Making ‘art’ music from ‘folk’ music.

In July 2018, I had the wonderful experience of performing a series of concerts in the Dordogne. I used these performances as a chance to air some of my arrangements of what we might call ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ music. I adore music of this nature – regardless of culture, style or language. The difficulty is transforming it into something which can be satisfactorily presented in a concert setting.

Firstly, let’s be clear. I only use the terms ‘art’ and ‘folk’ as a means of defining two styles. The terms are unsatisfactory but in common use. This is by no means intended as a quality judgement.

One of the beautiful churches in the Lot-et-Garonne where I’ve been fortunate enough to perform.

When I’ve purchased arrangements of folk music in the past, what I’ve received has been a melody – normally harmonised diatonically – presented in a musically-simplistic manner. This is inappropriate for concert use. In a classical style, themes are often recycled through techniques such as modulation, placing melodies in different voices and contrapuntal devices. It strikes me that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do likewise with traditional melodies.

When arranging, we can choose well-known melodies which will be familiar, and hopefully more pleasurable for the audience. As long as we treat the music with integrity, intelligence and good taste, we will hopefully have a result which will contain as much musical depth as other, classical works often presented in the repertoire.

Below is a video filmed before a concert in the Dordogne. It was taken on a mobile phone by the marvellous luthier, Daniel Jarvis.

Dan (another one!) very generously allowed me to use this stunning guitar for my concert. In this arrangement, I start in A minor Dorian, there is a central section where the theme returns in D minor Dorian. In the final restatement of the tune, both A minor Dorian and A minor Aeolian are used. The result is an arch form with hopefully sufficient interest for the listener and a more substantial concert piece which lasts for three and a half minutes. Of course, we start to blur the boundaries between arrangement and composition but if we are creative artists, so we should. I hope you enjoy the piece and if you like the sound of living and working as a musician in France, you’ll love my book Extracting Goats From Jean-Claude’s Kitchen, soon to be published by Kellan Publishing.

Scarborough Fair, on a Jarvis spruce-top concert guitar, pre-concert, July 2018.

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