Monday, 10 February 2014

Okay, I suppose I'd better start somewhere.  I've been a musician in some form or other for over twenty years, playing various instruments and almost every imaginable kind of music.  However, the life of a musical gadabout is not necessarily charmed, and for the last few years I have felt a certain frustration in my musical life, perhaps borne of the very flightiness which has always been my apparent unique selling point.  This manifested itself as something of a musical identity crisis - although I play drums in a rock band, I don't consider myself to be a 'rock drummer'; ditto keyboards in a ska band, bass in a Sixties tribute band, etc.  I have recently found myself looking upon musical specialists with no little envy, despite several of these musicians' assertions that they would give anything to possess my versatility.  Many of my friends and contemporaries chose their instrument at a relatively early age, gradually honing their craft over many years of frustrating practice sessions and soul-destroying public performances.  Although I began as a percussionist (and later drummer), the occasional successes I achieved in various performances and grades were not enough to convince me that I had a right to be in that particular world, hence my lifelong tendency to migrate to other instruments when things get too intimidating.  Whether this approach is viewed as the restless search of someone innately curious or as the constant prevarications of an impatient musical drifter, I have certainly acquired a (perhaps enviable) overview of the subject, but it does not change the fact that, when it comes to musical experiences, quantity is not equal to quality.

Almost accidentally, over the last couple of years I have started to take something of an interest in folk music.  Although I'm not entirely a stranger to the genre (in addition to having briefly played in an Irish ceilidh-style band, I have also attended many folk singarounds, although only to sing comedy songs), I must admit that in recent years there has been many aspects of folk which have both intrigued and puzzled me; indeed, several of the ideas expressed have almost led me to question my entire system of musical values.  Therefore, by way of providing at least some depth to my knowledge base, I have decided to undertake an investigation of this music, to whit: examining it from musical, cultural and historical perspectives.  I do not do this in order to discover what constitutes 'folk' music (I fear a strict definition of such a term is beyond the scope of this blog), but rather to look at whether my findings are in direct opposition to the values inherent in various other strands of my musical life, or whether they can, by showing me new approaches to learning and performing, actually enhance them.  I want this journey to be an end in itself; not only to open my mind (and ears) to new concepts of beauty and expression, but to teach me about myself; to rid me of my magpieish tendencies and instil in me a discipline that has so long been lacking. 

I have two ostensible starting-points for this - a book of the so-called 'Child Ballads' (songs originating from the British Isles but collected in America by the scholar F.J. Child) and A.L. ('Bert') Lloyd's 'Folk Song In England', a tome which several people have assured me is fascinating but deeply flawed, apparently due to Lloyd's tendency to over-politicise (not to mention over-simplify).  In setting out any programme of musical study, it is important to properly balance the academic with the practical - I highly doubt that my singing or playing through whatever piece of music is under scrutiny will award me many great insights into it, but it is an act as essential as the background research into the song's context.  As we say in my part of the world, it all comes in.

Starting tomorrow, I will report my progress.

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