Interesting Programme on Radio 4
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Interesting Programme on Radio 4

GUEST,Tony Rath aka Tonyteach 24 Apr 12 - 07:02 AM
Rain Dog 24 Apr 12 - 12:57 PM
Richard Bridge 26 Apr 12 - 06:42 AM
johncharles 26 Apr 12 - 08:36 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 26 Apr 12 - 10:26 AM
Richard Bridge 26 Apr 12 - 12:31 PM
Marje 26 Apr 12 - 01:12 PM
MGM·Lion 26 Apr 12 - 01:17 PM
Richard Bridge 26 Apr 12 - 02:42 PM
GUEST,Howard Jones 27 Apr 12 - 09:46 AM
Richard Bridge 27 Apr 12 - 10:47 AM
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Subject: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: GUEST,Tony Rath aka Tonyteach
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 07:02 AM

Just listened to a Radio 4 programme on the classical approach to singing folk song presented by a classical baritone called Christopher Maltman - some interesting views from both sides of the fence Should be on Iplayer soon

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Rain Dog
Date: 24 Apr 12 - 12:57 PM

Thanks for pointing it out. I enjoyed it.

Folk Song, Art Song

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 06:42 AM

I suppose it might be the fact that one has to devote half an hour listening carefully that has prevented more comment on this. I have now taken that half hour and do have views.

Almost all of the classical presentations on there were pretty horrid for various reasons with the sole exception of the northern chap - not sure, was the name Tom Allen? - and even that was not all that OK. I think there are a number of reasons I feel that - but let me say I didn't go a bundle on the Margaret Barry bit either. I think of her more as a source than a performer.

Anyway, I have come to the view that in folk song we are probably not as divorced from the natural scales as one might expect, and that many folk singers, even those brought up in the modern world where equal temperament rules, will be bending the notes a bit closer to the old scales - and particularly in harmony singing. The result is that the piano is always a bit of a fight in relation to folk song. Guitars people bend strings a bit. Banjos are never in tune anyway. Recorders and whistles bend. Free reed instruments are set so "wet" that exact pitch is not determinable. Apart from the slight sharpness that results from over-aggressive thumping on a piano it's an exactly fixed pitch instrument.

Now the next thing, to me, is phrasing. The classical treatment does not push and pull and notes tend to be given their exact notated value - so "Happy" when sung that way comes out as "Hap" "Pee" - quite unlike the way that the word is spoken. Folk song tends to be timed by word rhythms not measured durations. Likewise tempi are rigid in the classical treatment. This shades into my view of the Britten opening chords to "Foggy Dew" - much praised but IMHO totally ghastly, thunderfooted, and probably intentionally sarcastic. Then on to the word phrasing. Imagine you are telling a room "I once was a bachelor and lived all alone and I worked at the weaver's trade". Which words would you emphasise in telling that story? Not singing, but speaking. Now compare the military precision of equal accent on all syllables in the sung version we heard. Get my drift?

Then I come to diction. We were treated to a discussion of Peter Piers artificially dropping terminal "g" sounds, contrasted with ridicule of his long "a" in "commander". But I have little doubt that Piers spoke he would have used the long "a" in commander, and far worse than any disconnect between parlance and tradition would have been ersatz accent mimicry. But on the other hand we hear (and are appalled by) not the natural diction of a person of different class, but the pretension and artificiality of the Ferrier singing we heard. It was echoe in other operatic signers played - the crescendo and diminuendo even in individual syllables. Nobody speaks like that nor tells a story like that. Even Luxor, whose singing of "Guns and Drums" aka "Johnny I hardly knew you" closed the programme, despite bravely abandoning operatic pitch rigidity in parts of his singing, came to over-exaggerated artificial drama towards the end. I do not hear that strained artificiality in "the folk voice" - maybe because I naturally both speak and sing through my nose - but I think it's a shame that EC descended to that criticism.

Healey IMHO came close to getting it right when speaking of participation and spontaneity - the antithesis of art song, and indeed to some extent at odds with the "folk performer" trying to still a pub with "look at MEEEE!" overpresentation.

Nonetheless, a brave programme whose worst flaw was including the inane horse definition.

