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Author Topic: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)  (Read 2253 times)

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Dazbo

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Hi All,

Can't believe how long it is since the course started.  I've always thought that students should be able to study whatever they want at university and was very pleased to hear of this course starting up.

How do you think the course has worked out so far?  My main fear for the course was that the students would be channelled into a narrow range of playing styles and traditions; a right and a wrong way to play folk music.  Has this happened?  I've heard a few students talking (at first and second hand) who had dropped out because they were being taught to play in styles and traditions they didn't have interest in - not as an extra string to their fiddle but more "this is the way we do it here".

I've not really been in the folk world much for the last two or three years and have not heard anything of the latest crop to graduate but I've heard older graduates play at festivals, folk clubs and sessions - as fantastic as their playing was it did seem to my ears they all had similar styles and lacking the "oomph" from musicians like John Kirkpatricka and our own Squeezy.
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2017, 12:57:22 PM »

Living in the North East of England I get to see quite a few of the students/graduates at local clubs. I share some of the concerns about the danger of pushing a "right" style but I am always impressed by the technical ability of the students. If a lot do seem to have a "house style" I expect they will grow out of it given time to develop.
I am also unsure what the aim of the course is: to produce professional performers or to develop a wider range of skills, in the same way that a History degree can lead to a career in many fields, not just teaching or writing History. If it is the first I think there could be a problem, at all my local folk clubs the average age is about 70. When they die out who will be the audience for all the folk graduates?
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Huw Adamson

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2017, 12:58:12 PM »

as fantastic as their playing was it did seem to my ears they all had similar styles and lacking the "oomph" from musicians like John Kirkpatricka and our own Squeezy.

John Kirkpatrick's lesser known Russian wife  >:E

Seriously though, I wouldn't know much about how restrictive the course is, but I think we can all agree in terms of pure analytic musical skill it's a really successful course. I find the comparison to Kirkpatrick, or indeed any of the more experienced players like Brian Peters, a little unfair. Most of the musicians on the course are young, and have years and years ahead of them to develop their own styles and 'oomph'. As well as that, there is something of a survival bias in using Kirkpatrick as an example. Of course the graduates don't have the same energy and individuality as him, but that's because he's one of the best.
I do see what you are saying though, and the whole notion of a folk degree does seem a little counter intuitive. Then again, the use of written music seems to go against the very heart of folk music, but many people are perfectly happy with it. The folk scene is nothing if not adaptable.
I'm drifting.
In summary though, generally great players, and I'm sure if they lack in any individuality they will make up for it after some experience outside the course.
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george garside

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2017, 01:13:28 PM »

I agree that the course produces some brilliant musicians  but can't help wondering if they would be brilliant mus' icians with or without the course as by definition anyone wanting to do a folk music degree is  likely to already be a dedicated folk musician- otherwise why bother.

However like history degrees can lead to all sorts of graduate jobs the degree is a music degree and probably fits students for work in other filds of music and as 'soundmen (persons!) etc. Certainly some of them go on to be teachers.

I have however always felt a little uncomfortable about a tradition that has almost by definition been handed down, largely by ear, from generation to generation being  academised (  if there is such a word) and thereby losing its    spontaneous nature.

but then academia  seems  has long been on the ?misguided bandwagon of turning perfectly ordinary activities into degrees and universities have become   businesses rather than highly respected  seats of learning

george 
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John MacKenzie (Cugiok)

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2017, 01:16:18 PM »

My impression, and it is only that, is that it turns out competent performers who can lack presentation skills. Do they get lessons in stagecraft I wonder? One or two of them want to run before they can walk, and I have heard stories of over optimistic fees being requested.
However, they will learn, as do we all, and those who have more than just technical ability will prosper, and others will drop by the wayside. They may even end up teaching.
On the whole though, I'm glad that such courses exist, and I wish them luck.

Sir John
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jonm

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2017, 02:21:54 PM »

Study at degree level is not just about skills-based performance, or even performance-based skills. It's also about developing critical thinking and analytical faculties to look beyond the basic acceptance of the status quo. This is why some job roles require a degree which is not subject-specific.

A great deal of what is required to become an accomplished performer is gained through practice, which takes time. I am sure that these graduates have gained a lot from the time they have been able to spend as professional musicians in training. Some may then go on to become professional musicians in practice (where the value of the course may be a moot point) and others may go into teaching or other graduate occupations, which means they have gained both a degree which opens up career opportunities, and the time and space to develop skills in their hobby alongside like-minded peers and with the benefit of expert guidance.

Part of developing criticality and analysis is about examining common practices and attitudes. Just as Picasso learned conventional art before developing his unique approach, so having a "house style" for musicians can give a common baseline for sharing experiences and expertise and can also provide opportunities to develop criticality in deciding when, how and why to depart from those strictures. Some of the musicians seen in the clubs may have been at an early stage in their studies. Most university first year programmes do nothing more than ensure all students have knowledge, skills and aptitudes up to a standardised benchmark, as a basis for future study.

I wish this opportunity had been available when I was an undergraduate, fitting in music practice and performance around study in an entirely different subject area.

Additionally, I feel comparisons to John K are invalid - his talent appeared almost fully formed from a very early age and although it has developed since, he's not someone who is a studied performer as much as a force of nature.
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2017, 02:44:19 PM »

I never see these types of discussions about other music degrees.  I wonder what it is that makes the folk world so nervous about a degree course?

As with most music degree courses only a few of them will become professional performers, it's actually the same for almost any non-vocatiional degree, but seem to go into a variety of fields.  The course's own careers sections is here http://www.ncl.ac.uk/undergraduate/degrees/w344/#careers.

