Reading Bruno Nettl’s essay An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States made me think about folk music in a different way. One thing that can definitely be determined by everyone that listens to folk music is that it doesn’t have a set definition. If I were to give my own definition of folk music, I would say that it is a simplistic style of music played by all types of people. It is a very old style of music that is directed towards various audiences. By saying it’s old however, I mean that it was created a long time ago, but it can always be modernized.
The importance of origin comes up numerous times in Nettls’ essay. For example, when someone who is a professional composes a song it is most likely not considered folk music. However, when someone who is untrained makes it, it is more likely to be called folk music. There is also the opinion that a folk song can still be considered folk if written by a composer, just as long as you don’t know exactly where it came from.
When speaking of my own definition of folk music, the first thing I mentioned was that it was simplistic. This relates to the category of simple vs. complex mentioned by Nettl in his writing. In folk music, simple is considered just a few instruments playing a non-complex rhythm. I consider folk instruments to be certain types of string instruments and maybe some percussion. The factor of complex music is that it usually has a lot more instruments and it usually is composed, mostly like an orchestra.
Simple music can also be determined by how it is viewed by an audience. It is said to be participatory, where people are entertained by the music. This I thought was an obvious assumption because all music is created for someone to enjoy. When you get involved with the music that is playing for you, it is always ten times more entertaining. This relates to the passive vs. participatory complex that is brought up in Nettls writings as well.
I think that these two aspects of folk music are the most important and also the most controversial. Honestly, the term simple seems to give the quality of folk music a bad name. When you think of the word simple, it doesn’t necessarily sound like it’s going to be good. When in reality, folk music is a great genre of music. Whilst being simple, it could also very easily become complex as well. The layers of harmonies and different melodies played in folk music can give it a complex aura that doesn’t usually go with the “definition” of folk music. I think that calling it simple can actually be degrading, because I believe that almost all music is complex.
I believe that a lot of people contrary to the masses, think that folk music is passive instead of participatory. Just because a type of music might be older or slightly underappreciated, does not make it a passive genre of music. I believe that all music is participatory just because you are listening to it. Even when you are sitting listening to an orchestra, you are still participating by being there and listening to the various instruments play for your own entertainment.
I think Bruno Nettl gave most of the information that we already know, that folk music does not have an easy way to define it. I=It is met by some constraints by the listeners of the music because most people judge it way too fast. Just because something’s origins are older or it may seem to be “simple”, it does not mean that it is not good music. I think Bruno Nettl helped me understand the controversial topic of folk music more and made me interested to delve into the topic more than I probably ever would have. Folk music to me is for everyone’s ears, and it can never be defined, it is just enjoyable music.