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Folk song collecting. Good or bad?

The Shambles 24 May 00 - 05:12 AM
Gervase 24 May 00 - 05:38 AM
McGrath of Harlow 24 May 00 - 08:30 AM
SINSULL 24 May 00 - 08:59 AM
Wolfgang 24 May 00 - 09:02 AM
GUEST,A Wandering Minstrel 24 May 00 - 09:34 AM
Grab 24 May 00 - 09:51 AM
MMario 24 May 00 - 10:24 AM
Peg 24 May 00 - 10:34 AM
Whistle Stop 24 May 00 - 11:01 AM
catspaw49 24 May 00 - 11:19 AM
Mooh 24 May 00 - 11:39 AM
Barbara 24 May 00 - 12:55 PM
GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) 24 May 00 - 01:12 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 May 00 - 01:55 PM
Linda Kelly 24 May 00 - 02:12 PM
GUEST,Bex McK 24 May 00 - 05:33 PM
Frank in the swamps 24 May 00 - 05:52 PM
Art Thieme 24 May 00 - 06:27 PM
Hollowfox 24 May 00 - 06:44 PM
GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 24 May 00 - 09:20 PM
catspaw49 24 May 00 - 10:33 PM
Bob Bolton 24 May 00 - 11:36 PM
pastorpest 25 May 00 - 12:13 AM
Snuffy 25 May 00 - 08:44 AM
Hollowfox 25 May 00 - 09:29 AM
The Shambles 25 May 00 - 09:43 AM
Barbara 25 May 00 - 10:11 AM
Bill D 25 May 00 - 11:50 AM
Bert 25 May 00 - 01:45 PM
GeorgeH 25 May 00 - 02:00 PM
dick greenhaus 25 May 00 - 02:16 PM
Hollowfox 25 May 00 - 03:41 PM
Bert 25 May 00 - 03:47 PM
Sandy Paton 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM
dick greenhaus 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM
Sandy Paton 25 May 00 - 07:00 PM
The Shambles 26 May 00 - 04:22 AM
The Shambles 26 May 00 - 07:07 AM
GUEST,A Wandering Minstrel 26 May 00 - 08:03 AM
lamarca 26 May 00 - 11:51 AM
Frankham 26 May 00 - 05:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 26 May 00 - 06:18 PM
Kernow John 26 May 00 - 06:47 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 26 May 00 - 07:31 PM
The Shambles 08 Jun 00 - 02:31 AM
Judy Predmore 08 Jun 00 - 03:25 AM
GUEST,KingBrilliant 08 Jun 00 - 04:10 AM
The Shambles 08 Jun 00 - 04:27 AM
paddymac 08 Jun 00 - 12:14 PM
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Subject: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 24 May 00 - 05:12 AM

I approach folk music through the eyes (and ears) of one, who likes to listen, play and sing music. It has been an education to me here on The Mudcat to read the views of those who approach folk music from more of the position of a collector. They are also those here who manage to combine these positions on an equal basis.

Whilst recognising the wealth of material, 'the collector' has made available and the effort that has been put in to achieve this I still am not sure that this process has been an entirely good thing.

In England, the effect has been to effectively 'pickle' and preserve, what was and still is a continuing process. Vibrant and exciting songs and tunes transcribed and in the process reduced to polite 'pianoforte' pieces to be played in Victorian drawing rooms and to be safely taught in schools. No wonder then that people in England love the wildness of Irish music, in particular, so much.

The folk song is surely the best definition of the term 'work in progress'? Recording it, by writing it down or taping a version, is like a 'freeze frame' of a movie. You may get some idea of what the movie is about but there is a lot more to it than the 'snapshot' allows you see.

Is not writing down what has never needed to be written down and thus producing the documentation, creating a history that never was? History, at least in the sense that historians define history. Is it motivated more by a need to, 'tidy up the study', rather than actually studying?

These are my views at the moment, they are not 'set in stone' and I am ready to be convinced otherwise and learn some more. For in fairness, it is probably, very much a view from England.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Gervase
Date: 24 May 00 - 05:38 AM

I'm half inclined to agree - particularly when you look at the anodyne and bowdlerised work of collectors like Broadwood, Sharp and Baring-Gould. Ultimately, however, I think material must be written down - if it ain't recorded in some way, it will die. What's needed, perhaps, is a more flexible approach and an end to some of the pedantry that can clog up the more traditional traditionalists to the extent that they want to put songs and tunes in formaldehyde like lifeless medical specimens. Certainly I've often smiled wryly at the more pedantic Morris musicians berating others for not playing THE authentic Bampton, Adderbury or whatever versions of a tune, when it's quite clear that every musician over time (particularly when learning and playing by ear) will adapt tunes. Therein, maybe, is the answer, in that we should cherish and celebrate the diverse versions of any tune or song and remember that the oral tradition is bny its nature imprecise and flexible. One of the things I particularly love about traditional material is the way that, over the centuries, a process of "fogging" goes on, where historical events or broadsides are slowly transmuted into songs with a broader appeal, rather like the way water works on a pebble to smooth off the rough edges and bring out the inner beauty. (Pretentious, Moi?!)


