Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Joshua Gone Barbados.

Eric Von Schmidt's "Joshua Gone Barbados" is one of the few well-known songs that refers to St. Vincent. Some background (part of which only appeared after Eric's death) can be found on http://svgblog.blogspot.com

Me & Folkmusic, Part Eight

Back in the 1990s I figured, as I said in the last part, that I had written my last word on folk music. I wrote that on a Macintosh computer and stuck it up on the internet in a primitive way. I had no idea that Steve Jobs was going to change the face of music.
It took me a while to catch up, but as a retired old codger with more time than money, iTunes and the iPod was a perfect way to get reinvolved with folk music.

The first thing was calypso. Calypso still exists, more or less, but it had a Golden Age after World War 2. American soldiers who had been stationed in the Caribbean guarding the Panama Canal brought it back to the mainland and the Andrews Sisters diluted it enough for American tastes. But it remained what it had been in the Caribbean and particularly in Trinidad, for another generation. I had enjoyed Calypso in the late '40s, what little I could find, so when we started comind down in the winters I looked for CDs. Eventually, in the airport in Antigua, I found a record of The Mighty Sparrow. Then a couple more, here and there, on Rounder Records or the Smithsonian. But Calypso was old fashioned. Finally I ran across Irwin Chusid on WFMU. He plays an hour a week of Calypso and Soca and I have downloaded three thousand or so Calypso tunes since I started listening. He plays some soca and pan (steel drum) but no ska, dub and reggae. There's plenty of that elsewhere.

I have also been downloading, and sometimes purchasing, old Timey and Gospel music.

Later I'll add to this a list of links. I intend to go back and add links to these essays, too.

Me & Folkmusic, Part Seven

By 1966 I had accomplished what Yale wanted me for, so I allowed myself to be recruited by SUNY Stony Brook, who wanted to create a similar laboratory. I went on the grounds that I wanted to influence the Physics Department to develop in a more humane direction.

What I did was to run into the student protests of the late '60s: drugs, antiracism, antiwar, hippiedom and their reflections in the middle-class student body at Stony Brook.

It did give me the opportunity to go to the Newport festival, where I met the lady who would be my first wife. In the 1966 Newport Bob Dylan used an electric band for the first time, sending "folk" careening toward "Folkrock".

I had met Dylan, briefly, in a folk club in London the summer before, where he and I were both "visiting American folksingers". When he did the concert in Festival Hall later that week it was no question who the "star" was. The had oversold my, ticket so I ended up sitting in one of the best seats in the house (Dylan's guest seats) with the young lady who was our mutual acquaintance.

Stony Brook was desperately trying to go from an obscure teachers college to a major player, and we were able to use some of the funds this effort made available to promote some small concerts of folk music. We were, for instance, able to give John Roberts and Tony Barrand one of their first concerts in this country.

About that time there suddenly appeared on the scene a group called the Young Tradition: Peter Bellamy, Heather Wood and Royston Wood. They sang intense arrangements of traditional english songs and ballads with harmonies based on those of the Copper family and medieval church music.
I had just met a young tenor, Bob Stuart, through a Linda Hughes who had a folk music program at C. W. Post college. Linda, Bob and I performed such of the Young Tradition repertoire as we could manage, some from a tape she had of the Watersons, and some of our own arrangements. We sang at a few festivals and, when Linda graduated, she was replaced by my then wife. The group did not last long after that: Bob wanted to do his own songs and I was finding that you can't lead a group from the bass part.

Among the people I met during this period on Long Island were Frank and Anne Warner, their sons Jeff and Gareth, and Jeff's friend Jeff Davis. One of my memorable experiences was being able to sing "The Texas Ranger" while Jeff Davis played the Grayson accompaniment on fiddle.

We managed to have one gathering at Stony Brook that included 85 folksingers and relatives, but relations with my job and my wife soon soured.

Lou Killen had come over to the states in '67 and when he gave a concert at Yale we went over to hear him and meet other friends. They introduced me to Howard Glasser, who had also been introduced to folkmusic in the 40s in New York, gotten fascinated with scottish singing, and was trying to do in Southeastern Massachusetts University what I had been trying to do in Stony Brook.

I went up to the first Eisteddfod in 1971, and attended every one after that until it stopped in 1996. I met my present wife, Sally, there in 1974, moved to her goat farm in Myricks in 1976, and have been here ever since.
From 1978 to 1983 I edited the official publication of the Eisteddfod, Ceilidh Columns, including:

Yankee Ingenuity,
Sage and Hero,
Columns and Fragments, and
Modes and Scales

After 1983 the support for the Eisteddfod had diminished beyond the point where it would support a publication.
Not long after that Sally and I were relegated to a passive part in the organization of the Eisteddfod.

In the mid-80s a young man came to be a pastor at the Methodist Church down the street (which had had no pastor for a while) and he boarded with the lady next door. He came over to visit, (curious about the hippies who had been living in the old Baldwin place for the last ten years) and it turned out that he played banjo and guitar and had been in a folk-rock-gospel band in the 60s.
We introduced him to the style of old-timey gospel and formed, with a couple of the members of the choir, a band that did concerts for church-related affairs. We also did a gospel tune as part of the regular morning service at the Methodist church.
After he left (leaving some uncomfortable feelings and taking a new wife) Sally & I continued doing the gospel song at sunday services, trying for something new every sunday. (That stretches one's repertoire.)
We also put groups together that sang at village christmas programs, but the enthusiasm was waning. When the Methodists reflected the growing conservatism of the time by inveighing against gays we dropped out of the Methodists.

Since the late 80s we have not performed and have followed developments in the folk music scene at some distance. In the mid-90s Sally had serious skull surgery that made it difficult to sing. We had also bought a house on St. Vincent towinter in. This web site and this memoir probably marks my final effort toward promoting traditional folkmusic.
It has, however, been an interesting time.

Me & Folkmusic, Part Six

To have a term for what "folk" meant in the 1940s, a new term had to be adopted. When I use "traditional" I mean music that is:

a survival from or a copy of music of a rural community in the pre-recorded period or

music that is an attempt at reconstructing what pre-recorded folk music may have sounded like, done with a sensitive interpretation of the style of such music as is available through scholarly sources.

Louis Killen was my introduction to the latter sense of "traditional". At his best Louis is a better singer than any of the elderly gentlemen from whom he learned some of his songs: I have heard field recordings of Sam Larner and his contemporaries. I suspect that Louis is a better singer than any of them ever were in their prime. Louis can take a ballad with an excessively plain tune and overipe lyrics and, by a subtle use of pacing and decoration, give the words passion and make no two verses of the tune identical. Louis was not brought up in an isolated rural community so that the traditional aesthetic was the only one he knew; but he was brought up in a family that sang harmony, so he has an intuitive sense of how much a tune can be varied and still be "the same", and he has an ear for what can be done to a tune and still leave it within the bounds of a musical aesthetic and how that variation can be used in another tune.
And he has the intelligence to do the scholarly homework that allows him to place that tune in a geographical, temporal, social and occupational context.

Over the thirty-odd years that I have been listening to Louis I get a greater appreciation for his art. At times it was only when I tried to duplicate one of Louis' performances and fell short that I was able to hear what it was he was doing. Louis can be an education in the traditional aesthetic by himself.

But the notion of traditional style was not restricted to Great Britain. The vanguard of the american traditional folkmusic revival was Mike Seeger, Pete's half-brother, who, with John Cohen and Tom Paley formed The New Lost City Ramblers. Mike Seeger's home page says "Mike learned the old ballad Barbara Allen at age five from the singing of his parents. Soon he graduated to their collection of early documentary recordings. He began playing in his late teens, learning from Elizabeth Cotten, and later seeking out guitarist Maybelle Carter, banjoists Dock Boggs and Cousin Emmy, and autoharpist Kilby Snow. Mike's love for traditional music led him to produce documentaries and to organize countless tours and concerts featuring traditional musicians".

He says elsewhere "Old-time music was the old-time name for real mountain- type folk music. It is the kind of music that Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers and in fact most rural people prior to the mid nineteen twenties, were raised with. It is the old unaccompanied English ballads like Barbara Allen, new American songs like Wild Bill Jones, old fiddle tunes like Devil's Dream, and newer banjo tunes like Cumberland Gap. It's a rich and varied heritage of music - as rich as the roots music of any country. "

Even in New Haven we could feel the beginnings of a new phase of the folk music revival. When the interest in folkmusic and the number of excellent performers outgrew the back room of a bookstore a Folk Coffee house was started. This gave our group of enthusiasts a degree of coherence.
When the City of New Haven suggested that it might be good to put on some programs during the summer in school auditoria we formed the New Haven Folk Music Society so that there would be an organization that the city could deal with. That summer program was a disaster (neither local kids nor Yale undergraduates ever showed much interest) but there was a steady group of faculty, grad students and townspeople.

One of the members ran a restaurant, so The Society then had the opportunity to do singing gatherings during their slow time on Sunday afternoons. I was the first President of the Society (probably because I was older, and therefore more respectable than the rest of the folkies) and I began to do some performing, at least partly so that somebody (me) would be doing something on the stage when all the other performers were late.
My repertoire consisted of songs cribbed from Ewan McColl's records, from my hearing of Lou Killen and Sydney Carter, and various other bits and pieces that I remembered from years of listening. I occasionally played the autoharp and the harmonica.

By leaning heavily on the songs learned from Lou Killen and Sydney Carter, which were entirely unfamiliar to even a sophisticated American audience, I managed to disguise my lack of skill as a performer. Eventually enough practice made me more at ease on a stage.

About this same time the Indian Neck Folk Festival expanded from a weekend house party for Yalies and the Folkie friends of their girlfriends to an invitation-only festival for performers. The only "event" at Indian Neck was a Saturday Night concert for all comers. I never got comfortable with an audience of seasoned performers, but there were some memorable moments. The rest of the weekend was spent in sharing ad hoc music with whoever was around.

I'm an early riser, so one of my favorite memories of Indian Neck was hearing Alan Block playing softly to himself in the soft dawn light.
Indian Neck provided another venue and an opportunity to hear performers doing a variety of different styles. What continued to interest me were those people who were trying to capture the essence of traditional music without merely being biological tape recorders.

Me & Folkmusic, Part Five

As I was saying, when I came back from my tour around Europe I went to work for Yale. Not on the faculty, at least not to teach.

I was going to work for Al Bromley, who was later to be [the elder] Pres. Bush's Science Advisor, to make his new laboratory work. I could talk to the engineers in the lab because they were the kinds of people I had been working with outside of school, I had a Ph.D., so I could talk to the scientists, I had been working for a supplier of scientific equipment (and occasionally selling it), so the vendors couldn't snow me, and my father was a tool&diemaker, so I could talk to the machinists in their own language. The lab went together better than anybody had any right to expect: not because the construction went without mistakes but because we could figure out ways to correct the mistakes.

After the initial round of crises I had time to look around, and I found that there was a bookstore in New Haven that had informal folkmusic gatherings. Later I found out that that was formerly a hangout for John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, and the Ramblers may have gelled there. I started hanging out with a group of people, townies and graduate students, who were interested in "traditional" folk music.

