YMB #70 The Magic of Folk Music: A Conversation with Professor Carol

Dr. Carol Reynolds joins me on today’s show to give a delightful lesson about folk music. In this episode Prof. Carol enthusiastically shares about the value of folk music for our kids, what exactly a folk song is anyway, and how to get started studying them in your Morning Time.

Full of wonderful stories and great resources, I think this is an episode you will really enjoy.

Links and resources from today’s show:

Pam Barnhill:

This is Your Morning Basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness and beauty to your homeschool day.

Hello everyone and welcome to Episode 70 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill your host and I am so happy that you are joining me here today. Well today we are chatting all about folk music and folk songs with our good friend, Professor Carol, Dr. Carol Reynolds. Now, this was such a fun interview. I really, really enjoyed getting to talk to Professor Carol about this. The wonderful thing about her is she is always so passionate and so excited about what she’s talking about and it makes it so easy to learn from her. And boy did I ever learn, I learned so many things that I never knew about folk music. So I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say I think you’re absolutely going to love this episode of the podcast, and we’ll get on with it right after this word from our sponsor.

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Dr. Carol Reynolds is a uniquely talented and much sought after public speaker for educational conferences, art venues and general audiences. A retired musicology professor from Southern Methodist University, with a specialization in Russian and German area studies. She now combines her insights on history, the arts and culture with her passion for arts education to create programs and curricula. She inspires concert audiences and leads art tours all over the globe. Professor Carol works much of the year as a professor on tours for Smithsonian journeys. On her website, professorcarol.com she offers a variety of history and fine arts courses for students and adult art lovers of learning. Professor Carol, welcome to the program.

Carol Reynolds:
Well thank you. Thank you very much for that nice introduction too. A lot in there.

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah, there is a lot in there. You have actually been with us before on an earlier episode of the podcast and so you are a favorite guest. We love having people back on the show. So thanks.

Carol Reynolds:
Well, thank you and I'm very, very happy to be here. It's always, your audience is wonderful. But you know that of course, yes.

Pam Barnhill:
Oh, I do. I do know that they are a lot of fun. And we're going to be talking today all about folk music and folk songs, which I think is something that they're going to be really, really interested in learning about. I'm kind of excited myself. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal connection with folk songs. Why do you love them so much?

Carol Reynolds:
Well, I'm going to preface this by saying that we have in our Modern Era, a division in our minds, even in our practices, between music and folk music, or concert hall music and folk music. That division has not always been there and it isn't there. If you look around the globe, it is not there in all cultures. We see this as two separate rooms or two separate spheres. But if you go back historically, this division it's actually an artificial division. It has a little bit of usefulness, but it also keeps a lot of people away from a marvelous body of music that really belongs to them, their history and their heritage. So having said that, I was brought up, okay, this is contradictory because on the one hand, I didn't come up with that division, not in terms of a musical landscape. My father played hillbilly guitar, he was from West Virginia coal mines. And anytime he had free time, which wasn't much he'd sit out in the backyard, on the picnic table or in the winter in the living room and play the guitar, and sing me what I now know and later learned was a glorious repertoire of important American folk songs. Many of them, out of West Virginia, out of the coal mines, out of the hollows, Scottish, Irish English origin primarily. I mean, you could take a course in graduate school on the repertoire that he sang to me and I just thought it was music. Did you come up with anything like that Pam in your life?

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah, I mean, I don't remember a family member playing those songs, but I can remember my mother played piano, and so there were these piano books of kind of these old folk songs and standards and things like that. And I can remember just learning all of these songs when I was growing up. So, like, I would pull out the piano books and play them myself. Even though I wasn't a pianist. I just-

Carol Reynolds:
That's okay.

Pam Barnhill:
I picked out the melody and then could sing them. And then I remember them from elementary school too, I guess along the way I had some really great music teachers who taught us things like, the minor forty niner. I can even think of the name of it now, but I can remember learning those as a kid. Yeah.

Carol Reynolds:
Well, and that's how one should, and I mentioned a contradiction because one hopes to learn it and of course in the old days, which I seem to say a lot nowadays, I would hear the neighbors, I'd hear people at the church suppers, I'd hear people at at the festivals, I'd hear people down the block, playing this music, the contradiction for me and maybe you have or some of our listeners were also caught in this contradiction. And that's why I said what I said in the very beginning that it's an artificial division, is that my mother who was from an immigrant family in North in New York and Brooklyn, and the tenements, the whole Garment District, what you see, and all the photographs of that difficult era of poverty and the roots of so much culture in our country.

She had grown up scraping pennies together to stand at The Met, which didn't cost very much. But even in her poverty and with her utter lack of educational opportunities, she knew that the best thing you could possibly do would be fill yourself with as much, to go and look at art or to go and hear opera, to go, I mean, maybe orchestras were possible for her I don't know, but she always talked to me about standing in the old Met, and we would listen to the Texaco radio broadcasts. And I was very much given the message that that was the path musically. And of course, I was a serious pianist as a young person. So there was that dichotomy again, and I found that difficult to negotiate once I really began to realize it.