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 May 00 - 08:30 AM

One of my favourite quotes is "The map is not the territory" - which I've just found out is by Alfred Korzybski, cited in Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics (that must have been where I came across it).

It's relevant here, because when people treat the words and the tune recorded by a particular collector, from a particular singer, on a particular day, as if this was the official and unchangeable original, they are falling into the trap of taking the map for the territory.

It's really no different from someone who treats a recording of a modern singer in the same way, even when maybe it's the person who wrote the song in the first place.

A song exists in all its variants, all the different words sung by different people, all the variations of tune from singer to singer and from verse to verse, all the mixed up versions where someone has taken the lines they like from different variants and put them together.

And this fuzzy entity shades off in different directions into other song clusters, ancestors, descendants, siblings and cousins and other relations. That even includes the bowdlerised versions for singing in different settigs - a practice which the old traditional songwriters were not averse to either. (Song collectors have often had to coax traditional singers into giving them a verse they normally don't sing because its "outway rude" or whatever.)

Song collectors are very special people, and without their efforts we'd be a lot poorer. But they can only give us samples of what is, or was, out there. Explorers making maps, which are invaluable. But the maps are not the territory, and the territory is always liable to change.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: SINSULL
Date: 24 May 00 - 08:59 AM

Gee Shambles, some of us work from "cheat sheets" or we panic . We have to write it down.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Wolfgang
Date: 24 May 00 - 09:02 AM

Why should we ever write a book with cooking recipies when tastes change over the years?
And why should we ever write any science book when our knowledge expands each year?
Or any dictionaries when languages are still living?
Or any anthology of English poetry as long as new poems are written?
Or any road map which necessarily must be a 'freeze frame' of the ever changing reality?
Roger, the implicit strong version of your argument is hardly defendable.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,A Wandering Minstrel
Date: 24 May 00 - 09:34 AM

Way to go Wolfgang. If you are a singer Shambles, I bet you do have a book or cribs for songs you are just learning.

In any event just 'cos you wrote it down doesn't make it pickled unless you want it to be. You can add verses, leave verses out, change some words adjust the tune (if like me your guitar technique is 3-fingered) and write parodies.

Besides If I hear a song, like it and want to sing it myself Its always great to come someplace like here and find that someone has done the 'collecting' for you. That way the oral tradition keeps itself alive and good stuff never goes away. I just rediscovered Reynardine from a thread further down. Time for a bit of practice in the shower....


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Grab
Date: 24 May 00 - 09:51 AM

Nothing wrong with writing it down. But there _is_ something wrong with saying, "Only the written-down version is the right version". Writing it down just snapshots it for future generations to look at, or for other people to base their versions on - it's not like it's divinely ordained and will always be perfect and unchanged! Not a fault of the collectors, but of ppl who misinterpret their intentions.

I don't know about you, but the problem in England is finding somewhere with live folk music, especially in smaller towns in lowland areas. Naturally, the bigger the town, the more likely you are to find a folk club, but it also seems that there's a link with the surroundings too - the more hilly/remote the area, the more likely you are to find folk music, maybe?

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: MMario
Date: 24 May 00 - 10:24 AM

EXACTLY, grab. What's one of the biggest gripes about RUS? That people treat it like a bible, right? And how many people have at some time or another sung/played something and been told "That's not the RIGHT way". One of the things I really truly LOVE about folk and folkoid songs is that they ARE mutable. A friend and I can both sing the versions of one song we like the best in the same set because they are so different it doesn't seem like we are repeating anything. And we have, several times...


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Peg
Date: 24 May 00 - 10:34 AM

I own some of the books by some of the collectors mentioned (Sharp's Appalachin book, Kennedy's songs from the Celtic countries)--it is wonderful to have lyrics but often the melody or tune provided with those lyrics is not lal that useful. Then again, if one does not have a recording to work from, one has to "fudge" the best one can. Some singers are better at this than others...

