A little profane music education [1]

This week I took part in two quite different events, one local, one national. Locally I attended Ely Folk Club, nationally I attended the Music Education Council’s ‘The Future of Music Education for All: 2018 to 2020 and Beyond.

It was only the second time I had ventured into the world of Ely Folk and having an anthropologist’s eye I did so with the question ‘well, what is going on here?’ That’s not to say I was withdrawn or aloof from the musical experience but rather a fully participant observer with vague strands of theoretical thought lurking in mind, any of which might be triggered into fresh lines of thinking and understanding by what unfolded.

Ely Folk meet in the Old Dispensary of 1852, a narrow space and of necessity for the evening’s music, set out in rows. As on my previous visit the evening presented first a warm up songwriter prior to the main musical offering, this time a three-piece band -singer/guitarist, accordionist, double bassist.

I arrived a little early, paid my eleven pounds and took a seat in the third row and soon to be joined by a lady with her aged mother, both in jolly mood and apologising for the kerfuffle that was to follow involving cushions being taken from a bag to support mother which mother resisted before surrendering. Once settled I asked whether their attendance was regular. This led to telling me about regular attendance at the summer Ely Folk Festival and an enjoyment in general of Folk along with other kinds of music. Then the not uncommon conversation and clarification that you didn’t need to be a Folk Music buff in order to enjoy, understand and appreciate the music.

As song followed song I was struck by the depth of creativity in the lyrics, the richness of meanings, and fascinated by their sources in the mundane patterns of life. That’s the idea I know. I was catching up.

This was profane culture, the vernacular, material culture. No claim to transcendence or the sacred or any rarified notion of the spiritual. No cultural halos, no cultural citadels, no sign of gatekeepers protecting some imagined great tradition.

‘Sitting on the back seat of fate’s fast car.’

What an idea for a song.

And then what was announced as a ‘real’ folk song – the story of Lord Franklin and his ill-fated journey into the North West Passage.

At times the lady next to me quietly moved to the music and I could discern covert singing in the audience finding full voice when invited to join in with the pithy choruses.

‘This time men with checked shirts, this time ladies, this time without making a sound.’

Yes, this was didactic. It was music education for the fifty or so gathered in the Old Dispensary, all more or less of a similar age, class fraction and ethnicity. Music certainly brings people together as well as leaving them apart.

And that other event I mentioned, the Music Education Council on the next day. What fresh lines of thinking did that engender. I will tell next week.


[1] See http://www.sociologyguide.com/socio-short-notes/sacred-and-profane.php for the sacred-profane binary.


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