Pam Barnhill:
So it was almost like there was music in the backyard and then real music in the house, that was the-

Carol Reynolds:
Exactly. And I've written about this and blogged about it. But we always ironed on Saturday afternoon and those Texaco broadcasts of opera live from The Met went on for decades. I mean, they were highly influential in reaching parts of the country that would have not had any access to so called classical music and very popular, they weren't something weird, they were like, people couldn't wait for Saturday afternoon to roll around. But yes, that was kind of an example of a dichotomy that I'm sure I wasn't the only kid growing up with hillbilly guitar in the backyard and a mother or a father listening to The Met in the afternoons. And this division is not helpful, I think, for us when we teach folk music to our children, although we can acknowledge it and probably ought to acknowledge it, so there. That's enough to spend on that, isn't it?

But I think everybody feels that it's just like if someone says, do you like art, museums or something? And they say, "Oh, no," and they say, "Do you like to go to crafts fair? Or handiwork fairs or festivals?" And they say, "Oh, I love that." You say, "Well then you like art or you like going to an exhibit of art, it's just outdoors in the park, or in a tent, and not in a building with pillars and lots of steps." We have divided our folk art, our folk poems, or folk songs and made them warm, friendly, fuzzy appealing in our own minds. And then we stumble over the other, which we're not talking about today, but I think it's okay for families, parents to acknowledge this division. And I think number one not perpetuate it, if at all possible.

Pam Barnhill:
Mm hmm. Okay, yeah, that's a great point. You know, it's funny, I was talking to my kids about Shakespeare the other day, we'd started reading a play and they were talking about the language and it being hard to understand and they said, "Well, back in Shakespeare's day, did kids go to Shakespeare?" And I said, "Well, I don't know for sure if they did or not, they might have, but I tell you what, they definitely understood the language. It wasn't some hoity-toity artsy thing, they knew that was the language that they spoke, it was the language of the folks."

Carol Reynolds:
Right. Right. And they would have known the stories and they probably would have loved to be going to where the grown ups got to go. Theater being the dynamic force that it was up until very recently in Western culture.

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah. So I think just because something is the art, or the stories or the poems of the common people, it doesn't mean it's less valuable historically, I think is what you're what you're telling us here.

Carol Reynolds:
Yes. And you know really, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty, you will find especially from the 20th century, but in the 19th century, in the 18th century artists, composers. Let's talk about composers, have valued folk music, hugely. There have been periods when some of the most important composers I always like to give the example of the Hungarian Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly who many people know through their pedagogical publications in piano or the Kodaly method of teaching singing. But anyway these guys and they were by no means the only ones, they're just kind of among the most famous. They trudge with those heavy gramophones on their back through the mud in what today would be Hungary and Romania and Bulgaria. I mean, these people are everywhere, collecting the folk songs around 1900, 1904, 1906, 1910 because they knew the new modern world with telegraph and increasingly things like trains and telephones, ultimately, they were going to destroy the old ways. And they did except in the smallest, tiniest, most remote areas.

So they were doing everything possible to capture folk music on the gramophone cylinders. That is Incredible. I mean, when I think of all the incredible things that have gone on in our Western cultural landscape of the arts, it's got to be the top five, that movement right around the turn of the 20th century to grab this living music be it vocal or instrumental or vocal plus instrumental and somehow save it and study it and codify it to a certain degree, but mostly analyze it and figure out how to notate it so it could be put into a written form in case that old gramophone technology fell apart, and keep it in perpetuity and value it and use it as part of their own musical language.

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, so let's step back for just one second here and tell me what exactly is a folk song? How do I know when I've heard one?

Carol Reynolds:
You have just gotten me there, I always kind of try to go to the 60 mile mark and I forget to do the one and the five and then the 10. Be glad you were never in my University classes because boy would I leave people wondering what I was talking about sometimes too. But the fun of it is that now that we've given all this, I think the definition will be very strong. And I'll give you a definition not my definition, but one that was formulated in 1947. Now think about this, post World War II, think of all the destruction of the Second World War, destruction of way of life, of resources, of population, all of the displacement, you can see why folk music would become even more important in the people who were thinking about culture, right?

And something called the International Folk Music Council was founded in 1947. That was huge to do something like that, sort of part of our global thinking if you want to think about that, and these are serious scholars, serious ethno... we would later call them ethnographic scholars. But anyway, they started out to define a folk song or folk music, and here's what they said. And I will sort of quote, that it is a product, folk music is a product of a musical tradition that has evolved through the process of oral transmission.

Just think about that for a minute. That's the number one point I have a second set of points and then we've got it. So it has come down to us as the music out on the back porch. And in a way you had books, you had books in your school when you learned the folk songs. But you wouldn't need those books if your teacher knew those songs, right? Oral transmission, that's the medium of folk music, primarily. Do you like that?

Pam Barnhill:
I do.

Carol Reynolds:
Okay, now I'm going to give you three qualities that sort of help us identify a folk song and again, you don't have to be limited by this, but I think they're useful. The first would be the fact that folk music has is a kind of aura or goal or feeling or byproduct or energy, whatever you like, to link the present with the past. Which that's a powerful thought. The second thing is that it abounds in all kinds of variations because dependent upon who the individual or the group would be that is performing, singing, playing, plucking, fiddling the music. That variation is built in as a desired product, if you will.

