10/22/08 Folk Communities

We began this session by learning a few folk rounds. The first was a bluesy MoonDog tune that reads as follows:

Nero’s expedition up the Nile
Failed
Because the water hyacinths
Had clogged the river
Denying Nero’s vessel’s passage
Through the Sud of Nubia

(I found a transcription online if anyone is interested in joining along!)

The second was a curious tune that compared a frog to a strange form of bird. This piece reminded me of a showtune more than a folk melody. Its text read:

What a queer bird a frog are
When he sit he stand almost
When he jump he fly almost
When he sing he cry almost
And he ain’t got no tail
Hardly he ain’t got no tail
And he sit on what he ain’t got almost…
What a queer bird a frog are!

When we broke into canon (I believe at one point we were in 4 or 5 parts) I began to get so excited that I couldn’t help but sing at the top of my lungs and by the end I had definitly broken a sweat. At times I stopped (just briefly) in order to experience the composite harmonies and rhythms as they flew by. This is the music that shaped me into the man (and musician) that I am today. My mother sang folk songs from her youth to me when I was an infant (and in fact even before I was born). When I was older she bestowed unto me her collection of LPs that contained her favored renditions of these tunes (they are still in frequent rotation on my record player). There is a strange sense of community that is lost when these songs and their traditions are ignored and undermined.

Later that night, after our class, Joanna and I took a couple friends up onto a friend’s rooftop deck. We taught them the songs that we had learned, and while a number of intoxicated college students stumbled home on the streets below, we rounded off the roof above them. This type of community is profoundly valuable. The sense of sharing is so unique and there is such a strong energy of liberation from all things ego. It is as though the music soaks into your skin and you feel such ecstasy from its internal resonance. These moments are rare (and increasingly so). We speculated in class on what life might be like if the price of gas escalated to an unreasonable and unaffordable height. Luxury as we now know it would cease to be an option. Touring musicians and ensembles would become rare and would force our community into a tighter knit microcosm. I believe that our scope of perception would narrow and we would begin to look inwards for entertainment. It is likely that our culture would return to an orally driven tradition with a focus on sharing, trading, familial communities, and the immediate experience of being. It is possible to speculate that within our current global community these things become insignificant and tend to disappear.

I would also like the mention the great attention devoted within our current cultural machine to the standardized process of test taking. This continues a conversation we began in class that Jenny also spoke of in her previous blog. As Jenny mentioned, learning to take a test, such as the SAT, targets strengths that you might use when balancing a check book. The strategies you learn when training for these exams in no way helps one to develop into a better artist, writer, musician, or creative thinker. Much of the way that high school English classes are conducted reflects this. Conversations surrounding literature and higher art are more often than not guided towards a specific end result or “correct answer” as defined by a teacher’s handbook. These so called ‘guided conversations’ are not real conversations and do not express anything but a prescribed formula and its subsequently derived answer. It leaves little room for creative thinking and no room for a student to learn freely. In tighter knit societies, we want people to sing with, to talk to, to be part of a community with.

We discussed in depth how much of what we learned as students was not what our teacher had been attempting to teach. For many of us, we learn in a variety of free-associative ways. We make connections and draw conclusions based upon previous experiences and our current understandings. It seems obvious, with this in mind, that our system of education can many times create a barrier for the minds of learners. In my view, education is something that cannot be prescribed. It is something that, when most effective, is coordinated with the specific needs and current situations of each student group (and in the most ideal situations, for each student individually). We have a long way to go in fulfilling the needs of our students, but I believe that in-depth speculation on the unique qualities of folk based communities will yield positive and provocative results.

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