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July 29, 2010

Jon Boden's big singalong

The Guardian (UK):

A few weeks ago Jon Boden, the current BBC Folk Singer of the Year, went to a friend's home studio in Sheffield and recorded an unaccompanied version of the famous old folk song The Larks They Sang Melodious (alternatively known as Pleasant and Delightful). On Midsummer Day (24 June) he posted it on a new website he'd created and embarked on the first step of a strange and demanding odyssey, in which he vows to record and post a different folk song every day for a year.

A far cry from his more familiar role as extrovert frontman with the 11-piece folk big band Bellowhead, the Folk Song a Day concept has already attracted accusations that Boden has either lost his marbles or become a shameless self-publicist. Yet behind this novel initiative lies a serious intent, which poses profound questions about the changing role of song in society. Namely, have we lost the joy of singing for its own sake, and the social benefits of community, self-expression and identity that go with it? And, if so, can they be recovered?

Boden says he regards himself primarily as an unaccompanied singer, despite his membership of Bellowhead, but insists that A Folk Song a Day is a serious effort to raise the profile of social singing. He has also launched a monthly Saturday night folk club encompassing an informal singaround at his own local, the Royal Hotel in Dungworth, which is already embedded in folk music lore as one of the South Yorkshire pubs maintaining a unique local carol-singing tradition of songs exclusive to the area.

"The Dungworth carol singing is extraordinary, but it shouldn't be extraordinary," says Boden. "People who wouldn't do it in any other context go to the pub at Christmas and sing those songs properly – really, really loud. But then you get to the end of the carol season and you think, 'Why the hell don't we do this all year?'"

So he decided he would do it all year – and the Dungworth experiment seems to be working as villagers with no interest in the formal folk song movement descend on the bar to exercise their lungs on a round of populist chorus songs, such as The Larks They Sang Melodious and others that have made early appearances on Boden's site.

"I'd love to see more singing sessions in pubs – ideally unaccompanied – without the pub getting freaked out," Boden says. "The biggest challenge is to get a pub to turn the TV or jukebox off, but the chance is there to find a common cause because pubs are under so much threat. Some people feel uncomfortable – they think their space is being invaded, and if you suddenly enter a random pub and burst into song you're more likely to be thrown out than be bought a drink. I've certainly been told to shut up on occasions. You have to get people used to the idea. It's not the fault of the song, it's the fault of lack of song. People get paranoid about singing in public and I think it stems from parents telling their children they can't sing. It happens a lot. You wouldn't tell someone they have an awful talking voice or they have bad breath, but there seems to be no problem in telling someone they can't sing."

There's no shortage of scientific research to support his theory that social singing is good for body and soul. Professor Graham Welch, the chair of music education at the Institute of Education in London, declares that everyone has the ability to sing and, irrespective of quality, it enhances our mood and reduces stress. "The health benefits of singing are both physiological and psychological," he says. "Music is very good for every aspect of you as a human."

One unlikely convert to the power of social singing is Brian Eno, who hosts regular a cappella singing sessions at his London studio with friends, who have included Paul McCartney. "It's all about the immersion of the self into the community and that's one of the greatest feelings," he says. "I stop being 'me' for a little while and become 'us', and that way lies empathy, the great social virtue." Read more.

Posted by acapnews at July 29, 2010 12:43 AM

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