iPods Killed the Folk Songs
OK. Admittedly, folk singing was on its way out before the advent of the iPod, but hear me out.
Before the ability came along to record sound, if you wanted to hear music, you really had only two options: 1) Go to where the music was being made, or 2) Make it yourself. Going to the music was often easier said than done – especially in the Western Art Music tradition where most of the music was performed in concert halls or in ballrooms of the royalty or aristocracy. Or, there was always church. Lots of good church music out there.
But the rest of the time, how did people pass the time? If you worked in your fields, you sang. If you washed your dishes, you sang. If you travelled down the road to the next town, you sang; sometimes, other travelers would even sing along. When you got together with your friends, you made music: singing, dancing, fiddling, jug-blowing…well, you get the idea.
It was fun. It was social. It was folk music.
Folk Music: noun 1. music, usually of simple character and anonymous authorship, handed down among the common people by oral tradition.
2. music by known composers that has become part of the folk tradition of a country or region.
But then, near the turn of the 20th Century, something happened. For the first time, we could record sound and play it back later. The world was changed! Suddenly, you weren’t required to go to where the music was; you could go to the music! Jazz musicians in Chicago could now hear music being playing in New Orleans without having to travel there. A pianist in New York could hear a concert from Los Angeles from the comfort of his own living room. The world suddenly got a lot smaller.
Check out these dates: (thanks to Audio Engineering Society for helping me put together this list)
Now, if you go to work, select your playlist. When you wash the dishes, stick in your earbuds. When you travel, listen to your MP3s while everyone else in the car does the same. No one has to be burdened with the task of actually talking to someone else.
The world of music consumption has become very individualistic. Unless you are in a school or community music group, music is no longer social. Nothing is social in fact. I ride the train from OIympia to Seattle and back every day and the majority of people I see have earbuds in, blocking out the need to communicate or be social. People aren’t singing anymore. The folk songs of the past, even the ones written in the 1950s and ‘60s are being forgotten.
How do we bring back the music of America? I’m talking the music that grew out of the traditions that the initial immigrants brought to this country. I’m talking about the music of the Native Americans. I’m talking about the music from the hills of Appalachia. I’m talking about the music that is currently in the hearts of the current mish-mash of cultures that is our America today.
It’s time to take out the earbuds and sing again! Who's with me?