Friday 24th February

Session 1A

What Is Folk Music? A contemporary behavioural analysis |
Hugh Miller

There is a long-standing debate over the nature and definition of ‘folk music’. The Victorian and Edwardian collectors have been criticised for filtering the repertoires of their sources to promote class-based ideas of ‘the folk’. This study proposes an alternative, behavioural, definition of folk music: that which is performed in folk music clubs. The music performed in two clubs in the East Midlands was recorded and categorised by authorship, genre, and date of composition. Sessions were noted at various times over the last four years, before, during and after the pandemic, giving a total of more than 2000 individual performances. These results are compared with some of the unfiltered accounts we do have of source singers’ repertoires, like a Copper Family songbook Henry Burstow’s repertoire, and Ginnette Dunn’s record of the repertoires of singers at the Ship Inn, Blaxhall, in the 1970s and also with the material chosen by the BBC for a series of 39 programmes to ‘represent the music of English folk clubs’ compiled in the late 1960s. Performers at the clubs sampled are mostly elderly and of lower middle-class background and these clubs may not continue in their present form for very long. So their repertoire is not representative of the whole of the current folk music world. The results show a very wide range of sources, dates, and kinds of music. The songs sung at these contemporary folk song clubs are mostly not those which would be recognised as ‘traditional folk songs’. There is a very strong representation of post- World War 2 compositions, self-written songs, and importations from 20 th and 21 st - century popular culture, together with more ‘traditional’ material. It is suggested that these repertoires are very similar, allowing for the passage of time, to the repertoires we have (when they are unfiltered by the prejudices of collectors) from source singers. It might be better to use the description ‘vernacular music’ for the music, both of the Victorian and Edwardian sources, and of modern non-professional folkies. Their material is chosen from a range of sources because it has words and melody which are meaningful to the performer and is accessible for simple performance - and for these mostly elderly performers, then and now, has a sentimental reminiscence as the music of their youth. The processes of selection of vernacular music have repeated themselves.

Setting up and running a folk venue in England – theory and practice |
Morag and Christopher Butler

In 2017 the authors decided to establish a folk venue in Margate, an impoverished town in Southern England. They bought a derelict hotel, renovated it throughout, installed a stage with amplification and lighting and began running events and booking acts. They placed a particular emphasis on presenting English Folk Music as an inclusive, post-colonial community experience. Despite the poverty of the area, the Covid pandemic and subsequent economic downturn – or indeed possibly because of these factors (this paradox will be explored) – the initiative has been remarkably successful and continues to thrive. It has run continuously from its outset, has both a live and an online presence and has hosted both established and emerging performers. The paper will explore some of the theoretic underpinnings of the experiment; investigate the concepts of arts-led regeneration; and outline some of the possible roles a venue can play in a time of community hardship. It will look at how English Folk music can be defined – or indeed redefined – to be more inclusive while still retaining its distinct integrity. It will discuss how venue managers can encourage artistic formation and realisation and will explore some of the constrictions and the enabling factors that grow out of the different funding opportunities that are on offer.

Development and impact of day-time folk clubs |
Eileen Richardson

This presentation is concerned with the development, characteristics and impact of day-time folk clubs in the north-east of England. In the last decade there have been a number of new, generally monthly, day-time folk clubs in the region. These mainly take the form of a sing-around style club with no paid performers. Attendees are encouraged to perform but non-performers are equally welcomed. Data from questionnaire and interview responses from a volunteer sample of attendees at daytime and evening folk clubs is used to consider the impact of such clubs on involvement in folk song and music in the area. Drawing on examples from the afternoon club which I have organised for the past seven years as well as from other similar clubs in the northeast region I examine the demographic of attendees as well as the motivations, benefits and barriers to attendance of both performers and non-performers and consider how far daytime clubs meet the needs of participants. The data gathered shows that the majority of attendees at daytime events are retired with ages ranging from 50 to over 80. The majority have also been involved in evening folk clubs but a small number have had no prior involvement in evening clubs. For some participants daytime clubs offer the opportunity to continue their involvement in live folk music at a time when they no longer feel able to attend evening events. For some attendees their involvement at daytime folk clubs had given them the motivation to develop their own song-writing and performance. The feasibility of using public transport was a benefit for a number of respondents, however the major benefit was perceived to be the opportunity to socialise with others and make new friends. The major barrier to attendance was other daytime commitments

Rolling On – the sessions and singarounds project: what have we learned so far? |
Tony Phillips

