Archive for December, 2009

The Season

Facebook buddies are providing me with the full gambit of approaches to Christmas.

Some are non Christian anti commercial types who are taking their message of abhorrence for the stressed commercialised frenzy, out to the street. It’s getting heated for these lovely gals. So watch out, they might be running in the next election.

Then there are some lovely good and thoughtful Christians who probably share much abhorrence with the non Christians for spenduprazzamattaz that goes on.

Then there are my shouting atheist facebook chums, who start getting more rampant than usual this time of year.

Then there’s Magnetoboldtoo who goes into a baking-making-decorating explosion. She’s basically a Christmas berserker. This year she’s temporarily lame, so she’s baking/berserking sitting down.


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Singing a song

Ok Possums

For your consideration

exhibit A

exhibit B

I hope Judy Dench wouldn’t be offended by my saying she isn’t much of a singer, but the work she did on presenting the feeling of the words meant I cried when I watched her. And you can see how this contrasts with exhibit B. The singing student is busy with her singing and finds the coaching in performing the meaning hard.

Interesting eh?

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nice to see you here. cheers.

May I just inquire – who are you and where do you come from?

In days of yore, I had  a healthy, modest readership of two or three people, the majority of whom I was likely to bump into in the kitchen where I could spring spot comprehension tests on them about my blog. The spectre of this forced these two or three people to read earnestly and often.

But the last two posts there are suddenly many more readers.


Don’t be shy.  Introduce yourself. Unless you frequent my kitchen, I wont ask you questions like what item of food the photo reminds my mother of.

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One essential element of Kodaly’s approach is the use of folk songs for teaching musical elements to children.

He appreciated the ‘wisdom of the people’ – the collective composition of folk songs – folk songs have been refined through an essentially long term open source approach.

Folk songs are lovely to sing. Because folks songs are passed down aurally, the songs that have been retained by the folk are catchy and tuneful and the musical elements of folk songs emerge from the lyric’s prosody.

At a deeper level, a people’s folk songs sing the lived experience of the people, and form a cultural education as well as a musical education for children. They can help children understand who they are as encultured beings.

Wonderful. Hat tip right there Kodaly.

And what does that mean in contemporary Australia? What folk music do we have? What music do mothers sing to their babies that their mothers sang to them and so on back through generations that stir us and connect us through family to our land, our people, our heritage?

All residents of Australia have some experience of disruption from their original culture. For the indigenous residents this disruption has come from the damage of invasion, occupation and attempts at cultural annihilation.

For Australians who have settled or whose descendants have settled here in these last two centuries, we necessarily have geographical/social disconnect from the land of our ancestors.

This is not to say that many Australian aren’t proudly living a cultured life that celebrates their heritage and ancestry. In fact Australians, at formal and informal levels at the very least tolerate, but often celebrate and work to actively maintain and support the multicultural vitality of Australia.

Of course there are tensions, some really awful. Australia’s no Utopia.

But what does this mean for our folk music? As a fourth generation Irish Australian I learnt Irish folk songs and some from other parts of Great Britain, aurally from my family. This music gives me an odd experience of a rich feeling of connection to somewhere I have never been and a culture I have weakly inherited echoes of but am not a part of.

I also learnt ‘Australian’ folk songs about the experience of convicts, bush rangers and shearers. Which didn’t relate directly to the experience of my family, but would have had musical, cultural and linguistic entwinement with my family’s songs. I learnt these songs because my mother deliberately sought out Australian folk music to sing.

That’s the musical heritage I had as an Australian.  Other Australians would have their own cultural and familial musical experience. My own folk music doesn’t connect me to other Australians, except those with similar ancestry.

I also came from a singing family, which might be unusual. I think there are many Australians who don’t sing at all. Part of our shared folk music might actually be silence!

As a child living in a commercialised music world, the music that connected me with my peers was the music our environment was saturated with. Music from the music industry. Is this folk music? It’s certainly not BY the people, or OF the people just FOR the people. And not in a supportive, uplifting, enlightening or enriching way. Just in a here’saproductFORyou,nowgiveusmoney way. George Orwell got this right – he outlined the process of creating proles music using a machine called a versificator . We all know the shite “hits” that came straight from a versificator and I doubt that was what Kodaly had in mind when he talked about folk music. (Not to diss all modern popular music some of which is wonderful.)

I don’t know if Kodaly had to contend with this dynamic where music is broadcast out from the industry to the consumers/listeners so loudly and often that there is little aural space left for living music to emerge from the folk. Folk music has become something for special cultural or familial celebrations, but doesn’t connect Australians to each other in daily life.

Children know commercial music, and feel connection to it. It is the music of their environment. It is ubiquitous and provides a connection between Australians. Our different traditional ‘folk’ musics relate to our different heritages and can divide and differentiate us. They certainly don’t give us a shared music.

The roots of commercial music are southern gospel, African songs, European folk and art music and show tunes. These songs are America’s story. The music sings the history of African-American slaves and descendants and cultural appropriation and complex interaction between American European Descendants and American Africans.

Within these traditions are singable, tuneful, catchy uplifting songs that connect to profound emotions and tellings of lives. But they are America’s story.

I’m only one Aussie, and can’t speak for my entire country, but I think we quietly desire, and take simple pleasure in a sense of culture that is distinct from America. What’s more I suspect some Western European descendants in Australia would feel uncomfortable claiming as our folk music songs from enslaved people with ‘masters’ who looked an awful lot like us.

There are Australian writers who write catchy, simple music. The Flame Trees from Cold Chisel  is like a folk song, it tells a simple tale of heart break but connects to people and place. To the quintessentially Australian people and place of a small country town. Ironically deep in the (overwhelmingly urban) Australian collective self perception is the life of the outback and rural towns.

There are other songs like this  of course. Aussie composed songs that celebrate and articulate the flavour and life of either what it is to be Australian, or what we like to think it is to be Australian. Some Aussie rock, some folk, some art. But because these songs are composed, can we think of them as folk songs?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say when we define folk songs as songs that came from the people, without a composer, we are being silly. Songs are composed by someone. They are adapted and merged and set to different tunes. This is done by different people.  Folk songs don’t magically emerge from the great unwashed folk, like a collective smell, someone initially wrote each song, and then a lot of people made changes. We just don’t really know who.

In these days of being able to record all music, not just the high music, the songs that would have traditionally become part of the folk song repertoire are now recorded as they are first composed and are attributed to their composer.

I think this means we shouldn’t be scared to define composed songs as folk songs.

I guess Barnsey doesn’t sing for all Australians. Can anyone? Aussie Rock is connected to American and European Rock music. It isn’t going to sing to Australians who don’t have that tradition.

The only song I know of that every Australian I’ve met can sing is Happy Birthday to You. And that’s a composed song, not a folk song.

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