It takes me a while to make a song my own and usually it is based on taking someone's recording, which I may either revere and worship and want to emulate exactly...or a version I find unpolished or not quite right or just a skeleton of what I think the song's possibilities are (this happens with Child Ballad recordings a lot!) With some songs, I manage to put together my own version based on several different recordings and written versions...I did an arrangement of "John Barleycorn" which borrowed from Steve Winwood, John Renbourne, and Steeleye Span, and my own tune setting based loosely on "Parting Glass"...

bless the collectors, I say...even if their work is not directly useful for someone who wants to lift a tune and lyrics whole from the page "ready to go" the luxury of having many different versions of these songs is a great reminder that no one version is right, or best, or engraved in stone..

peg


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 24 May 00 - 11:01 AM

I'm with the rest of the folks on this site, as first articulated (in this thread) by McGrath. Nothing wrong with collecting, or collectors; it's up to the rest of us to avoid the trap of considering the written/recorded version of a song to be the "official" version, goiving it greater weight than other versions that are just as legitimate.

I've noticed something interesting in my own playing and recording. When I record a song that allows for instrumental soloing -- either as a separate "solo" section or just generally playing around/between the vocal lines -- I will typically improvise the solo lines or sections. However, once I've committed it to tape and listened to the playback, I almost always end up playing the previously improvised lines verbatim in subsequent performances. A weird psychological dynamic at play here; anyone else ever have this experience?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: catspaw49
Date: 24 May 00 - 11:19 AM

I think this thread is heading about the way I expected. Collectors provide a valuable service, but the world has become a lot more rigid in some respects than it used to be. We all know people who must have written rules in detail to do even the simplest thing....lest they "screw-up." We are a much more rigid society in that respect and its a shame.

My son Michael is (I've been told now by several art professionals) a real prodigy. I felt that way myself about him. One thing that he and I talked about was not worrying about what he did at school. So at school he makes the leaves green and the flowers red and then creates some unbelievable thing on the back of the paper for his own amusement. Needless to say the "Art teacher" (?) doesn't appreciate this anymore than she does his "enhancement" of her other projects. Pathetic ain't it? He no longer worries about doing well there.....just comes home and sketches up some great stuff!!!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Mooh
Date: 24 May 00 - 11:39 AM

My two cents (Canadian) not indexed to inflation.

If you have to drive a stick in the ground beside something to gauge whether it's moving, then it's likely dead. Folk music isn't like this. It moves and breathes. If it isn't now, it will or it should with the proper respect due. Writing it only serves as a reminder, not as a dictum. The written song is but a starting point from which interpretation, and evolution can continue. Recording anything with pen and paper, or binary languages, should not be considered the last resting place of song. Its only service is to prevent us from forgetting the wisdom of music.

Therefore, collect everything possible, so as to preserve the wisdom of music, but use that wisdom to the furtherance and evolution of the art.

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Barbara
Date: 24 May 00 - 12:55 PM

I'm not exactly a song collector. I see myself as a song propagator. I hear people perform their songs or others that are really obscure, and I collect them and then publish them, (with permission, of course) sing them around, give them to people I think will love them, and generally get them out there. When I pick up a song from someone I usually tape it, and then transcribe it to the best of my ability. Then I usually check back with my source to see if I got it right. (Sometimes I can't find the person again).
But this job has some of the same problems -- the folk process is often fast and ferocious with transforming the song, and sometimes I like the transformation better than the original. (in those cases, I often run both versions). Notice, I'm talking about composed songs here, not those found in the tradition, though a lot of what I like sounds traditional.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
Date: 24 May 00 - 01:12 PM

I add my voice to the praise of literacy.

To deny, in all cases utterly without exception, the importance of written sources to the transmission of songs in a literate civilization is as silly as insisting that a given written version of a song is the only true version.

I strongly suspect that some collectors' informants learned some of their songs from books or broadsides, or from people who learned them from written sources. I don't recall any know case of "John Smith on a hill in Kentucky" being ashamed of having a copy of The Scots Musical Museum, or any other book, in his house. I think it would be a low-risk generalization to state that oral and written tradition are engaged in constant give-and-take. Song-collecting is one sub-process of this give-and-take.

T.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 May 00 - 01:55 PM

Grab - there does seem to be a co-relation between mountains and music doesn'there? But in England I think it's more a question of distance from London and the big centres of population. I have a feeling that a map of folk clubs and folk festivals would look very like a map of areas siding with the King in the Civil War.

But there is a fair amount going on if you know where to look - especially maybe in pub sessions rather than just in folk clubs. here is a useful website, with links to most things that are happening on the folk scene

And if you are anywhere near my part of the world,here is my website, with a rundown of what is happening round here.