The Rolling On project has visited over 100 sessions and singarounds throughout the UK since 2018 to see what’s actually happening in local venues as diverse as pubs, festivals, clubs, community centres and in one case, an industrial unit when local people turn up to sing. Rolling On is certainly not a research project but offers a useful snapshot of community based folk music and exploration of key themes including the age demographic, cultural diversity, regional variations, random definitions of ‘folk’ etc. This presentation includes a summary of the key observations from the project to date taken from the first draft of the book. The themes covered include: Folk music - how people are choosing to define what they do in practice; Places - where are people choosing to gather to sing; Formats – how are people choosing to meet to sing and play; Songs – the mix of traditional and contemporary material and Demographics – age range, cultural diversity, politics and class.
2. The Rolling On theme song

The theme song for the project was written by members of the singaround at the Plough and Fleece in Cambridgeshire, reflecting on the songs and stories that must have been shared

in the pub since it was built in 1760 up to the present day. The song won the Milkmaid Folk Club Songwriting competition in 2017 and became a focal point for the early stages of the touring project where singers from every session attended were recorded joining in the chorus which was then patched into the master track – the last version included over 2000 people and sounded like a drunken football crowd! Participants will be able to learn the chorus and add their voices to the final recording. www.rollingon.org

Session 1B – Panel Discussion

English Folk Singing Styles and Techniques |
Jessie Thompson (Co-ordinator), Sarah Owen, Kate Thompson, Frankie Armstrong

When it comes to English folk song performance, it can be easy to overlook vocal technique and style of singing. English folk singing is often considered simple and organic, whereas instrumental folk playing is regarded as a professional skill described in terms such as ‘virtuosic’. This can be seen in Trish Winters and Simon Keegan-Phipps’s book Performing Englishness. This round table hopes to be a starting point for recognising that English folk singing is as virtuosic as any instrumental folk music. It hopes to demonstrate that the technical vocal choices folk singers make are equally essential and genre-defining as the instrumental equivalents. The panel will consist of co-ordinator Jessie Thompson and three vocal experts, Sarah Owen from Wren, Kate Thompson from Soundpost, and folk singer and president of the Natural Voice Network Frankie Armstrong. Each panellist will bring a different perspective on how folk singing differs from other vocal specialisms, creating a balanced discussion about where current recognised vocal techniques fit into contemporary English folk singing style.

The panel will discuss the distinct features of English folk singing and how they can be described with current vocal technical language. The aim of the panel is to identify the main auditory features that we recognise as English folk singing, what factors influence this and how vocal training can help folk singers. The topics of conversation will be the vocal features of traditional English folk singing, how it is changing, influencing factors on vocal technique in folk singing, and attitudes towards vocal training. We will finish with an analysis of a selection of English folk singers. 

Keynote: The Unthanks

Coming from a folkie background in Ryton, Tyne and Wear, The Unthanks now grace major festival stages, have crossed into mainstream music scenes through their recordings and radio show appearances. Alongside all this they have consistently delivered residential workshop weekends to encourage and support people getting into their own singing.  Join Fay Hield as she interviews Rachel and Becky Unthank to explore their journey through their experiences and approaches to folk song. There may well be a demonstration workshop element so come prepared to sing!

Session 2A

The Songs but not the People - Gypsy and Traveller Voices in English Folk Singing |
Esbjorn Wettermark

Through field recordings and print publications, Gypsy and Traveller singers have made a considerable contribution to the contemporary English folk song repertoire. The singer that appears in recordings and books remains a loved figure among English folk singers to this day. However, in reality, performers with Romany Gypsy or Traveller heritage (or, at least, who are open with their heritage) are largely absent from the contemporary folk scene in England. In the light of current discourse on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, calls to decolonise repertoires and education, and for allyship with marginalised groups in the folk scene, this absence is notable.

This paper begins to problematise the implicit exclusion of Gypsy and Traveller singers by looking at how singers and repertoires have been positioned in relation to a perceived English tradition in a range of written and audio publications since the early 1960s. With few exceptions these publications lack a Gypsy or Traveller editorial voice and, although often appreciative of the singers and their songs, they still perpetuate essentialist and romanticised notions of cultures and lifestyles as well as occasional antigypsist tropes. For organisations and individuals in the English folk scene to be sincere in their commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, there is still much to do in order to begin to fruitfully build bridges and create further opportunities for Gypsy and Traveller involvement. The paper argues that only by asking uncomfortable questions about history, ownership and recognition and daring to engage with the complexities of what ultimately constitutes “English” folk songs can this be achieved.