And the third would be that the people who choose this music to play it, to hear it, to vary it, to transmit it, they are really selecting it consciously. There's a kind of an affection and a valuing and a treasuring of it and think of the people you know that, right, the fiddle festivals. Think of the classical violinists who liked to play the fiddle on the side, you know, it's very different technique, right? Think about people like classical singers, like Thomas Hampson. There's a great example of a gorgeous and glorious singer in recent decades who has, as his operatic, massive career, kind of waned to a certain degree, as you get older, I mean he's still saying a lot of roles but one does get older, he began to turn to American folk songs, and sort of then started taking these recitals all across the country sponsored by the Library of Congress. And I do want to say a word about that. And taking him to all kinds of places that would never have a Thomas Hampson thank you in their midst. And sort of making the message that this is our musical heritage and let's just jump in like it's caramel. Let's have some of it.

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, so I want to jump on something that you said right here because we have been studying different world cultures and geography this year in our homeschool. And so one of the things that we have done is we have been working on some memory work of different things from different pieces from around the world. And so when it came time to choose a piece of memory work for us to study for Australia, I chose “Waltzing Matilda.” And so my kids are like, "Ah, mom, why do we have to learn this? This is a little weird. This is very strange." And I looked at my son and I said, "Well, if you ever have an Australian girlfriend, you can completely impress her and her family, because they love this song." And my daughter's like, "Well, if I go stand in the middle of the street in Australia and start singing the song, will somebody sing with me? And I said, "Yes." So maybe you can explain why they have such an affection for “Waltzing Matilda?”

But it struck me when you said affection that yeah, that this song is known throughout the world is kind of the unofficial anthem of Australia because the people have such an affection for it.

Carol Reynolds:
Well, and it links the present to the past, doesn't it just to use these points?

Pam Barnhill:
It does.

Carol Reynolds:
Its variation, you could have somebody singing it in some kind of a national festival. You could have a little child singing it, walking through the woods. Everybody gets to have a folk song. Nobody gets to claim, the Julliard String Quartet can claim the Bartok String Quartets that they might be able to play that better than anybody else or the Brahms. In other words, the classical repertoire is not easy it requires loads and loads of training, it requires hours and hours of rehearsal, as well it should. It's glorious beyond measure. But a three year old can't participate in it, a six year old can't clap, walk and march to it. Everybody gets to have folk music.

Pam Barnhill:
Oh, I love that. Okay, so wow, this is awesome.

Carol Reynolds:
You did the right thing. Furthermore, folk tunes and we could talk about it structurally, they are almost always by nature, whether vocal or instrumental, attractive, limited in difficulty, not that it's easy to pull the style off necessarily, especially at a high level. But the notes that are involved they lie well in the voice, they lie in the hand, if you're playing a guitar or a mandolin or banjo or a ukulele, they are immediately accessible to the listener. And once you get “Waltzing Matilda” in your head, you do not lose, you can't forget it, correct?

Pam Barnhill:
Yes.

Carol Reynolds:
They're stuck.

Pam Barnhill:
Just a little bit. Okay, so we've talked about, like what all folk songs have in common and what makes folk songs, folk songs, but are there different kinds of folk music?

Carol Reynolds:
Well, national and that's another thing I love about them. I mean, Hungarian folk music is not going to hit or not necessarily homogenized. Not necessarily something you would hear in a show in a hotel in Budapest where it's all been turned into rather great and wonderful, but if you actually get out in the boonies, if you get out in the boonies anywhere you'd hear people sitting on the front porches singing, you're not going to hear a polished vocal reproduction. You're not necessarily going to hear clean pitches because that's part of what folk music is all about is sliding in and out of the intonation. That's why people like Bartok had to put it on gramophone cylinders and then ponder and tear their hair out for weeks trying to figure out how to make the limitations of our notation system the Do-Re-Mi system, the ABCDEFG system, the five lines and four spaces with 1234 or 123. How in the world can something that limited encompass the extraordinary beauty and elaboration and decoration and color of our actual folk tune and the answer is it can't.

I can't show you this now but it's fantastic to look at, especially the early 20th century crowd, they would write down the words, they would do their best to get into notation. And then they would try to make all these symbols like twist this a little here, go up a little bit half step here, push back here, a little ahead of the beat here, a little flat here, a little bit of (vocalizing a musical sound) at it. Make all these different sounds which we can't write down. It has to be transmitted orally. So folk music you asked about different kinds is national. And if you really look globally, folk music coming out of Thailand is not going to be like folk music coming out of West Virginia or Pennsylvania. Although you'd be surprised at some of the common themes when we start thinking about stories and text and emotions.

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, so that's interesting. Can you give us an example of some widely different as far as national streams of folk music that have some common themes?

Carol Reynolds:
Well, facets that play into it, you would expect to find nature as a key player, because people if they live in the rice paddies of Indonesia, and I'm just thinking, areas that flood with the seasonal floods, you would expect that to come up in the folk songs, right? If they're in Northern Russia you would expect characters to be stumbling back after too much vodka in the snow with their broken hearts and freeze to death. Right? And if it's coal mining country, you'd expect the hardships of the mines, and if it's migrant farm workers in Southern California you would expect that to come up in the songs. If it's the Gold Rush or people dying in the desert trying to get to California, you'd expect that to come up. So, nature and regional aspects and regional history are common in folk music. There's one set of examples.

