2003 Program Introduction
By Bob Blackman

When Sally Potter was mulling over the slogans for this weekend's festival, she really hit the right tone with "Where the songs are the stars of the show:.

Yes, there are some noted performers on a stage, and you're seated in an auditorium facing them. But on these two evenings, it's not a concert in the usual sense. Tonight, you're a member of a big community choir. The talented people on stage may be directing the choir, leading you in a selection of wonderful songs, but you are the singers.

These days, it's almost a radical concept to do your own singing. We're accustomed to purchasing our entertainment in the form of compact discs or concert tickets or cable TV subscriptions. But, in fact, the idea of making your own music is at the very core of folk music.

There have been endless debate over how to define a "folk song." The most inclusive definition is attributed to Big Bill Broonzy; when asked by Studs Terkel if a particular song was a folk song, he allegedly replied, "I never heard a horse sing it." So anything a human sings is, perhaps, a folk song. On the other side of the coin, academic folklorists have tended to define "folk song" by a very narrow and precise definition involving anonymous origin, variation as the song spreads via oral tradition, and transmission over several generations. As singer Michael Cooney likes to summarize it, "If you know who wrote it, it's not a folk song."

While it might be hard to define a "folk song", I've settled on a definition of "folk music" that I like, which cares more about the process and context of singing then about the specific songs. I think of real "folk music" as people singing (or playing tunes) for their own enjoyment, alone or among family or community, and choosing whatever songs they happen to like — old or new, serious or silly, religious or secular. This used to happen a lot, especially before radio and recordings started bringing "professional musicians" into peoples homes and reduced the necessity of providing one's own entertainment. Nowadays, such "folk music" may be less common than it used to be, but it isn't as extinct as you might assume.

Think you're not a folksinger? If you've sung Beatles songs around the house (from the memory of having heard them hundreds of times), if you've sung rounds and children's songs in the car with your kids, if you've sung Christmas carols in your living room, then you're a folksinger.

This festival will give you the chance to sing some great songs, and to remember how much fun it is to make your own music. You don't need professional training or a perfect voice. This "choir" doesn't depend on perfection (although I'm confident that your combined voices will sound beautiful).

Sing loudly enough to hear yourself. Try a harmony if you're so inclined. Don't worry if you hit a wrong note or sing the wrong word. If you especially like some of the songs we do here — go home and sing them again with your family.

Remember, this isn't a performance and there's no audience. You're the singers, but the songs are the stars of the show. Tonight the songs will do the work; you just relax and have fun singing them.

Bob Blackman




Ten Pound Fiddle Concert Series
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