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Origins and Characteristics of Folk Music

Critically Examine And Discuss The French-Canadian Folk Music:

Folk music is termed any customary and country music that has been preceded down to people via any small social group or family. Folk music is similar to folk literature as it is passed down to others through hearing instead of reading, which means it resides in oral customary. It is considered functional and essential because it is primarily connected with some communal exercises. In addition, its effectiveness and importance differ from culture to culture as only the related group can understand the song. The word folk music also differs conforming to its origin, section of the world, a time in history, and social class, because when determining if a piece of music is folk or not, one must assess specific criteria that are derived from the different patterns of transmission, origin, social function, and way of performance[1]. During the 20th century, communication recordings and mass media started to replace face-to-face communication. Therefore, in contrast to these forms of communication, folk music is commonly related to other ventures such as life-cycle rituals, calendric, enculturation, games, and work. Therefore, folk music is mainly attributed to music that a large segment of the community understands and identifies with, especially from the lower economic class. For this paper, the chosen folk music is the French Canadian folk music presented by various artists such asBruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and Stan Rogers. French Canadian folk music was first introduced by the French settlers who came to Canada between 1763 to 1867.

Additionally, folk music executants were traditionally non-specialists, and some folk songs were familiarized to all the community members. However, some specialists and instrumentalists were added, with some singers involved with folk tales. Folk music is thought to have survived in very early periods, and it was considered a particular portion of society. In addition, as per folk music, performers are distinguished by songs with traditional instruments and political agendas. However, the lines in-between songs art and folk songs were fogged at the start of the 19th century when art song creators introduced songs as a form of music to the urban musical cultures. In American history, folk songs are described as people's songs. This means that folk songs are creations of an individual or society, and the creative process could be individual, collective, or a combination of both. In addition, American history also describes folk songs as a way of life because they are based on human experiences. This means that it is not a surprise that different folk songs exist[4]. In addition, perhaps there is no specific way folk songs can be categorized, but they could be divided into work, love, drinking, cradle, play, and mourning songs. After understanding the use of folk songs and how they integrate into our society, this comparative analysis will analyze French-Canadian folk music and its integration into our community.This assignment will mainly discuss French-Canadian folk music introduced by the French settlers.

The way of transmitting folk music is considerably the same, which differs from folk music's characteristics with the way they are dispatched. One of the general characteristics of French-Canadian folk music is adaptation and creation. For most communities, where folk music originated is rarely known, which means that the anonymity creative process's anonymity has initially been considered the creative process, which was a significant criterion in identifying folk music. However, as the years passed, it was evident that folk music resulted from personal creations, either by some critical people in the community or by the villagers themselves. Therefore, folk music is part of very diverse creations. Folk music can be heard because they are transmitted orally, making them very effective. Due to this, it also means that it can be distorted with time.

Role of Folk Music in Society

Transmission and variation is other essential characteristic of folk music. The way folk songs are transmitted is almost the same, and because folk music lives primarily by oral transmission, it does not exist in any standard form. However, in each region of a village, community, family, or even state, there is a significant difference because each performance of a song is mostly unique.6(14) In addition, there are different variants and versions of folk songs that are used to highlight the different ways of singing the exact song. For example, several similar performances by one singer could make up a version of a song. On the other hand, several different arrangements could make up a variant. Several variants that are made up of various performances of the song that are related could make up a form. Therefore, groups of songs with the same fundamental analysis are called text types. This means that there are several variations in the transmission of this folk music. In addition, over the years, folk music has been known to be molded to adapt to a particular situation in the community involved.

Composition patterns are the following essential characteristic of folk music. In most communities, the folk members' process of creating new songs is not very well understood. However, how different tunes are related could provide some insight. When a piece of music is first composed, the music is the composer's work. However, some people learn it and sing it after some time, and it is recreated instantly. In addition, the composition process of folk songs differs from classical and popular music. Therefore, modern classical folk music has a touch of society. Even if they are composed by a single person, they are spread and sung by the community. Composition patterns, transmission, and variation are just some of the general characteristics of folk songs that can explain the composition of folk songs.