I better say a few words about "traditional" "folkmusic" in the way I use those terms.

When Cecil Sharp took his flivver-&-muleback tour of Appalachia in 1913 through 1916 the people he heard singing and playing were "traditional" "folk" "musicians".

They were musicians because they made music.

They were "folk" because the music they made had not been influenced by official "classical" or "popular" music for some time, possibly generations.

"Classical" music is academic, and "popular" music is middle-or- low-brow entertainment; but both are created by professionals and performed by professionals. "Folk" musicians may be entertaining themselves or others, but the odds are that the entertainment doesn't stray much from their farm or neighborhood.

Classical music is based on aesthetic principles that are codified in universities, popular music is derived from watered-down classical arrangements of variations on traditional tunes, but the kind of folkmusic that Sharp collected was built on aestrhetic principles that had been traditional in the isolated backwoods settlements for generations. Some of the songs were recognizably in "modes", the medieval mustical structures that had been completely replaced by the notion of "keys" in classical and popular music. The important thing was that to the musicians that Sharp collected this wasn't "a kind of music" to be distinguished from other kinds of music, this was the way music was.

In the late 1920s, in order to market the new phonographs, recordings were made of rural musicians like the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers, who would sound familiar to the rural communities. It became possible for people like them to travel around and earn a living by performing their music in meeting-halls. Making these traditional folk performers into professionals blurred the lines between "folk" and "rural-style popular" music. This rural popular music broadened its listener base in World War II and became "County Music". That has spawned enough "crossover" singers with lush arrangement that furthur blurred the lines between country and popular; and that, in turn, stimulated a revival of the earlier rural styles as "roots" music.

The "folk revival" of the 1940s had been stimulated by singers like Burl Ives and political singers like Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, who were interested in presenting a simple tune and clear words. Any folksong, from any source, American, Irish, Scottish, Jewish, even African, was ground down to a simple tune and clear english words. There was no sense that there was any aesthetic associated with a particular folksong other than American poular or parlor songs of the late 19th century.

Of course 20th century popular music has been powerfully influenced by the traditional music of african americans. From the synchopation of the Ragtime of the late 1800s to the harmonies of the blues, American popular music from the Civil War to Rock and Roll has tried to absorb every variation of African American music and make it acceptable to white audiences.

Folkmusicians of the 1960s revival were no different: to be popular they adapted the instrumentation of a Jazz band and the aesthetic of African-influenced popular music. They were so successful that in the music business "folk" now means music that is in the style of folk-influenced popular musicians of the revival of the late-60s-early-70s period or music that is a little more like country than "soft rock".

Me & Folkmusic, Part Four

By 1961 I had finished my Ph.D. and was working at an industrial salary for a company on Long Island making research equipment. I was still living at home on the scale of a graduate student so when I read a review in the New York Times of a british folksinger at Gerde's Folk City in Greenwich Village I could afford to drive into the city, have dinner at a Levantine Restaurant where George Mgrdichian was playing Oud, and go to Gerde's to be astounded.

There was this young scottish girl who sang the big ballads unaccompanied, with such a crystal clarity that an accompaniment would have been disturbing. She also did comic songs, ceilidh standbys, mouth-music and a hauntingly magical seal song. Nothing before or after has had the effect of my first hearing of Jean Redpath.

It opened up a whole new aesthetic world to me.

My experience of english folksong had been Percy Grainger art-song arrangements, field recordings and Ewan McColl. Jean made me understand that scottish songs, at any rate, could be sung with such artistry that they made lieder take a back seat and yet be consistent with the tradition. Jean is still singing around the circuit and, while neither of us is as young as we were in 1961, hearing her is still an experience that shouldn't be missed.

I haunted Gerde's for a while, and was there when Jean Ritchie made her first appearance in a "bar", along with Doc Watson and Roger Sprung. The repertoires of Doc and Jean overlapped mostly in Carter family stuff which helped me understand American traditional music better.

Roger Sprung also helped me understand that one could be a marvelous instrumentalist and still "not get it".

I kept an eye out for records of british traditional singers (which was mostly Ewan McColl). McColl was born in Scotland in 1915 as "Jimmy Miller". Ewan was a playwright during the 40s, but turned to promoting British traditional music during the 50s folk revival in the UK. With his wife, Peggy Seeger, he produced a series of radio-ballads for the BBC, from which we get "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", "Shoals of Herring", "Sweet Thames Flow Softly", "Dirty Old Town", and "Ballad of Springhill" among others.

While not folksongs in the purest sense, the McColl-Seeger songs could be very catchy. I was driving in Nova Scotia on one rainy night in the area of the Sprinhill mine, and the windshield wiper beat out the Ballad of Springhill for hours.

At the end of 1962 I had a fight with the president of the company I was working for so I arranged to rent a car in Paris in the summer, did a couple of consulting jobs in the spring, and took off.

In London I ran across Colletts record store on Oxford street: a whole store dedicated to nothing but folk and jazz. After arranging to get a king's ransom of records shipped home, I asked the clerk what was happening in folkmusic around town. "This fellow can tell you better than I", she said, and introduced me to Louis Killen.

Louis Killen was born in Durham, outside Newcastle, in 1934. He opened the Folk Song and Ballad club in Newcastle in 1958. He performed on the folk circuit and was living in London in 1963.

For the next couple of weeks I pretty much went to whatever folk club Louis was going and listened rapturously to everything. One evening when Louis was otherwise busy I went to a pub out in nowhere to hear a young man named Martin Carthy, and on another occasion I heard Cyril Tawney. I think I heard four distinct versions of the long ballad "Bonny Bunch of Roses", which is similar to "A Grand Conversation on Napoleon".

Eventually I left for Paris to pick up the rental car, but by then I had learned the tunes of some of Louis' repertoire and scribbled a version of the words, and a smattering of what else was going around. There was no chance that I could sing the grand ballads with Louis' skill because I could barely hear the subtleties of his performance, but Bob Davenport was singing them with vigor rather than decoration and I could always fall back on Sydney Carter's comic songs like "Down Below", the sewer ballad.

I spent the next four months driving around Europe, from Paris to the Norwegian Arctic, to Greece, to Lisbon and back to Paris again. I stayed for a while with relatives in Finland and a couple of weeks with a fellow physicist in Rome, but I only heard a "folk" singing a "folksong" once: in the Tower of Belem a maid was singing "Meninas vamos o vira" while dusting the inside of a massive fireplace.She stopped, embarrassed, when she realized a tourist was in the room. I was charmed, because it was one of the few Portugese folksongs I knew myself.

I had planned another few weeks in Paris and in London, but I had a message waiting that my father had had a heart attack, so I flew back. He survived for a few more years.

Not long after I got a job as Assistant Director of the Nuclear Structure Laboratory at Yale.

Me & Folkmusic, Part Three

Pete Seeger was born in New York City in 1919, the son of the eminent musicologist Charles Seeger (1886- 1979), the stepson of composer Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-53), the nephew of the poet Alan Seeger (1888-1916), and the half brother of Peggy and Mike Seeger. In 1938 Seeger dropped out of Harvard University and traveled through the U.S., singing and collecting songs. He later worked with Alan Lomax on the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song.

Seeger formed the Almanac Singers in 1940 with Woody Guthrie, and the Weavers in 1948. In 1955 he was investigated by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and in 1962 charges against him were dismissed. He later became active in environmental preservation.

Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912. He traveled throughout the U.S. during the Great Depression, doing odd jobs and singing for a living. Guthrie's autobiography, Bound for Glory was published in 1943. He died in New York City of Huntington's chorea.

I met a fellow in New Haven who claimed to have been in the same Communist Party Cell in Chicago with Pete Seeger and Studs Turkle, but that was unlikely. In any case it was not so much their left-leaning politics as their personal characteristics that made them beloved.

Pete Seeger had a charisma that had to be experienced: he could get any group singing, from upper-middles in a theater to grubbies at a festival.
Woodie's "protest" songs had a human dimension that made them universal, in contrast to the easily-forgotten "See how oppressed I am" imitations. If anything their politics hurt folkmusic more than it helped the left wing.
It is, however, fascinating to see even Republicans singing "This Land is Your Land", which has more to do with agrarian reform than jingoism.
At the same time the scholarly approach was represented by John Lomax, his son Alan, and the people they collected and discovered, like Leadbelly (Hudie Ledbetter).

By the time I graduated from MIT in 1950 McCarthyism had put its dampening hand even on Pete and Woody. In the beginning of 1951 I got drafted for the Korean War and ended up as an enlisted man in a laboratory in Maryland doing classified research on defenses against radiological warfare.

I was in an atmosphere where drawing attention to connections with left wing politics, no matter that the basis of the connection was aesthetic rather than ideological, would have been not only "bad taste" but potentially dangerous. One chemistry Ph.D., a Canadian who let himself get drafted because he wanted US Citizenship, was relegated to Dugway proving ground watching over nerve gas munitions simply because, being Canadian, he couldn't get a clearance.

I was not about to encourage the FBI to pore over my connection with The People's Bookstore in Boston or People Songs.

By 1953 I had done my service but, being broke, agreed to work for the Army for a year to put some money in my pocket. In 1954 I entered graduate school at Columbia. Living with my parents on Long Island and studying nuclear physics in the late '50s under the Korean War GI Bill was difficult because the GI Bill didn't even fully pay the tuition. I spent most of my spare time working as a consultant in the aerospace industry on Long Island.

I did manage to attend some "lecture- demonstrations" done for Columbia's adult education program: six were by Pete Seeger and another six by Joseph Marais and his wife, Miranda. Before the war Marais had been doing a radio program that featured South African (Boer) folkmusic. Marais and Miranda had met while doing propaganda broadcasts during the War, and their repertoire as a couple was more European than African. This enabled them to avoid the question of apartheid, which would have made their liberal audiences uncomfortable.

Folkmusic recordings were not to be found in the ordinary record store, but I was living with my parents in Hempstead, L. I.., where a record store was started by a fellow known as "Swede" Olsen. He had some scandinavian dance music records and, as we got more friendly, he would point out "world music" records he thought I would be interested in.

I did buy one Folkways record during this period: an exchange student singing swedish folksongs. I learned one and sang it to my mother who said "Where did you learn your grandfather's favorite song?" But not many american folksingers knew swedish, and fewer audiences understood it.
At that time (say 1957-60) Vanguard issued a couple of collections of field recordings made in england and scotland (edited by Ken Goldstein), and also a collection of songs from the 1959 Newport Festival. That had one cut of a gospel song done by a moderately well-known singer named Bob Gibson, together with an unknown young woman with a remarkable voice: Joan Baez.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Me & Folkmusic, Part Two

Why the music was available through a communist front bookstore and not through the usual channels is an interesting story.

During the thirties and forties nobody in particular was interested in folk music except scholars and communists.

