Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - What Is Folk Music?

Well knock me over with a feather.  Who knew that "folk" music had so many definitions.  One blog I read was asking whether they should reconsider the name of their choir currently World Music Choir.  Gad zooks.  I had not until that moment ever heard the term "world music".  To me folk music is just that; music of the people in which ever country you choose.

I don't understand the need to divide and subdivide the genre.   Folk music originally was the music of the oral tradition passed on from one generation to another.  It really is only recently that these songs have been recorded in any way.

When I started teaching music at the end of the 60"s, it was the time of the folk revival.  My classes and I used to differentiate between traditional folk and folk-like music.  The more modern music written in the folk style was so fun and easy for the young people to sing.  I learned to strum the guitar and they sang along easily.  We had a lot of fun with both the folk and folk-like music.

Of course, following that train of thought brought Ian and Sylvia, the great Canadian recording stars to mind.  We sang lots of their songs.  Sylvia wrote a song call River Road which is about a journey down THE River Road outside Chatham, as Sylvia is running away from home.  Four Strong Winds was and is an absolute favourite.

Of course, no discussion of Ian and Sylvia can be had without sharing my claim to fame.  Sylvia Fricker was born in Chatham Ontario where we moved the summer I turned 11.  I joined the choir at Holy Trinity Anglican Church and Sylvia who was our choir master and organist's daughter, sang alto.  She was just a teen of 19 at that time but had been going to Toronto and performing so her appearances in the choir while I was there were rare.   But, I do remember her long black hair.  Her lovely voice didn't make as much an impression as that hair at the time. However, once I started teach music 10 years later, those memories flooded back.  Her mum, Phyllis Fricker, was a great choir leader and an artist in many genres.  Sylvia's sister, Valerie, went to high school with me and was the person who came down the stairs from art class as I was leaving music class and told me that President Kennedy had been shot.  Okay so that is my famous people connection.  Back to the topic at hand.

Personally, I love singing folk music.  I love the stories and the find the music ultimately singable.  I have not explored the folk music of many cultures outside the celtic and Canadian but anything I have encountered has been very satisfying.  Now, perhaps it is because I have limited background but would those of you out there please share your ideas of folk music and perhaps your understanding of this "world music" title.  I will continue to use the folk term as I can be easily confused, but what do you think?


Colleen said...

I think labels and fashion just change. Now I think people associate "folk music" with people with an excess of body hair and a hippy feel. "World music" encompasses more different cultures. Having said that, my friend had folk music at her wedding and it was the only wedding I've ever attended where every single solitary person was up on the dance floor. Folk music is a leveller - it's perceived as so left of the mainstream that there is no wrong way to dance to it. Funnily enough, the band did look a bit hippyish, but the band leader and fiddler is actually a lawyer by day, so you never can tell.

Embro Thistle Singers said...

Oh so well said. Folk music does leave us singing and dancing as it was intended whether we are hairy or not. What a great visual.