Author Topic: Questions for Folk Musicians  (Read 6796 times)

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Offline timdoyle91

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Questions for Folk Musicians
« on: Wednesday, December 19 2012 06:11PM GMT-1 »
Hi all,

First off, I have to apologise. This is the second time I've used this forum for essay research, but hopefully this should be the last!

I'm a BA music student and I'm currently researching for a project titled: "English Folk music in the current climate and the continuation of tradition". I was hoping the musicians among the community on here could help me with a quick questionnaire.

I have 5 questions for anyone who is a practicing folk musician (I wrote the questions with bands and regularly gigging musicians in mind but any replies are welcome). They shouldn't take too long to answer, and it would really help my research!

Here are the questions:

1.   What does the term ‘Folk Music’ mean to you, and how is it distinguishable from other similar music?
2.   Do you consider yourself to be part of continuing the folk tradition? Why?
3.   Do you feel that there should be a clear divide between folk music to be preserved and folk music to be developed, or should it all be grouped together under ‘Folk’? Is there a conflict between progression and preservation?
4.   How do you feel the attitudes of the public differ (if at all) towards traditional music in England compared to that of Ireland and Scotland?
5.   Do you feel that English folk music is mainly consumed by the older generations? If so, why is this the case?

Thanks so much for your help


Offline timdoyle91

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Re: Questions for Folk Musicians
« Reply #1 on: Friday, January 4 2013 11:30AM GMT-1 »
Any takers?

Sorry I know it was probably the wrong time of year to post this, as everyone has been busy with the festivities.

Offline Ollie

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Re: Questions for Folk Musicians
« Reply #2 on: Friday, January 4 2013 01:38PM GMT-1 »
Hi Tim

I'm not a gigging musician (really) but I would class myself as a folk musician, so here goes...

1) Folk music, for me, is music for the people, by the people (that's not an original definition, but I can't remember the source of it, sorry!). The term 'folk music' has come to mean many different things these days, especially with the rise of the Indie Folk genre. I think this music is folk inspired, but not necessarily folk music. They are using the musical characteristics, rather than the social or historical characteristics, of folk music to influence their music. I was going to make a point about them being commercial, and therefore not folk music, but this is a difficult area given the number of commercial (meant in the nicest possible way) folk bands and artists out there today. I think the difference is the acknowledgement of the tradition, or lack of it, that separates bands like Mumford & Sons from the folk scene.
There is a difference between traditional music and folk music. I'd argue that all traditional music is folk music, but not all folk music is traditional music. This encompasses the work of the many songwriters out there, like Steve Knightley and Chris Wood, who are carrying on the traditional of writing songs about modern issues; I think it does them a diservice to lump them into the god-awful category of 'singer-songwriter'.

2) Yes, I do. I'm a melodeon player, singer, and Morris dancer. I play tunes, sing songs, and dance dances that have been passed down from generation to generation. By playing, singing and dancing these, I am carrying on that tradition of doing so. However, possibly more importantly, I write my own tunes, and have been part of developing new dances and adjusting old ones (I'm not a songwriter, so I've not written any songs, but would if I could). By doing so, I am adding to the tradition, which is incredibly important. Which links nicely in with the next question...

3) I think folk music should always continue to develop. There's a fantastic quote on John Dipper's website that reads "Tradition must be respected, convention can be broken, but only when you know which is which." This sums my feelings up perfectly. At the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th, much of our folk heritage was fossilised and guarded fiercely by a bunch of dinosaurs. I'm not saying they didn't do a fantastic job of collecting the songs, tunes and dances, but they ushered in a new feeling of the need to preserve our folk heritage, and that the idea of change was out of the question (despite the fact many songs were, er... tidied up by people like Sharp). This continued through to 1950s with Ewan MacColl, and continues to this day in some places. It doesn't sit right with me at all. Our folk heritage had been naturally changing and developing organically for hundreds of years. The good stuff survived, and the bad stuff didn't. In many ways, these revivalists stopped that from happening. The only conflict is based on Edwardian principles and attitudes. I think our folk heritage should continue to develop and grow naturally, and there shouldn't be any divide at all. Preservation can be damaging. A case in point would be the Comhaltas organisation in Ireland. Yes, they have worked to make Irish music more popular, but at what cost? Classes, competitions, and the 'correct' way to do things? What's that all about?! This is where you get into the topic of the institutionalisation of folk music. I'm by no means an expert, but if it's something you want to explore, you may wish to read this -

4) Attitudes differ greatly. There is still a sense of ridicule about both, but Irish and Scottish people have a greater sense of pride over their music and dance. Joe Public tends to appreciate Irish and Scottish music a bit more, because of things like Riverdance, the Pogues, the romanticisation of the Highlands, Hogmanay, and St Patrick's Day. Most people don't even know England has a folk scene, or any folk heritage, other than Morris dancing, which they just laugh at (understandably so, in some cases, as the vast majority of it is badly executed, and I say that as a dancer myself). Irish and Scottish music is fun, reminds people of drinking copious amounts of cheap Guinness on St Patrick's Day and getting utterly hammered, or drinking in the New Year. English music reminds people of quaint little village greens, with a little quite pub and some Morris dancers. To our current generation, which is obsessed with cheap thrills, they simply find Irish and Scottish music more appealing.

5) Whilst the majority of English folk fans are of the older generation, there is a huge number of young people interested, though it tends to be in certain areas. Being a young English folk fan with lots of friends who are the same, my view is probably skewed, but if you go to festivals like Sidmouth, Towersey and Shrewsbury, you won't find a shortage of young people. More often than not, they are kids of folkies who got into the scene in the 1960s and 1970s, and who have been brought up with it. However, with the popularity of Bellowhead growing, more young people are investigating English folk music, which is great.

Hope that's of some help. I'm also a Music undergraduate (at University of Sheffield), so happy to help out a fellow student! Where are you studying?

Best of luck.  :)
"Tradition must be respected, convention can be broken; but only when you know which is which."

Offline timdoyle91

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Re: Questions for Folk Musicians
« Reply #3 on: Saturday, January 5 2013 04:03PM GMT-1 »
That was incredibly helpful, thanks so much for taking the time to write it all!

I'm studying Music/Popular Music at University of Liverpool. In my 3rd year now so not too many more essays to go now  :D