Folk music has been there in Canada since the 16th century. It emerged due to tradition, heritage, and what people go through daily[8]. It also implies the cultural diversity of the people who first settled in Canada. Folk music is mainly composed by people to explain their day-to-day lives, and these songs are passed through generations. The different folk music genres reflect particular cultures such as Franco-Canadian, Ukrainian, Gaelic, etc.  please check all the other footnotes)

The French settlers first introduced French-Canadian folk music. The main instrument used in French-Canadian music is the fiddle and can also be accompanied by the guitar and the accordion. The music accompanies various types of dances, such as the jig. French-Canadian songs also included lullabies sung to infants by their mother's songs of love, comfort, and peace. An example of a song sung to infants by their mothers is the Fais dodo Colaslullaby.

Fais dodo,

Colin monp(e)tit frère; Fais dodo,

Tu auras du lolo.

Papa est en bas,

Mama nest en haut Qui fait la bouillie Pour l’enfant qui crie. 

French-Canadian music consists of three cultures which are French, English, and Gaelic. France influenced this type of folk music in a significant way. This type of music is also derived from some French traditions from their colonizers. English culture also influences French-Canadian music based on the interactions of both French and English colonists, such as interactions with the British colonizers[12]. This type of music is characterized by its narrative nature influenced by the Gaelic culture.

French Canadian Folk Music and its Artists

French-Canadian music is easy to learn because it uses simple words. In addition to the fiddle, it also uses simple equipment like spoons and bones to compliment the theme. Dancing mainly includes clapping and tapping the feet to the rhythm of the music. The main style of music is a response where one person leads and the group join in singing the song.

Canadian folk music artists include Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and Stan Rogers. Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian singer who incorporates folk music as his style, and French-Canadian songs are some of the oldest songs. A few examples include:

It's boring at the convent- this is a lullaby sung to children in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are two versions of this song. One sang in 1916 and the other in 1917.

  • Where have you been, you horrible drunkard? - This song is a conversation between a drunkard and his wife. The song was sung in 1916, and it represents day-to-day life but with a bit of humor. 4(25) (all the songs are from this source)
  • The short straw- this song was sung by people, mainly the boatmen performing tasks. It was also known as 'the sailor's song.'
  • We have to find the wolf- this is also a lullaby that was sung to children also sang in 1916.

The above are French-Canadian songs characterized by imitative lyrics, some express satire, and some reflect the conditions of the community or historical events.[14]These songs also express great cultural diversity, and they are easily modified to suit people's different tastes or different situations. They are also characterized by change, especially during transmission.

As discussed briefly above, French-Canadian folk music has three major cultural influences: English, French, and Gaelic. However, there are also several minor influences, e.g., German and Irish cultures, but this essay will focus on English, French, and Gaelic because of their significant effects. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the first French settlers came into the state known as Canada. As they settled and interacted with the people in Canada, they brought their language, cultures, and music. Therefore, it is not surprising that most French-Canadian folk music came from France. An excellent example of this is the French-Canadian folk music, the fiddle, brought from New France. In addition, some of the most popular French-Canadian folk songs are inductions of the medieval French traditions that the early colonizers brought about. One of the most surprising factors about these songs is that even the oldest versions of Canadian folkloric repertories came from France and are considerably more detailed than the other versions found in France. In addition, most of these songs reflected on the conditions of the French-Canadian communities. Therefore, issues such as the voyageur's lives, misfortunes, disasters, lumber camps, communal and political life issues were discussed in these folk songs. For example, Fais dodo Colas is a French-Canadian lullaby about communal matters sung to young children. This song first came to Canada in 1993 from France it was then spread all over united states and published by many musicians. Currently the song has different variants, for example the French and the English variation.(29) (this information is found in the fais-dodo-wikipedia)

The English culture also played a massive role in influencing French-Canadian folk music. And even if their influence was more subtle, it was undoubtedly important as it played a huge role. In addition, English and French colonists did not get along, but they still interacted extensively, which is why they are considered essential. Moreover, these two had more in common than they thought they did, including reasons for coming to Canada and the way in Canada. For this reason, English and French Canadian folk songs have familiar lyrics about the sea, sea disasters, the fishers, mining, lumbering, and other things that were part of the colonists' daily lives.