After which minor piece of thread diversion, let's get back to the latest variation on What is Folk (you're an ingenious divil Shambles...)


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Linda Kelly
Date: 24 May 00 - 02:12 PM

There was an interesting letter in Living Traditon from damian barber bemoaning that johnny Collins had been contacted to say his services were no longer required at a festival that he had performed at for years. Folk may be evolving, but if we stop introducing the next generation to sogs and sngers of the past, in order to make way for the songs and singers of the future, then surely to capture them in song collections is the only way to go???


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,Bex McK
Date: 24 May 00 - 05:33 PM

So-- writing songs down, recording them, and otherwise making sure there is some way they are remembered, passed on, handed down, etc- I think we all agree that is vital. The danger lies in making music--a living tradition--into a museum piece, for the sake of somebody's arbitrary notion of authenticity, and trying to play down the importance of performance. For me, the power and the meaning in music comes through either playing it or listening to it played or sung-- with all the human emotion, experience, etc that is involved there. The old collectors treated their sources-- performers, people like us--as simply vessels in which the music somehow was carried. They saw the music to be some remnant of an idealised rural past that was rapidly dying out at and needed to be preserved at all costs. They thought the music had to be maintained as part of the body of national folk culture; they were not interested in the ways in which it was performed or the importance of that performance (and thus their efforts to correct its grammer, perform it on pianos in posh drawing rooms, etc). So while we can't be too hard on the collectors-- indeed there are many songs we wouldn't have record of today without their efforts-- we don't have to repeat their mistakes.

--Anyway-- that's what I think...


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 24 May 00 - 05:52 PM

McGrath nailed this one. I find that archival material gives me a much better understanding of history. Sometimes I can sit and stare at and old black & white photo the same way I muse over an old version of a song. Shambles, isn't the way you play a particular song just a snapshot of you in your time and place? Isn't it nice to think that, when we're all dead and dusty, future folks like us can hear our "snapshots" and compare them with their own.

Actually, given scientific, micro & genetic technology advances, folksong mey soon become a branch of paleontology!!!

Imagine knowing what the dinosaurs sang!!!!!!!!!!!

Frank in the dwindling swamps.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 24 May 00 - 06:27 PM


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Hollowfox
Date: 24 May 00 - 06:44 PM

Way back in about 1977, before videotaping was easy, common, and inexpensive, I was talking with someone at the National Storytelling Festival about how good it would be to videotape storytellers so folks in the future could see the teller's performance instead of read a transcript, where facial expressions and gestures could be seen, and how they fitted in with the cadences of the performance. Well, it sort of works, but the stage presence is gone. There's an essence that cannot be captured on tape that goes beyond mere stage presence. My kids noticed the same thing when we watched a film of Eddy Cantor doing one of his vaudeville dance routines. It's a bit like watching a video of a wedding you didn't attend. Still...I wish it were possible to see a sound film of Edwin Booth doing the soliloquy from Hamlet, just to see what the style was like in the 1800's.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 24 May 00 - 09:20 PM

I think we have to look at the evolution of folk-music as a tree rather than a straight line. That is there is a root which consists of the first known version of the song. If this root is recorded then it becomes the main stem of the tree. Each time somebody copies the "authentic" version the stem just gets longer. When somebody makes up their own version they create a branch which can grow as long as folks consider this branch the "authentic" version, and can itself branch out, and so-on. I value the whole tree (well, maybe I would like to lop off some rotten branches;-})

Like all analogies this one is not accurate in that the "root" is not shaped differently from the stem, so, in fact, when we dig deeper, we might find that this is really just another buried branch.

When I took photography seriously, I liked to do large format work (ie negatives 8x10 inches). I couldn't afford state-of-the art equipment, so I would cruise the professional photo shops and buy old junk that was cleared out of a studio that closed down. I would then repair it and modify it to fit in with my other gear. In the course of my cruising, I ran into some collectors who berated me for destroying "antique" cameras and lenses. What I bought was very common or I couldn't afford it! They seemed to think that because a thing has been created long ago and has managed to survive, it can't be changed. I always thought a few speciments should be in museums and the rest put into use.

