Yes, I just posted. Yes, I will be back on Monday per usual. Yes, this is my first time ever being an active blogging vegetable (I know people tend to say bean but I think vegetable has so much more character) while the 10th annual fantabulous Tolkien Blog Party hosted by the fantabulous Hamlette is happening. So, yes, I must and will participate. I am launching into this with no clue where I’m going or what I’m doing.
But I want to participate and…hmm. I’m the folk music girl. So let’s talk about the usage of folk music and our main man (erm, since he’s British, our chief chap) Tolkien, shall we?
One of the most essential things that maintains traditional Christian culture is music. I honestly think one of the main reasons why the West has gone to pot is because we’ve forgotten real music. And by real music, I don’t necessarily mean music as a melodic form of sound. I’m not a snob who thinks anything made past 1950 lacks real musical quality. (am I saying it’s all got musical quality? no. I’m just saying this isn’t really about the noise itself.)
It’s more about…hmm. Music as a cultural practice rather than a performance. People enjoy this or that artist and they go to their concerts and they stream it on Spotify or whatever the kids are using (because I am 500 years old I use Apple Music. Sue me). But do people ever just…hang around and sing these songs together? Not really. The songs of the modern era are (mostly) written to be performed. They contain vocal backflips and dramatic lyrics without a lot of real substance, usually in the first person so that the performer can make the music his or her own story.
It’s not like the folk songs and the chants of yesteryear. Music that was never meant to be performed, but sung as a group. Not flashy, or vocally impressive, but simple so that even the cracked old or the lisping young voice can grasp the thread of the tune. Used for something. For hauling to a rhythm, like the shanties, or telling of tales long finished, like the ballads, or praising, in simplicity, the God who loves all folk, like the chants.
That type of music is never about the person singing it. Which is the difference, in my opinion, between that and the modern concept of ‘music’. Folk music is not about the singer. It’s not about making it your own story.
One: because you already have a story of your own.
Two: because your story, and all others, are part of One Great and Eternal Story told by One Great and Eternal Storyteller.
No matter how small you are, you can join in the tune, because it does not rely on your own prowess, but rather on the wide expanse of hope and the jagged but comforting consciousness that you will always be wrapped up in your own unique story, even while you join in the telling of others.
You are the lone singer, the hero of your own private story, but a vocalist, a contributor in something greater and older and yet somehow, as small as you in its own way.
It’s not about you. And it’s not about any of us either. And that’s why we can all sing together without fear.
No matter how small you are…even if you are, say, a Hobbit.
The thread of Tolkien’s tales, particularly the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, follows the same set of ideas and themes that govern traditional folk music. In that, as well as in many other things, Tolkien’s work carries a distinct quality of Western Christendom that cannot be found in much of the literature and music of today. Moreover, not only does Tolkien’s philosophy follow the same pattern as the philosophy that governs folk music, but it uses folk music itself in the way that folk music is meant to be used.
Tolkien’s characters are constantly singing together…when they are happy or sad, resting or laboring. They tell stories of heroes past and encourage each other in their respective smallness. And even the most epic of his heroic races, the Elves, are introduced in the Lord of the Rings singing a hymn whilst walking to Someone greater than themselves.
There is a unique flavour of Christendom in folk music. And I think Tolkien knew that. And he used it to his advantage. It’s one reason why there’s a unique, though elusive flavour of Christendom in his works. It’s because he uses music as a cultural practice throughout, in the same way it has been used in Christendom for centuries.
Tolkien’s manner of weaving folk songs into his stories is extremely special to me personally as well. While, as I have said many times before, my late father introduced myself and my siblings to folk music at a very early age and we grew up listening to it, when he passed away we fell off the wagon a little. I think, for me, the first enraptured consumption of the Lord of the Rings and its beautiful incorporation of folk music was what set me back on the path towards the genre.
So yeah. I love Tolkien and folk music, and I think Tolkien also loved folk music, or at least understood it and its importance in a way that the modern world does not understand music.
And thus this extremely haphazard post draws to an end. It does not really seem a worthy entry but it’s what I’ve got in me at the end of a long day at work. Unfortunately my brain is currently syrup and I don’t have enough for the entire plate of pancakes I am faced with.
So that’s that. But before I go, if you wish, have another bit of ‘fan folktion’, only this time Tolkien themed. Because one of the very first songs I ever wrote (I think I was 12) was a simple tune to Sam’s Song in the Tower. So…have a little recording of it. Featuring my bad singing, many cricket noises in the background, and faint ambient talking from my housemate and her violin student.
God bless you friends! Tallyho! Expect me when you see me!