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, I love that. So why should family study folk songs as a genre of music?

Carol Reynolds:
Well, because it's, okay, I can say something like because it's wonderful, end of story, it's not quite enough though. First of all, it does link us to the past and it's a whole lot more fun for people then maybe... I mean, I live by straight history, reading things about history, which when you get older is you can't get enough of but yay for kids. What would be more fun having to memorize the dates of the Erie Canal or to say, "I got me a mule and her name is Sal, 15 miles on the Erie Canal" or maybe it's 15 miles it doesn't matter. You want to picture that mule dragon that barge up river, you can either, of course pictures help, too. And we do have photographs of that period. We actually have photography, but the point is, it does what the written word cannot do and it makes it memorable and it makes it virtually impossible to forget. So there's one reason, you want to teach history, teach it through folk music.

Pam Barnhill:
I love it. Okay-

Carol Reynolds:
You want another reason?

Pam Barnhill:
No, that one's fabulous. I'm sure you could give us like a big long list but that one is absolutely fabulous, because I have some kids over here who, you know, history, they can take it or leave it, but I'm going to have to dig into some of those folk songs and see what we can come up with to help connect them a little bit to some of that historical content. Okay, speaking of content, and you alluded to this, when you were answering my question earlier, some parents might have a little bit of concern about some of the uncomfortable themes.

Carol Reynolds:
Adult themes.

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah, adult themes or even just, there's a lot of death in folk music.

Carol Reynolds:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Pam Barnhill:
So what do we do about that when we're approaching this with an elementary age kid?

Carol Reynolds:
Okay, well, I wish we were always together, but I'm looking at a volume of, and I will answer I promise I always go off on rabbit paths, you know that about me. But the traditional tunes of The Child Ballads, four volumes are probably about 300 actual folk tunes that were put together again in this period of this rise of all these ethno music early, nobody called them ethnomusicologist back then but interested scholarly people. And in the taking a song like ""Barbara Allen", which is a good example of death and sorrow and awfulness and misbehavior in terms of people not being very nice to each other and all this. And I'm looking at this volume which most people would not want to look at, unless they've really got. And here are 198 different versions, and I bet, and this was published a long time ago. There's probably 250 different versions of the ""Barbara Allen" texts in the ""Barbara Allen" story. (vocalizes tune) Really famous song, right? Really famous melody. And it could start, "In Scotland I was born and bred, In Scotland I was dwelling." Or it could be, "In Scarlet Town where I was born, there was a fair maid dwelling" or it could be, "It was the very merry month of May and the green buds they were swelling."

We could find hundreds of different ways for the text to go. But the same thing happens. "Barbara Allen" rejects him, and he dies with a broken heart and then she feels really bad about it. It doesn't matter where it is. And then in some of them she takes sick. "On Monday morning she took sick, her heart was struck with sorrow, Mother, mother make my bed for I will dwell tomorrow, poor "Barbara Allen"." Now, is this cheerful, is this going to be Sesame Street cheerful? No. But here's what I think. First of all, kids when they first learn the songs, they don't, not because they're not observant, but they're hearing words and melody, and they're not really thinking the stories through. For example, I sing a bunch of folk songs I did to my children, I'm really doing it for my grandchildren, much more conscious about it.

"Hang down your head Tom Dooley, poor boy, you're going to die," right? Do you really sing that your four year old? I do, because first of all, look contrast what happens with popular culture. Think of what they see if they even came to try to keep the pop culture out, try to keep the trailers from the horrible films out if you go to see a family film and then everybody's blowing up buildings and dismembering superheroes or non superheroes. What they're exposed to is so much worse. Even in commercials, even in posters, even in T-shirt, it's so much more awful than anything you could find in a folk song, I don't know if you agree with that or not?

Pam Barnhill:
Probably so yeah. And so I think one of the things I'm hearing you tell me is that there are so many versions out there so if you find a version that you're uncomfortable with, if you keep looking one of the hundreds versions, yeah-

Carol Reynolds:
Rewrite it, make "Barbara Allen" mend her ways and be nice to poor William. Who cares? I mean I rewrite stuff, don't we do that with other things sometimes until they're ready. But I also do want to say that I think it's okay for, other parents may not feel this way. You can rewrite it, you can rewrite as much as you want to, but guess what, it's all transmission. It links us with the past, it is changed by variation, right?

Pam Barnhill:
Okay.

Carol Reynolds:
Variation of individual performer. You're just doing what folk music does, you're just altering it because of your own situation. You're right in the middle of the stream. Right?

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, so now you're you're not only singing folk songs, but you're kind of taking part of what folk songs are all about.

