Mudcat Café message #3937097 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3937097
Posted By: GUEST,Pseudonymous
13-Jul-18 - 07:59 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
If Charles Seeger was at least as left wing as A L Lloyd, then my interpretation of Lloyd's answer to his own questions looks reasonable.

Jim asks me to 'speak for myself'. I take his point. From my perspective, there appears to be heated disagreement about which definition of folk song is correct. At the risk of over-simplification, there appear to be two main positions:

1) Some people argue that a great deal of the music to which the label has been applied (eg by the Victorian and Edwardian collectors) actually originated on printed broadsheets, but argue that since it began to be passed down orally it counts as folk music. The arguments about origins rely on analysis of the style and content, and sometimes on tracing the events recounted to real life events as set down in newspapers (eg some 'goodnight' ballads, as in the Pettitt example).

2) Other people argue that this sort of definition widens the definition to a ridiculous degree. They deny that songs written for money count as folk music. They also assert that such songs are aesthetically inferior. People in this camp often argue that it is impossible to know the actual origins, and therefore a view that any piece originated on paper is not based on fact. However, given that in the 20th century some communities in which songs were both made and passed down orally existed, and that within these communities there was a sense of which songs were 'traditional' and which were not, and a sense of ownership, they argue that it is possible that the songs collected by the Victorians and Edwardians were originally made by 'the people' and have been passed down through an oral tradition over hundreds of years, conceding that some songs may have been made into broadsheets over time. The argument appears to go that it is possible, therefore this is how it happened. This tradition survived despite the fact that 'the people' in the centuries covered in detail by Roud, are known to have also sung popular tunes, deriving from commercial sources, including broadsheets, music hall, and the USA. I think that on this view a new song counts as 'folk' if it was made by people in the tradition, but I'm not sure about this.


3) Within the camp of those who believe that 'the folk' (excluding ballad writers from 'the folk') wrote song have disagreed about the precise process, with communal creation and communal re-creation being two suggestions).

I'll now rephrase my comment.

It is difficult, as an outsider, to decide which of the hotly debated definitions of 'folk music' in current circulation is the correct one. It is particularly difficult if one accepts the 'nobody knows' argument as expressed by some adherents of definition number two.

It is even more difficult in view of factors including but not limited to:

a) the international and possibly non-song (ie myths, folk story) origins and non-song for some of these songs, as possibly claimed by Child;

b) the ideas of Lloyd that some of them derive from Anglo Saxon, pre Norman Conquest traditions, which did not have rhyming songs at all, as far as I know. It was highly alliterative, used a lot of litotes and had a figure of speech called a 'kenning';

c) some of the discussion gets heated (!) and goes round in circles (guilty myself) and

d) there are problems with some of the evidence in terms of tinkering, selectivity and other factors.

For a comparative beginner, like myself, Roud's 30-odd page introductor discussion is valuable and helpful. His history of collectors is also useful, not least as it gives some idea of how the definitional quagmire came about.

I think I stand by my point about 'folk music' being a social construct, but perhaps I would amend it to refer to this producing difficulties in agreeing a commonly acceptable definition.