Romani Gypsy and Traveller song - the ethics of representation |
Hazel Marsh

In June 2015, the Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said during a Commons debate about Romani and Traveller accommodation in the UK: The romantic notion of Gypsies wandering through the countryside, entertaining people as they go, is a myth from long ago, because many of these supposed Travellers are self-declared Travellers; they are not from any kind of Gypsy heritage at all. The ‘romantic notion’ Hollobone refers to is indeed a myth, but one often projected onto Romanies and Travellers by outsiders who, like Hollobone, show little awareness of the culture, history and experiences of the ethnic minorities they make judgements about. In this paper, I argue that representations of Romani and Traveller music and song, in festivals, films and the mainstream media, often perpetuate exotic and romanticised stereotypes that influence common ideas about who ‘true Gypsies’ are. These ideas feed into public perceptions and even government policy: in 2015, the definition of the term ‘Gypsy’ for planning purposes was legally changed in the UK, allowing many local authorities to deny accommodation to those not deemed to meet the new criteria necessary to claim ethnic protection. I use music and song as an arena to explore issues around the history and ethics of representations of Romani/Traveller culture and identity, and suggest how engagement with music archives might help bring Romani and Traveller voices into public discussions about issues that affect them.

Gypsy and Traveller Voices in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library |
Hazel Marsh, Esbjorn Wettermark and Tiffany Hore

This paper discusses and introduces a new collaborative project looking at the repatriation of recordings of Gypsy and Traveller singers, held by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML) of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The project will commission a community associate who, with support from the project partners, will create an innovative study guide that renders the VWML collections more accessible, particularly for Gypsy and Traveller groups seeking engagement with their intangible cultural heritage. The co-creation of the study guide will enable new audiences to access, experience and understand material thus far only partially catalogued. The project will build new networks between Gypsy and Traveller groups, national societies and libraries, and the HE sector, thereby generating opportunities for the revitalization and promotion of folk music archives, and for GRT communities to take greater control over the representation of their history, music and identity. We will explore the potential of folk song archives as resources to enable knowledge exchange, the telling of new stories, the revitalising of archive collections, and the enhancement of mental health and wellbeing. All while highlighting the richness and importance of folk song collections for Gypsy and Traveller communities and the English folk scene alike.

Session 2B

The psychology of Loss, grief and hope in English Folk |
Christopher Butler

While some commentators (eg. Niall McKinnon and Roy Bailey) have in the past remarked on the significant of English folk music’s reflection on social change, much of the genre’s hearkening to the past has been dismissed as nostalgia, which has generally been seen as in the literature as an unhelpful and inauthentic response to change (eg. Georgina Boyes and Svetlana Boym). However, there has recently in psychology been a re-evaluation of the value of nostalgia (eg. by Tia De Nora and Tim Wildschut), especially in aiding individuals' recovery from loss and trauma. This paper will explore this re-evaluation and then will then further explore its application to the current English folk scene.

Making climate change audible: Folk singing, phenology, and knowledge-making in the UK | Rowan Hawitt

Many British folk songs reference the sound, behaviour, or arrival of more-than-human species, with birds in particular often portrayed as heralds of seasons or events. Yet, with worsening climate change, seasons are increasingly unstable and more-than-humans are being forced to change their behaviours or are becoming ‘out-of-sync’ with their rapidly altered environments. In this paper, I consider how contemporary folk singing practices in the UK explicitly or implicitly deal with the impacts of climate change on the country’s species. In particular, I place folksong into dialogue with the scientific field of phenology – the study of seasonality and lifecycle timing across species. Phenology tells us how a particular species interacts with cues from its environment which trigger events like migration, breeding, or a change in appearance. Under anthropogenic climate change, these cues are becoming less predictable, leading to mismatches between species and their optimal conditions for survival, in turn resulting in many rapidly declining populations. Here, I show how traditional folk songs which refer to certain species are records of environmental conditions which can no longer be considered stable. Comparing this repertoire with contemporary songs which explicitly address changing environmental conditions elicits engagement with cultural representations of changing seasonal patterns and can be a form of ecological and phenological knowledge-making. Critically engaging with folk songs today (through both singing and listening), I therefore argue, is a valuable means of understanding the unfolding impacts of climate change and, in turn, can make stewardship of environments more accessible.

“It’s not proper music”: Changing attitudes towards shanty performance over the last fifty years | Mollie Carlyle

The influence of the second wave folk revival on folk music during the latter half of the twentieth century has been well-documented by scholars exploring the key individuals associated with the revival of folk music in Britain, such as Ewan MacColl, Bert Lloyd and Alan Lomax, as well as the rise of the folk club during this time as the “powerhouse” behind the revival movement. Shanty singing, however, appears to have occupied an unusual position on the folk club and festival scene – never fully accepted by either traditional or contemporary groups. Those who used to sing shanties during the 1970s and ‘80s often felt that they were looked down on by folk musicians whose repertoire tended towards the balladry and rural folk music that is more commonly associated with the genre, eventually leading to tension between the two groups that would inspire the creation of shanty festivals as a means of branching out from the ‘mainstream’ folk sound. It was not until the early-2000s that shanties began to be accepted by folk musicians, in response to certain social and cultural events that saw the shanty suddenly rise in popularity amongst groups outside of the maritime music scene. This paper explores how the perception of shanties and shanty performance in relation to factors such as age, class, race, gender and the relationship between folk and maritime music in general has changed since the early days of the folk club to its appearance on the modern day folk music scene.