Carol Reynolds:
You are. You are. And I would say, and I wondered when I knew we were going to do this together, should I even give this example because I don't want to get anybody too mad at me. But around here, I don't know how this got started. It got started with my daughter when she was probably about 10 or 12, and now it's all over with the grandchildren. But somehow, you know this tune (vocalizing tune of "what should we do with a drunken sailor")

Pam Barnhill:
Mm-hmm

Carol Reynolds:
Yep, "What should we do with a drunken sailor."

Pam Barnhill:
Yep.

Carol Reynolds:
Right? "Early in the morning." Okay, I totally love that melody. And it just has become part of our life. We do it when somebody knocked over half a gallon of milk, we do it with somebody who dropped a dozen eggs, we go to that when somebody just walked through, we just cleaned the floor and somebody just come through with awful shoes, or when someone needs to go somewhere and someone already took the car, and you can either rail and get angry, which I'm not saying we don't do that, or you just shrug your shoulders and say, "What can you do with a drunken sailor, What can you do with a drunken sailor?" Right?

Pam Barnhill:
Right.

Carol Reynolds:
"Early in the morning." And guess what, you're less mad when you do that. Because the fact is you can't do a doggone thing about it. And so you might as well laugh and go to plan B. And so ordinarily I wouldn't say, "Okay, children, we're now going to learn a folk song today about a drunken sailor." It doesn't really have anything to do... I mean, it does, I'm sure if I knew all the, "hey, hey, up she rises," the kids don't care. Okay, you don't want the bursting out in Sunday school with that necessarily, right? But you also don't want them telling them that mommy has two different socks on and is wearing her bedroom slippers because she can't find... You don't want to... So you tell, "hey don't sing this everywhere" or whatever, I think you can manage all that. And maybe I'm sort of making light of it. But I do think for the kids it's rhythm, it's tune, it's text as in sound, and the sadness of it helps you mature. I mean, nothing wrong with some truth. Right?

Pam Barnhill:
Right.

Carol Reynolds:
And the parts that are off color, and then I won't say another word about that, drunken sailor does seem pretty innocent right now. You can just either ignore or enjoy or you could say, "What can you do with a little lost puppy? What can you do with a little lost puppy?" You can do anything you want with it.

Pam Barnhill:
Okay, I think that works. And I think you've given people some really good ideas. And you're right. I mean, my kids would have known very early on that you don't go to Sunday school and sing about a drunken sailor. I mean, they just intuitively know those kinds of things for the most part. So. Yeah, I love it.

Carol Reynolds:
Pam, I do think there is an issue in this current climate which we're in, which is a very interesting time in American political history. And in American culture in general, a lot of these songs are very old, they come from a time where much of what some songs would be talking about would definitely be what we would say politically incorrect.

Pam Barnhill:
Right.

Carol Reynolds:
Sometimes politically incorrect, we could say, "Oh, give me a break. I can't go here anymore." But sometimes you do have to think about it. And then that's where I would say rewrite ladies and gentlemen, we've done that already with a lot of songs, rewrite, the times they are changing. So rewrite and later on kids can learn the history of those tunes or texts if they want to. But I do think you have to think about it in that respect, just for everybody's peace of mind. Let's call it that.

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah. And I think there's a huge difference between singing a song about a drunken sailor, because what I would tell my kids is you never want to sing anything that's going to hurt someone. And we don't meet a whole lot of drunken sailors on the road.

Carol Reynolds:
Not anymore. Not unless you live in coastal towns.

Pam Barnhill:
So that one's probably not going to hurt anybody's feelings, so you want to make sure you know, but so there's definitely a place for that. You're exactly right. And I think it's easy to know the difference between the two different situations.

Carol Reynolds:
Yeah.

Pam Barnhill:
Well, okay, so I'm a homeschool mom, and I am looking to include some folk songs in my homeschool and maybe in my Morning Time, I think Morning Time is a great time to do this. So what's the easiest way for me to start? And do you have any specific ones that you think every child should learn?

Carol Reynolds:
I should really work on the list on that. And then everybody could disagree with it. You know what they say that's the important thing. Your top 20 compositions and then everybody is invited completely to disagree. That's the best fun of all. I would say the first thing is that you sing them, but we are in a non singing culture and I know I've talked about that with your audiences before. People aren't comfortable singing in the United States of America anymore and haven't been for about two generations, if not three.

Our grandparents did it. My grandparents did. I mean, everybody, you go around the world, people just burst into song. I don't want to tell stories. We don't have time for stories. I have to tell you I was with one of my Smithsonian groups on the island of Hvar off the coast of Croatia this past summer. And it was a Sunday morning tour. We got up and we went up this crazy mountain and we came down on the coast on the other side. And it was about two o'clock in the afternoon. And the little cafes were filled. It had been the first communion Sunday, right? So all the little kids, the little girls and the boys, the boys were in suits and the little girls were in white dresses, but it was a beautiful summer evening and they were all running around and showing each other their little gifties and they were on skateboards, it was kind of incongruous in a way. And the families were on these porches eating lunch, enjoying things. They had guitar, they were singing like a trained choir. And some people joined in for a few minutes not us, obviously we did know how to do that.

