Something borrowed something blue something old, something new…
Why Folk is a gateway to appreciation and reinvention of music
Folk music is so embedded in British culture we’re hardly aware of its potency and it a great gateway into other forms and appreciation of music .From the earliest nursery rhymes to the Celtic songs and English sea and military songs, we all know a tune or two at all levels of society : Danny Boy, Skye boat song, what shall we do with the drunken sailor? Molly Malone and Scarboro fair etc. If we go back to the first British folk revival just over hundred years ago, when Bill Kimber, Cecil Sharpe and other ethno-music pioneers collected the remains of country folk songs from aging folk, we saw a huge revival in neo classical music – inspiring Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainger and yes, even Stravinsky in Russia, Kreek in Estonia and Bartok in Hungary to name a few.
But go back a few hundred years, and the same applies to early polyphonic composers borrowing great tunes from the street and embellishing them in new forms – Josquin du Pres, writing the I’homme arme mass, or Monteverdi vespers scattered with popular tunes and Praetorius in Germany ( In Dulce Jubilo ). In modern times, Jazz and Rock musicians take great tunes and improvise around them, making their own stamp and adding interpretations as valid as Josquin’s – Miles Davis, Coltraine and Hendrix for starters.
Folk music, or popular songs are potent forces, as Noel Coward said, ‘Strange how potent cheap music is.” But in this power lies a great opportunity to introduce people to a wider range of music and delve into more complex and rewarding range of experiences, that perhaps classical, jazz, choral and improvisational music offers. Great vocal groups like Voces8 and Sixteen have outreach initiatives to engage people in their music and introduce them to new tastes and activity.
Its’ fair to say, as always, todays composers are looking for new textures, recontextualising material and song to create new forms of music. Even the greatest composer of our time, Sir James Macmillan, defers to Tallis as source of inspiration. Repurposing song is normal and healthy and a great adaptive mechanism for material to suit any current times.
Which is why Circle have recorded ‘Songs from the heart. The main idea is to reclaim and review older well- known songs and play them in new ways, with talented musicians, available and open to express and contribute their own view on original material. We took folk songs and made them in our own choral way- merging Oxford chapel singers with folk and early music. Mixing in jazz saxophone, and early instruments including crumhorn, bassoon and Nykelharpor into the sound. It’s a new mashup and we loved it.
But in this process, we can see a new creation and way forward to a new genre- Folky Choral, not too formal, not too stuffy, but using classical technique and singing to bring folk songs alive in new ways and recontextualise them, with more improvisational instrumental approaches and accompanying textures. Its exciting and the possibilities feel wide open. ‘Songs from the heart’ is just the start of something new and potentially inspirational. You can check it out here
Like I say, something borrowed, something blue, something old and something new….