There were a few scholars following in the tradition of Francis James Child [1825-1896]. He was a philologist, born in Boston. a professor at Harvard from 1851 to 1896 and an authority on the ballad. His best known books are:

English and Scottish Ballads (1857-58) and
English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1883-98).

His canon of (indexed) groups of related ballads ["The Child Ballads"] were regarded as the be-all-and-end-all of British Folk Art for many years.

Cecil James Sharp [1859-1924] is the other big name in British folksong scholarship. Born in London, he practiced law in Australia but returned to England in 1892 as a music teacher. He was music master at Ludgrove School and principal of Hampstead Conservatory . From 1903 he collected and published many native English folk songs and dances in:

Folk Songs from Somerset (1904-09),
The Morris Book (1907-13),
The Country Dance Book (1909-22), and
English Folk Songs (1932).

He founded the English Folk Dance Society (1911) and initiated the teaching of folk song and dance in English schools. He is particularly important in American folk music scholarship because during 1916-18 he collected folk songs and dances of English origin in the Appalachian Mountains; thus proving that british folk culture survived in the American backwoods.

Child saw the ballads as "literature" and was so disinterested in the tunes that his massive compilation has very few hints that the ballads were actually sung. Sharp was mainly interested in "preserving" the bare bones of the tunes so that they could be incorporated in schoolbooks and preserved by being sung in school classrooms with cleaned-up words. The bare tunes and the words, if they were clean enough, were enough for Sharp.

The communists felt much the same way. They had decided that the way to get to "the people" was to use "the people's art" as a vehicle for propaganda. In the Soviet Union the party encouraged the performance of folk music and dance by organizing large professional companies of dancers and singers to perform it in theaters. The Red Army Chorus made international tours when other functionaries were forbidden a sight of the outside world.

The American Communist Party felt that they should encourage the tradition made famous by "Joe Hill" of the Wobblies.

"Joe Hill" was a labor agitator and songwriter born Joel Hoegglund in Sweden in 1879. He was also known as "Joseph Hillstrom" and "Joe Hill". He came to the US around 1901 and became active in the Industrial Workers of the World (The IWW or Wobblies) around 1910. He worked in strike organization and contributed to the IWW journals "Industrial Worker" and "Solidarity". Some of his songs such as "The Preacher and the Slave", "There is Power in a Union", and "The Rebel Girl" became widely popular. In 1914 he was arrested, convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence, and after numerous appeals, was executed for murder. This made him a hero (and saint) of the radical labor movement.

The Industrial Workers of the World advocated the Marxist theory of class struggle between workers and capitalists. Its early policy was one of direct action [propaganda, strikes, boycotts, and sabotage] rather than more indirect political means such as arbitration and collective bargaining. The aim of the IWW was to include in its membership the entire industrial population of the U.S. The IWW was at the peak of its strength in 1912, with a membership of about 10,000. [See Jack London's The Iron Heel for attitudes of the time.]

Between 1906 and 1917 the IWW carried out a number of strikes that were violent on both sides. Among these strikes were the miners' strike at Goldfield, Nev. (1906-07), TRIG the textile workers' strike at Lawrence, Mass. (1912), and the silk workers' strike at Paterson, N.J. (1913).

The union opposed the entrance of the U.S. into World War I. The losses sustained by wartime prosecution, by the subsequent action of several states in prohibiting "criminal syndicalism," and by the action of many IWW members in joining the American Communist party after its formation (1919-21), caused a decline in union membership. Thereafter, the IWW ceased to play a prominent part in the labor movement, and was dispersed. In recent years it existed as an office in Chicago where one could order copies of its "Little Red Songbook" containing the Joe Hill "Top Hits".

The political aspect of the post-World-War-II left-radical support of folkmusic peaked with the campaign of Henry Wallace in 1948. Wallace represented the far left wing of the Democratic Party, opposed to Harry Truman's centrist position. Strom Thurmond represented the far right (southern) wing and, with the Democratic Party split three ways, the Republican Thomas Dewey (a former DA and Governor of New York) figured on a shoo-in; leading to the famous picture of a victorious Truman holding a Chicago Tribune with the headline "Dewey Wins".

I had been sympathetic with the Wallace campaign because of its use of folksingers and folkmusic in the campaign, but Wallace was unrealistically far left for an american politician and lost. It made for a fascinatingly close election, which obscured the complete rout of the left wing.

The loss caused Wallace's party to break up into a far left wing that took over an older party called the American Labor Party (with no strength except in New York) which subsequently followed the Soviet line a bit too obviously, and a moderate left-wing group that kept the Progressive Party name for a while and formed the far left wing of the Democratic Party.

After McCarthy's Unamerican Activities Committee began making leftist connections uncomfortable even a stalwart publication like "People's Songs" faded into a folkie fan magazine called "Sing Out"; and folkmusic dropped out of mainstream american politics in my lifetime.

In the early fourties, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Agnes "Sis" Cunningham, Burl Ives, John Hammond, Lee Hays, Alan Lomax, Irwin Silber and others had been looking for a new way to carry on the folk tradition. According to Joe Klein, Seeger suggested a loose-knit union of songwriters who would stage occasional performances and provide songs for unions and other progressive groups. It would be ecumenical enough to include some less radical sorts like Oscar Brand, Tom Glazer, and Josh White. In 1946, they began to publish "The People's Songs Bulletin". People's Songs was forced to close in 1949 by the prevailing uncomfortable atmosphere.

It was revived in 1950, as Sing Out! with a not so obvious left radical orientation. It remains as a folkmusic journal but it never had any political significance.

Curiously, the influence of the radical left on American Folkmusic was quite strong but, in a characteristically American way, it was through the actions of individuals rather than organizations. Two people, the charismatic Pete Seeger and the poet Woody Guthrie, came out of this "progressive" movement to make themselves saints and heros of the American Folkmusic revival.

However, like the earlier scholars and educators, Seeger and Guthrie were less interested in the tunes and musical styles than the literary content. Guthrie would use any handy folk or country tune that fit the poetic thought; and Seeger molded all the music to fit his banjo technique and his ability to get people singing. It was Seeger's younger half-brother who was to set the folkmusic revival moving in a different direction.

Me & Folkmusic, Part One

In a sense I learned my first folksongs very early, but they were in swedish and I didn't relearn them until many years later.

"I" am Karl Eklund, the guy described in the sidebar, and a memoir of my life is not terribly interesting, except that I got involved in "American Folk Music" during the revivals of the 1940s andthe 1960s, when "folk music" was regarded as something primitive rather than being a type of popular music characterized by having the performer claim tohave composed the music and written the lyrics. The transition from objects of scholarship to popular music is somewhat interesting, and not many people remember it any more.

As I said, I learned some swedish folksongs early. I was born to an immigrant couple who had come from Finland and were living in The Bronx. So I usually date my discovery of "folk music' [as a thing separate from all the other harmonious noises] as being in Evander Childs High School, in the Bronx, in 1945-6.

There were actually two strains of folk music but I didn't connect them up till much later. One strain was the songs we learned to sing in assembly. They included things like "La Paloma", from the Argentine, and "Chee Lai", the Maoist anthem from the Chinese partisans. You can hear Paul Robeson singing "Chee Lai" in concert style.

It was toward the end of World War Two, the notion of the United Nations was in the air and we were all very much into international cooperation. We learned songs from other countries on "our side", i.e., russian and chinese rather than german and japanese. In only a couple of years Nixon and McCarthy would learn that it was politically profitable to be anti- communist and songs like Chee Lai and other anti-fascist partisan songs would be banned from the curriculum.

The other strain of folkmusic was unofficial. In our High School we had a traditional "Senior Day" when seniors wore silly costumes featuring the school colors (orange and black) and wise teachers figured out something that would keep us from being disruptive. Our economics teacher brought in some records from his private collection: Josh White, Burl Ives and a group called "The Almanac Singers" who had an album (78s came in real albums) called "Talking Union". He played the title talking blues from that album and grabbed the pickup just before the singer said, about the boss, "He's a ......".

I naturally had to get a copy (from Macy's as I remember) and find out that the next word was "bastard". Later, I would find out that the Almanacs were the singers later known as "The Weavers" plus Woody Guthrie and others not identified.

There wasn't much of this folkmusic to be had in normal channels in the mid-fourties, but Moe Asch (who later produced "Folkways" records) was putting some things out on the Stinson and Asch labels in 78rpm, there were a couple of albums by Josh White, Richard Dyre-Bennett had recorded some delicate english songs and ballads that sounded more like leider, Joseph Marais had a radio program singing South African (Boer) folk songs, and there was always Burl Ives.

By the time I went away to MIT I had a fair collection of 78rpm albums. I also had some odd singles that I had picked up used on The Avenue of the Americas [which we still thought of as Sixth Avenue]; russian army songs, arabic solos, a version of "Romania, Romania" in theatrical yiddish by Aaron Lebedov that I can still hear in my minds ear. I had learned about these records, and where to get them, from an early evening radio program by Henry Morgan, a very funny fellow who played even funnier records. He didn't call them folk music, though. It is what is now called "World Music" anything that is traditionally styled pop from another country.

When I was at MIT I was involved in the campus radio station and, one year, had two folk music programs per week: one using records and one live show. Dick and Beth Best (whose book of song words and chords satisfied the need for group singing in the '50s) ran the Outing Club and had occasional singing gatherings that let me recruit performers.

Folkmusic records could still be found at reasonable prices at "The People's Book Store" near Boston's chinatown. Like the dozen or so firms called "People's This" and "People's That" with offices in the Little Building on the same corridor as the Communist Party, USA, it was undoubtedly what was then called a "front" organization. Harvard students used to go there for cheap copies of Das Capital and the Manifesto.

I was generally broke and record albums weren't cheap at best, so I was always peeved at Moe Asch because when vinyl lps came in he priced his Folkways records at $1 more than the usual records and never discounted. Since I was a student and broke I never got many. I got a chance to bitch at his son years later, when we met in London, but I'm sure he had no idea what I was talking about.

There were interesting records in the MIT and Harvard libraries (Harvard had the Library of Congress 78s) but they were reference and couldn't be borrowed.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hero & Sage: Folksong as Pastoral

THE HERO AND THE SAGE: The Folk Music Revival As Pastoral

Contemporary popular art certainly isn't "folk art" by any definition; nor does it have the pretentions of being fine art. But that doesn't mean we can't learn anything from it, because sometimes it says something that resonates with our basic feelings. The kind of thing that Jung would have said hit on an archetype that was lodged in our collective unconscious.

This summer, amidst the myriad bombs at the movie box office was one real financial success that made a new superstar: the movie was The Empire Strikes Back and the superstar was Yoda, the Jedi master.

That the second Star Wars movie was box office was perhaps to be expected--but Yoda? Admittedly he has a lot of personal charm, perhaps best described by thinking of him as a cross between Kermit the Frog and Mr. Spock. With improvements: he still lives in the swamp that Kermit gave up for his trenchcoat and microphone, and his ears have a vitality and expressiveness that Spock's never aspired to. He is an absolute technical triumph of muppetry and Frank Oz deserves an oscar by acclamation.