Finally, I had a friend who was a whizz at transcribing from records. He refused to transcribe any Son House pieces because he said they were done so differently each time that there was no "authentic" version. On the other hand Stefan Grossman happily transcribes a handy version of a Son House piece, and I am gratefull to him for it. I won't (can't) copy it exactly anyway; but it gives me a starting point.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: catspaw49
Date: 24 May 00 - 10:33 PM

Murray, I am once again struck by your thoughts.....an excellent post.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 24 May 00 - 11:36 PM

G'day,

I think that Shambles' suggestion that a song is 'pickled and preserved' once it is written down doesn't survive beyond the boundaries of this forum. I have a few files tucked away at home were I have retrieved different versions from a thread concerning a song - often one written within the last few decades - and that song keeps turning up in variations as it skitters across the globe, by, songbook, recording or performance.

A song can be on the other side of the world and almost unrecognisable in a few years ... just for one instance, I am thinking of an Australian poem The Sailor Home from the Sea by Dorothy Hewett. Martyn Wyndhan Read sang it and various others learnt it. Progressively, the Australian local references turned into other things and it grew off to the far side.

Here in Australia, it is still sung, but with more understanding of the local points and places ... but to a wide range of (mostly recent) tunes. This is only a random sample, but it certainly suggests that the 'folk process' is alive and well.

Regards,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: pastorpest
Date: 25 May 00 - 12:13 AM

I am forever collecting books of folk songs. I can't go by a used book store, especially one I have not been in before, without going to look at the music section for books of folk songs. One finds after a while many versions of a song with variations in lyrics and melody. Some editors, Edith Fowke for example, are worth their weight in gold for the quality notes that set a song in context. With many versions of a song, notated, and on recordings, I can pick and choose and develop a version that suits me and what I want to do musically. That changes over time also.

Just think how someone like Woody Guthrie changed words to songs, including his own, for new situations. He also wrote them down and we can look at and learn from his ever new versions and applications to new settings.

If we are stuck, set in our ways, it is our own fault. The more resources we have, the more options we have, and the more freedom we have to go in ever new directions musically speaking.

Please do not ask me to get rid of all my folk music books. Just tell me where I can find more book shelves and maybe a bigger house!


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Snuffy
Date: 25 May 00 - 08:44 AM

Do you think that the Forum and the Digtrad are contributing to "writing down what has never needed to be written down"?

I wonder what Max and Dick think about that point of view.

Wassail! V


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Hollowfox
Date: 25 May 00 - 09:29 AM

I'm all for collecting, etc., as long as the limitations are recognized. I, too, have many books, tapes, cheat sheets, etc., but I use them as points of reference, memory aids, etc., not as the only "right" way. There are quite a few things in my repertoire that I found "freeze-dried" in print. there are also some things that I've never seen written down. I suspect that a good many of us find something we love and make it our own, no matter where or how we found it.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 25 May 00 - 09:43 AM

I'm not going defend the things I did not say, only to refer you to the original post, where you can make up your own mind about what I actually did say…. In truth, are there many things you could describe as being ENTIRELY a good thing, without some reservation?

In reading the posts to the thread so far, it has become clear to me that it is not really collecting songs that has caused the problem, more how we view them afterwards. Some very good and useful suggestions have been made, as to how we should do this. They have also confirmed, in my mind that it is more of an English problem.

I feel that I have been robbed of my English musical tradition.

There has been a snobbish concept, in England, that the only REAL music is that which is transcribed and written down in notation and composed by a 'composer'. This concept goes on to further the idea that music that, is not written down, is inferior and only worthy of any serious attention, when it is tidied-up, and arranged, by a composer.

That is the way that the efforts of the talented and creative people that produced the music contained in the collections, have been viewed. We do remember the names of the collectors and the arrangers, however. 'Our' BBC has reinforced this concept, over many years. I am pleased to see that there are signs that this view is changing but the damage has unfortunately been done.

I mentioned Irish music and it is interesting the way a collection like O'Neill's is used. Some people in England, that play Irish tunes, treat the collection as if everything in it, is EXACTLY the way it should be played, rather than as a guide and the valuable record that it and other collections undoubtedly are.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Barbara
Date: 25 May 00 - 10:11 AM

That's particularly interesting about O'Neill's, Sham, because when I started learning tunes from that book, my friends who'd been playing Irish stuff for a while informed me that the tunes were not meant to be played as written. The book logs the tunes in eighth notes, and my friends said they should be played with dotted eighths and sixteenth notes. They said the convention was to transcribe the tune straight, but to swing it when you played it. Is that convention followed in the UK?
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Bill D
Date: 25 May 00 - 11:50 AM

It seems to me that even the 'collectors' who are rigid in their outlook do a service, because no matter HOW they preach about the 'right' tune or lyrics, there are always those who can see beyond that. I personally am..... ummmmmm... 'infamous' for liking the 'older' versions of songs as a general rule. But I do realize that what I pick may be only version 27 of 143 in a series. If you, on the other hand, prefer #143, and are well on the way to 144, so be it. All I want is for #27, and hopefully #1, to not be lost.(well, to be honest, I also want some little corner where those of us who like #27 and earlier can hang out and NOT be trampled by those with little respect for 'trad') I do shudder at some of the gratuitous changes people make just to have their 'own' version to copyright, which, if they become famous, leads to the phemomenon where Joan Baez's version is treated as if it had sprung from her forehead in one burst of creation *grin*....or RUS being treated as a bible.

