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Folk song collecting. Good or bad?

The Shambles 16 Jun 00 - 06:40 AM
sophocleese 15 Jun 00 - 11:01 PM
The Shambles 15 Jun 00 - 07:59 PM
The Shambles 15 Jun 00 - 04:21 AM
GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowbetter 14 Jun 00 - 06:55 PM
GUEST,Nancy-Jean 14 Jun 00 - 08:32 AM
The Shambles 13 Jun 00 - 07:03 AM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Jun 00 - 08:27 PM
Frankham 11 Jun 00 - 07:58 PM
The Shambles 11 Jun 00 - 06:45 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Jun 00 - 05:25 PM
SeanM 11 Jun 00 - 05:08 PM
Art Thieme 11 Jun 00 - 04:15 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Jun 00 - 01:00 PM
sophocleese 11 Jun 00 - 12:42 PM
The Shambles 11 Jun 00 - 04:55 AM
Art Thieme 09 Jun 00 - 10:49 AM
The Shambles 09 Jun 00 - 10:07 AM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Jun 00 - 07:44 PM
sophocleese 08 Jun 00 - 06:38 PM
Malcolm Douglas 08 Jun 00 - 04:16 PM
Richard Bridge 08 Jun 00 - 03:30 PM
dick greenhaus 08 Jun 00 - 12:16 PM
dick greenhaus 08 Jun 00 - 12:15 PM
paddymac 08 Jun 00 - 12:14 PM
The Shambles 08 Jun 00 - 04:27 AM
GUEST,KingBrilliant 08 Jun 00 - 04:10 AM
Judy Predmore 08 Jun 00 - 03:25 AM
The Shambles 08 Jun 00 - 02:31 AM
GUEST,Bruce O. 26 May 00 - 07:31 PM
Kernow John 26 May 00 - 06:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 26 May 00 - 06:18 PM
Frankham 26 May 00 - 05:57 PM
lamarca 26 May 00 - 11:51 AM
GUEST,A Wandering Minstrel 26 May 00 - 08:03 AM
The Shambles 26 May 00 - 07:07 AM
The Shambles 26 May 00 - 04:22 AM
Sandy Paton 25 May 00 - 07:00 PM
dick greenhaus 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM
Sandy Paton 25 May 00 - 06:46 PM
Bert 25 May 00 - 03:47 PM
Hollowfox 25 May 00 - 03:41 PM
dick greenhaus 25 May 00 - 02:16 PM
GeorgeH 25 May 00 - 02:00 PM
Bert 25 May 00 - 01:45 PM
Bill D 25 May 00 - 11:50 AM
Barbara 25 May 00 - 10:11 AM
The Shambles 25 May 00 - 09:43 AM
Hollowfox 25 May 00 - 09:29 AM
Snuffy 25 May 00 - 08:44 AM
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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 16 Jun 00 - 06:40 AM

The ideal situation is to have both, we at least appear to agree on that. Jacky Daly did not have or want to have a choice between them. He was making the most of a bad job. He just slightly felt better about the hand that he was given, rather than the one he could have been given.

In these sad and unfortunate circumstances, I feel that most musicians would share that view. For it is music that we are talking about.

The provenance of a tune, which is the main attraction of it to some, goes with the title of the tune. The actual music that is played under that title, would appear, on occasions to be less important or interchangeable.

This is also true of classical music. I have heard people spout on about when why or how the composer did certain things in the piece playing, to discover that it was a different piece or even a different composer.

The situation when you have some words, makes this less likely to happen, in the case of songs. The fact that it can and does happen with tunes, is surely enough to at least make us think about why we are first drawn to certain songs and tunes?

To me, it is always the aesthetic attraction of the music. In the case of songs, it is that wonderful combination of words and music but it is never the title, or provenance of it. That comes later.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: sophocleese
Date: 15 Jun 00 - 11:01 PM

I don't know Shambles, why make it a choice between titles and music? It is possible to have both. For a lot of people names involving words can be easier to remember than tunes without words. Others remember tunes more easily than titles. Fortuneately there are also people who remember both and can bridge the gap.