But there is also something more, something that draws us to this confrontation between Yoda and Luke Skywalker. Luke has come to the swamp to learn to use the Force, and to do that he has to seek Yoda in his dismal hole. But if Yoda lives bodily in muck his mind travels the universe freely--while Luke, normally at home amidst the full plethora of super modern technology and the blessings of interplanetary civilization, is so mired in behavioral patterning that he drops his training at the first opportunity for meaningless heroics.

It is an ancient theme, this interaction of hero and sage: the Zen annals resound with deaf samurai asking Roshis questions they don't really want answered, western fairy tales tell again and again of heros who won't listen because they have to learn the hard way.

But what has this to do with the folk music revival? Consider, if you will, a similar contrast: the folk-rock "star" always on the move with their complement of groupies burdened with the latest monstrous bit of electronic technology, needing the artificial excitement of uppers when not being adored on stage and of the chemical surcease of downers when they can't stand being up; and the archetypical revivalist. playing at the local ceilidh or backyard festival, welcomed and admired for their understanding of the nuances of the music wherever the "pros" gather but content to stay home and cultivate their garden most of the time.

The Beach Boys, say, or the Kingston Trio contrasted with....well, 1 won't mention his [her] name but you know who I mean. They are here at the Eisteddfod.

The question is: Why do so many of the "stars" burn out, while the laidback, low key traditional revivalists seem to go on forever? Is there something of the sage that they have captured that gives them a long. full life compared to the short blaze and cold ashes of the hero? If there is we ought to at least know what is going on so we can make the choice consciously.

The key can be found, oddly enough, in a book of literary criticism: in Some Versions Of Pastoral[New York: New Directions, 1950] by William Empson. Empson, of course, never talks about the folk-revival...the closest he comes is in talking about the proletarian novels of the twenties. But he does talk about the hero and the sage; and particularly of the pastoral swain as sage and savior. He said "the essential trick of the old pastoral...was to make simple people express...something fundamentally true...in learned and fashionable language [so that you wrote about the best subject in the best way.]"..."the simple man becomes a clumsy fool who yet has better "sense" than his betters and can say things more fundamentally true; he is 'in contact with nature', which the complex man needs to be...; he is in contact with the mysterious forces of our own nature, so that the clown has the wit of the unconscious; he can speak the truth because he has nothing to lose". "The usual process for putting further meanings into the pastoral situation was to insist that the shepherds were rulers of sheep...; this piled the heroic convention onto the pastoral one, since the hero was another symbol of his whole society. "

On that basis it is certainly true that the style of the folk-revival is pastoral. Our preferred art-forms are those of isolated rural communities hidden away from contemporary civilization. Our uniform is, more often than not, the farmer's blue jeans and work shirt or bib overall, the more worn and faded [impoverished] the better. Some of us [I indude myself] have gone so far as to actually farm the land; often with no more modern techniques and implements than our grandfathers might have known. Others have revived the handwork of previous generations and bring our products to festivals like the Eisteddfod to hawk them personally to those who must get their homespun and homemade at second hand.

And still, many of us can, and will, discourse on these arts and crafts in the language of the university: the middle-class mark of Cain bequeathed us by our middle class parents. What is this if not pastoral in Empson's sense? Pastoral lived rather than the basis for literary construction, but pastoral none the less. Is this anything more than the pastoral of the french court before the revolution, when the Louis' and their Marie Antoinettes dressed as Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses? Is there some kind of method to our....well, not "madness" perhaps, but eccentricity at the very least? What significance does a real- life pastoral have?

We get a hint about this in Alfred Toynbee's monumental Study Of History[London:Oxford, 1939-1956]. Toynbee compared the American colonies--in particular, comparing Massachusetts with the Carolinas. The Carolinas had the obvious advantages, better land, better weather, better financed colonization: they had everything going for them and yet they became a cultural and economic backwater until the last couple of decades. Massachusetts had nothing going for it: rocky soil, bitter winters, colonization by impoverished religious refugees; and yet it became the cradle of the American political and industrial revolutions. From this, and other examples, he enunciated a "Principle of Compensation" that said the more challenges you had to face [assuming that they weren't so bad as to completely exhaust you-- his example of that was Maine] the more you had the less you did with what you had.

Toynbee didn't take this principle into our individual private lives, but it makes sense. One of the persistent items of American folklore is the notion of the "poor little rich kid"--the spoiled brat who has everything on a silver platter and all it does is to make him a rich, obnoxious nebbish at best; a complete failure at being human. Whether this happens all the time isn't the point: we do believe it happens, and it is one of those myths that reenact the way we think about ourselves. It is the opposite side of the coin from the Abraham Lincoln myth: the kid who goes from the log cabin to the White House. That doesn't happen every time, either; but it forms part of the myth. "Them as has" make little of it: "Them as don't" make the most of themselves. Is this realistic? Or is it just a holdover from Victorian propaganda meant to glorify the entrepreneur and keep the proletariat from unionizing? We are beginning to see, from anthropological research, that there is more to it than a capitalist's Horatio Alger con-game.

The primitive hunter-gatherer tribe works on a basis of strong conformity, and that makes a lot of sense. Those with more give their surplus to those without in a kind of primitive communism. It makes for survival, because that kind of tribe doesn't have a surplus on the average; so if everything isn't shared out many of the tribe might starve and then nobody'd survive. Besides, our evolutionary edge over the other primates is vocal language: we can talk and throw a rock at the same time while they have to use body language. Even educated apes like Washoe have to use sign language to talk.

Speech gives us the advantage of culture: we can learn from others and don't have to invent being human from scratch. But to do that requires a degree of conformity that the other animals wouldn't dream of: as the biblical myth of the Tower of Babel points out, we can only be human if we all speak the same language. So even if we aren't in a primitive tribe where we will get teased back to normality when we get uppity we get a feeling of anxiety when we get above ourselves. We can make up rationalizations or fantasies that we deserve to be better, or some such nonsense, like thinking that people of one skin color are better than another, but that's just a way of compensating by screwing up our heads. We have an unconscious need to be "equal on the average".

There were two people in the primitive tribe who weren't equal: the shaman and the warchief. Or, to give them the titles they got in later mythology, the. Sage and the Hero. The Shaman had to know more and have more power over disease. and weather, and the scarcity of game, and what have you. The War chief had to be able to boss the war-party around under conditions where there wasn't enough time to talk about things and reach a consensus by discussion. But the principle of compensation wasn't repealed for them: they just paid for their powers in different ways.

The Hero paid by being in the forefront of the battle--he was the first one in the fight, not like the present behind-the-lines generals. He took the most risks and counted the most coup. If he got the most glory out of it he did so at the price of dying young. He was "one-up" on the warband in that he had the power to boss them around; but he was certainly "one-down" if you value coming back alive. He was"equal on the average".

The Shaman paid a different price. Often a Tungut shaman didn't get the "call" to become a shaman until he had survived a case of smallpox, or a siege of epilepsy. Even after that, like the Eskimo shaman, he might go out and fast alone in the Arctic midnight. Even when a shaman candidate was recognized young he had a long and demanding training and [as Carlos Castaneda tells us] an initiation carrying the risks of madness or death. If the Hero paid for being "one-up" on demand; the Shaman paid in advance. And it is the shaman's technique that provides the sense behind pastoral.

The pastoral swain, the wise fool, the Shakespearian clown, gain their powers from being socially "one-down" from the level of ordinary people; just as the Hero must be "one-up" to exert his leadership. If the Hero's uniform is golden armor [or a white lincoln convertible] the Sage's uniform is a tattered robe and a shepherd's crook. By being one down the pastoral swain is allowed to be more in tune with nature, and his own nature, wiser in the human values if poorer in the status symbols of the "normal" culture of his place and time.

And this is precisely the kind of symbolism that the folk-revival flaunts'. We do not listen to politicians or kings; but to the ordinary members of peasantry and proletariat. We do not learn from begowned literati and eminent divines; we sit at the feet of farmers and housewives and backwoods preachers. We do not listen to opera and symphony but to the music coming out of rural kitchen windows and the open doors of backstreet fancy-houses. We admire, and emulate, the culture that in the "normal" values of our time an;l place is nothing if not "one-down".

But what do we get from it? Well, some of us may use the pastoral role to become more in tune with nature; others to be more in tune with their own nature, freeing them from the"normal" anxiety over status and success. Some may choose the role to allow them to criticize the normal culture: Woody Guthrie and his emulators are certainly being what Empson would recognize as "pastoral swain as savior".

Most of us are not even aware that our involvement in the folk-revival is a "role" in any sense: we just know that we have been drawn to it because it satisfies some need. We don't need to know how it works so long as it saves our minds from the corrosion of middle-class values and enables us to tolerate our lives. And some of us use it as a vehicle to cruse the Hero route: but most of us aren't attracted to the kind of hero's payment that was collected from Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix and Richard Farina and legions who paid less noticeably. We prefer the shaman's technique: we stay quietly in our swamps.

This is certainly not to say that everybody who is involved with the folk-revival is a sage: we can look around and test that one ourselves. But we can also look around and compare the folkies we know, particularly those who live the pastoral role most completely, and compare them to the straight, success and status oriented, anxiety-ridden middle-class people we also have to deal with: bureaucrats and businessmen, professors and policemen and politicians. We can then decide who we prefer to be with: the pastoral swain or the striver after middle-class heroism.

PS: I'm still alive and writing after having had my 79th birthday, possibly because I've never had any public recogniion. We don't farm any more, though.

Yankee Ingenuity

For the last couple of years one of the features of the Eisteddfod has been a ''craft fair", which provides an opportunity for craftsmen to exhibit, and sell, their wares. This has proved to be popular with the people who come to the Eisteddfod and also with the craftsmen; so we expect that it will be a permanent part of the festivities. The only trouble with a ''fair'' of this kind is that it has a necessarily commercial aspect.
This is no objection, because craftsmen have to sell their wares; either to support themselves or at least to have their craft pay for itself so it isn't just an expensive hobby. But it does tend to take the focus away from the prime purpose of the Eisteddfod, which is the passing on of traditional arts and crafts from person to person. As we say elsewhere, without the learning it might be fun but it wouldn't be the Eisteddfod.

This year, to supplement the fair, we are going to have workshops in which the crafts can be demonstrated; and also a gallery exhibit of both contemporary and antique examples of craftsmanship. But this raised an interesting question. The craft fair is not a judged show: we try to encourage craftsmen whose products fit the traditional theme of the Eisteddfod, but we have not yet actually rejected a craftsman's application on the grounds that what he wanted to show wasn't good enough or wasn't the right thing. We have been lucky, because that allowed us to avoid the question of just what ''craftsmanship'' consists of.

But an exhibit is a whole other thing: the essence of an exhibit is that some things are shown and others aren't. So we had to ask ourselves "What is American Craftsmanship anyway?".

