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Subject: Re: Janet Ryan's Posting/Trad. Music
From: Janet Ryan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Janet M Ryan <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 17 Aug 1995 18:42:48 CST

text/plain (228 lines)

On Thu, 17 Aug 1995 12:15:52 +0000,
Deborah L. White  <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>The following is a response to Janet Ryan's posting re: traditional music:
(Snip Janet's "intro" and note this has become a _really_ long post. I'm
just too fascinated by the issues to give up the thread. I've received a
couple long private posts which I haven't the time to answer individually,
but this post is very representative of same.  Apologies and thanks to
those of you who did take the time to write me personally, but I'm in the
throes of finals week.  I promise this post will be it--hey, I heard that
collective cyberspace sigh of relief!!)
Deborah said:
>First of all, Ms. Ryan's basic premise is incorrect.  Tradition does not
>equal dead!  The age of something is not what solely defines it as
Janet responds:
I'm sorry you misunderstood me Deborah, my intention was to make your very
same point.  My post was in response to a post I felt was attempting to
define authenticity of a song based upon the copyright date in a tune
collection book.  I still maintain that is not a valid way to ascertain
authenticity of traditional tunes and songs.
Janet's message said:
> >These definitions of "tradition" > >developed largely amongst antiquarian
 and early folklore collectors
Deborah replied:
>Again, personal opinion is of little consequence here.  Definitions of
>tradition have been established by use and by time.  They are either
>honored, or they are not honored -- but if they are honored then one knows
>that they have not been established in the way Ms. Ryan describes
Janet's response:
What makes you say my arguments are based on my "personal opinion?"  Or are
you just using the term in an attempt to discredit me?  Regarding
definitions,  how do you believe tradition has been "established" and
"defined?" Who has/shall have the power to define it, and are their motives
for defining it as they do/did of no consequence to this discussion?
Janet'S message said:
> >"Folk" music being defined as "collective"
> >artistic expression and classical music as "individual" artistic expression
Deborah responded:
>According to eminent Medieval musicologist, Dr. Christopher Page (formerly
>lecturer at New College, Oxford; now Senior Research Fellow in Music at
>Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge), "high art" and "low art" are classified
"Eminent?"  Why are you invoking this kind of authority in your arguments?
To prove me ignorant?  My posting was meant to enliven the discussion,
and to address how folklorists and collectors have historically behaved,
how they have attempted to define "tradition" which is an abstract
concept, not a thing.  There is a history to the formation of these
academic fields and their related concepts, and all of our assumptions as
well as our knowledge of "traditions" are implicated and entwined in their
developmental history (for better and for worse), particularly the social
science fields of anthropology, folklore,ethnomusicology, and linguistics.
I consider this to be a very important part of this thread, and I'd love to
see what others think about these prickly issues.
Deborah says:
>Again, by whose standards do we define the "needs of the community"?  Do we
>tailor our art to placate the public, or do we strive to present true art --
Janet responds:
Good question.  And what is "true" art?
Deborah says:
>Green Linnet, who distributes Capercaillie's new CD, describes
Janet responds:
Green Linnet "describes/defines" music as part of its capitalistic
function, ie selling the music.  Folklorists define music based on their
functions, and musicians based on theirs.  Will these all be the same
definition?  Can they be?  Should they be?  To me the difference is these
heretical traditional musicians support themselves and their families with
the music.  As long as we have musicians, and as long as they keep
reproducing, I'm afraid they and theirs are going to want to eat.
The music business that disseminates said music to people like us who are
eager to consume it are also supported by this system (which I don't think
we should hold against them, after all, THEY didn't invent these capitalist
traditions, they just live by them.)
I would certainly agree that a discussion of how the professional music
business has influenced traditional music is a very important one.  But if
its the artists you hold responsible for the music business' negative
influences upon traditional music, then somebody should have shot Michael
Coleman first (see reference to capital punishment for musicians killing
the tradition below).
Deborah says:
The youth of Ireland,>Scotland, and Brittany -- and even America! -- will
listen to this music >done reverently, lovingly, and with integrity.
If they don't (which is>highly unlikely), it still needs to be done as
it should be done, regardless>of accessibility.
Janet responds:
First, what do you mean by "even America?"  This music has been a
living tradition in North America for hundreds of years, so obviously
some of our terrible American youth actually did listen to it.  Or is
what you mean that traditional musicians who come from here are somehow
less traditional than the musicians born the other side of the pond?
Liz Carroll would likely be surprised to learn she is less authentic than
Martin Hayes due to her country of origin and the regrettable circumstances
