American history and cultures seen through folkmusic

The Folkmusic program is my original program which expanded in a lot of directions, so has a lot of flexibility. Generally, I follow American history from the Revolution to the present, describing events, movements, periods, peoples, and cultures that are reflected in folkmusic, illustrating with pieces of songs and music. I am also describing and demonstrating what folkmusic and folklore is, both as history and literature, and the insight and specific knowledge it can provide on culture and human nature. For specific classes, I can focus in on a certain historical period or specific events, peoples, cultures, or movements within American History and culture. Over the years I developed programs on various periods and themes, researching background facts for songs I picked up, so that now I can draw on a considerable amount of material for any program I do. I can focus more on the historical, social, or the literary aspects of folkmusic although generally I include all three. I am constantly making connections to the present, and showing how folkmusic and the "folk process" is still an active part of American and culture, and the whole world.

In the folkmusic program, there are not as many specific lessons involved as there is one basic lesson and endless illustrations, whether I cover a lot of ground or focus in on just one facet.

The start of any program is defining "folkmusic" and the "folk process". Today's recent "genre-ization" of music by the industry has obscured the true definitions of types of music by imposing marketing labels in place of fact. What is called "folk" today is really "ethnic" or some specific style like "celtic" or "gypsy", while true "folkmusic" can be any syle and rooted in any culture. Its defining characteristic is that it represents a culture, a people, thus the word "folk". It is popular music that stays known and part of the present culture, and often popular, long after the original setting, and often author, are past and not remembered so well. It is music that reflects the lives, thoughts, and feelings of a people, perhaps more clearly than any other art. It has its roots in the bards and minstrels in every culture who passed on in the stories and balleds everything from political commentary to cultural ideals and norms, to the latest news. It is also art that survives because, while it might originate in one people, it has transcended them to remain a part of modern culture long after those of its origin have passed into history. It is also a process that has not stopped and is an integral part of the present, whether in perserving and passing on the legacy of past peoples, bridging the gap between us and those people, so we see them as what they are, not historical figures, but people just like us. It is active in the present, revealing and distilling the essense of our present cultures for us to see, and for future generations to know us by.

In the second part of the program, I illustrate all these aspects of folk music using examples from American folkmusic, from the Revolution to the present time. I know a great number of songs and use whichever come to mind at the time to illustrate a specific point. Though I use historical periods, I often refer to "folk movements" instead, important periods in American history and culture that are reflected clearly in their music. It is also significant that equally important or at least definable historical periods, even with definite musical styles, did not always have recognizable movements, with the passions, dreams, and ideals that could be transfomed into folkmusic. I end up in the present, bringing the students to look at today's music not as entertainment, but as folkmusic, a reflection of the hopes and fears, legends and myths, dreams and ideals of a people, their people.

If I have been requested to focus on a specific period or theme, I move quickly to that historical period and use it for my illustrations, or if I follow a theme, I use that to draw illustrations from as I go through historical periods.

I do not try to go too deep, while I do explain the facts behind some songs, and I use a great number, I am not trying to cover more information than I possibly can. I am more demonstrating the potential that lies in folk music as a serious gold mine of historical and cultural information and perspective, that students can chose to dig in. I also have always chosen songs for their real entertainment value and emotive power, to show them not as dusty relics, but as art that can still breath fire and move hearts, as full of passion and depth as they ever were, even taken out of their time, or showing their timelessness. I chose songs I would and do perform, not as history, but because they are effective. They are entertaining, they are thought provoking, they can reach the mind, heart, and soul. That is my job.

Finally, I try to spend some time answering questions, allowing for some dialogue, so the students aren't left without a chance to respond. Given time and interest, I can let the students have a chance to look at, touch, and/or play the dulcimer. Though it's not the focus of this program, it is an example of evolving music, which is part of the "folk process" as well.