The word itself is not unambiguous; the word "crafty" has a decidedly sneaky connotation. In fact the word is common in the teutonic languages and means ''strength'' or ''force''---it is only in English that is got the meaning of a skill or art. Even then the word seems to have had an occult sense earlier than a practical one; even now the skill of a craftsman seems half magical to those who don't have it.

In more modern usage the use of the word to refer to activities needing little skill has made it derogatory: "artsy-craftsy" is a real put-down. But ''craftsmanship'' still has enough positive meaning that it can be used (with more or less honesty) in commercial advertisements.

There tends to be a bit of snobbery in the way we use the word, the feeling that what We are doing is more significant, more seriously aesthetic, than making little animals by gluing glass marbles together. Still---I'd prefer to think that it isn't all snobbery; that a work of craftsmanship is something more than just something made "by hand". Maybe even more than something that is very well made by hand. If so, What is it?

Let's go to the exhibit and look at two banjos hanging side by side. Both are "collector's items", maybe even rare ones, by the accident of time; but they are quite different. One is made by Vega and labeled ''Regent'', evidently made to sell in Wurlitzer's Boston music store as a house brand, probably in the teens and twenties. The other is merely labeled "The New Yorker" and looks to be a copy of a turn-of-the-century Stewart.
They are made quite differently. The Regent is a student grade banjo---sturdy neck, solid, durable wooden rim with a metal tone ring, and with a minimum of decoration. The New Yorker is much more lightly constructed: its head is stretched over nickeled sheet metal spun onto a thin wooden rim; but the light, gracefully formed neck is decoratively laminated, has inlays on the tuner and carving on the stock.

Obviously the effort on the Regent has gone into making a sturdy instrument with reliable good tone; whereas The New Yorker has sacrificed durability (its neck and rim are both a bit warped because of their light construction) for visual aesthetics. Neither the inlay nor the sculptured neck add anything to the sound of the instrument; but its maker obviously felt that the effort was worth it in that it would find a buyer who valued visual over musical aesthetics.

Richard Dyer-Bennet once told me about a guitar-maker who I'll call ''Trabajo''. The patriarch of the clan made some fine guitars (while his sons and nephews concentrated on producing a student guitar made of plywood that was practically indestructible) but he did not himself play the guitar past a few arpeggios necessary for demonstration. As a result, the only way he had of putting a price on a guitar was by considering the amount of work he put into it.

Dick said that if you dug around in the Trabajo workshop showroom and played all the guitars you could usually find a good guitar that cost less and sounded better than the ''top of the line."

This illustrates two different styles of craftsmanship that, for want of better terms, I am going to call "European" and "American." European craftsmanship ship values ''workmanship'', which is to say the amount of effort put into the product, even if that effort is put into rococo decoration. American craftsmanship values function over decoration. The Trabajo family can illustrate both styles because we children of immigrants will often be aggressively American in ways the Yankee takes for granted.
In a sense these labels are prejudiced. The American urban upper-middle class have always been "European" in this way---sometimes excessively so. After all, the European aristocracy merely needed to remind everyone that they could command the kind of labor that workmanship entails; in America upward-mobility created the need to display one's status conspicuously. We still show our devotion to this European tradition in the way we value decor over function in such status symbols as automobiles.

Conversely. the style I call American has always been present in rural crafts in Europe. Only in America, however, did the combined factors of a seemingly limitless territorial expansion and the explosive development of the industrial revolution make a rural style into a national one.
''Rural'' does not mean ''badly done''. 1 live in a rural house, framed in local oak, morticed and trunneled, and now in its third century. [ photo]If anything about the house doesn't survive into the fourth century it is likely to be the parts added in this century out of milled lumber fastened with nails. The balloon-framed house superseded the post-and-beam house not because it was better but because there was a shortage of house carpenters in the new western territories The farmer who had never made a mortised joint could order a set of precut lumber from a city mill and have it shipped by rail to the nearest whistlestop; then put it up himself.
Now that the traditional revival includes craftsmanship we are seeing a revival of I the post-and-beam house; as witness the ads in Mother Earth News and Yankee Magazine.

But if it is sturdy there is little fancy-work in our house---even the parlor paneling is a kind of shiplap and the cupboard inserted above the fireplace is severely functional. It represents a kind of craftsmanship that had to be reintroduced to us from Europe---Mies van der Rohe's Bauhaus dicta of "Form follows function" and "Less is more." The difference is that in modern European tradition these had to be introduced as theoretical aesthetic principles; in early America they were not set by theory but by the situation. There was simply not enough time and effort available for frippery. . Things had to work, and you made them work the best and simplest way you knew how.

But this didn't mean that you made things that were bad to look at. Among the exhibits are some forged ironware for the kitchen: a spoon and some tongs for breaking loaf sugar. Isolated from their uses they are like small items of statuary; but they worked, and still work. The carpenter's scale, square and miter gauge have their fastenings and points of wear reinforced with brass; and the contrast between the brass and the walnut of the handles and the gray steel blades is particularly satisfactory.
With all that, nothing on these pieces is of the nature of superfluous decoration. The epitome of this kind of American craftsmanship is that associated with the Shakers.

Every item of Shaker manufacture, from cheese boxes to clothes presses, shares this economy of design; but the Shaker chair is perhaps the most characteristic. The Shakers sat to eat, during worship (and not always then, because they believed in dancing before the Lord) and at such work as absolutely required sitting. Between times the chairs were hung from pegs on the wall to eliminate the temptation to indolence. A Shaker chair thus had to be strong, because it was expected to last under use, but it had to be light, so that it could be easily lifted and hung. The design6n solution that satisfies these criteria and is still relatively simple to make has of itself a timeless beauty.

It did not, unfortunately, have to be comfortable to sit in: because sitting as a recreation was not part of the Shaker lifestyle. That, incidentally, tells us something very important: that the function that the form should follow is dependent on the social environment in which it is used, and that may not be the way we would expect to use it. One does not watch television or read novels in a Shaker chair. But that doesn't affect our viewpoint on the style of the craftsmanship.

The chairs in the cottages of the Gilded Age, like The Breakers in Newport, were meant to be looked at and admired for what they cost. They are not comfortable to sit in either. The Shakers and The Breakers provide another interesting comparison: in order to produce the costly decoration of the gilded cottages various craftsmen had to be imported from Europe; while the invention of the circular saw is attributed to a Shaker, and a female Shaker at that. (Considering that many of us still begrudge women mechanical ability, this is a particularly striking example even if it was a reinvention.)

What it indicates is that while European crafts remained handcrafts, the essence of American craftsmanship was not isolated from the industrial revolution. It was, in fact, industrial development that absorbed much of the creative energy of American craftsmen. One can see this in the early textile machinery preserved for us by such institutions as the Slater Mill Museum in nearby Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The wooden frames, reinforced by metal inserts, are of the same family as the carpenter's square mentioned earlier. Divorced from their function they too can be seen as statuary---mobiles, in fact.

But they should not be divorced from their function, which was to supply a rapidly increasingly American population with textiles at a price and volume that could never have been supplied by a cottage industry of hand looms. This mechanical evolution transferred the need for craftsmanship from the finished product to the machine that made that product; and the need for the finest craftsmanship to the machine that made that machine- the lathes and millers, drill presses and shapers we call machine tools.
The historic importance of the Slater Mill is not only that it was an early textile factory, but that it developed in conjunction with the shop of David Wilkinson, who developed the screw cutting lathe and is called 'the father of the machine tool industry".

But if the factory produced the necessities for American expansion, the factory system had, and has, severe drawbacks. There must have been considerable satisfaction for the Wilkinsons and Slaters when they finally got their balky machines to work; but there wasn't much for the mill-hands who kept them running. It is a yet unappreciated result of modern technology that the mill-hand is obsolete. (Organized labor and corporate management are slow to see this because when the mill-hand finally goes they will, too. Like the Luddites they seek to spit against the wind.)
In many areas of production the processes are so standardized that even toolmaking goes by the book: creative satisfaction is limited to those who write the computer programs. Between the automatic machinery that takes the joy out of making things and the bureaucracy that takes the joy out of doing business most of us get little satisfaction out of earning a living. A situation which has had some effect on the revival of the handcrafts.
But that is a recent development. While it was certainly true that America had no monopoly on the industrial revolution (the screw-cutting lathe, for instance, was independently and almost simultaneously invented in England and France) we certainly acted as if we did. Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee bringing inventions to the benighted English may have been pure jingoist propoganda, but it suited our image of ourself, (and, incidentally, Europe's image of us), as a classless innocent bumpkin riding a machine.

If it was a myth that each of Napoleon's troopers had a Field Marshall's baton in his knapsack, it was equally a myth that every American mechanic had a world-shaking invention up his sleeve. But some of them did.
The turning point came with Eli Whitney, not merely because his cotton gin made cheap textiles possible (and slavery economic) but because he developed the mass-production of small-arms at the Springfield Armory. Till then the factory had been a building housing a convenient collection of machines. The final product was generally built by one man laboriously cutting and filing pieces to fit till he could assemble it as a whole. In the assembly line each worker makes just one part, and makes it precisely to predetermined standards, so that the whole can be assembled from parts selected at random; parts which need no final fitting or adjustment. This is a process that is obviously unsuited for making one of anything; it is only efficient if you have to make a lot of whatever it is. This means big sales, big marketing, big capital investment in plant and equipment---in a word, big business.

This, in turn, means that one particular consumer doesn't matter too much---it is the "market' that counts, and the market, which is the least common denominator of many consumers, is interested in cheapness. This created a new twist on Mies' principle of "form following function" - - the function that form followed was not that of the final use, but of ease of manufacture. Make it cheaply enough, they figured, and it doesn't matter if it doesn't last very long. It doesn't even matter if some of them don't work when they come right off the production line. They can always throw it away and get another one.

Curiously, this also brought on a revival of rococo decoration. When you build something of cast iron the molds, usually of sand, have rough surfaces and there are inevitable voids or bubbles in the surface of the casting. If you cover the surface with decoration this is a lot less obvious. It took considerable sophistication in the rolling and forming of sheet metal before manufacturers could afford to display large areas of smooth surface on their products: to get a subtly curved roof on an automobile requires a press the size of a building.

It was late in the industrial revolution before Mies' other proverb, "less is more', could practically be rediscovered and applied as theoretical aesthetics rather than the result of necessity.

This has led directly to the revival of craftsmanship. When the design of a consumer product is determined by the convenience of the manufacturer rather than the use by the consumer it doesn't work well and it doesn't last long. This is acceptable as long as it is a cheap throwaway. But cheapness is relative: you can reduce the cost of labor by mechanization, but in an economy where the cost of energy and raw materials rises faster than labor mass production doesn't save very much. You end up with expensive shoddy goods rather than cheap shoddy goods. It then makes sense to go back to labor-intensive rather than energy intensive processes because expensive high-quality goods have an obvious advantage over expensive shoddy goods.

The small craftsman, operating by hand or with a few machines that are merely updated versions of the ones in Wilkinson's shop, and selling to a local market that doesn't require too much promotion, can easily compete with the topheavy multinational corporation in selected areas.

