Saturday, October 10, 2009

No apology required ...

I once heard Martin Carthy, MBE, declare in interview something like, “The worst thing you can do to a folksong is NOT to sing it.”

Now, Martin, does this mean that it’s OK to sing a folksong badly? We’ve all heard that done. I willingly include some of my own humble offerings in that observation, and some of those waxed-cylinder recordings of source-singers can prove a considerable assault to the ear.

Songs, of course, are made for singing. Therein lies their vitality. Otherwise they remain on paper - nothing more than written pieces of poetry/prose, or mystifying dots and squiggles on a stave. Their status as folksongs attests to their historical popularity and gives them dynamism. Different performers adapt them to their own style and add their own instrumentation and idiosyncrasies. Others, perhaps more sensitively, adapt their style to suit the song. By being performed songs are shared, and that is one essence of folksong. Folksong is a living, dynamic and evolving tradition. It is hard to define, but you know it when you hear it.
If it's sung in a 'folk club', it's 'folk'!

We are all familiar with that first-time-out-syndrome. That involves hyperventilation, wobbly knees, trembling voice, stumbling over the second line, and an irresistible need to apologise when, sweating in relief, you reach the end.
You will always receive applause because your audience comprises polite and courteous people.
But – did you sing it badly?
Probably not. You did the best you could. Who can ask for more?
You go home, revisit the song, rehearse, re-work the phrasing, find the right pitch, vibrate the walls, disturb the neighbours, and commit the lyrics and melody to a more retentive memory bank.

Then, with luck, we hear a second outing.
Now you’re cruising!
Your confidence has increased. Your breathing is under control. You are determined not to apologise.
Your mesmerised listeners close their eyes. Their respiration and heart-rates slow as they imbibe the music through the very pores of their souls.
When you finish there is a pregnant silence in the room, because your captivated audience is waiting for more.
"... Aaaarh ...," you hear.
Then - you receive prolonged and rapturous acclaim!
You don’t need to shrug your shoulders apologetically. You smile joyously!

Here I express an opinion: That is how it should be!
We have seen it happen time and again in our gathering.

Of course, we can all sing less-than-our-best at times. The performer is always his/her own worst critic. However, maybe a worse thing is not to improve the performance next time. Remember always, it is the song you are showcasing, not your virtuosity. Performance skills and instrumentation are important, but remain secondary to that. Be grateful that this is so. Take encouragement from your attentive reception.

At the same time, show respect for the song. Do the best you can. Credit your source. Work on the piece. Rehearse it. Make love with it. Engage it as your 'familiar' ...

Permit the 'folkie' incubus/succubus to have his/her will with you. (Enjoy!)
Foster the product of this supernatural conjugation. (Don't smoke!)
Lovingly nurture its gestation. (Folic acid is recommended.)
Eventually a star will appear as a celestial host proclaims, "Be not afraid ..."
Then - oh my - we witness a triumphant delivery. (Your pains are temporary.)
Tenders of livestock will worship you, and, although your virginity remains questionable, oriental sages bearing precious gifts will come forth. (Oh, no, not that myrrh stuff!)
Finally, in presentation at the temple (CFC), transiently, you will own this miraculous creation, and generously share it. ("Here you are, Joe, his nappy needs changing!")
What more could you desire?!

Do NOT apologise!

As my Granny used to say, “Practice makes perfect.”

"St. Anley is such a naughty boy." said his blessed mother, "He's such a long way to go!"


In this post, with the exception of Mr. Carthy's image, all characters are entirely fictional.
Any perceived resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, immaculately-conceived, blessed mothers thereof, individuals existing in self-generated ostracism, or in cryogenic suspended-animation, is entirely the product of the reader's vivid imagination.
The writer, (who does not exist in reality), denies any imagination whatsoever!

The blog-administrator has further declared, understandably, that the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily shared by him - or anyone else in our gathering.

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