Discovering Folk Music was published in early 2010, perfectly timed to supplement the West Deptford Free Public Library’s New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music in spring 2011. Stephanie Ledgin’s latest work is written with a general audience in mind yet detailed and comprehensive enough in scope as to appeal to professional folklorists, songwriters, and season musicians.
The author introduces the reader to folk music by explaining its history and how” the music continues to sing.” to paraphrase Rich Bellamente, a West Deptford Free Public Library New Harmonies docent.
American folk music roots are derived from the many cultures that carried musical instruments to the shores of this country. Sounds of banjos, dulcimers, guitars, harmonicas, and accordions are easy to imagine while enjoying pages of artistic black and white photographs showcasing instruments, musicians and venues. Famous folk musicians are noted in the progression from early folk music to the family-friendly folk music often performed today throughout America, including America’s public libraries. The concluding sections of the book, More Folk: Selected Resources and Listening Space: A Folk Continuum are filled with useful follow up materials both off and online.
The decision to invite JibJab cofounders, Greg and Evan Spiradellis to pen the forward was a wise one. Consider the current insights included: “Music is an incredibly powerful art form. Folk art is typically associated with being accessible – anybody with ambition can pick up the tools he or she has at his or her disposal and create it. There is little, if any, polish, just raw creativity. Today, with computers, music creation software, and the Internet, production and distribution technology is accessible to everyone. The balance of power in media is shifting from the distributor to the creator. With that, there is no doubt that digital technology will lead to the creation and discovery of great folk art and folk music that might not otherwise have had a chance to find an audience; our work certainly wouldn’t have. Just imagine if Woody Guthrie had had the Internet to share his message and music directly with his audience.
I personally wonder if Woody Guthrie would have the same deep public appreciation for his work if the Internet was the primary medium to share his music. He may have been a viral hit on YouTube, though the staying power of music promoted and published online via itunes and other outlets is yet to be determined.
Ms. Ledgin’s insights regarding the power of song as related to participation ring true.
“The power of song – an expression heard a lot lately in connection with folk music’s patriarch of song, Pete Seeger. Through song, Pete has enthused, encouraged, soothed, rallied, and even ticked off a few people along the way during his 90 years of walking on this land. Toward the end of the biographical documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, Pete says, “Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race.” The rainbow race – humanity. And through hundreds of songs throughout our lives, we are moved to participate in the various aspects of our lives – social, political, spiritual, or recreational. Pete has often stated that is more important when he is performing to get the audience singing – to hear them participate – to hear their voices rather than his alone.”
As the New Harmonies exhibit drew to a close Arlene Storer, another West Deptford Free Public Library docent shared that she attended Pete Seeger concerts and was indeed moved as were many. Below is a photograph of Arlene on New Harmonies exhibit docent duty in the library. She is on the far left by the banner.