And don't forget that there are a number of frustrated musicians who come here saying "Help I can't remember the rest of a song that goes something like..."


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 15 Jun 00 - 07:59 PM

I have mentioned this before, I think, but I looked and could not find it.

Jacky Daly, ex Patrick Street et al, had a medical problem. As a result of this he was unable to remember any of the titles to the vast number of tunes in his head. The interviewer said something like "that must be terrible". He replied that it could have been worse, if the situation was that he could remember the titles but could not remember the tunes and how to play them.

That I feel, was how most musicians would view it?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 15 Jun 00 - 04:21 AM

Rich said "If our predecessors hadn't collected our roots for us, we wouldn't have any music to worry about to begin with."

I do know what you mean and I am sorry to quoted you out of context, but "worry" is what the genre that the collectors have created, has made us do. Worry, debate, study, exclude, preserve defend and generally do our duty, instead of just playing, creating and enjoying the music.

The provenance or history of a song or tune may be interesting and valuable but can hinder the aesthetic appreciation of it. Which is after all the song or tune's primary function. However the title of the tune or song can sometimes be it's main attraction. When that happens, it does make the musician feel a little superfluous to the proceedings. As the following tale will hopefully demonstrate. When Rich mentioned Chief O'Niell, the wheels in my brain started whirring…..

At a session recently, a person who was listening asked for Chief O'Niells Favourite. I started to play it. Or more my mind started to play it, my fingers decided to play something else, another hornpipe but not the one requested. I carried on playing it, intending to go in to the requested tune after. Before I could do that, the chap stood up, thanked me, said it was a great tune that, he had always liked it and left, quite happy. My playing may have been the problem, I know but there were a number of good souls helping me out.

In fact many musicians do not know or cannot recall the titles of the traditional tunes they play. At this session, a convention has emerged when asked for the title of a tune that you can't remember. There is a collection of paperback books, in the pub. You scan along these titles until you find one you like and that then becomes the title of the tune. ….I heard a great tune there recently called, A Hundred And One Curries!.

Rich, I think that your struggle with the term "contemporary traditional musician", just about sums up the tangle we are in. For music is always created and ONLY exists, in it's entirety, in the present.

I think Donovan's, ' Catch The Wind', describes what the very best collectors quite understandably, attempt to do.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowbetter
Date: 14 Jun 00 - 06:55 PM

What contemporary traditional musician (if that's not a contradiction in terms) hasn't benefitted from being able to examine the roots of the music he or she is playing. Whether it's a book or recording, its vital to see where our music is coming from. A recording of a song can be viewed as the painting or as the canvas. It is part of the ongoing process of evolution that keeps a tradition alive. There are wonderful renditions being played today of music that would have been long since forgotten if they hadn't been saved on some lasting media. In Irish music, for example, Both Chief O'Niell and Michael Coleman are gone but new musicians are still learning the tunes that O'Niell printed and that Coleman recorded. Not note for note and ornament for ornament, but with the new life that comes from being played by new people. Ironically when the Coleman 78s were recorded, he was criticized for causing too much progress in that the recorded format was deemed a threat to regional styles of playing.
We play old types of music. If our predecessors hadn't collected our roots for us, we wouldn't have any music to worry about to begin with. And truth be told, if you listen to some of the old material that's out there, I'm not sure we've benefited by the tradition going forward. A lot of the "progress" can be better described as degeneration.
I really like McGrath's "seed bank" analogy. I wish I had thought of it.

My $0.02,
Rich


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: GUEST,Nancy-Jean
Date: 14 Jun 00 - 08:32 AM

A vote for good. When I hear a song which stirs me up enough to want to learn it and share it with others, I am participating in an age-old tradition. Who I am today is a result of people who had input into my "formation". Part of that "formation"--for this human being anyway--is playing tag with musical traditions, catching the best of what is thrown my way and passing it along. I don't give a "flying fig" about method,etc. If it gives me joy, and I don't harm anyone with my little song, I think music has served it's God-given purpose. I'm "fur it" and all the better for it.