of her birth.
Well, I'm left wondering _when_  "the youth" will tune in. I don't know
where you draw your conclusion about this from.  I love this music too, but
I also think that "will" and "are" seem to be oxymorons in this context.
And my question is, how "should" it be done?  Teenagers are notorious for
these kinds of circular arguments, not to mention doing the exact
opposite of what their parents want them to do, so how "should" we make
them stop listening to rock and roll and start listening to trad music, as
we know they "should?"  By the way, what was the reason the youth should
listen to trad music again? ;)
Janet's post said:
> >No traditional musicians should be expected to> >perform according
 to anyone's definitions of "authentic" traditional music > >but their own.
Deborah responded:
>This erroneous -- and ill-conceived -- viewpoint (snip) is inevitably
 presented by people who are>either ignorant of the traditions, or have
chosen to defy them.  It is>perpetrated by musicians who have put
themselves ahead of the music
Janet's post said:
> >Do you suppose that could> >have happened without the Chieftains
 or the Tannahill Weavers--two other> >groups often condemned for
 their allowing the satanic influences of rock> >music into their acts?
Deborah responds:
>The Chieftains have ceased to be a traditional band
Janet's response:
Well.  I stand corrected.  Lets shoot the defiant, ignorant bastards.
For the record, I am not a musician, I'm a writer studying Irish
language, folklore & trad music in a folklore context for my undergrad
degree in Irish Studies.  Believe me, "Ms. Ryan" is no authority and I hope
my post didn't come off sounding as though I thought I was.  If it did, the
entire list has my humble & sincere apology.  But the end of Deborah's post
sort of proves my point, doesn't it?  We throw out the Chieftains because
they had the audacity after 35 years to have some fun making records with
friends they've made and behaving like a group of well, musicians?  If you
musicians had the chance to make a record with a bunch of your friends
for fun, would you do it?  Even if you knew you might make a lot of money
doing it? ;)
Are the Chieftains perceived by some to be destroying the music because
they made a commercially successful record they might be able to retire off
the proceeds from?  My philosophy is musicians are musicians first--before
they are traditional musicians or jazz musicians or Irish musicians or
Japanese musicians.  I also consider them to be human beings, just like
myself.  So I like to think that maybe they too dream of financially being
able to retire, send their kids to college, and live a life like I suspect
many of us do.  Maybe even like many of those of you who condemn them do.
I think it is terribly unfair to condemn people  trying to earn a living
and support their families as traditional musicians because *you* view
their music as "polluting their cultural heritage"  to quote Deborah sort
of out of context (sorry Deborah).
One of the main points my original post made is that I don't like elitist
arguments that have at their root "artist bashing."  My point about
Capercaillie was they are a group of very good traditional musicians
who happen to also play other types of music.  If you personally don't
like it, don't listen.  I didn't and wouldn't call the other types of music
they play "traditional music." And therein lies the crux of my argument.
Musicians certainly should be held to the same standards of musicianship
for all their music released and performed commercially, and it is
perfectly valid to criticize non-traditional music if you feel it
doesn't meet your standards for non-traditional music.  But I don't feel
its valid to claim that folk/rock songs done with synthesizers are
bad because it isn't traditional music.  I haven't seen anyone claim
that it was. So what's the point of condemning these musicians for playing
music they never claimed to be "traditional" music to begin with?  Should
we pass a law requiring musicians to only have _one_ kind of music on their
recordings and in their repetoire?  Perhaps warning labels would be a
The reasons for the decline and death of traditions is extremely complex,
and I have not come across any scholarly work that has claimed the death or
dilution of traditional music is directly attributable to musicians
performing repetoires that "corrupt" the music.  Please someone shut me up
with the cites if I'm wrong.  I think the belief held by many that
musicians performing pop and rock music in addition to traditional music
makes them _personally_ responsible for the decline of traditional music is
a popular misconception amongst folk audiences though.  Musicians are not
responsible for the changes wrought by the collisions between ancient and
modern.  That was the point I thought I was making in my original post.
Sorry if I failed to do that and caused misunderstandings.  But hey,
misunderstandings can be pretty enlightening.
A very interesting discussion related to these issues can be found in
a chapter about the ways folk audiences attempt to influence financial
matters related to folk music in a book called "The British Folk
Scene:  Musical Performance and Social Identity" by Niall Mackinnon.  Its
part of the Popular Music in Britain series published by Open University
Press.  Mail me privately for the cite after the 23rd, when I finish
finals, and I'll be happy to provide it.
Ms. Ryan(who prefers to be known as Janet.  I thought we were friendlier
than that here)
Janet Ryan
University of Minnesota
[log in to unmask]

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