Session 3A – Workshop

Natural Voice Workshop |
Frankie Armstrong

The question any singer faces, is there such a thing as the 'folk voice'? What are the ingredients that make a folk song work for me? Is it the content, or the style or the intention of the singer? For those of my generation who, in my early twenties, were led to listening to those considered the iconic exemplars of the British and Irish tradition, we were given clear guidelines. We were also given a body of songs selected in that era by people such as Lou Killen, Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd - definitely leading us away from the more jingoistic, melodramatic and gory, or twee and over-romantic pastoral. Through a mixture of imitation, selection, trial and error and personal idiosyncrasies, we came upon our own vocal approaches. Complexities, nuances and contradictions arise. The orthodoxy was that formally trained classical/operatic singers simply could never interpret folk songs well. I love listening to Peter Peers singing Benjamin Britain's original compositions, but feel uneasy listening to his rendition of folk songs. However, I find myself spellbound by a version of "Barbara Allen" on the radio by Andreas Scholl, one of the world's most famous counter-tenors. And, at a concert, he chats to us and insists that anyone interpreting folk songs must listen to source singers to hear and learn from their phrasing and dynamics. And, of recent years, we have the superb example of Rhiannon Giddens able to sing the songs of her Black American ancestry as well as beautiful renditions of operatic arias - able to change her vocal qualities while still having a clear, expressive, open sound. This discussion will lead to more practical, experiential exploration of voice.

Session 3B – Online

Lamenting circle representing community |
Elina Hytönen-Ng and Emilia Kallonen

Lamenting is a form of tradition that can be found all over the world. Lamenting is seen as one of the oldest traditions. The similarity of the different lamenting traditions around the world is that laments have been women’s oral tradition that has commonly focused on women’s complaints (see McLaren 2008, 2; Wilce 2009). Amongst the Baltic-Finnic areas, we find Karelia and Ingria lament traditions closest to Finland (Honko 1975.) as the Karelian area is today shared between Finland and Russian Karelia. Karelian and Ingrian laments have been recorded since the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century. Researchers who have done extensive work on this tradition are for example Konkka (1985), Tenhunen (2006), A. Stepanova (2012), and E. Stepanova (2014) to name a few. Traditionally the individual heard laments from the women in the community around them and internalised the form of language and tunes. As the traditional life form in village communities has disappeared, lamenting in contemporary Finland is now learned in different folk singing and lamenting courses. Lamenting can be seen as a part of the folk singing tradition, but its ritualistic importance and context are significant. The comprehensive expression of lamenting includes inseparably the music, the words, and the performing situation. In this paper, we are focusing on a guided lamenting circle and the process of learning and practising laments in today’s Finland. The circle is run by folk music pedagogue Emilia Kallonen. As part of the circle, Elina Hytönen-Ng interviewed seven of the participants as well as participated in the circle as a student. In this paper, Kallonen will open the pedagogical basis and ethics of guiding the group, while Hytönen-Ng describes the experiences and thoughts of the participants relating to the circle. We open some of the meaning(s) the circle has for the participating individuals, such as expressing and sharing grief, the importance of emotional expression, and finding new perspectives on things.

Improvising Folk Songs - The Folk Song Lab project | Susanne Rosenberg

A presentation of the findings in a research project called Folk Song Lab. Folk Song Lab acts as a platform for improvising folk songs in a collective setting in sessions starting from the cognitive framework (Rosenberg, 2019) of ballads, lullabies, folk chorales, and herding songs. It also takes its starting point from B. H. Bronson and A. Lord, indicating that the song only exists in the act of singing. One question asked in the project is what new skills can be acquired with this approach. Another question is how to use different memory systems, system one or system two (Kahneman, 2013) when improvising lyrics and melodies. It explores the possibility of creating artistic methods for flow, using play, risk, mimicry, reorientation, feedback, and real-life situations developed on the findings of psychologist Csikszentmihalyi (1990), to nudge the participant to end up in the flow channel, being able to create more freely. A Folk song lab session is about improvising folk songs in a collective setting. Group size can vary from 5 to 40 participants, and a session lasts at least 40 minutes. In the session, everybody contributes by improvising and listening, taking turns, or improvising simultaneously. https://folksonglab.com

Session 4A – Communal Activity

Did you miss a session you wanted to attend? Do you have some thoughts and feelings on what you have learnt today? Come along to this session to reflect on the day’s proceedings and hear from those who attended sessions you missed. Together we will come up with some key themes for the symposium to help guide discussion on day two. Led by Kirsty Kay.