Sometimes, however, the vagaries of an industrial economy can lead to a satisfactory solution: an item of manufacture that is both cheap and useful. A case in point is Zimmerman's Autoharp.

The Autoharp began with a fight for principle. Zimmerman was convinced that the only thing standing in the way of our becoming musical virtuosos was an archaic system of notation. He invented his own system, and was discouraged that no one paid the slightest attention. He had a precedent, after all, since shape-notes were just the same kind of inventive musical notation and they are still being used to print books of gospel songs.

But Zimmerman lacked the backing of a religious revival and went in another direction: he invented a kind of semiautomatic zither that would play according to his notation. He made and sold them in Philadelphia from the early 1880's to 1895. (Incidentally, nobody paid any attention to Zimmerman's notation then, either, nor have they since.)

In that year free trade nearly ruined Arthur Dolge. He was a manufacturer of piano parts. He made almost everything but the cast iron frames and outer cases: he sold wire, felt, ivory keys and the internal mechanisms to American piano manufacturers. In 1895 the tariff was removed from cheap imported pianos (like Steinway) and they flooded the market.

Dolge saw Zimmerman's autoharp as a small piano without a cast iron frame, bought the rights, and within a few weeks was making 2000 a week. From that point till the introduction of the phonograph in the 1920s the autoharp and its equally ingenious competitors provided cheap and satisfactory musical instruments to sunday schools and backwoods cabins. He enabled the Carters and the Stonemans and the Snows to develop distinctive regional and individual styles of playing an indigenous American musical instrument; which would not have been possible without the expression of American craftsmanship through industrial production .

As Dolge's factory was dependent on volume sales it failed with the introduction of the phonograph, which provided music in the home with even less effort than the autoharp. But by making possible permanent records of the Carters and Stonemans the phonograph preserved a homemade musical tradition by freezing it; and it never quite killed the autoharp. The patents passed to other hands who could survive with lower production quotas; and it was produced in much the same form from the twenties to the folk revival of the sixties.

Then the increase in demand enabled the manufacturer to redesign them to take advantage of modern technology (aluminum and plastic) in a style reminiscent of the molded plywood furniture of the early forties and a price 50 to 100 times that asked by Arthur Dolge.

Musical instruments make interesting examples, not only because they are a bridge between the craft and musical aspects of the Eisteddfod but because they lie on the borderline between the craftsman and the factory. The exhibits include two casket-shaped guitars made by Nick Appolonio in the sixties, when he was starting as a lutanist. He soon found, however, that after he was able to build up an investment in jigs and fixtures it was no harder to make guitars in the more usual shape, and they had better acceptance. Guitar building, it would seem, is inherently a 'factory' operation; even if the factory has only one employee and the capital investment in plant is fairly elementary.

Banjos are still made at home by individual craftsmen, but they are now made for a market of fanciers of the antique: either for the decorative shape or the antique sound. The basic requirement for a banjo is a membrane that stays in position relative to the neck. In the homemade banjo that is generally accomplished by putting a small membrane in a disc-shaped wooden frame (several varieties of which have been described in the Foxfire books).

This is a limitation on the amount and quality of the sound produced, so the factory banjo has its membrane stretched over a hoop like a drumhead. Two of the exhibits show this technique in an interesting comparison--one is obviously handmade and is similar in construction to banjos shown in paintings of the 1850s, the other is equally obviously factory-made, but has the same details, from the shield shaped brackets to the red paint inside the hoop. It seems likely that one was made as a copy of the other, but which came first?

As the banjo evolved as a band instrument improvements were directed toward more volume of sound: steel instead of gut strings, tighter head membranes (which required sturdier construction) and the addition of sound reflectors (called resonators). This led to the use of laminated wooden hoops and, more recently, cast metal finely machined; techniques which are obviously more suited to factory than home workshop production.

Inventiveness was then pointed toward more minor improvements: numbers of variations on the edge-mounting of the membrane, or the adjustable brace on the Waymann 'Keystone State' that assured precise positioning of the neck relative to the head membrane. Whether or not proprietory or even patented, these improvements were not basic and their effects were more or less duplicated by all the major manufacturers; so that aside from a tone coloration characteristic of each manufacturer and evident only to fairly advanced banjo players all the major lines of good banjos are pretty much alike.

This, in turn, meant that the 'top of the line" had to revert to the European style---an expensive banjo was expensive not because it sounded that much better but because it had decorative touches, primarily extensive inlay on the neck, that showed considerable hand labor. the factory, in other words, having reached the limits of inventiveness in the American style of craftsmanship turned to the employment of craftsmen of the European style in order to provide luxury goods to an urban market.

The fact that an item of manufacture absorbs a considerable amount of handwork does not automatically put it in the European style unless that handwork is essentially irrelevant to the function of the finished product. In the case of quilts, for instance, the function of the piecing is to allow the use of small scraps of material; and the function of the quilting stitch is to retain the insulating layer.

The "Peach Tree' quilt made by Sally Snow, which required some 1500 hours of handwork, is the result of an aesthetic evolution that has its basis in functionalism. [quilt photos]The earliest American quilts were undoubtedly merely multiple layers of patches, but that made a bedcover that was not only indifferently attractive but stiff and unwieldy, particularly considering the material was homespun. As soon as factory made cotton fabrics were available it became possible to put a!layer of cotton batting between two layers of thin fabric and still get the warmth of a thick wool blanket.

But the fabric would first be used to make clothing. so that the quilt had to be pieced out of the irregular scraps that were left when the clothing pattern was cut out. One might make one's first quilt out of pieces patched any which way (a style which was revived with a difference in the Victorian Crazy Quilt) but after immediate necessity is met the need for aesthetic satisfaction becomes important.

One might want to set light and dark colored scraps in a pattern, and the Log Cabin quilt exhibited is just such a pattern made of small scrap pieces. When this is done an interesting thing happens: the gestalt of the overall pattern tends to override the variation in fabrics, so that several kinds of reddish fabric will just read as red in the context of the pattern. The tendency, then, is to go to bold patterns that will catch the eye and suppress the fact that it is composed of scraps: a perfect example of a labor-intensive process that recycles used things into "new" ones.
The quilting stitching, starting from the necessity of holding the layers of the quilt together, also developed into a subtle aesthetic expression. In simple quilts the stitching will merely outline the pieced or appliqued pattern; but it can also provide a patterning of its own that creates a counterpoint to the main pattern. The Peach Tree quilt is used as a teaching aid because it uses several traditional quilting patterns from different regions. The combination is possible because the main pattern is a strong bordered medallion which gives the quilting patterns independent fields to operate in.

Like other labor-intensive rural processes, such as harvesting or barnraising, quilting sometimes was done cooperatively. The quilting bee then provided an occasion for socializing that did not conflict with the protestant work-ethic. It can still be used as a way of keeping the hands busy, and the protestant conscience still, while watching television. In general, those rural crafts that applied considerable labor to an aesthetic end used the time, say between supper and bed, that could not effectively be applied to more immediate needs.

Interestingly, the modern quilt is particularly a product of sophisticated industrial development, because the polyester fiber used for the batting, being lighter and warmer than cotton or wool, is a product of synthetic organic chemistry. One can raise a sheep, or grow cotton, and process a usable fiber by hand; but you need an immense capital investment to produce polyester. Recently DuPont has introduced a new hollow synthetic fiber with insulating properties approaching goose down. When available to quilters it will make possible quilts that are substantially more functional than the traditional ones, but which retain ail the possibility for expressing individual creativity within a traditional aesthetic.

We can, thus, come to the conclusion that there is no necessary conflict between craftsmanship, at least in the American style, and industrial technology. There may well be a conflict with the European style insofar as that represents the conspicuous consumption of hand labor for its own sake; but there is no inherent reason why industrial products cannot be made to satisfy a user's needs and still be aesthetically satisfying on the terms of "form follows function' and 'less is more".

But the design tradition of American industry is an ill-considered mixture--centered primarily on the convenience of the producer rather than the user, and following the notion that superfluous and superficial decoration will take our minds off inadequacies of function; steady in the belief that the design principles that characterized rural America in its first century are too sophisticated for the people to appreciate. And there seems to be too much inertia in "the system" to expect that to change: even if the economics of energy-intensive production is undergoing a revolution.
What we can do as individuals is simple: take what we need on our terms. If you want something that serves a mass need, and the drawbacks of producer-centered manufacture do not affect the function too badly, you use the product of industrial technology. You would not, for instance, get your canning jars hand-blown to order; though you might get a few storage canisters done that way.

If you want something that meets a particular need, in quality of function, or life-expectancy, or aesthetics, you go to an individual craftsman.
Or, if you believe in serendipity, you wait till you run across an "antique": a product of the past in which the American style of craftsmanship was reflected even in the products of our factories.

Modes & Scales

Modes, Scales and Temperments

Hopefully, not more than you wanted to know.

To the novice there are few things about traditional folk music more confusing than the "modes". Of course to a lot of us the whole idea of formal, written music is a bit forbidding; but one system, with its keys and tonics and dominants and things like that, is bad enough without having two, or maybe more, systems. Even to people who know enough about the theory of music to read scores the modes are soinewhat mysterious.
They do, however, make a kind of sense, and I am going to try to articulate that sense in this little essay. I don't guarantee that it will tell you all there is to know, or even feel entirely comfortable with them; but I hope it will leave you able to face the words like "mixolydian" without flinching.

There is a deceptively easy way to explain the modes by reference to a piano keyboard. First of all you ignore all the black keys---the sharps and flats. We'll get back to them, but for now we don't need them. Now sound a scale by starting at "C" and going up the keyboard hitting every key till you reach the "C" an octave above.

In ordinary notation that is called the "major" scale. In modal notation it is called the "ionian" mode. Now do the same thing, except start on the "A". That scale is called the "minor" scale, and it is also called the "aeolian" mode.

In ordinary notation those are the only scales that are given specific names, while in modal notation there are several other scales, each with its own name. Thus we can say that ordinary musical notation has developed by taking only two of the modes and building on those.

This would indicate that ordinary notation is less flexible than modal notation, except that we have been ignoring the black keys. Ordinary notation has the possibility of using the sharps and flats that are entirely outside the major and minor scales, and that gives it a tremendous flexibility.

But folkmusic generally doesn't need that kind of flexibility. Most folksongs don't use more notes than are in the wholenote scales (those that can be played on the white keys). Instead they get their flexibility by using different wholenote scales.

For instance, if you sounded a scale like we did before, but started on "G" instead of "C" or "A", you would get the scale of the ''mixolydian'' mode. If you started with "D" you would get the "dorian" mode. The effect of choosing these different scales is like that of going from major to minor; in fact the tuning of the banjo that is convenient for playing in the dorian mode is often called the "mountain minor."

The mixolydian mode feels a little more minor than the major scale (or ionian mode); and the dorian mode is still more minor in feeling, but not as minor as the aeolian, which is the minor scale. Choosing between these different scales one can find tunes that are appropriate for different modes. That gives a reason why the modes should exist, but it doesn't explain why they have those weird names.

