Oral tradition:songs, story, storytelling, folk music and stories
Is oral tradition dead?
Folksongs, jokes, and tall stories: does the oral tradition live?
Another hubber wrote about the oral tradition and led me to think. Some scholars had declared the oral tradition to be obsolete with the invention of the printing press.. Thus scholars like Francis James Child collect folk songs and ballads but paid little attention to the music, as they assumed it didn’t matter, they were trying to preserve them sort of like museum pieces.
My observations over the years is that singing and story telling seem to exist the most where small and maybe temporary groups come together. These might be places like college dorms, the military, ski lodges, hunter’s camps and fishing resorts. Folk singer Gene Bluestien collected songs in Northern Minnesota, probably in lumber camps.
Folk singer Oscar Brand, for example, collected songs in such places.
Many of the oral traditions were kept longer in the South. Many more isolated places tended to preserve the songs longer when they were less exposed to commercial media. On the other hand they might rework songs they heard on the radio and rework them in their own styles and pass them on to others.
However, many northern city dwellers had their first exposure to such songs was in the military where they first met southerners. I’ve worked with a number of retired military and one characteristic I noticed is that they seem to tell stories and jokes. Sometimes I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t I did conclude that in the military people are moved on a regular basis so they are constantly having to meet new friends. Combined with the “hurry up and wait” feeling people always have to find ways to entertain themselves and each other. One way is to tell stories and sing songs.
One fellow I worked with named Ray could go on for hours with stories, jokes cute remarks or whatever. He said he had been at Normandy when we invaded it.
During World War II. He went in as a replacement to take the place of a soldier who was killed or wounded. Apparently back then the procedure was to send troops who had trained together and bonded. In his case they were all strangers. That part is probably true.
He told about being in a foxhole eating his rations. He said a mortar hit near him and sand got into his cheese. That he said made him mad. The cheese, he said, was the only thing the government couldn’t mess up.
At that point I knew there was at least some exaggeration involved. He’d also tell stories of when he was boy and pulling pranks on neighbors. Especially the ones he didn’t like. I think everyone has heard the story of country kids moving the outhouse at Halloween. At the time< I thought it was original, but I never lived on a farm.
Then he w would tell jokes, one after another, usually geared to whatever ethnic group you belonged to. Since I am of Swedish heritage he would ask why Swedes make good astronauts. The answer was that they took up space is school.
Although we are bombarded with mass media, canned music and all, maybe the storytellers are still out there.
Many folksingers and country singers tended to hang out with military groups, college campuses, church groups and other places where people gathered together and share experiences.
Fishermen are famous for tall stories. I don’t know about music, but everyone has heard about the fish that got away. There are even contests for the best liars. That certainly speaks for an oral tradition.
I suspect that at the end of the day, after a drink or two, hunter’s fisherman. And skiers would all tend to tell stories and sing songs. Oh yes, and swap lies. Folksinger Bob Gibson did an entire album of ski songs.
Rumors, Scuttlebutt, gossip are in some way, I think, part of the oral tradition. Some books I read center around Indians. References are made to the “moccasin telegraph. Which they claim the news spreads faster than by conventional means.
I remember in sociology we talked about how jokes could go from on end of the country to another, apparently without necessarily going through the mass media.
All in all, I’m inclined to think that there is still an oral tradition but it has changed in many ways.
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