Session 4B – Workshop

Colourchord - Accessing  Harmony Singing |
Jon Boden

This blended lecture / workshop explains how the Colourchord system works and what its social and educational applications might be. The lecture element will be interspersed with a participatory introduction to “singing the colours”. Originally devised as a means of introducing singers to the process of improvising their own harmonies by colour-coding the lyrics in black, blue and red to indicate which of the three major chords should be sung. It became clear that it could be of broader use for social singing but needed a more rigid system for how people would respond to the different colours. This led to the two note and three note “teams” approach where the same two or three notes are sung by a particular team regardless of the song. This in turn led to the idea of “bracket variations” (allowing a fourth chord to be generated by one team singing an alternative note) and of small dots to indicate each team’s starting note relative to the melody. Attendees will be invited to try out the system using provided materials. Analysis of the system includes: i) The relationship of the system to folk song (A consideration of the fact that the system works with any diatonic melody but is particularly well suited to traditional British and American repertoire. Also that repertoire being in the public domain facilitates free access to and distribution of the Colourchord materials), ii) How the system has fared “in the wild” (A consideration of the system’s strengths and weaknesses in a variety of contexts such as existing choirs, school class-room singing of various ages, adult “non-singers”, existing social singing contexts) and iii) 4) Plans for the future (A consideration of how we hope the project might progress including a potential “Whole School Harmony” project focused on secondary schools, and using the ubiquity of Christmas carols to introduce people to the system, so that they might then be able to access social singing all year round).

Saturday 25th February

Session 5A

Willing To Sing, Willing To Listen? Taking Traditional Song Outside The Folk Music ‘Chapel’ | Paul Mansfield

Bell’s metaphorical depiction of folk clubs as ‘chapels’ (1963) came with the question, “shouldn’t we be preaching on the street corners to the unconverted?”. This paper will discuss a selection of issues that may shape folk performers’ decisions about singing ‘outside the chapel’. The presentation will cover two broad areas. Firstly, the attitudes and experiences of established amateur singers of folk material, gleaned from local fieldwork, will be analysed. It will be noted that metaphors very similar to those used by Bell arose spontaneously from the singers interviewed. Secondly, a literature-based discussion will highlight concepts relevant to the response from potential audiences. Such concepts may include beliefs about genre, and different modes of listening associated with different musical environments. In the case of genre, brief consideration will be given to the role of various types of mediators or gatekeepers. The intended benefit of the paper is that those considering the presentation of, or participation in, folk music outside its usual specialist settings will be assisted in analysing potential barriers, with a view to overcoming them. However, in line with Martin Carthy’s dictum that the best way to kill off traditional songs is to avoid singing them, the paper is not intended to discourage simply ‘getting out there and giving it a try’!

Composing Folk |
Rebecca Erickson

This paper is the beginning of an interrogation into the ways that Eastern European choral music, drawing its musical material from folk songs, is structured to compose a sounding ideation of national boundaries and heritage in a space that was, at some point in history, a musically narrated claim to ethnic identity. The paper uses interview methodology with two choral conductors, one working in Estonia and one working internationally but of Latvian heritage, to collect their views on several musical examples of chorally produced folksong. The clips shared with the conductors are videos of folk songs from these two nations, but their musical material is chorally arranged and performed by classical choirs at a high level of skill unavailable to those outside conservatory training. I argue that this practice of chorally performing and producing these songs is voice lending: a praxis of contributing the power of a classical space and that specific musical legibility to a folk repertoire. The videos exhibit high levels of editing and structure (production): ethnic costume, folk dance, staging and props, film editing, and sound editing to create beautifully sealed hermeneutic registers of folk songs and folk cultural heritage. In the present day, these videos borrow that repertoire and its heritage as a means of stabilising and legitimising claims to the authenticity of a national identity. In both Estonia and Latvia this has resulted in the obliteration of a cultural hierarchy of folk singing. Folk music was obtained during the Soviet occupation by classical composers to be representative of the "ur-ethnicities" at home in that geopolitical space, and the level of its performance now means that any identity folk musicking has in these nations belongs to a standard of performance most at home in the conservatory.

