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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Jack (who is called Jack) Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters (89* d) RE: Folkies vs Singer/Songwriters 12 Jul 99


oops...hit the return key too soon.

This is a continuation of my post above.

I left off commenting on the two poles of opinion on this matter without being able to throw in my own two cents.

I tend to think both sides are wrong in their own way.

On one hand, singer-songwriters are typically not creating or performing folk music and probably shouldn't be called folk. This is the scientist/academic truth-seeker in me talking. The part that believes in proper defenitions, rigor, formality and all that stuff. On the other hand, while I'll concede some damage being done by the improper cross reference, I don't see the damage as all that great. Musicology still stands, still occupies its poorly funded and relatively obscure postion in academia, generally unknown to the public at large. Its not undergoing any kind of revolution to accomadate the public's misunderstanding. Nobody's writing texbooks on american folk music that include chapters on Jewel. Nobody's proposing appending American Songbag to include Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot songs. Furthermore, even though musicologists have a formal use for the term folk, it doesn't have a lot of utility as a discriminator between different musical styles, at least for the purpose of common use. Blues, Irish fiddle tunes, Tamburiza bands, Reggae, Australian Digideroo (sic), call and response work songs, a lot of gospel quartet singing, Cajun Dance music, certain kinds of polka, Mountain ballads from virginia, Native American Flute, camp songs and jump rope chants, ad infinitum ad nauseum, all fall under the 'folk' umbrella (And this isn't even adressing the issue of newly created hybrid musics, e.g. Zydeco, that sprout directly from a pure folk form). The term 'Folk', by covering too much, actually defines very little. Adding singer-songwriters to the mix is just adding one more nick to the blade of an already dull knife.

I also think that 'the Horse is already out of the barn' on this issue, and that this debate is moot. Language is a common invention cooperatively owned by all those who speak it. It yeilds to the pressures imposed on it by them over time. There comes a time when the effect of those pressures become sufficiently large and permanent as to be recongnized as a new standard. That is why I give little credence to the comments that try to reduce this arguement to a choice between proper usage and linguistic anarchy, with anybody being able to call anything by any term they want. This is a straw man arguement. First of all you can use any words you want at any time, the question is not only what you mean and what words you use, but what is heard and understood by others. Second, acknowledging that the language has evolved in a particulary way is not making a choice between formal use and anarchy. Speaking alegorically, you can redraw a property line to account for a land shift that occured during an earthquake without declaring all property lines everywhere invalid and open to individual interpretation. In the present case, as much as it offends my sense of formality, I have to acknowlege that the inclusion of singer-songwriters under the term folk has achieved permanent widespread usage sufficient to be considered a permanent shift in the language.


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