As a follow-up maybe we could have some specially recorded folk songs sung by the presenter and EC - or the presenter and his wife whose name was I think not given.

The songs sung do I think give added credibility to my warnings to singers to be very careful about the way they may be shaped by singing teachers or vocal coaches.

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: johncharles
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 08:36 AM

Luxor singing Johnny I hardly knew ya reminded me very much of the sthyle of Ewan Maccoll.

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 10:26 AM

I did not hear the programme but reading Richard Bridge's comments above it reminded me of the "FOLK Singing" I was taught at school. Absolute crap it just bored me to tears and would have put me off for life,all the artificiality of it and the stodgy piano accompaniment. Forunately through my initial interest in New Orleans Jazz at around 13 years of age this spread into Blues and Folk orientated music in general where I discovered a completely different and honest treatment of people's songs and singing.
Paul Robeson had the same effect on me. The way he sang "Shortnin' Bread" killed it stone dead but then I heard Gid Tanner and his ilk.


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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 12:31 PM

Click the link, Hoot

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Marje
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 01:12 PM

I happened to catch the programme during a car journey, and enjoyed it. I was impressed that they had found sensible and trusted exponents of folk song to offer their views, rather than resort to cliches (yes, it was a pity about the horse, but at least no one mentioned finger-in-the-ear).

I agree that Peter Piers' long "ah" sound is by no means his main fault. I don't see what's wrong with using his own natural accent. Far worse are the trilled R's and (as Richard says above) the exaggerated emphasis. Folk song at its best is often quite understated in its delivery, yet with utter concentration on the meaning rather than just the sound.

It's a pity if listeners were left with the impression that if you "train" your voice you'll end up singing like Peter Piers or Kathleen Ferrier. There are various respected songers in the folk world who offer training that will enhance the best aspects of traditional singing without introducing irrelevant techniques that belong in the opera house or musical theatre (or, for that matter, in American R&B-stle pop music). Good folk singers have a technique all their own, and although it may sound natural, it's just as much an acquired art as any other form of singing; most modern singers are exposed to so much non-folk singing of various kinds that they need to step back and consider their own genre of music and how best to put it across.

It would have been interesting to hear some classically trained singers consider whether they could or would re-train their voices to deliver a folk song in a more natural, traditional style - it was kind of assumed that if you were going to end a Schubert/Brahms recital with an English folk song, you would deliver it in the same style as the Lieder, and purists would have to take it or leave it.

But you can't do it all in half an hour. Overall, I found it refreshing to hear these questions addressed in a serious and informed manner on mainstream radio.


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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 01:17 PM

Peter Pears

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 26 Apr 12 - 02:42 PM

True, but it's useful to distinguish him from soap.

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: GUEST,Howard Jones
Date: 27 Apr 12 - 09:46 AM

I'm not sure what all the fuss was about. Classical composers and singers aren't trying to represent folk song in the way we do, they are treating it as a source from which to create a piece of music, working within the conventions and constraints of their particular genre. They treat it just as they would any other source material.
The piece has to be heard as a whole, and the intention is to create something with musical meaning, rather than just convey the verbal meaning of the lyrics.

It is also clear that classical audiences have an entirely different viewpoint from ours. This was made clear in the opening moments, when the presenter referred to a concert where he gave songs in French and German - it seems unlikely that many in the audience understood the words, but that didn't seem to hinder their enjoyment.   

In one sense there's really no difference between what classical musicians do and what, for example, folk-rock musicians do - take a piece of music and interpret it according to the conventions of their genre. There's not even that much difference from what folk revivalists do - as Eliza Carthy admitted, the folk world has its own conventions and prejudices, and ideas about what is acceptable and what isn't. Very few modern folk musicians, EC included, perform the music in the way a traditional singer in the archetypal village pub would have done.

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Subject: RE: Interesting Programme on Radio 4
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 27 Apr 12 - 10:47 AM

Interestingly the stilted phrasing I mention above was not present in the choral music in French and/or Italian I was listening to on R3 and/or Classics FM a bit earlier today. I do speak some French and a little bit of German and Italian (and can read some Latin too) and I like to have the words of classical choral works available to me in printed form while listening.

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