Voices of the Future: New Trends in the Popularisation, Transmission and practice of Folk Song in Georgia (Caucasus) | Caroline Bithell

My paper will offer an analysis of recent developments in the transmission and popularisation of traditional song and dance in Georgia. The extraordinary vitality of traditional music activity in Georgia today builds on the renaissance set in motion by UNESCO’s proclamation of Georgian Polyphonic Singing as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2001), with participation continuing to grow and diversify. The paper will be informed by my latest period of fieldwork (May–November 2022), when my investigations included family ensembles, ensembles supported by municipal cultural centres, a newly established nation-wide network of ‘songmaster schools’ for children and youth overseen by the State Folklore Centre, the 2022 edition of the National Folklore Festival organised by the State Folklore Centre, and a national competition-style festival of youth choirs overseen by the Georgian Choral Society. Alongside observations about repertoire choices, sources and teaching methods, I will explore (i) the significance of Georgia’s lively festival culture, (ii) the vital role played by social media with regard to popularisation and accessibility, (iii) the creation of diverse opportunities for young people to participate in informal music-making in traditional contexts, as well as in more visible staged performances of ‘folklore’, and (iv) the ways in which individual, grassroots initiatives complement top-down government strategies to create a favourable environment for musical sustainability. My theorisation of these trends speaks to current issues in ethnomusicology and heritage studies. The paper will be supported by original audio-visual materials.

Session 5B – Panel Discussion

Intergenerational Gender and Folk Song Discussion | Emily Portman, Rosie Hood, Sandra Kerr, Frankie Armstrong, Nancy Kerr & Maddie Morris

Esperance is a grassroots collective of people who wish to discuss and address gender equality issues in the English folk scene. We aim to increase awareness and understanding of gender-related barriers, support people who experience gender-based discrimination, and facilitate conversations that lead to positive change. Our vision is for a change in culture in order to create a safer, more inclusive community and an equal, sustainable future for the folk scene in England. This intergenerational panel discussion explores the reverberations of second-wave feminism on today’s generation of folk singers on the UK folk scene, and the recent resurgence of the gender equality movement. We will ask what progress has been made since the British folk revival of the ‘60s, examine issues that still remain the same, and discuss where we need to go next in the endeavour for gender equality. Emily Portman and Rosie Hood (Esperance co-founders) will facilitate the panel of diverse genders, asking questions and stimulating discussion with our guest speakers from across the generations including second-wave feminists who were pivotal in bringing feminism to the fore in the folk revival and representatives from the new wave of gender equality groups working in the folk scene; and the next generation of young folk singers, to share their experiences, learn from one another, and look to the future. www.esperancefolk.com

Keynote: Access Folk

Session 6A

Inclusive Folk: Improving access to folk music for learning disabled young people |
Emmie Ward and Charlotte Turner 

Inclusive Folk, the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s project aims to improve access to participation in folk song, music and dance for young people with learning disabilities and associated complex needs (individuals with multiple and unique health and social care needs that affect their ability to participate in mainstream education and arts activities). We work with these young people and their carers at our regular, creative music-making Folk Unlimited sessions at Cecil Sharp House, and in local special educational needs and disability (SEN/D) schools and settings. Access for learning disabled (young) people in participatory music activities, including folk, is extremely limited; our provision, developed over several years, aims to help address this by developing and sharing practice. Folk Unlimited sessions, led by Emmie Ward and Nick Goode, offer learning disabled young people and their parents and carers highly individualised, creative, muti-sensory engagement with folk songs, using traditional instruments, music technology, dance, signing and props. In this paper, we would like to speak about and share via film the following: i) The benefits of using folk song / music as a way to improve access to music for learning disabled young people. ii) The challenges folk song / music presents and how we address these. iii) The importance of multi-sensory experiences when teaching and singing folk songs. Emmie specialises in using multi-sensory approaches to storytelling and music. iv) The other strands of the Inclusive Folk project which are workshops at partner SEN/D settings, folk festivals, work placements, free online SEN/D teaching resources on the EFDSS Resource Bank and CPD events for educators.

LGBTQIA+ songs present within traditional music archives: implications and responses |
George Sansome

