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Folk Music
Traversing Histories through Sound

Folk Music
  • Bulgarian Macedonian Folk Music (by )
  • Souvenirs d'une mission musicale en Grèc... (by )
  • The Odyssey of Homer (by )
  • Grimms' Fairy Tales (by )
  • Roughing It, By Mark Twain : Volume 1 (by )
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Folk music traces cultural shifts and movements, specifically the recreations, laments, and political ideologies of a culture. William John Thoms, a British writer and self-described antiquary, coined the term folklore in 1846. The corresponding music, much like traditional art, literature, and knowledge, was passed on through oral communication and example. Volk, a German expression that predates both the Great War and World War II, means "people as a whole" and provides further insight into the worlds Thoms researched.  Folklore described the customs, superstitions, and traditions of "uncultured classes," searching for a connection between common folk and the societies of which they were a part. 

 The folk music of China, which dates back 7,000 years, was present in traditional funerals and weddings ceremonies. Instruments like the suona which produces a distinctly loud, high-pitched sound, the yunluo gongs, and the dizi (similar to the flute) descended from the imperial temple music of Beijing, Xi'an, Wutai Shan, and Tianjin

The folk song traditions of Australia originated from early settlers with Irish, English, and Scottish ancestry. Their bush ballads, rhyming poems, songs, and tales, related to the rebellious spirit of Australia in the bush. 

Traditional folk music of the United States (sometimes referred to as root music) combines elements of country,  gospel, Native American music, blues, and jug bands, detailing religious experiences, racial and social tensions, and celebrating the independent spirit. 

Virtually every nation spreads the customs, ideologies, and plights specific to their homeland through music. Judy Small, now a judge of the Federal Court of Australia, performed Australian folk songs, demonstrating her strong feminist views. Woody Guthrie, one of the most important American folk musicians, used the oral tradition to highlight the necessity for improved social justice. In South Africa, Miriam Makeba used her voice to call out against the injustices of apartheid. Around the world, folk music continues to be a conduit for recognition and change. 

The World Public Library offers a variety of literature steeped in the folk tradition. From Homer's The Odyssey to the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Mark Twain's Roughing It, discovering cultures passed from generation to generation is as simple, direct, and effective as the music itself.

By Logan Williams

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