As it happens, that is something of a mistake. The creator of a folksong doesn't say "I think I'll write this one in the dorian mode"; he just remembers (or creatively misremembers) a tune that sounds right for the thing he wants to say. Tunes and scales are given names by music theorists; and the modes were named in the middle ages.

The medieval theorists invented modes as such, but in those days it was important to refer everything to ancient authorities. Theg thus said, and maybe even thought, they were rediscovering the musical system of the ancient greeks; so they gave the modes ancient greek names. There are lots more, because you can get a different mode every time you sound a scale starting on a different key; but most folksongs ae in the four modes mentioned, ionian, mixolydian, dorian and aeolian, so we'll ignore the rest.

That is a simple explanation but, as I said, deceptively simple. It ignores the question of why a wholenote scale starting on "C" should sound different than one starting on "G". Or, conversely, What do you do if you want to play a mixolydian tune in the key of "C"?

That there is any difficulty here comes about because some wholenotes are stparated by two semitones and some only by one. if we look at the piano keyboard again, but this time look at both the white and black keys, we see that some white keys are separated by a black key and others aren't. There isn't any key between "E" and "F" that would sound E-sharp, or F-flat, anid there isn't any key between "B" and "C" either. These short intervals are called "gaps" and the modes can also be characterized by where in the scale the gaps fall.

In the ionian mode the gaps fall between the third and fourth notes and the seventh and eighth notes; while in the dorian mode they fall between the second and third notes and the sixth and seventh notes. (Why this should make one tune sound "sadder' than the other I simply do not know. It may be that we just expect it to.)

If, therefore, you want to play a Dorian tune in key of C you substitute an E-flat for an E and a B-flat for a B and you have a dorian scale.

One of the things that makes the appalachian dulcimer an interesting instrument is that it automatically plays in modes. It is [traditionally] fretted in wholetones and the positions of the short intervals or gaps is such that you get a mixolydian scale when you start with the open string. But the dulcimer is not restricted to the mixolydian mode, because any fret can be chosen as the basic, or tonic, note of the tune; and the drone strings can be tuned to the same note (or an octave lower) and an appropriate harmonic interval such as a fourth or fifth.

If, for instance, you want to play an aeolian tune in the key of "C" you retune the melody string to sound a "C" when the dulcimer is fretted on the first fret after the nut and tune the drones harmoniously. For a guitar player this sounds inconvenient, but obviously when the frets have some large spacing and some short, making a gapped scale, you can't use afiything like a capo.

But that raises the question of why you can use a capo on a guitar?
This brings in the question of the temperament of a scale and that is quite interesting. It is also a bit difficult, so bear with me.

Let's think about a very simple instrument, the monochord, which has just one string. The basic note that it makes is that produced when the open string is plucked. If the string is fretted or stopped at other lengths it will produce other notes, and some of these have a definite harmonic relation to the basic open notes.

If the string is stopped at its midpoint, the note sounded will be an octave higher than the open note. This is because the pitch (or frequency of vibration) of a plucked string is inversely proportional to its length (all else equal) and the octave is a note that is in a 2:1 ration of pitch to the basic note. Similar things happen when the string is stopped at three-quarters and four-fifths of its length. The next simplest ration to the octave, that with a 3:2 ratio of pitch, is identified with the fifth step of the scale on which the octave is the eighth step.

The musical scale can be built out of this 3:2 ratio alone. If, for instance, one starts with C, the note a fifth higher is G, a fifth higher than that is D, and continuing in like manner gets A, E, B, F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp, D-sharp, A-sharp, E-sharp, B-sharp, F-doublesharp, C-doublesharp, etc.

Going down from C in fifths one gets F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat, C-flat, F-flat, B-doubleflat, E-doubleflat, etc. The octaves are considered to be musically identical, so we can consider all these notes to be within the same octave. Then we have a problem.

If we look at the vicinity of the interval between B and C, which we know is a short interval of one semitone, corresponding to one fret-spacing on a guitar, we see that we have seven different notes: A-doublesharp, B, C-flat, B-sharp, C and D-doubleflat. In this system they are all distinct notes. Obviously a guitar with seven times the number of frets, or a piano or organ with seven times the number of keys, isn't really very practical. What we do is to compromise, and the way we compromise is called the "temperament" of the scale. The first compromise is to cut down the number of frets on the guitar or keys on the piano by lumping the notes that are close enough into one note. We say, for instance, that A-doublesharp, B and C-flat are all the same note. That gives us twelve semitone intervals in each octave; but we still have the freedom to make any of these semitones a little bigger or smaller than the rest. This would make it inconvenient for the makers of fretted instruments, and it would prevent us from using the capo, so guitarmakers prefer to make all the semitone intervals the same.
In other words each fret-spacing decreases the string length in the same proportion. This is the ''even'' or "equaltone" temperament. In the piano, or harp, or organ, where each note is tuned separately, all lemperaments are equally convenient. and there are some others that can be used.

In what we can call the ''Pythagorean'' temperment we preserve the intervals of octave and fifth in perfect harmony; but this makes the interval of a third, which is important to modern harmony, sound a bit discordant. In "meantone" temperament we preserve the perfect harmony of octave, fifth and third in the key of C; but keys with sharps and flats in them sound more and more discordant as they go farther from C.

In general all modern instruments are tuned to the guitarmakers' compromise, the equaltone temperament. In this temperament neither the fifth nor the third is in perfect harmony in any key, but the degree of discordance differs in each key. This difference is what makes classically trained musicians say that the same series of intervals has a different "feeling" when played in C or, say, in E-flat; so that the key in which music is composed has signifIcance.

This variation, together with the freedom to use all twelve intervals in composition, made the modes superfluous in classical music and they disappeared from the music textbooks.

The voice, however, is a more flexible instrument than one that is keyed, or fretted, or stopped like a flute. This makes it possible for an unaccompanied singer (or the player of a fiddle tune) to shade notes up or down within the tune if that ''feels right". This amounts to a change in the temperament of the scale he is using, so that the key he is singing or fiddling in is less important than something which indicates the general mood of the piece. This, in turn, means that the modes, which represent intervals of gradation of mood, make a very sensible way to characterize a folktune.

The demonstration of this is Bertrand Bronson's massive compilation of The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1959- ) which uses the modes as the basis of a system of classification. The discussion of modes in the introduction of Volume II of the series is recommended to anyone interested in pursuing this subject any farther than this elementary discussion.

Jottings: Part 2

Here we are again!

We nearly, lost it, but somehow the Eisteddfod did survive. A little white-faced and shaky, perhaps, from the close brush with extinction; but it made it through one more year. It is very gratifying to all of us who have worked diligently on the Eisteddfod Committee, and particularly Howard Glasser, who have been pumping life into the Eisteddfod this last decade, that it is taking on a life of its own.

Let us look again at what we are doing here. Under the trappings of an ordinary "folk-festival" is a hidden agenda. We take the art created by European peasants, hardscrabble swamp yankees, delta sorghum cutters, and Hamtramc mill-hands and, using its intuitively-created aesthetic principles, try to create a new art that is valid for our present condition.
Does that sound ominous and pretentious? It is and it isn't.

We all know, deep in our hearts, that we exist in a time in history that corresponds to the fall of a civilization. We have been teaching the world for several generations that the be-all-and-end-all is to catch up to the Joneses (we are the Joneses), and we suddenly come to the realization that there isn't enough to go around and that they've got some of the most important stuff: A depression close to the Great Depression had to be generated just to get OPEC off our backs for a little while, and they are only waiting for us to get tired of cutting off our noses to spite our faces before they pull in the reins again.
Things are going to get worse before they get better. Things are certainly ominous enough to satisfy anyone, and all the establishment knows to do about it is to try to recreate a fantasy world of 1890's economics.

So what has that got to do with the Eisteddfod? In order to create a new art on traditional aesthetic principles it isn't enough just to follow book rules or phonographically copy what a Collector collected. In order to create you have to let the traditional art soak into your soul (or intuition, if you prefer that term) and sit there long enough to become comfortable. When you do that, some of the traditional attitudes toward life seep in along with the art.

And those traditional attitudes evolved in the direction of survival. Neither the European peasant nor the swamp yankee nor the cane-cutter nor mill-hand was ever far from disaster. A bad winter or summer, an economic downturn, and a lifetime's hard labor could go down the drain.

There was no point in being sorry for yourself (or at least only a point when "false true-loves" were con concerned), because that didn't help you to survive. Better to maintain an attitude of gallows-humor and shrug and hunker down till the disaster passed. You can work more effectively and think more clearly when you are chuckling (even if bitterly) than when you are whining. The traditional aesthetic, like the traditional ethic, is pointed toward survival in the real world.

We members of the corporate-governmental bureaucracy are insulated from the real world. Even our disasters are bureaucratic: a merger or a congressional budget-cut and we get riffed out of our positions. We don't even have the dignity of Setting fired: we just get shifted to the unemployment lines where we are still part of the bureaucracy, only shifted to the bureaucracy's nether end where the product comes out. If we tried to create an aesthetic out of the values inherent in our jobs and lives it would come out in precisely the kind of whine that the traditional aesthetic avoids.
When the final collapse comes in, probably drifting in like a ground fog, but with the nasty yellow-green of smog, those people who have, however indirectly, absorbed some of the traditional aesthetic will have a marginally better chance to survive. And when they do hunker down they will feel a lot better with their ironic joking than those who know only the electronic whine of establishment art. It may be a small margin, but in desperate straits even a small margin is better than none.

So the Eisteddfod is necessary. It is also fun. And, after all, civilization may last a few more weeks. Enjoy it while it is here; and if the sense that it is contributing to your survival releases the puritanical inhibitions against simple enjoyment, maybe even this editorial will have served a useful purpose. Maybe there will be enough enjoyment, along with the recognition of value, to let the Eisteddfod survive even next year!


The Eisteddfod is an entertainment, it is an educational experience, it is a reunion of friends, it is a time to enjoy. In addition to all that, it has a point to make.

All of us who participate, by making or listening to music; by doing or admiring craftsmanship, value something we call "traditional". The arts and crafts that were common in small, isolated rural villages were carried through the generations "by ear"... people heard or saw what they liked about the way other people did things and did the same, more or less. They emphasized the things they especially liked and forgot the things that didn't interest them. Many years of this process gave the traditional arts and crafts a special kind of beauty, expressed through a local style.

We no longer live in isolated rural villages---we are connected to ''official'' culture by television, by radio and records, by the plastic implements bought in supermarkets and discount stores. And some of this has its own kind of beauty or function---but it is not the kind of beauty of the old, traditional arts and crafts.

Some of us who especially value the beauty of tradition have tried to capture it ourselves---and this has been called the "Folk Revival." Some of us try to be living archives; attempting to reproduce folk art as we perceive it. Some of us try to find the essence of some particular tradition and create new things in that traditional style. Some of us apply the style of one tradition to a fragment of another---creating an original in spite of ourselves.