Through looking at the archive findings and research processes of the Queer Folk project, I will discuss the wealth of LGBTQIA+ songs present within traditional music archives. I will touch on the implications of this, along with some possible responses to this. This project started with a simple question: LGBTQIA+ people have always existed, so where are they in traditional music? Folk songs are often seen as ‘Songs Of The People’ [Sam Henry] - so we reasoned there must be songs of LGBTQIA+ people too, whether implicitly or explicitly queer. Sophie and I set out to see if we could find traditional songs with LGBTQIA+ stories or themes, starting with a residency at Cecil Sharp House. This consisted of research using books from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, as well as using online archives, particularly Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads Online. It soon became clear that there were more LGBTQIA+ stories in folk songs than we had previously thought. Some of these were hidden in plain sight in well-known songs, while others were more oblique. We grouped our findings into three categories: i) Songs with explicitly LGBTQIA+ content. ii) Songs that were more implicit in their content or that were open to a queer reading and iii) Songs that, with some alteration, can be queered.  Throughout this process, it became clear that the most important aspect of finding LGBTQIA+ stories in traditional songs was actually the mental reframing involved with doing so. By applying a queer lens and an open mind, songs we had known for years suddenly took on new lives, and new songs jumped out as obviously queer. The striking aspect of this research is its relevance to LGBTQIA+ people today. The presence of these songs demonstrates that LGBTQIA+ people are not a “trend” and have always existed and experienced varying levels of persecution.

Session 6B

Creating new communities through folk music: the growth and reinterpretation of folk and traditional music of the english-speaking world in Athens, Greece | Laura Midgley

This paper will first explore the concept of a community, and discuss the process of creating ties between people based on a shared language and shared experiences of migration and Multiculturalism. It will then focus on the life of english-speaking folk and traditional music in Athens, and explore its growth and reinterpretation in both a musical and functional sense. By looking at current activities taking place across the city, the paper will briefly look at the impact of the environment on the music, and its ‘growth’ from a performer’s standpoint (emerging fusion genres, new performance contexts, educational settings, etc.) Finally, touching on the concepts of tradition, authenticity and community music, as well as issues of nostalgia and belonging, it will look at the reinterpretation of the tradition(s), and the ways in which the repertoire is reappropriated for use by a diverse minority, both as a means of performing pre-existing ties, and of uniting people with a love for the repertoire(s) to create a new community.

Ultimately, it will try to convey a sense of music-making in Athens, and conclude that reinterpretation and growth are an inevitable aspect of community music (both as a consequence and a prerequisite), as this allows us to create music and spaces that reflect who we are, rather than changing who we are to fit the music.

Folksong as a Signifier of National Identity in Ukraine and Russia |
Richard Louis Gilles

Folk traditions both real and imagined have always been closely linked to the expression of national identity in Russia and East Europe. The collecting and recording of folksong has a long history in this region that extents all the way back to early ethnographic activities by figures such as Nikolai Lvov (1753–1803) and his collaborator Ivan Prach (c. 1750–c. 1818) in the late 18 th century. Direct quotations of folk melodies (and less direct evocations of a partially imaginary ‘folk’ style) became a core feature of Russian art music in the 19th century, which continued into the Soviet era with a marked increase in ethnographic activities documenting folk song and folk traditions across the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The ethnographic interest in documenting folk music in Russia and East Europe continues today, as does the practice of quoting or referring to folksong in art music. This paper explores the implications of folksong’s long-standing association with national identity within the context of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict through a consideration of the Ukraine-based Polyphony Project (https://www.polyphonyproject.com/en) and Russia’s analogous project VEK (https://www.youtube.com/c/vekchannel/featured), both of which document ‘authentic’ performances of folksong, often presented in evocative bucolic surroundings and traditional national costume. The paper goes on to address the use of the Ukrainian folk song Oï z-za hory kam’yanoyi holuby litayut’; by Ukraine’s foremost living composer, Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937), who has become an international figure of resistance to Putin’s invasion since he fled Kyiv in March 2022.

Session 7A – Workshop

Ideas in Song: Explore, challenge and try the FILM approach to song writing |
John Nicholson

The 45-minute in-person workshop explores the key elements of a song (Facts, Ideas, Lyrics and Melody, or “FILM”), how they interact and how considering them in an iterative way can help the song writing process. The technique at the centre of the workshop is relevant to any genre or subject matter, but the emphasis will be on the lessons that can be learned from past events and / or writing songs that provoke debate about issues in current society. It fits primarily into the “Folk singing as activism” topic. The workshop invites participants to explore, challenge and try the FILM approach to song writing. Central to the session will be the importance of “Ideas” in song – drawing on American songwriter and activist John Jacob Niles’ statement when interviewed in the 1950s that “The reason people fail with songs is they’re saying words and singing notes – they’re not singing ideas. Ideas, sir, that’s what matters“. The FILM concept will be brought to life by reference to the work of some well-known activist songwriters and in more detail through a couple of John’s own songs – one from the “Paper, Blades, Stone'' song cycle about historical events and people in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire, and a further song about a key issue in current society. Participants will then be invited to: i) Explore, reflect on and challenge the validity and relevance of the FILM technique when depicting aspects of, and provoking debate about, modern society through song ii) Use the FILM technique to begin crafting the outlines of a song / songs of their own. iii) Share the outputs from this outline-shaping with other participants.