With mass marketing being what it is, and the general public being somewhat lazy, it will ALWAYS fall to a relative few to keep reminding us of the process and keeping some perspective. But to return to the main point....collecting DOES provide the basic material for either group to have a base to work from. What is done with the collection is a matter of taste.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Bert
Date: 25 May 00 - 01:45 PM

This is weird! I seem to be in agreement with too many different opinions on this question.

Like Shambles I am concerned with the Pickling process that collections sometimes seem to encourage.

I'm surprised that more of us don't show concern about Bowdlerising songs. That seems to me to be one of the greatest losses that collectors have inflicted upon us.

Like Pastorpest I need more bookshelves and can never find enough song books.

And I also agree with Bill D. when he expresses a preference for version 27. Very often the way I hear a song for the first time gets to be 'my' preferred version.

When I sing a traditional song I try not to make 'gratuitous' changes but I usually have to bend it somewhat so that it fits the way I sing. Sometimes changing the words, sometimes changing the timing or the tune. I can't sing a song in a style that does not suit my voice and cultural heritage.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GeorgeH
Date: 25 May 00 - 02:00 PM

I think this quote from Dick Gaughan is pretty relevent to some of what's been said here:

"A tradition is like a river, constantly flowing and changing. To take a bucketful of water from that river and then claim that you can use it to construct a comprehensive and accurate description of rivers is absurd.

The best we can claim is that it is representative of one particular part of one particular river at the precise moment when we dipped in the bucket and that we can only use it to construct a useful *theory* of rivers which must be kept open to change as more evidence becomes available. *That* is scientific."

That's part of a rather longer Usenet article on "the nature of Traditional music". I'll post the whole lot as a new thread for those who are interested.

George


Click for full text of Gaughan's message


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 25 May 00 - 02:16 PM

IMO, this is pretty silly. If it weren't for collectors, Dick Gaughan wouldn't recognize a river if he fell into it. And if it weren't for collectors, folk music (whatever that means simply wouldn't exist as a genre.

Nobody says you have to (or, more importantly) are able to sing exactly what's been collected. But if nobody sees or hears what's been collected, there's no basis for your music (unless you consider the pop folksingers as a source, and they've been collected by record companies).

There's no right way to sing a folk song. But dammit, there are a lot of wrong ways.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Hollowfox
Date: 25 May 00 - 03:41 PM

I'm with you, bert. Your non-gratuitous changes are what I call "making it your own". When I sing a song, I often "hear" something that sounds (to me) exactly like the person I learned the song from. Since these singers range from Gordon Bok to Rosalie Sorrels, it'd be pretty spooky if anybody else heard that resonance. At the other extreme, the spookiest thing I've ever heard on a folk stage was a performer who took (as far as I could tell) ALL of his material from another, more famous performer, and didn't make the slightest change in phrasing, pacing, anything. He wasn't doing an impression or an imitation, it was more like a medium or channeler, except that the other performer was still alive. Brrr. A happier memory is hearing four guitarists who'd each worked out their own transcriptions of Scott Joplin's "Entertainer", all playing together. The individual differences went together beautifully. Long live making the song your own, and long live variants to choose from.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Bert
Date: 25 May 00 - 03:47 PM

...a lot of wrong ways. Uh Oh! you've heard me sing haven't you;-)


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM

Many collectors, and I'm one of them, really enjoy comparing differing versions of a song or ballad. I included two quite different versions each of "Gypsy Davy," "The House Carpenter," and "Granny's Old Arm Chair" on my recent CD of field recordings. Rather than insist that one of these should be writ in stone, I prefer to invite further investigation of variants.

I'd like to see the editors of RUS write a careful introduction reminding users of their collection to keep in mind that what they offer (among the traditional songs, at least) is but one of many versions available to the singer willing to do a bit of homework.

