Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Word On "Folk"

"Folk" is the name given to that form of music which originates within a culture. It is that form which expressed every man's hopes and pains, his fears and aspirations -- the gut-stuff a person feels about the life around him. Rather than being written only for profit, most folk music is composed to create a mood, to tell a story, or to lament lost love. As such, folk music and folk musicians are the reflections of the heart of a culture and are one of it's most valuable heritages. The term "folk" encompasses several types of music: ballads, work songs, some protest songs, blue-grass, and a variety of blues (e.g. "Texas Blues"). The listener to folk should bear in mind that the music is intended for enjoyment and expression without the conventional limitations of more formal compositions. The result is an eased and free-flowing quality unique in music.

- Danny Fauchier

Like the previous post, this is from the 12-page program handed to participants of the Southwestern Folk Festival, April 28-30, 1967. Danny Fauchier is also credited with designing and writing the program. My sincere thanks to Brent Pierce for these documents, and to Messieurs Ontjes and Fauchier for allowing me to quote their words.

Even the local reporter for the Winfield Daily Courier gave his or her (there is no byline) shot at defining this thing called folk music. Here are the first two paragraphs of the article "Blind Artist At Festival" from Thursday, April 27, 1967 (The headline refers to Doc Watson) :

"At Southwestern College's Folk Festival this weekend, several recording stars are going to be featured. But, these are folk stars with a difference. They all sing traditional folk songs instead of the popular music that is sometimes called folk music.

"True traditional folk music is always sung first and then written down..."

This could get a little fuzzy, especially when you start using terms like "true traditional" and "is always" in the same sentence. There was plenty of original music at the festival, and I doubt if the reporter asked Pat and Victoria or Jimmie Driftwood or Mance Lipscomb in what order they composed their songs. The first paragraph is also a little vague, to say the least, but I list this here to show the traps that one can fall into.

This old folkie has long since given up trying to define folk music, I'm of the "lets quit arguing and sing" school. There are songs we know the authors of, and those we don't. If we don't - it's safe to call that a traditional song - but then you can also argue about what tradition it came from. This is what folklorists are for, in my opinion. For songs for which we do know the author, the debate still rages, or at least putters along. Perhaps "Oh! Susanna" would be a traditional song today if old Steve Foster hadn't had access to pen and paper.

After years of debate, the Ozark Folk Center finally set 1941 as the cut-off date for musical compositions performed at the center, as that is the year that "Walking The Floor Over You" came out, the first widely popular country song featuring an electric guitar. This also marks the time before legions of young American men were exposed to all kinds of different cultures during the wars in Europe and Asia. This seems reasonable, in that they are trying to preserve a certain tradition that had existed with very little change over many generations. There will always be a place for new stuff.

Next, we'll dig even a little deeper into the traditions of music in and around Winfield, Kansas.


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