Nancy-Jean


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 13 Jun 00 - 07:03 AM

Do we really owe the creation genre of 'folk' to the collectors? If we do, is that creation really such a good thing?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 08:27 PM

Yes, that was my understanding of the Pete Seeger episode at Newport. The fact that sound recordings of the Dylan set at Newport sound fair enough doesn't necessarily mean that that was how it sounded to the people in the crowd.

Another example of the eery nature of the Mudcat here - I'd just posted about Pete Seeger and Newport, up the tread, and I went down and switched on the wireless, and someone was talking about the altercation between Alan Lomax and Albert Goldstein on the same occasion. And that's not the stuff you nkormally get on Radio 4.

What set the spat off, apparently, was Alan Lomax being a bit sarcastic about how long an electrified had taken getting its equipment and sound system set up, contrasting it with how the old-time blues performers had earlier been able to walk on and play.

In which case, I'm wholly in sympathy with Alan, because that kind of thing is bloody infuriating. I get irritated by the way so many people try to make out that there was a hysterical panic reaction on the part of a folk establishment to electrified Dylan and so forth, because there wasn't.

Thread drift there. But I think the argy-bargy about collectors has more or less reached its conclusion.

There are still lots of interesting things we haven't touched on about collectors and collections, and the relationship between them and traditional singers on the one hand, and revival singers on the other. But perhaps there should be a new thread for that kind of thing, either now or later...


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Frankham
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 07:58 PM

Hi McGrath, Need to set the record straight about Pete at the Newport Festival. The only reason he got mad is that he thought that the audience would not be able to discern Dylan's lyrics which he has always felt to be important. The band was overpowering him in Pete's estimation.

Regarding the collecting of folk music, I feel it's so important to emphasize the human connection to the appreciation for folk music. The people who sang it are as important to me as the music itself and in my view the two things are inseparable. When it becomes a dry, academic pursuit without the love and feeling that comes from a great folk performar, the word "folk" no longer applies. The great collectors that I knew or know such as Ken Goldstein, Wayland Hand, Wayne Daniel, Alan Lomax, Archie Green and others bring to their work a reverence and passion that spells love to me. How can this possibly be a "bad" thing? We owe what we know of folk music to this day because of the collectors. Otherwise there would be no Mudcat.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 06:45 PM

This was an honest try at having a debate on a subject that was of some interest to me. It was obviously of some interest to others, who have taken the trouble to contribute constructively to this debate. My thanks go to them and especially the peacemakers.

The last post said it all..........Unquestionably.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 05:25 PM

Headlines are always approximations for the topic under disacussion. Art is of course right, and FOLKSONG COLLECTING - GOOD OR BAD? answers itself ("Good").

The real question is "What good are collections of folk song?", or "How can we best use folk song collections?"

That probably wouldn't have pulled in the posts - but in fact, most of the time, that is what we have been discussing.

And I don't think there has been much disagreement. It seems to be generally agreed that:

We should use collected versions as sources, to be treated with respect, but not treated as holy writ.

We should recognise that they are only a sample of what has been sung.

And we should recognise that the folk process does not cease to operate when a song has been collected, and that we are part of it, for better or worse...


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: SeanM
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 05:08 PM

Could it be agreed on that collecting itself is not good or bad, but the uses that the collection are put to?

M

"Folk songs don't educate people. Folksingers do."


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 04:15 PM

The name of the thread is FOLK SONG COLLECTING---GOOD OR BAD ?

That is a question. And it is a question about the validity of folk song collecting. Is it GOOD or BAD ? In my previous post I gave you my answer to that question.

It cannot be bad !

Art


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 01:00 PM

As I've heard it Pete Seeger wanted to take an axe to the power cable because the sound system was so bloody awful, rather than because of the electric Dylan as such. I've been a concerts where I've felt like that too.

"When we were young, were used to think the questioning of the unquestionable was unquestionably a good thing to do?" But the question is, is it all right to question whether that is true? And is that question itself open to question? And are we in sight of a logical black hole here?