But my group was mesmerized, because it looked like something staged in a Hollywood movie. Only it wasn't. You see, this is what this group did on Sunday afternoons, probably for two to three hours, there's not a lot else going on in that town. But that's not the point. So we aren't a singing culture anymore, we don't sing at home very much. We are so electrified. We are so digitized. We've got those earbuds stuck in our ears, we might as well stitch them in. So I would say sing and you say, "But I do not have a good voice." Come talk to me about that. That's a different podcast. Maybe we've had it, maybe we should have it. Everybody can sing. If you can speak you can sing. You might not like how you sound you may not feel comfortable. You may not feel confident, you may need some help, help is on the way, but you can sing.

And your child doesn't know that you don't like to sing until you tell them. So first I'd say sing, is that okay?

Pam Barnhill:
Oh yeah.

Carol Reynolds:
Just sing. But if you really can't do that, or after you've done that, one thing I like to do, and I don't like to be on the screens, and I'm the meanie grandma about screen time, and I'm railing it, but if it's specific, as we all know, it can be a marvelous tool. So you could take a song like "Barbara Allen", or you could take a song like, I'll get off the drunken sailor, okay. You could take a folk song like Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, which was a folky tune if I recall correctly, you could take, suddenly I can't think of any of them. But you know, all the old ballads you could take any kind of folk song, Pete Seeger songs, you could take children songs, and then you can say okay, let's pick, I'm going to find you, you can look in advance, three versions of this that are very different. And you may have records, you may have CDs, that's terrific. But a lot of people don't have that resource anymore.

Or you may be part of this huge move now that's moving back to the LP, the record, you know the right thing that goes around with a needle. I can't believe how they've come back, in Europe you see more of those in CDs now in stores.

Pam Barnhill:
Oh wow.

Carol Reynolds:
Yeah, I mean, I love it, I just love it. I had a conversation with a girl in Prague, and she had this whole stack of albums she just bought. And I said, "Albums?" she said, "Well, of course, why would I buy a CD?" And I thought, okay, I love it, she said these and the pictures are so great and all the information they sound so much better. But the point being if you get on eBay, you can find or maybe in your local thrift store or used books store, lots of LPs, you might be able to haul your grandmother's turntable out of the suitcase record player. But there are, you can do it through recording some of the Smithsonian collections. I said I wanted to get into Library of Congress and Smithsonian. They were the real preservers of folk songs in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s.

Those resources are available online. You could listen to these old tiny, tiny people long, long dead, singing these tunes playing these tunes, fiddle tunes, banjo tunes, old quartets, barbershop tunes, there are so many resources and you could pick, I would take two or three very different versions. And then your kids can talk about it, and say, well, why would someone want to sing this in an operatic style? And well, do you like it better as a fiddle by itself? Or do you like it better with the guy hitting on the trash can top or the hammered dulcimer. Then you're doing some type of comparative musical analysis. And your kids may be too little for that, but they won't be too little to listen to it in very different media.

Pam Barnhill:
Right. And just to listen to the differences, I mean, any age child can talk about the differences they hear between this version and that version. And so I think that's a wonderful way to get them started.

Carol Reynolds:
Yes. And invite someone else to sing or the next time if you have a comfortable gathering. Maybe you get with your neighbors or some family members, instead of doing I don't know, if you have a game tradition, yes, it's awkward the first few times you do it, anything is awkward the first few times we try to resurrect traditions, right? And we've lost so many of them. But you'd be surprised what happens. Here's what I find happens with kids. Sometimes we do stuff and we were not sure if it's very successful. And it's yeah, yeah, yeah and we don't know if we want to try it again. And everybody looked at you funny. And then you hear from your kids or the neighbors kids, "That was so cool, can we do that again?" You've had that experience yes?

Pam Barnhill:
Oh, yeah. And as many complaints as I got about “Waltzing Matilda,” they're still singing it.

Carol Reynolds:
Yes they are.

Pam Barnhill:
They complain out of one side of their mouth and sing out of the other, so secretly I think they actually do enjoy it.

Carol Reynolds:
That's a good image. I like that, I'm borrowing that. Do you mind?

Pam Barnhill:
No, not at all.

Carol Reynolds:
They're all going to marry Australians. Right?

Pam Barnhill:
They might, they might. At the very least they'll impress them so. Well, other than the Library of Congress, do you have any other great resources that you would recommend for folk songs?

Carol Reynolds:
Well, I would really look at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, not because they're fancy, but because they're rich and because they are our tax dollars at work if you will, remember the Library of Congress is our National Library. And we forget that, it's our national library and they digitized things before while other people were trying to spell digitized. Okay? And I think you'll be really impressed with the collections and there is something called the American Memory Project. I refer to that in our courses on American arts and culture. I sent students to look at some of those items because they have not just preserved codified, I don't mean to say codified, I don't mean to say it, except, I should say more organized, analyzed, but it would preserve primarily and made accessible the whole treasury of American and not just American folk music, but in Canadian folk music and they have folk music from political phobias, political tunes from different elections in the 19th century, remember the line wasn't there so a folk tune can become a campaign tune.

And we forget that before our Modern Era, people had campaign songs, not some rock band that they pay a bajillion dollars to use their song on the digital smashy board with a bunch of stuff exploding off of it. We're talking about songs that became their theme songs on the campaign trail and that has a quality of folk song today.