Transmission of Folk Music

The Gaelic, Celtic music influences also played an essential role in French-Canadian music. While it might seem like a simple norm for French-Canadian music to have specific characteristics, French-Canadian music is considerably more lyrical and freer as it has adapted to the meticulousness of the lain disposition of its inhabitants. Therefore, it is evident that the most significant influence that Gaelic music has had on French-Canadian folk music is the composition of Ballad genres. Ballads have existed for a long time, from medieval times to the 20th century. The topics that ballads address include heroic exploits, murder, revenge, war, disasters, love, and many other themes related to people in a community. In addition, ballads provide different narrative aspects of the lyric, which contribute to the French-Canadian music to recount reality, making them valuable and appropriate. One of the most influential individuals in Celtic music is Jean Carignan, who had significant influence in the Celtic tradition as a part of the French Canadian fiddling. He is also one of the greatest folk fiddlers of the 20th century because he was the leading exponent of the Celtic tradition in French Canadian fiddling.

Influences other than English, French, and Gaelic cultures greatly impacted French-Canadian folk music. Some influential cultures, such as the Irish music cultures, also played a massive role in influencing French-Canadian folk music, especially in the east coast region of Canada[15]. In this region, some newfound Landers still celebrate the musical influences brought about by the migration of the Irish people to Canada. The Jews are the other essential individuals who influenced the French-Canada folk music by introducing the Jew harp into the Canadian population[16]. Therefore, even if English, French, and Gaelic had the most influence on the French-Canadian folk music culture, other cultures also played a massive role in influencing it, especially by introducing new instruments. (34, removed information about the germans).

These cultures mentioned above provide an overview of every culture added and introduced to the Canadian folk music culture. Even though they seem like they introduced different aspects, if you look closely, they all introduced similar things that came together and blended beautifully to create French-Canadian folk music. Therefore, when comparing and contrasting all the influences that affected the French-Canadian culture, the similarities are beyond simple measures.


The French-Canadian folk music is a broad genre with a lot to offer in terms of beauty, education, class, and history. This comparative analysis has explored the different characteristics of folk music, the many aspects of French-Canadian folk music, and how it has integrated into our society over the years. The word folk music also differs following its origin, part of the world, a period in history, and social class, because when determining if a piece of music is folk or not, one must assess specific criteria that are derived from the different patterns of transmission, origin, social function, and way of performance. The essay has also provided examples of some beautifully crafted French-Canadian folk songs, intriguing and captivating. Throughout the analysis, it is evident that folk songs are the products of unknown creators. Even if an individual came up with the song, the methods of sharing and transmitting these songs have made the folk songs part of a village without a specific creator. In addition, folk songs are intimate, and they explain how people lived their everyday lives, problems, and troubles. They are also transmitted orally from one person to the other, which allows them to stay within the communal and cultural restrictions. Folk songs also differ from modern music in terms of composition, transmission, choice of accompaniment, and performance settings. In addition, Canada had a multicultural system even before the arrival of the colonists. Yet, the major groups that greatly influenced the French-Canadian folk music were people outside Canada: the English, French, and Gaelic. Therefore, these three cultures are the primary influencers of French-Canadian folk music in structure and even lyrics. It is evident that the European influence of Canadian folk music was immense and unexpected, and it took hold of Canadian folk music even up to now. Therefore, it is right to state that Europeans had the most significant effect on Canadian folk music, and their results are still felt today. However, it is also evident that Canadian folk music is beautiful, captivating, and even educational to everyone that listens to it. 

Barbeau, Marius. "Canadian Folk Songs." Journal of the International Folk Music Council 13 (1961): 28-31. 

Brassard, François. "French-Canadian Folk Music Studies: A Survey." Ethnomusicology 16, no. 3 (1972): 351-359. 

Brault, A. French Canadian Folk Music. 

Conklin, Darrell, and Christina Anagnostopoulou. "Comparative pattern analysis of Cretan folk songs." Journal of New Music Research 40.2 (2011): 119-125. 

Fais dodo colas lullaby: 

Helfer, Sharon Gubbay. "Rome Among the Bishops: An Immigrant Jew Explores The Unknown Worlds of French Canada." Canadian Jewish Studies/Étudesjuivescanadiennes 20 (2012). 

Kallmann, Helmut. "Toward a bibliography of Canadian folk music." Ethnomusicology (1972): 499-503. 

Kirkwood, Jonathan. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven: The artist as prophet. Music as a language, communication, and ideology. California State University, Dominguez Hills, 2005. 

Rahn, Jay. "Canadian Folk Music Holdings at Columbia University." MUSICultures (1977).  

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