My feeling is that it is beyond question that collecting folk songs is a good thing; it is also beyond question that that, like all good things it is possible to misuse the work of song collectors, and that some song collectors have been guilty of that themselves from time to time.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: sophocleese
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 12:42 PM

Shambles, I'm thinking about what you've written. Some interesting points but you appear to have a bias against those who sight read, and you are confusing those who use collections with those who collect.

"The best way to communicate a folk song/tune is by hearing it live. Next best is a recording and lastly, the printed page. There are a few gifted 'sight' readers of music who can read the melody from a page as most of us would read a poem but this is not true for all." What happens when you cannot hear the music live because you're stuck away among people that listen to an entirely different style of music? A style of music, through radio perhaps, that seeks to place a greater and greater distance between those favoured few who make the music and the rest of us uncultured, unmusical peasants who must be grateful for the chance to hear it? Murray Schaeffer (Sp?) opined that recording was a death knell for traditional folk as people began to see the recorded versions as the only version and ceased to transmit the tunes live. Those who were collecting the tunes at the beginning of last century didn't have the recording devices we now have and take for granted. Written music is a short hand way of transmitting specific musical knowledge in the abscence of the performer, and it can work reasonably well. There are a few gifted peformers who can hear a song once and then play it back well but this is not true for all.

Years and years ago here in Canada and the States the ground apparently trembled with the sound of the herds of buffalo. We can no longer hear that sound, the buffalo have been killed and driven away and have almost died out. If it were not for the writings of those who were here at the time of the buffalo we would not know what had been done and what had been lost. Folk song collectors were often moved by a genuine interest in the people whose songs they were collecting and were led also by a feeling that something was passing and that it should not go unmourned and unnoticed.

In another thread folk music, traditional music, is likened to a river. I think of the tunes and songs more as vessels. Some are more durable than others, some have cracked and been repaired, news ones are being made, some don't last very long, others broke long ago and can only be seen or used carefully and sparingly, others are packed away in an attic trunk and wait for some future explorer to open the box and wonder what this thing is, for some we only have a description of how our ancestors used leaves, hands, or bark to make a cup. In all cases the singer, the musician, is the water that fills the cup and shares it. So when I take granny's old mug off the shelf, with the chip repaired with china bond and hold it in the wrong hand as I hand it to my guest, does it matter when the water in it is good and refreshing?


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 04:55 AM

I don't think that any of the posts on this thread actually did question the validity of folk song collecting. Sandy took the time and trouble to explain and to some extent, defend the questions that were raised about some of the downsides of the process.

It is the idea that anything is unquestionable that worries me and when and if something is considered as such, it is probably a very good idea to question it. When we were young, were used to think the questioning of the unquestionable was unquestionably a good thing to do?

The best way to communicate a folk song/tune is by hearing it live. Next best is a recording and lastly, the printed page. There are a few gifted 'sight' readers of music who can read the melody from a page as most of us would read a poem but this is not true for all. The page however is not the starting point.

The idea that you look for and find folk music on a page of a book is one that is very common in England. Why and how this preposterous concept came to be is what has prompted this thread and also this one. What is it with the English. Someone said something about maps earlier in the thread.

In truth how often does it happen that a song is lifted from a collection, 'cold', that is without hearing it sung, referred to or on being familiar with another version? Sometimes this is done consciously and these are the ones most in danger of being the 'Frankenstein's monsters. Thankfully that is not the way that the majority of people now use collections.

Divisions in music are the last thing that I want to see. To me there is only one nest. I wonder if the older and wiser Pete Seeger of today would be quite so sure that 'pulling the plug' of the electric Bob Dylan at Newport was such a necessary thing to attempt?

The original music of the past is now being referred to as traditional music. The original music of the present will then form the main part of the traditional music of the future. The DT has recognised this and that is it's great value as a collection. People today sing the original creations of Ewan McColl and Richard Thompson without knowing the 'recent' origin of them, and without seeing them in any collection.