Pam Barnhill:
Oh, wow. Just a fascinating conversation professor Carol, I thank you so much for coming on here and I am going to totally take you up on coming back again in the future to talk about those moms who think they can't sing and give us some tips for that one. We would absolutely love that.

Carol Reynolds:
I would like to do that, because I think if we understand better how it's happened, it's easier, kind of like taking off something you don't want to wear. Just throw it to the side and start over with something you do feel comfortable with. And I think that can be done. And I think it's something we need, not we need to do, but it's good to do. It's liberating to do.

Pam Barnhill:
Yeah, yeah, find some freedom in there and realize that we have some abilities maybe that have grown a little uncomfortable, but they're still there. So-

Carol Reynolds:
They are Pam. Thank you for giving so much to your audiences. You bring them so many wonderful inspirations and resources.

Pam Barnhill:
Well, only because people like you keep agreeing to come back. So tell everybody where they can find you online.

Carol Reynolds:
Oh, it's at professorcarol.com.

Pam Barnhill:
All right, professorcarol.com where you can learn all kinds of history through many different wonderful pieces of music, including folk songs. So thank you so much for coming on today.

Carol Reynolds:
Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Pam Barnhill:
And there you have it. Now if you would like links to any of the resources that Professor Carol and I chatted about today you can find them on the show notes for this episode of the podcast. Also on the show notes for this episode of the podcast are our wonderful new podcast downloads. You do not want to miss these downloads, and soon we're going to have them for every single episode of the podcast going all the way back to episode one. These downloads include transcripts, timestamps, questions and action items and some of the best little tidbits pulled out for you in quotable little chunks, and if there's a Basket Bonus for that episode, we include that as well. So head on over to pambarnhill.com/ymb70 to access the show notes and all the wonderful goodies for this episode. Now I'll be back again in a couple of weeks. We're going to be talking all about Nature Study Hacking with Joy Cherrick. It's a great conversation I learned some new things in that one too. So do come back and join us then. Until then, keep seeking truth, goodness and beauty in your homeschool day.

Key Ideas about Choosing Books for Morning Time

Dr. Carol Reynolds discusses the artificial division between music, the kind of music that is played in concert halls, and folk music. The division between the two is not helpful in that it prevents many from accessing music that is part of their heritage and history, namely folk music.

The International Folk Music Council defined folk music as “a product of a musical tradition that has evolved through the process of oral transmission.” It has three distinct qualities. First, it has, as a goal, a way of linking the present with the past. Second, folk music “abounds in variation” as each individual performer or group interprets the folk song in their own way. And thirdly, the affection given to folk music by both performer and listener is unique in that those who participate in it treasure it for its connection to a cultural heritage.

Folk music is for everyone and its simplicity makes it accessible to all. It is a kind of music that is primarily transmitted orally and it’s style makes it difficult to translate into the typically musical notation systems, so the use of gramophone recordings was one way that traditional folk music was preserved for future generations. Nature is a common theme in folk music across all cultures. It can also contain adult themes and death, but this shouldn’t be a reason we shy away from folk music. We can overcome this challenge by searching out a different version of the folk tune, as many of them have 100’s of variations, or you can even choose to rewrite the tune, thus participating in the living tradition of what folk music is all about.

Though our American culture is not a “singing culture” Dr. Carol encourages parents to make folk music a part of our lives and homeschools, even if at first it feels uncomfortable.

Find what you want to hear:

  • [2:50] Meet Dr. Carol Reynolds
  • [4:17] Dr. Carol shares her personal connections to folk music
  • [12:35] definition of a folk song
  • [14:30] three qualities of folk music
  • [19:14] the uniqueness of each nations folk music and what makes them all different
  • [21:00] common themes that are found in folk music around the world
  • [22:10] making a case for the study of folk music
  • [23:33] addressing difficult themes that are often found in folk music
  • [26:45] how rewriting folk songs is a way of participating in what folk music is all about
  • [30:18] Dr. Carol discusses when it might be necessary to rewrite folk songs that are no longer appropriate for this social political climate
  • [31:33] easy ways to start getting folk music into your homeschool day
  • [37:58] resources for finding folk songs

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  • Life Affirming
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    This podcast is amazing and has helped me so much as recovering perfectionist homeschooling mama! Pam gives so much great insight into so many aspects of life and focusing on homeschooling.

  • Life giving!
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    This podcast has been so great. It’s so practical and encouraging without being overly preachy or narrow. It gives ideas in a take-what-fits kind of way. I have used many of the recommended resources and ideas mentioned and been inspired by many others. Even the episodes that I found less relevant to me specifically, often had tidbits that I could use. Pam’s podcasts, books, and resources have been a godsend to me in my beginning years of homeschooling, helping me discover my own way to teach my kids in a way that prioritizes what is most important to us.

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    Pam, My children are almost 11 and 13 and I never sent this review in! I found it sitting here. This is testimony that I am still so blessed by this podcast years later. So here it is: I wrote you an email when I first felt it placed on my heart to homeschool my now 6

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    Love your content and the guests you have visiting the show! I am a huge believer in using the morning hours well. Thank you for your direction and products!

