“I’ll sing you this…”

IMG_1651Question: what do you call a musical performance? And why?

I ask this because I was intrigued this past weekend (at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival)  by Martin Carthy’s way of introducing the traditional songs he was performing: he said “I’ll sing you this…”

Not “play”, but “sing” (although he’s no slouch as a guitarist, as everyone will admit!).

On the other hand, the most common usage today seems to be ‘I’m playing the _______ (insert name of venue here) tonight’. Not even ‘I’m playing at the ___________’ but ‘I’m playing the _______’.

I wonder why this has become so widespread?

Is it because we somehow think that playing our instruments is more important, more praiseworthy, takes more skill, than mere singing?

Is it because we don’t think the lyrics of our songs are important – just the tunes, or (God forbid!) the guitar licks?

I find it intriguing.

In traditional folk songs, the song is primary. I always advise people who want to sing traditional songs to learn to sing them a cappella first, to get the feel of the song. If you do that, eventually the song will tell you how it wants to be accompanied (or whether it even needs an accompaniment).

The song comes first. The ‘playing’ is secondary. And the fact that it’s me who is doing the playing comes even further back. At least, that’s my ideal, although I suspect I often don’t live up to it.

So thank you, Martin Carthy, for reminding me of what comes first.

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Published by

Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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