Does old = gold and new = spew? Not in my (song) book.

I stared this thread say that it was a view from England. I think the paranoia about the 'dangers' of the singer songwriter, is very much a view from America.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 09 Jun 00 - 10:49 AM

Well, I had thought I'd never look into this thread 'cause it seemed like a preposterous question. After looking in, now, I feel that way even more.

From my point of view, there is practically no value to this thread. No way can the value of folksong collecting be validly questioned---except, maybe, to provoke an argument between those who adhere to a well-loved reality and those others who, by putting forth an impossible and divisive and silly argument, seek to make a home for them and theirs in other avian's nests. Alchemy aside (turning historical musical documents into dead moths etc.) --- that is an argument much like ones that are encountered in the pages of Alice In Wonderland.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: The Shambles
Date: 09 Jun 00 - 10:07 AM

Well the butterfly/egg analogy was not meant to be an exact one, more of a way of provoking thought. It seemed to work however and the responses have made me think some more.

Sophocleese says: "Shambles I don't think you can justly compare the collection of independent living creatures, butterflies or eggs, with the collection of abstract entities, songs, which only live when humans give them voice. The creatures may die but the songs just lie dormant until woken by others".

Butterflies were "independent living creatures" until they were collected, then they were dead and then become to some extent "abstract entities".

Traditional songs were alive when humans were giving them voice and only become "abstract entries" after being collected. They may not loose all of their 'life' during the process of lying dormant but the process does not help and certain elements of their past relevance and vibrancy are lost. Giving them voice again may make them re-live to some extent but can also on occasions make them resemble 'Frankenstein's Monster.

"It's life Jim, but not as we know it".

Kevin says: "The analogy with egg collecting doesn't really stand up. Every egg you collect is a bird that might have hatched. That's got no parallel in song collecting."

It depends on how you view the song you collect. It appeared to be necessary for the early English collectors to pronounce the individuals and the tradition that spawned the song as dead. Maybe reports of that song's death were exaggerated?

Could it be that the song still continued it's natural evolution to find itself, at a later date competing unsuccessfully against the transcribed, arranged and generally recognised 'Frankenstein's Monster? Could it be that this was a major cause of the void in the English tradition?

Could it be that every song you collect is part of a tradition that might of hatched?

"A much more apt metaphor is that of a seed bank, which exists to ensure that the seeds of plnats are available to be planted again when the occasion arises."

I do see your point but a seed with the genetic material 'blown' out of it is exactly the same as a collected egg. The purpose of collecting seed is different to collecting eggs, I accept. Of course the collected songs are more than empty shells but still not containing the complete genetic message

.

This is taking it to an extreme I know but even if you could retain all of the genetic material from a Jurassic seed or egg, the resulting life would now have to endure conditions that would have changed so much as to make it's existence impossible.

In that sense does not Environment = Tradition if Seed = Song?

I like the DT too. It is a very valuable resource a credit to it's originators and very much a living thing. I am proud to say that a creation of mine forms part of it. Not a Frankenstein's Monster, but possibly more of Trojan Horse? I think it might well form the part of the DT that Dick refers to as crap? But I didn't collect the song. (smiles).

There is also a very valuable and entertaining resource for original songs called The Mudcat Songbook. My thanks also go to The Keeper Of That Book.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 07:44 PM

The analogy with egg collecting doesn't really stand up. Every egg you collect is a bird that might have hatched. That's got no parallel in song collecting.

A much more apt metaphor is that of a seed bank, which exists to ensure that the seeds of plnats are available to be planted again when the occasion arises.

The real danger - if such a word is appropriate in this context - is the one indicated by Malcolm, of the range of songs in use being whittled down to merely those which get recorded by the right people and distributed by the right channels. This is the same process that occurs in industrialised agriculture. A seed bank is some kind of defence against this, and a collector of songs provides the same service to future generations.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: sophocleese
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 06:38 PM

Dick, I think the digitrad is wonderful. Thank you.