  • Enjoy the podcast & some thoughts…
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    I enjoy listening to tips on starting and using morning time as I am just starting it this year. We have kind of done it in the past, but when you only have one child you tend to just call it bible, story time, etc… but now that my second one is old enough to join we’re going to have more of a true morning time. I did notice Pam mentioned CNN ten in one episode. CNN can be pretty liberal biased in the main news, I’m not sure if they curb that in the “CNN ten”, but thought I would mention the Daily Wire, which is from a conservative viewpoint (and often covers indoctrination in public schools) and could be fun to compare and contrast with CNN. Our family also recently discovered Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family which has a very Christian perspective, which has been refreshing as news can be so depressing sometimes! Just thought I’d throw that out there… but really do appreciate the perspectives and insights of these women who have been doing this for awhile!

  • Very helpful and pleasant to listen to.
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    I have listened to many episodes of this podcast and have highly recommended it to others. It has been a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement. Pam has a great voice and presence and I love that she does not interrupt or talk over her guests. Thank you for your hard work!

  • Always insightful!!
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    Pam always has great great guests who bring great insights and encouragement! I so appreciate her down to earth style and ability to ask great questions! Keep up the great work!!

  • A wildly encouraging and equipping podcast for homeschool families.
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    As a homeshool mama of four (Ages 2-9), Pam's podcast has been an increidble encouragement to me. Not only that, but I have discovered so many helpful resources for focusing on what is lovely and true during our homeschool days. I love that it is not overwhelming in nature, but instead a gentle help for moving forward one day at a time in our homeschooling adventure.

  • Best podcast for homeschooling/variety of topics
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    I love this podcast for so many reasons. (1) Pam is friendly, funny, humble and kind (2) She covers a multitude of topics (one at a time)- I have learned about nature notebooks, classical music study, narration, living books, Shakespeare and so much more. Whenever I have a question about a new (to me)HS term or practice, I come here to listen to Pam interview someone about it. Her interviewees have all been all-in on their respective areas of interest/expertise and I love the way she interviews/asks questions to really let the guests shine as they speak. I have changed the structure of my homeschool, found books for my kids and me, purchased materials, and found inspiration due to this podcast and I can’t recommend it enough! This podcast has shaped my homeschool in so many positive ways, most of which I probably can’t even articulate yet, as the changes have been done inside of me. Thanks, Pam!

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    I love the variety of things that are talked about on this show for homeschooling - things that I would never even think about including or doing - with easy ways to do them. Very much recommend this podcast

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    I am listening to the past episodes and loving it. This podcast has helped me develop my own homeschool. So many ideas!! I love morning time so much, we do a nightly family time so my husband and public school attending son. We do all the things instead of watching tv, playing ps4, and YouTube. My kids hang around me every evening asking if we are doing family time. I can tell they love it but don’t want to admit it.

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    I am so excited Pam is back to her morning time focus for 2020. Our homeschool has been shaped by the rich ideas and practical wisdom shared here.

  • Yay! Morning time is back!
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    I was so happy and excited to learn that Pam is shifting her focus back to Morning Time for 2020! I’ve missed the morning time exclusive podcast and can’t wait to hear her back in my earbuds.

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    I absolutely LOVE this podcast and was so disappointed when I realized you were not actively producing it! I’m NOW relieved to know there is a whole year of episodes ahead! I’m beginning my homeschool journey with 4 little ones very close in age and my style falls somewhere in the Classical and Charlotte Mason. I found your podcast by chance via Instagram recommendation as I was doing research on “morning menus.” Your content is beautifully philosophical but at a level most parents will be able to grasp and appreciate. Filled with truth, beauty, and goodness! Your episodes fill me up and leave me feeling inspired personally and in regards to my children’s education. Everything is so good! Please don’t stop producing ever again! I’ll be grateful forever!

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    This podcast is awesome! It was recommended to me a few years ago by a very wise and experienced homeschool mom but I didn’t start listening until I saw it come up a few more times on Facebook, recommended in various groups (in particular, episode number 41). I wish I had picked it up years ago! So much great information, I’m learning so much! Be careful though, I was so interested listening to this podcast that I didn’t notice how low my gas tank was getting! I ran out of gas and as I write this review I’m stranded on the side of the road waiting for a friend to come rescue me! Happy listening!

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    I’ve just been eating up every episode of this brilliant podcast over the past few months. The guests are stellar and Pam’s interview style is wonderful. She gets each guest to the meat and potatoes of their topic but it’s anything but a plain meal. This is a feast for the homeschool mom’s mind. I know I’ll be revisiting many of my favorite episodes again and again. Feeling so inspired by each guest!

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    Not only am I inspired by each episode of this podcast but I have actually put so many of the ideas into practice in our own morning time. Such a huge help as I seek to inspire my non-stop boys to truth, goodness and beauty. We are now memorising poetry as they jump on the trampoline and they love Shakespeare. That's a parenting win in my book!

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    Thank you, Pam! I’m now bursting with inspiration and can’t wait to start our 2019 school year with a strong morning time routine.

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    I was looking for morning basket ideas—simple ones. These podcasts are giving me a picture of a good morning basket.

  • Wow!! What amazing nuggets of knowledge