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Thrupenny Bit

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2017, 02:49:22 PM »

I'm broadly in favour of such things.
If you take a step back and reflect on things before the Folk Revival of around 1970, it looks like a desert for our traditions. The small niches were either the forgotten crevices of the country where Bob Cann on Dartmoor and the East Anglian players who were in their isolated world or those areas where there was a teaching culture such as the Northumbrian Pipers.
We have moved on from that time, learnt how to play English music again and the traditions such as morris are vibrant.
Perhaps having a formal education revolving around our national traditions will merely strengthen them, remind this country why our traditional heritage is important culturally. Presumably that's what the formal French musical teaching is about, which seems to be a strong tradition in France.

I agree I certainly don't want carbon copy players playing in exactly the same style, but surely such a degree has other broader merits too such as keeping things alive?
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Jackhumphreys

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2017, 03:14:40 PM »

I'm not sure, but I think these three came off the course....not a bad advert if so.
https://youtu.be/SBs4ZH9jgz0
But I do know one brilliant young fiddler who left for the reasons suggested.

Theo

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2017, 03:34:11 PM »

Here is another "product" of the folk degree.  Baltic Crossing was Ian Stephenson's final year project.  Still going after 10 years.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjGm_lbj5l0
No stylistic straightjacket here! 
And again
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLoNCYxzpWo
And one with Ian playing box
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FId6_VY11v8
« Last Edit: March 02, 2017, 03:36:51 PM by Theo »
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Dazbo

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2017, 03:36:22 PM »

I never see these types of discussions about other music degrees.  I wonder what it is that makes the folk world so nervous about a degree course?


I'm boldly stating, after absolutely no research, that most university music degrees are in the classical style (with the emphasis on the) so what they are after are musicians who know all the theory and can fit into any orchestra in the world.   ;)
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2017, 04:01:38 PM »

I never see these types of discussions about other music degrees.  I wonder what it is that makes the folk world so nervous about a degree course?


I'm boldly stating, after absolutely no research, that most university music degrees are in the classical style (with the emphasis on the) so what they are after are musicians who know all the theory and can fit into any orchestra in the world.   ;)

Fortunately the Newcastle course has been staffed by many fine traditional players from a variety of genres.  It was originally located at The Sage in Gateshead so was physically distant from the rest of the university music department.   A few years ago it moved and is now integrated with the music department. I know a lot of the students and former students and they strike me as a very diverse bunch, both musically and as people.

Try Rachel Hamer Band for some recent graduates

https://www.therachelhamerband.com/music
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playandteach

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2017, 05:36:44 PM »

I'm not happy about the terms 'product' or 'turning out' as if student musicians don't have a say in their own development. I have had students go there and to Glasgow and the serious students developed more than the less independent ones just as students on any course in any subject. Education at tertiary level isn't an imposition of learning. I always advise my students who are pursuing a course with a strong performance element to research who their instrumental teacher will be and have seen players attend nominally lesser unis to follow the best instrumental teaching.
I'm also not sure we should expect institutions to have expected career paths for their students. As for the dig about ending up as teachers....
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2017, 06:25:16 PM »

I'm boldly stating, after absolutely no research, that most university music degrees are in the classical style (with the emphasis on the) so what they are after are musicians who know all the theory and can fit into any orchestra in the world.   ;)

Knowing many people who have music degrees the last part of that is definitely untrue.  Surprisingly few musicians who have music degrees actually play in professional orchestras.  Again the careers of the graduates are very diverse. 

It also assumes that there is one style of classical music, there isn't, there are a multitude of different styles. 

You might find the course details for the Hull BMus interesting http://beta.www.hull.ac.uk/Study/UG/2017/music-bmus.aspx as compared to the Newcastle course http://www.ncl.ac.uk/undergraduate/degrees/w344/#coursedetails.  Both are a lot broader than many might think.

Steve
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Chris Ryall

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2017, 11:54:10 AM »

I'd like to support John's view - seen several alumni/students on stage over the years.  They were technically excellent but lacked in presentational sparkle. 

If a course is  training 'musicians' who are not going to simply join orchestras, then it needs to teach stage craft skills.
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george garside

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #15 on: March 03, 2017, 12:36:12 PM »

I agree with John and Chris.  The many 'performances' I have seen by 'Newcastle students'  have  somehow lacked   spontaneity  and  the skills needed to 'work an audience'   

george
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pete /acorn

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2017, 12:38:29 PM »

I have spoken to one or two of the students,I get the impression that the degree is not just about the musical ability etc but also the business side of being a performer and working musician.

This of course and rightly so they get a fair price for the work they do,but it will mean that folk clubs etc will have to come into the 21st century and charge ticket prices that reflect this.
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Edward Jennings

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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2017, 12:48:39 PM »

"skills needed to 'work an audience'"

I fear that some folk will never develop that skill, no matter how much training/instruction they get, whilst Rachel Hamer has it in bucketloads (IMHO). Certainly in the few times I've seen her perform, anyway, I cannot imagine that her charm is anything other than natural, springing from her generous nature.
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #18 on: March 03, 2017, 12:52:20 PM »

Pete - and of course having a professional outlook goes to stabilise those performing which in turn puts our musical tradional on a more stable footing. Anything that stops us loosing things, as we came so close to doing, is good in my opinion.
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Re: Folk Degree Newcastle Uni - Your thoughts (not just melodeon players)
« Reply #19 on: March 03, 2017, 12:56:02 PM »

to me Johnny Handle is an absolute pastmaster at 'working an audience'  just look at some of his youtube vids

george
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