There are a lot of songs which I have learned that I have never heard because nobody around me sang them, they are beautiful songs that move me and speak to me. I am grateful to the collectors of the past, present and future. It is because of these collectors that we have a large body of songs to draw from that are not dictated to us by those with power and money to do so.

Shambles I don't think you can justly compare the collection of independent living creatures, butterflies or eggs, with the collection of abstract entities, songs, which only live when humans give them voice. The creatures may die but the songs just lie dormant until woken by others.

Collectors may or may not misrepresent people and follow their own biases in their collections, but I'm glad for the enthusiasm that led them to believe that these things were worthy of collection. Paternal attitudes at the turn of the century were part of the time and collectors didn't escape them any more than we escape being influenced by attitudes in our time. But they still thought that there were songs that needed to be shared and saved and they did what they could. It might have been a sadder world if they had held back for fear of being thought precious. Just because a song is written in a book doesn't mean that others weren't or aren't singing it and altering it at the same time. It allows for a multiplicity of alterations over time.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 04:16 PM

The simple act of recording a song from tradition and disseminating that record will always tend to distort the tradition; this is pretty much inevitable.  In fact, the publishing of folksongs by collectors such as Sharp has given rise to far less distortion than did the enormous popularity of the Broadside during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; songs were collected from tradition and widely distributed throughout the UK and Ireland, leading to other versions disappearing in the face of printed "standard" versions.  In this way, a lot of English songs became established in Ireland, and vice-versa; since melodies were often not given, the itinerant ballad-sellers simply sang them (that was part of the marketing process) to tunes that they knew -and since a great many of those ballad-sellers were Irish, this led to a large importation of Irish melodies into the English tradition.  Often these melodies displaced the original English ones; not necessarily because they were better, but simply because they were more widely-heard.

Today, the same process is underway; this time it is commercial sound recordings that are the agent of change.  A great many people only hear one or two recordings of any particular song, and tend to assume that these versions are the definitive ones.  In many cases, the lack of background information given with recordings leads people into any number of misapprehensions, such as the widespread belief that Dirty Old Town was written about Dublin.  Some irresponsible performers promulgate all manner of fanciful nonsense when they do provide sleevenotes, leading innocent listeners to believe all kinds of foolishness.

The Digitrad itself is not immune from this effect; contributions have to be taken on trust, and I've come across -as I'm sure have many others- all sorts of "information" attached to songs which is either unproveable or just plain wrong.  The authority of print should not be underestimated; people will believe things they see written down.  It's just as bad, to my mind, to fail to provide proper credits for songs -some people simply transcribe from recordings and don't bother to read the notes or look at the copyright information on the label.  Of course, many people will consider that sort of information irrelevant, and me pedantic for wanting it: I'd say that that would be a rather short-sighted viewpoint, particularly as the Digitrad is taken very seriously as a source of information.  Nowadays, collectors of folkmusic are careful to place the material in its proper context; the source of the song or melody is just as important as the music itself.  I think that's a healthy attitude, and one that we should all aspire to, insofar as we are able, when disseminating material by whatever means.  We owe it to the music, and to those who will come to it in the future.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 03:30 PM

Collectors essential. Arrangers delightful. There is no "wrong" way to do a song. A version might in theory be totally and universally disliked, but that would not make it "wrong" - unless the intention was to reproduce and that intention not effected. But the biggest danger is the loss of resource, which takes me back to the head of this post...now read on.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 12:16 PM

Well, I modestly submit that Digitrad is the Biggest (available) and Best collection extant. I think it has value, not in enshrining anything, but rather in suggesting songs to folk who have either never encountered them, or never heard them. It also ha a fair amount of what I consider crap.
Use it as you wish; take from it what you wish. Change what you wish.


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Subject: RE: Folk song collecting. Good or bad?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 08 Jun 00 - 12:15 PM

Well, I modestly submit that Digitrad is the Biggest (available) and Best collection extant. I think it has value, not in enshrining anything, but rather in suggesting songs to folk who have either never encountered them, or never heard them. It also ha a fair amount of what I consider crap.


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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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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 - 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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