar conceptual thing, not a familiar real thing.


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