As for Cecil Sharp - remember that he was publishing in the very early 1900s, a time of more restrictive concepts of propriety (Victorianism, if you will). Therefore, it's true that he did bowdlerize some of the material published in songbooks designed for kids of about the 4th grade level. Those are the polite piano-forte version referred to in the post that began this thread. But, please credit him with the fact that he took the songs down exactly as they were sung to him, warts and all, delightfully bawdy as many of them were, and kept all of his original notes (!), many of which have now been published in our more enlightened, or at least less-restrictive times. More than that, his collection of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians contains many songs shown in several versions, none of which is presented as the "correct" one. I suggest that he is NOT guilty as charged.

Vance Randolph, the great Ozark collector, also published his wonderful four-volume work in more restrictive times, but now his bawdy tale collection has been made available in several volumes (Stiff as a Poker and Pissing in the Snow come to mind right away) and his immense collection of bawdy songlore has been published in two large volumes, edited by Gershon Legman (Roll Me in Your Arms and Blow the Candles Out).

Both of these collectors, Sharp and Randolph, and many others, also took care to publish variants of the material they gathered. Margaret MacArthur recently pointed out that Helen Hartness Flanders included seven versions of the old ballad of Andrew Barton (Elder Bordee, etc.) in her publications. In fact, I can't think of any 20th century collector who thought his/her version of a particular song or ballad was THE CORRECT version, to the exclusion of all the others known. For heaven's sake look at the Child collection, assembled in the latter part of the 19th century: dozens of versions of most of the 305 ballads included. I rest my case.

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM

If anyone wants a great example of the value of collecting, take a good listen to Stephen Wade's "A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings" (Rounder 1500).


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 25 May 00 - 07:00 PM

Absolutely, Dick! My choice for "CD of the Decade!"

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 26 May 00 - 04:22 AM

Thank you for your contribution Sandy. I won't insult you futher by suggesting that you are 'old' enough to be considered a 'Victorian' collector or even more by accusing you of being English. (smiles)

Thing have moved on I can see. Food for thought indeed.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 26 May 00 - 07:07 AM

Dick we have threads on sexy banjos, breasts and whatever and this is pretty silly?

The river analogy is a pretty good one I think. Rivers don't run back uphill and if they become blocked and starved of a fresh supply of water, they will change into a stagnant pond.

You say: "And if it weren't for collectors, folk music (whatever that means simply wouldn't exist as a genre".

And wouldn't that save us a lot of debate? I agree with you 100% on your statement and it is exactly the point I am trying to make. The collectors have produced the genre, before that, we just had/have the music.

The genre once created, could then be plundered, ignored and largely dismissed with words like rustic, earthy and other such platitudes.

Are the direct descendants of those 'singer songwriters' that continued the tradition of creating the songs and music, now to be denied access to the very genre that was produced for them?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,A Wandering Minstrel
Date: 26 May 00 - 08:03 AM

Hollowfox.. You just described my own experience exactly

I was singing at my club the other day and someone said to me they liked the song but why did I sing it in that strange voice when I was usually sang much deeper and less quavery. I then realised I was singing the song as I had heard Peter Bellamy record it. Thats when I break out in a cold sweat.

At the risk of starting a new thread I hope that making a song your own doesn't include this strange new habit singers have of slowing songs way down and adding lots of note elisions and embellishments. I heard someone performing "The weaver and the factory maid" ( a song written to match the pace of a steam driven loom). I was asleep by the end of verse 2. Have your own version by all means but keep the songs context in mind


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: lamarca
Date: 26 May 00 - 11:51 AM

I enjoy cooking a whole lot, but can't follow a recipe without "adjusting" it to save my life. When I cook, I dig out several recipes for the same dish, or that approximate what I have in mind, and take some ingredients from one, some from another, and put together a dish that (usually) tastes good and is my own creation.

I am a rabid bibliophile, and have amassed a library of folksong and ballad collections from the English-speaking world. Each collection can contain one or more versions of the same song, as set down by the collector. When I'm learning a song, I often approach it the same way I do cooking; start with a basic recipe and add the "good" bits from other recipes (meaning the bits I like as a singer). I like exploring the background of songs, too, and by reading the collectors' annotations, I can gain insights on the history or cultural background of the song.

It seems that since there are so many different song collections from so many different parts of the world, they can help us get a vison of any given song as a mosaic of time and place and people. Collectors who took down individual renditions by a singer at a particular place and time have contributed to the mosaic, not just imprisoned the individual setting under glass.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Frankham
Date: 26 May 00 - 05:57 PM

Anyone who learns a folk song is basically a collector. The problem is that certain academic circles have given the name "folk song" a bad name by being snobby.

