Mudcat Café message #1384450 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #77564   Message #1384450
Posted By: Richard Bridge
21-Jan-05 - 12:36 PM
Thread Name: Contemporary song in folk music
Subject: RE: Contemporary song in folk music
OK, here it is. Not sure how the indentations will come out. PM me and swap emails if you want it as a word document.

Folk Song in England

In 1954 the International Folk Music Council adopted this definition:—

"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 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 the rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by popular music and art music, and it can likewise be applied to the 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 refashioning and recreation of the music by the community that gives its folk character.

'Conclusions', by Cecil Sharp~

A folk song is always anonymous.
Modal melodies, set to secular words, are nearly always of folk origin.
Song tunes in the minor mode are either composed tunes, or folk airs that have suffered corruption.
Folk tunes do not modulate.
Folk melodies are non—harmonic: that is to say, they have been fashioned by those in whom the harmonic sense is undeveloped. This is shown:—

a.        in the use of non—harmonic passing notes.
b.        in a certain vagueness of tonality, especially in the opening phrases of modal tunes.
c.        in the use of flattened seventh, after the manner of a leading note, in the final cadence of modal airs.
d.        in the difficulty of harmonizing a folk tune.
e.        Folk melodies often contain bars of irregular length.
f.        Prevalence of five and seven time-measures in folk airs.

In giving evidence in 1835, Francis Place reported that ballads sung about the streets during his youth could not be adequately described in present company. 'I have given you in writing words of some common ballads which you would not think fit to have uttered here. At that time the songs were of the most indecent kind: they were publicly sung and sold in the streets and markets: no one would mention them in any society now!

Another consideration.

"The mind of the folk singer is occupied exclusively with the words, with the clearness of which he will allow nothing to interfere. Consequently, he but rarely sings more than one note to a syllable and will often. interpolate a syllable of his own rather than break this rule.

"O abroad as I was wordelkin'
I was walking all alone
When I heard a couple tordelkin'
As they walked all along"

The Greek/Mediaeval/Folk Song Modes ~

The scales on which many English folk tunes are based are not the same as those with which we arc familiar through classical music.
The Greeks were the earliest musical grammarians in Europe and laid the foundation of the scientific system which was to be, in a modified form, our inheritance for plainsong and folk song.

        There were seven Greek Modes        (The white notes on a piano).
Dorian (Plato considered this the strongest)        D to D
Phrygian.        E to E
Lydian        F to F
Mixolydian        C to C
Aeolian        A to A
Locrian        B to B
lonian (our major modeNodus lascivus)        C to C

"Sumer is a--cumen in", our oldest Mss is in the Ionian Mode.

English folk tunes are most frequently found cast in the Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Ionian modes. Occasionally in the minor: Cecil Sharp wrote: "The majority of our English -folk times, say two~thirds, are in the major mode. The remaining third is fairly evenly divided between the Mixolydian, Dorian and Aeolian modes, with, perhaps, a preponderance in favour of the Mixolydian,

The pitch of the mode may of course be varied, the relationship of the notes being constant.

The Pentatonic_Scale

The pentatonic scale (five notes to the octave) is widely distributed in folk music and is found in the traditional music of many oriental countries. We also know that it was practiced in ancient times in China and Greece. It is common in Scotland and Ireland.

In its most common form it possesses no semitones, the intervals between the notes consisting of whole tones and one—and—a—half tones. It can be played on the black notes of a piano, or on the white notes, omitting B and B.

According to the relative position of the tonic, there are five pentatonic modes, though some scholars prefer to regard them as segments of the same scale.

English songs also show a number of Hexatonic (six—notes) tunes, usually with the sixth missing.

Sharp held the theory that the present seven—note diatonic scale is a development from the pentatonic scale,


"'Therefore,' while each ballad will he idiosyncratic, it will not be an expression of the personality of individuals, but of a collective sympathy: and the fundamental characteristic of popular ballads is therefore the absence of subjectivity and self—consciousness. Though they do not ~"write themselves" as Grimm has said - though a man and not a people has composed them, still the author counts for nothing, and it is not by mere accident, but with the best reason, that they have come down to us anonymously." Child.

Romantic Ballads        Child Waters, The Gypsy Laddie, The Maid Freed from the Gallows.

Tragic Ballads        The Two sisters, Lord Randal, Barbara Allan.

Historical Ballads        Sir Patric Spens, Mary Hamilton, Queen Jane, The Hunting of the Cheviot.

The Outlaw Ballads        Robin and the Three Squires, Johnnie Cock.

Supernatural Ballads        Lady Isobel and the Elf—Knight, The Unquiet Grave, The Demon Lover, The Wife of Usher's Well.

Humorous Ballads        Our Goodman, The Farmer's Curst Wife,

Conventional Elements

Conventional_diction        cerbain archaisms not found in common parlance — a song about lords and ladies will use "steed", "morrow," etc.

.Conventional Epithet        "milk—white steed," "Lily—white hand," "Fair Margaret."

Conventional Phrase        Tears "blind the eye," blood 'trickling down the knee."

Commonplace        e.g., the rose—briar stanza.

They buried her in the old churchyard (epithet)
They buried him in the choir
Out of her grave grew a red, red rose (epithet)
And out of his a green briar. -

Opening/Ending Formula         "As I walked out one Nay morning,"
        'It fell upon a..        
        "Come all you young fellows and listen to me.

"Voice and ear are left at a loss what to do with the ballad until supplied with the tune it was written to go with…. Unsung, it stays half—lacking.'

Robert Frost.