All of this, and more, is part of this ''revival1" that does a lot more than ''revive". As we do this we need contact with the preserved fragments of tradition---the field recordings of collectors, their books and raw notes , and the artifacts dusty in museums or shiny in antique shops. But more important than this is contact with a live person who creates traditional art. A recording can tell you one way it was done, but not the hundred ways it might have been done. It can't distinguish between accidental variation and personal intent. It can't pass on the essence--the subtleties that make one artist differ from another and yet belong to the same tradition. This can only be learned in the traditional way---from one person to another. This, then, is the point of the Eisteddfod---that it is a time and a place where the performers and craftsmen of the folk revival can meet and learn from one another.

It might happen in a concert, or an exhibit, or a workshop. But it might also happen between two people talking quietly in a corner. Without this we would enjoy the concerts and exhibits, enjoy meeting old friends and making new ones, or just enjoy a friendly ambiance. But without the learning it wouldn't be the Eisteddfod. We hope you enjoy yourself---and learn something that you will value.


With amazement, and some pleasure, we recognize that it is fall again. The air is brisk and clear (barring hurricanes), the kids are back in school, and the frost is on the pumpkin (or almost). It is time again for the Eisteddfod, time to greet old friends, time to anticipate new musical surprises Howard has garnered for us, time to show off new things we have learned and to be prepared to learn new things from the old and new friends we will hear.

Time again to celebrate our new tradition, which is to annually celebrate the old traditions: folk art and culture.
Folk art? There is a sense in which it doesn't matter if what we are doing is art--it is enough that we enjoy what we are doing, and that we do it well in our own eyes. And we certainly do that. No one who comes to the Eisteddfod to perform is coerced by fees they could not afford to refuse--most of our performers are lucky if they break even. Even with that, there are always many more who want to come than could possibly be invited. They must enjoy something about the Eisteddfod or they wouldn't work so hard to get invited.

Still--folk art! In a historical period when our consciousnesses have been raised to be aware of the political implications of being female, or-'ethnic', can we afford to be unaware of the social slur implicit in our celebration of folk art and culture!
"Good enough for folk music" is a performers' joke to cover the recalcitrance of a new string or an old guitar--but isn't it a self-denigrating joke like the minstrel's shuffle! Or, if you think of it as applying to the other people on the stage, isn't it as chauvinist a joke as Dr. Johnson's joke about women preachers!

If our art is a minor art, a second-class citizen of the artistic world, why are we busting our chops looking for excellence? If the best we can do is inherently inferior to lieder or opera, to consider only the product of the human voice, why don't we stop kidding ourselves and relax!

But we don't really believe that--at least none of us do who are part of the Eisteddfod-and maybe it is time for us to raise our consciousnesses in that direction. Maybe it is time for us to be a little more militant--even if only for the benefit of our own heads. Artists arise! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Make art not.......whatever.

There are people in the world, some of them pivotal people in our part of the artistic world, who believe that you can't be a 'traditional' 'folk' artist if you have been born in or near a city or since 1900. To them folk culture means an absence of "real" culture, a homemade substitute good enough to fill the vacuum left by the absence of civilization. Obviously such a weak culture would be immediately driven out by any contact with real culture, vital culture, official city culture. Thus if you have not been brought up in a poor rural village or farm, if you have attended a school or even listened to a radio or television set you are contaminated. You aren't inferior enough to be considered genuine folk. You aren't a curious anachronism fit only for a museum (or folk festival), you are just an ordinary person; and if you prefer the aesthetic values inherent in folk culture it must be because there is something inferior about you. After all, if you thought you were a good musician, why didn't you go to Juliard?

We are beginning to see that official city culture is a dead end. Personally, I find lieder and opera, particularly those produced in recent years, sterile and mechanical--but interesting, in their own way, as anachronisms. They are as out of date as the Cadillac. the downtown office building, the superhighway and the other physical manifestations of city culture. The raucous hysteria of popular music is paralleled by the quiet desperation of economists and politicians trying to find ways of revitalizing the dying dinosaur--even if only to ride it one more term. If we define city culture as 'real', is it a wonder that we are inevitably drawn to fantasy and nostalgia for a Golden Age that never was!

When you!look at it th?t way, the 'Folk Revival' makes a lot of sense. Sure, part of it is the same hokey nostalgia as the '50s craze [and ask Pete Seeger if he is nostalgic for joe McCarthy!]. But there is a part of it that is a searching for a set of aesthetic values that are consistent with things that made sense in an agricultural economy: respect for the land, and each other; the kind of egalitarianism that produces mutual sharing and help with problems; the things we now might label sane ecological values.

City art is the anachronism: traditional folk art can be the aesthetic basis on which we can build the an that will help us to survive tomorrow. So...no more self-denigrating jokes, please. When you put folk art down you aren't just putting yourself down, and the rest of us, you are siding with the dying dinosaur and against our children's hope.

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation! Before that becomes more real than metaphor.


As we began to put together this issue of Ceilidh Columns, we discovered that there was something of a theme developing. The theme was the answer to a question we hadn't fully realized needed to be asked: "What is this thing we call a 'folk music revival' anyway?" The sticking point, the thing that immediately removes it from the category of "obvious" and "common sense" and "take it for granted" is the gallery exhibition of pieces from the collection of Russell Daly. We call that exhibit "Eccentric Folk Art"; and while that label seems to fit, it also slaps it down hard on the horns of the dilemma.

Folk art is, if it is anything at all, the art of a community: an art that had connections with city art at one time or another [so that, for instance, Appalachian ballads use medieval church modes as their harmonic basis]; but an art that was propagated within a relatively isolated community [of Ozark hill-farmers, say, or rural English villagers alienated by social stratification] by the pre-literate technique of oral transmission.

The style of that folk art is characteristic of the community, not of the individual artist. It is a product of tradition, not innovation.

In contrast, the notion of originality, of stylistic individualism, is an invention of post-Renaissance European city art, of academic fine art. The folk artist knows what the aesthetic rules of his art must be because they are the only rules in his community. Those rules are art: the only art he knows.

The contemporary city artist must thread a path of his own through the myriad influences of a world culture till he comes to an individual, original statement--not only in content, but style.Woe be to him if the critic finds too strong evidences of his major influences.

The artists exhibited in the gallery share one powerful difference from folk artists: they stand out from. and apart from, their community.Their work is reminiscent of folk art, but their position in the community is reminiscent of the cliche fine artist: neglected, ignored, perhaps persecuted or left to starve in a garret. This is emphasized by the peculiar occupation of one of the artists, Gerry Kamrowski.... He is a 'fine artist' by trade who chooses to work in this style to satisfy himself; just as Jesse Howard is a farmer who chooses to work in his style to say what he wants to say. Their work has the same flavor as folk art; it is as primitive and naive as folk art is; it shares enough characteristics with folk art to cry out to our intuitions for that label: yet it is also individualistic, original, intellectual and strongly creative in the most powerful sense of that most abused word.
And if for Jesse Howard and Romano Gabriel and Manuel Bizarre it is the only style they know how to use: for Gerry Kamrowski it is a matter of deliberate choice among the many styles that are available to him. What we can say, therefore, is that this exhibit is of a kind of art that, like folk art, is constrained by a set of implicit aesthetic conventions, that derives from folk art and shares much of its flavor, but which has enough scope and power to permit a range of people from 'ordinary folk' to 'professional artists' to use it to make individual statements.

If it is to be more than an antiquarian hobby aping the dreary pedantries of museum curators and university professors, the 'folk music revival' must be that same kind of art. This says nothing new to those who have read these pages in earlier years, or who have truly listened to what the Eisteddfod has to offer. But it may be worth beating a dead horse one more time.
It is not enough to take a traditional text and marry it to whatever tune happens to fit the meter. It is not enough to sing an English ballad in the style of a forties' crooner or a seventies' country-pop star. It is not enough to be cute, or hokey, or to justify a slipshod performance by patronizing the material.

There is nothing less than the best you have to give that is "good enough for folk music"!

This is not to say that the folk music revival won't survive the slipshod, the cutesy, the academic patronizing and the contemptuous exploitation of the quick-buck artist. It has, and it will continue to survive that, and worse. It has the power of any valid art form: the power to inspire and awaken and the power to corrupt and degrade.
It is we who won't survive if we don't understand the rules of the game we are playing!


For some of us the slight nip in the air is as reviving to our spirits as the first warm breeze of spring--it is time again for the Eisteddfod and the faint strains of music rouse us from the doldrums of August.
It is certainly time for a rebirth: the political "swing to the right" has made for a bleak year for the holders of liberal values, and they probably constitute the majority of the folk music community. When military bands receive a larger share of the federal budget than the National Endowment for the Arts it sends chills down the backs of even those who were not in the anti-war movement.

But, when you think about it, does it really matter? Labels are deceptive--sometimes deliberately. One would think that "conservatives" would admire traditional values, and thus be supportive of the arts and crafts that embody the traditional values -of America and its various immigrant ethnic communities; but the label is deceptive.

What they wish to conserve are the traditional values of one small segment of American culture, the entrepreneurial traditions of the business community. If it can't be marketed on a large scale they aren't really interested.
Besides, folk music has been a vehicle for protest and satirical commentary and, worst of all, it has been associated!ed with the political left. It is not one of the things conservatives want to conserve.

On the other hand, for all their concern for the poor, for labor and for the disadvantaged of various kinds, "liberals" are not often very liberal. They tend to see people as statistics; and statistics only respond to massive solutions operated by vast bureaucratic institutions. They are full of definitions and categories: "this" is folk music and deserving of a federal grant, "that" is not and deserves only rejection to a chorus of academic scorn. Those who can adapt themselves to institutional needs, who can learn to smell like bureaucrats, prosper; the unwashed masses don't.

In the process of adaptation some of the folkmuaic community have lost their roots in the true folk culture and values. For most of us, those who are involved with folk culture more for the sake of our spirits than our pocketbooks, who are more interested in saving our souls than our performing gigs or our academic tenure, the accident of who won the last election is totally irrelevant.

If it is harder for us to. experience the performances of our idols, we will spend more time practicing our own craft; if there are fewer festivals there will be more parlor ceilidhs. Folk culture may be transmuted by circumstance, but it doesn't die.
Folk music has seen its highs and lows just in my lifetime. It had a mild high in the late forties only to go underground in the fifties. It had a new high in the sixties only to turn into folk-rock and folk-pop in order to follow the market. We have seen respect for traditional folk music develop steadily in the seventies, stimulating parallel revivals in the ethnic communities.
If the institutional forms that have grown up around traditional folk culture suffer from inflation and conservative economics it need not affect the cultural values that the institutions were created to serve. Aesthetic appreciation and the satisfactions of craftsmanship are not transient fads, they are inherent in the nature of the human species. The Eisteddfod resonates with the same needs that produced the cave paintings in Altamira and the shaman's song of the arctic tundra.

The forms change, the particular embodiments come and go, particular kinds of expression become easier or harder, but the human values that are expressed most directly in what we call "folk music" for want of a better name are universal.
Enjoy your reaffirmation of the fact on this Eisteddfod weekend.