Session 7B – Workshop

Folk Choirs: Joyfully Juxtaposed? The joy of folk choirs and the doors they open |
Rose Martin

More than 2 million people sing in some kind of choir in the UK. More people sing than play amateur football. People love their choirs. Friendships are made for life; rehearsals are the highlights of the week; doctors are even prescribing membership of a choir.  And yet, how many of these people would be comfortable at a singaround? Or getting up at a party to share a folk song? How many of these 2 million people know a folk song by heart, start to end? (And if they do, is it perhaps one they learnt in a choir?) As a Folk Choir leader I’ve noticed several things. First of all, the reaction amongst other choir leaders when I say I lead one: “A folk choir? How does that work?” Second and best: the incredible open doorway that the folk choir gives to those who join. Members are very soon researching their own songs, bravely dipping their toe into getting up at a singaround, and perhaps most importantly feeling a sense of ownership, artistry and agency as we sing, learn and improvise together. This workshop sets out to explore the heart of the folk choir. To make a case for the juxtapositions, joys and questions that we must ask when treating our folk songs in this, arguably, un-traditional way. It also asks and shows why (despite the seemingly more organic nature of a tunes session or sing around) Folk Choirs must take up their place as one of the most inclusive, unthreatening and nourishing doorways into the rich and living melting pot of our folk song. We will sing, create and discuss: we shall all be folk singers, together!

Session 8A – Communal Activity

Compose an Access Folk song!

Get your creative hat on to end the day in a collaborative workshop. Using feedback gathered over the two days, together we will compose a song in a ‘found poem’ style that reflects the conversations that have emerged from the symposium. 

Session 8B

Inclusive Folk: A creative, inclusive, multi-sensory workshop sharing approaches to folk song for learning disabled young people | Emmie Ward, Charlotte Turner & Roary Skaista

This workshop shares and disseminates practice about how we engage the young people we work with through our Inclusive Folk programme in folk music. Through active participation, the workshop will cover the following: i) Our approach to teaching folk songs, including how we differentiate and individualise the learning. ii) How we adapt our practice for each young person we work with. iii) How we incorporate composing and arranging into the sessions. iv) How we use instruments, including music technology, when singing folk songs. v) The benefits and challenges folk music presents and how we address these. vi) Choosing repertoire. We aim for this to be a very interactive session, where we share ideas and good practice. We want people to leave the workshop with a greater understanding and feeling inspired about how they can improve access to folk song for learning disabled young people in their own practice or setting.


What do you imagine when you sing? | Elizabeth Bennett

This poster explores my forthcoming book Performing Folk Songs: Affect, Landscape and Repertoire (Bloomsbury, 2023). The book explores folk singing from a performance studies perspective, focusing on a participatory singing walk along the South Downs Way in May, 2015.

Building Cultural Heritage through Artistic Research | Fay Hield

From my very first floor spots as a teenager I remember it being important to me that I was an English folk singer. Not Irish, not Scottish, not European, not Yorkshire - English. Quite what that meant though was more of a mystery. This poster looks back over my repertoires, projects and attitudes towards folk music over the past thirty years, teasing out where Englishness plays a part, either consciously or subconsciously. I acknowledge where it is contentious, embarrassing even, in retrospect, where I feel pride, and how I have come to a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship to cultural heritage, indeed how I have built my own cultural heritage, through the musical choices I have made.

Micro-moments at folk gigs: affirmations or aggressions? | Liz Sheppard

This poster presents various anonymised interactions I have had personally over time with organisers and other audience members as a wheelchair-using attendee of folk gigs, at various folk clubs and larger venues around the UK. Both staging and attending accessible music events can be challenging activities in numerous ways, in a world that privileges non-disabled people (a venue may be upstairs, or have no accessible toilets, for example). Inadvertently saying the ‘wrong’ thing, being scared of saying the ‘wrong’ thing, or someone taking something the ‘wrong’ way sometimes feels inevitable, which is a shame when most people are doing their best (often in difficult circumstances) and trying to be kind.

Commercial recordings and English folk musicians: Assessing influences | Alexandre Hurr

My contribution explores how commercial recording influences the way in which Folk musicians write, arrange and perform their music. Live performance takes precedence over the recorded medium for the participating musicians, and live performance is more likely to impact commercial recordings than the other way around. Themes of authenticity (replicating live performance) in their recordings and the appropriateness of manipulating recordings in post-production relative to their style are explored. Though some participants discussed the types of post production they implemented on their recordings (all commonplace in contemporary music production), no interviewee stated that this practice (or the anticipation therefore) had impacted their practices as musicians or performers.