Solution? Learn as many songs as possible and learn all about them, where they came from, who sang 'em and why. And enjoy them all immensely. Then there's no problem.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 May 00 - 06:18 PM

"And if it weren't for collectors, folk music (whatever that means simply wouldn't exist as a genre". More to the point - we'd have lost any number of wonderful songs. And we'd have lost any number of newer good songs which grew out of them in later years, from people who had only heard the old songs because of the work of collectors.

But "this strange new habit singers have of slowing songs way down and adding lots of note elisions and embellishments" - that is hardly a "new habit". Whether it is done well in any particular song, or by any particular singer is another matter. It sounds as if maybe wasn't done right for the song you mentioned. But as a technique of singing, it's the kind of thing traditional singers have been doing all along.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Kernow John
Date: 26 May 00 - 06:47 PM

I would call Bruce Olsen a collector and suggest that his contributions to the cat have been outstanding. Often in order to make the most of a song it helps to know the background and collectors have often preserved this material along with the song. I would refer anyone to the Spancil Hill thread and use that as an example of material to be 'collected' along with the song.
I am not sure that I understand the comment re English folk songs, I've got shelves full of Irish and Scottish collections most of them old.
If collecting folk music/song preserves it keep collecting. I would suggest it's the pedantic users that are the problem not the collections or collectors. That's my penn'orth.
regards Baz


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 26 May 00 - 07:31 PM

I don't know where I picked up some tidbits about the evolution process, but I read long ago that sometimes a new tack runs into a dead end, and if you don't preserve the old, you can't back up and start over. Martin Parker worked up a version of the farmer who changed places with his wife (see early version and "Wife of Auchtermuchty" on my website), but it was pretty terrible, and a dead end. Fortunately, older versions were still known, and it was reworked to the "Father Grumble" we have now. I like traditional to mean just that, and regard it as the process whereby the folk sort out the wheat from the chaff. That seems to have worked pretty well.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 02:31 AM

I am still stuck with this image of the English collectors as seaching the battlefield after a battle. Needing to pronouce the wounded as dead to enable them to steal their belongings.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Judy Predmore
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 03:25 AM

Heather Wood (formerly of the English group The Young Tradition) wears a button, with a sticker of a stained glass window on it, saying "Music is to be enjoyed, not enshrined".

That one sentence helps keep things in perspective for me...


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,KingBrilliant
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 04:10 AM

I worry about that fact that the large majority of us English do not sing and play, and do not listen to live singing and playing. There is so much ready-made disposable entertainment on TV/radio etc that there is little space left in which to do our own thing. And then, once the habit is lost, there is an embarrassment barrier to be overcome before we can even sing with family. Luckily, I've reached the age where its fun to be embarrassing - so there is hope for me. So, my opinion is that its a damn good thing that songs & tunes are being collected, as this can provide a source which might not be available live. But : There are a lot of folk events locally, which we are only just really picking up on (pretty much something on every night within reach). So I suppose the real river flow is available if you look for it and are able to get there. I've sort of lost the plot of what I meant coherently to say - but anyways, I like collections to pore over. I think we're fairly safe from pickling, because most singers/players will derive their own enterpretations anyway, to a lesser or greater degree. We just can't resist it.

Kris


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 04:27 AM

To be fair I think that I am linking the need of that time to collect everything, not just songs, for the sake of having the biggest, best or rarest collection and to possess what others did not. It may be a little unfair but it is at least worth looking at song collecting in the context of this period and that of collecting in general.

Huge collections of dead butterflies in glass cases, may have enabled us to understand a little more about their structure and to classify them but was little benefit to the individual butterfly or the species. Research then moved on to the study of them and their natural environment.

Even more damaging then and more so now was egg-collecting, for it still continues, for no scientific purpose at all, just for the personal glory of the collector.

The rarest birds were the ones most prized by collectors. The end result was to make them even rarer or even the complete extinction of those birds.

The analogy of the egg with the song is a good one. The creators of the egg pass on all their experiences in the form of genetic material in much the same way as the creators of songs do.

Every egg that was collected failed in it's primary purpose.

In fact do not all of the egg collections contain only empty shells?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: paddymac
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 12:14 PM

I only have one minor disagreemet with the earlier posts on this thread: I thought is was the singers rather than the songs that tended to get pickled.(:>) Only a teeny bit more seriously, how do we define "collector"? Is it only a person who puts the songs/tunes he/she has heard/learned in a book, or can it be a person who makes an audio or a/v recording of what they have learned, or can it even be the old codger in the corner of the pub who has a seemingly unlimited repetoire? Perhaps the issue is not that a song/tune is learned or "collected", but more one of how the "collection" is transmitted from one generation to another. Hmmm?


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