In defense of RUS
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In defense of RUS


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05 Jun 97 - 11:00 AM
Barry Finn 05 Jun 97 - 01:27 PM
Joe Offer 05 Jun 97 - 03:27 PM
Coralena 05 Jun 97 - 04:24 PM
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Subject: In defense of RUS
Date: 05 Jun 97 - 11:00 AM

In the thread on folk songs to ditch, there was a semi- tangential diatribe against the Rise Up Singing fake book.

Which, for those who might not know is...

RISE UP SINGING edited by Peter Blood and Annie Patterson Contains words and guitar chords to nearly 1200 songs arranged in a compact, easy-to-use format. The songs are indexed by artist, title, subject and first lines, Cost $17.95 (Paraphrased from the Sing Out! website)

The chief complaint against RUS is that it has become an unofficial canon of folksong for many singing circles, with the unintended consequence of suppressing interest in songs which are 'not in the book'. Critics of RUS typically express an extreme frustration with not being able to learn new songs or teach new songs to others because fellow singers only want to do the old favorites from their copies of RUS.

I have several problems with these complaints.

First of all, RUS was never really intended as a tool for those with an extensive and broad knowlege of folk or other songs. Nor do its editors claim, as Carl Sandburg did of his American Songbag, that their work represents THE Lexography of American Song, and the prefered text for singing instruction of our children . The main motivation for RUS was the idea that group singing is an intrinsically valuable way for people to spend their time, and that this once common practice had declined to where the number of songs that people know by heart was too low to maintain it. There are however, many songs that almost everyone knows in part (either the melody, a verse or two, or the chorus ). RUS was designed to tap into that reservoir of half-kown songs, to make it possible for people such to gather together and rediscover the joys of group singing. In this it succeeds admirably. I have personal experience with two groups of singers, one not even folk oriented, that formed primarily because of RUS. One has even taken to performing in public. Now perhaps a jaded old folkie might find their repetoire pedestrian, but all I can say is that there are now two groups of people spending their time together, talking and singing and sharing, instead of sitting in front of the tube or engaging in some other solitary activity, of which there are far too many.

As for the complaints about RUS being unrepresentative of much of the rich song traditions in folk music, I can only say--So What! As with anything truly useful, whether its a saw or a songbook, the difference between one that is perfect and the one that works well is far smaller than the difference between the one that works well and nothing at all! For all the sneering that owner of a Rolls Royce might make towards the owner of a volkswagen, it was the latter that made the most difference in peoples lives.

This is not to say that I find no flaws in RUS, of the 1000+ songs it contains, there are less than 100 that I recognize and that meet MY standards as excellent songs (there may be a lot more in the songs I don't recognize, but since I don't recognize them, I can't say). Several songs have chords that don't really fit that well, and some are suprisingly incomplete (e.g. There's a Long Long Trail A-Winding), but on balance, these are minor complaints that ignore the excellence of Blood and Patterson's overall achievment. Every page bespeaks a monumental and personal labor of love on their part.

Which brings me to my final problem with some of the more virulent RUS critics. For all the complaining they do about RUS, and for all their claims of having a better vision, I doubt if many have the inclination, skill, or willingness to match the work that Blood and Patterson did to make their vision a reality on such a large scale. Imagining a great work of any kind is not the same as actually creating one through years of intensive labor.

Just my 0.02015 cents (adjusted for inflation)

Jack Jesberger

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Subject: RE: In defense of RUS
From: Barry Finn
Date: 05 Jun 97 - 01:27 PM

Jack My intention was not at the book itself, but maybe your explanation of it's intentions could have been put in as a foreword. You say one group has gone on to performing, my hope is that they didn't just complete page two and are now teaching the public about what they learnt on page one, for one it's boring to those on page three and it's a diservice to those who have yet to open the book but I guess if you're on the sane(SP?)page it's a classical gas. My only hope is that they would continue to move on and be aware of others and tolerate those that sing in a fashion or style or songs that are foreign to them, as much as others tolerate their repeat requests for the 'Ditched' and their impaired ability to half learn something from a different source without having to keep refering to the open page. Barry Finn

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Subject: RE: In defense of RUS
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Jun 97 - 03:27 PM

You made an admirable defense for "Rise Up Singing," Jack. Certainly, the book has its faults; but it does a better job of what it does than anything else I've seen.

It has 1200 songs, while most other songbooks have lfewer than a hundred.

The price is reasonable - fake books and "Folksinger's Wordbook" (if you can find it) cost almost forty bucks and are neither durable nor portable. Now I admit that the price of Digital Tradition is much better and it has a much better selection of songs, but did you ever try to have a bunch of people gather around a computer screen to sing?

It is widely available - most decent bookstores have at least a couple of copies on the shelf.

OK, now that I've defended it, I'd like to know some alternatives. What other songbooks are available that would be good for song circles and similar gatherings? Any suggestions on how to teach new songs to groups that use "Rise Up Singing" as their basic "hymnal"?

Our song circle in Sacramento always has a few people who bring photocopies of new songs. We have a box of "loaner" copies of "Rise Up Singing." The photocopied songs that prove popular go in the box with the loaner books, so they're available for next month's circle. Seems to work for us.

-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: In defense of RUS
From: Coralena
Date: 05 Jun 97 - 04:24 PM

Does anyone have a list of Song Circles or Groups that get together to sing by state?? All Day Singing and Camping on the Grounds?????

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