Medley’s blog is running an occasional series on different music genres and their particular impact on wellbeing. Last time I explored musicals’ impact (https://medley.live/2021/02/18/all-singing-all-dancing ) and now it’s the turn of folk music. Does folk music reach people in different ways to other genres? And if so, why might this be?
Maybe the clue’s in the name: folk is all about people. As folk songs explore people’s hopes and experiences, they might help other people to understand themselves, as they listen or perform.
Obviously folk itself is a diverse genre. Memory and heritage are integral to many traditional folk songs as people celebrate, recall or lament together. In a fast-changing world, this might be a helpful way to draw together past and present. But folk never needs to be lost in the past. Folk musicians go on reinterpreting tradition and writing & performing new folk songs. Either style could boost mood and wellbeing. For some, folk music drawing on memory and even nostalgia could be reassuring and familiar. It could be positive for people with memory loss. Many of the songs commonly sung in care homes, such as Molly Malone, are folk songs. As people who have dementia are known to remember most clearly songs they first heard during their youth, folk songs might enable them to respond.
For others, newer folk music could mirror their own experience in the here and now. Folk music has never shied away from issues like justice and pacifism. Folk greats like Woody Guthrie (This Land Is Your Land) , Bob Dylan and Joan Baez all responded to the controversies of th eday. Owen Shiers, a folk singer from Wales, is one musician now using folk to show all that we stand to lose as biodiversity is threatened. This might help people lament and maybe inspire them to act for change.
One way folk songs impact on us is by rooting people in asense of place. Some, like the Skye Boat Song, directly refer to place. Fewer of us now have strong roots in a place, as we move more, and this can make people feel dislocated and isolated. Folk songs may help people hold on to their links to a specific place. But they also root people in a new, maybe wider, kind of community.
Voice has a very important part to play in a lot of folk songs, sometimes taking centre stage while instrumental music forms no more than a background. This in itself can be powerful, highlighting the lyrics, unlike some other genres where you struggle to hear the lyrics at all. These lyrics might be comic, dark, reflective or rousing, reaching people in diverse situations.
In a recent BBC Radio 4 series, children’s writer Michael Morpurgo explored the power of folk songs, a power to unite. He has found returning to singing with others in later life to be a joyful experience. Integral to the success of the National Theatre play of his book War Horse was the musical score and specifically the folk songs written for the play, like Rolling Home.
So there are lots of possible ways in which folk music might prove beneficial. It would be great if you would like to share how folk impacts you in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.