How we work (and how we don't work).

by Laurens van der Zee.

The following is a translation of an article I wrote for the "Mokum Folk Agenda" - a monthly circular distributed by the Amsterdam folk movement.

The editors of 'Agenda' have asked if I would tell you a little about Folkcorn: a group to which I belong. The members of this group do not possess a collective consciousness or anything of the kind and since there has been insufficient time for me to receive "the stamp of approval" from my friends I speak purely for myself here.

Folkcorn evolved in Wageningen ( a town in the province of Gelderland a little to the west of Arnhem) in 1972/1973 when Cees de Gooijer was invited to demonstrate old musical instruments. He in turn invited Jitze Kopinga to help him, as musician - the formula was a good one and in no time my sister, then Marja van der Zee, joined. The group was thus composed until 1978 when Cees left and I took his place. The old group produced two l.P.'s under the "Stoof" label which were: "Welkom Gesellen" and "Goedenavond Speelman".

In the beginning the group sometimes ventured to perform old-Dutch vocal tricks about which Marja now says: "How on earth did we have the nerve!" From time to time performances went wrong and instrumentally-technically there certainly were blunders. Once a bag-pipe fell apart while it was being played and on another occasion Cees' metre long 'string-trumpet', a type of stringed instrument lost its bridge which flew into the audience with a bang.

Casual presentation without airs and graces and certainly without costumes has been the image from the beginning. Non-Dutch works such as Irish, Scottish, French and German were a part of the repertoire at first. I still regret that an old German song by Ludwig Senfel that Cees sang with much feel for drama was never recorded on video. Once we have existed for 50 years that will be my special request number!

From the very beginning the free arrangement of old numbers has been part of the scene, a simple example of this being: the two different melodies to "Slaat op den trommele" (Beat the drum) which were combined to form one song (one version supposedly deriving from the north of The Netherlands and the other from the south). This particular song dates back to 1568-1648, the time of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish King. A further example is the somewhat jazzy rendering of "Jan als ruiter" (Little John as a horseman) on the L.P. "Goedenavond Speelman". The 'swing-element' of this number and certain others grew stronger after 1978, it was supported by Joost Bollinger (1983 - 1987) and was strengthened further still when Anneke Rot arrived in 1990 as fourth member of the group. For instance the already rather novel version of "Mijn vader gaf mij enen man" (My father found me a husband) on the L.P. "Al Vol" of 1980 was augmented by her. In this number Anneke plays a certain cadance on the concertina. Jitze plays the dulcimer where he then changes to a second voice and a little while later sings yet another voice above that. On the tenor recorder I first play the main melody and later a stiff and sustained parallel a fifth lower. Above all this volume Marja sings a great lamentation all on her own about a woman who is married off to an old man so that she feels, as Jitze once said, thoroughly had or not had at all!

Another characteristic of the group is multi-voice singing. Fortunately other groups also go in for these days. In the past Folkcorn was in that respect a black sheep among folk groups because it produced its own three voice arrangements and a capella sung madrigals and sometimes polyphone as well i.e. with different rhythms, for example: "Venus", "De Nachtegaal" (The Nightingale), "Wie was degene die de loverkens brak" (Who was it who scattered the leaves) and "Het vloog een klein wild vogelken" (There flew a small wild bird).....I will not dispute the old Dutch. A few of these songs still form part of our reserve repertoire for coffe concerts attended exclusively by elderly ladies. When Anneke joined we had just dropped "Venus" much to her disappointment. At her special request we have now taken it up again and, I must admit, she was right. We remain interested in four-voice song work which, just for the fun of it, we sometimes vary with the rendering of a verse on the kazoo. With straight faces we proclaim that it sounds almost the same as the crumhorn.

One problem with all the old music is the language which, unfortunately, is just as old as the music itself. (There then follows a six line long song written in old Dutch in rhyming couplets. It would be futile to attempt to translate it into modern English. The title of the song is: "Van den Boonkens" and it is taken from Van Duyse, lines 1076-81).....The melody is promising, in the living room we carried out some interesting experiments with it but neither we nor our audiences these days have the patience to listen to 5 x 12 lines in this style. Should one adapt it then? No, there is not time for this. Besides, this would be nigh on impossible - what would then remain from the indeed artificial but none the less clever text with in each couplet a new pair of rhyming words. We have already put an awful lot of energy into attempting to modernize and have had to abandon at least half of it all. One instance is the song "De Hertog van Brunswijk" (The Duke of Brunswijk), a beautiful melody but some 88 couplets long. We compacted the story, a kind of Odyssey into 10 couplets but the result was no masterpiece. So, this went into cold-storage with the very many dozens of other numbers which have been done too often or are not yet finished or still do not sound right or which one or more of us object to for one reason or another. The others still pull my leg about "Stort tranen uit", a song about the death of Willem van Oranje - you know the sort of thing from that memorable commemoration year! (In 1984 we Dutch were bombarded with reminders of the fact that William of Orange died four hundred years before). I would like to sing that song because I found it so downright difficult to learn but the others always burst out laughing when they hear it. Perhaps they are right, perhaps it is impossible.

Fortunately we do usually agree, we have roughly the same ideas about what is musically cliché and what is not. For our own music and that of others the coarse but clear maxim holds true: "It must have balls". Whether or not others will share our taste is naturally a thing we have to discover anew each time.
We consider song work to be good, where old material is concerned, if it sounds like trumpets and has a rather unpredictable harmony. Music that is arranged by Jitze has to be close-knit: it's his trade-mark. At practice sessions he will nonchalantly produce a few pages of, for example, an arrangement of an old melody in which only one voice is known about or where the other voices are not of interest and plays it all through for us on the guitar. He does this especially for Marja and I who are both poor at notework; Anneke, at the other hand, is very good at it indeed.

If, when then sung by the four of us it grates his eyes begin to glaze over and he pours himself another pint of home-brew.

Rehearsing (always at Marja and Jitze's place in Wageningen) is usually in fact a happy event, it is therefore not surprising that we begin our performances with a song known as The Haarlem Drinking Song. The reason why these days we sometimes throw in "Geldeloos gy doet mi pyn" (Penniless ye hurt me) could be connected with the mortgage on their new house... In short there is material enough and life is just not long enough to get through it all.

This brings me to the editors' last question - incidentally I have already covered quite a lot without really noticing it - namely, the sources.

We are not purists nor musicologists and we do not poke around in possibly wrongly labelled archive files! We do not go on the road either. Marja and Jitze will simply buy a book where everything is included. To begin with one should ensure that one has a solid bookcase and also a solid bank balance to go with it and then one can go ahead and buy:

  • F.L. van Duyse's "Het oude Nederlandsche Lied" (Old Dutch Songs),
    Published by: Frits Knuf, reprinted 1965 (3 volumes).
  • If you are poor because you only perform on the Amsterdam folk podium then you could begin with:
    " Het Antwerps Liedboek" (The Antwerp Song Book) where over 80 old numbers are to be found.
  • If you are seeking authentic 2nd and 3rd voices for these melodies then there is a chance that you will find them in:
    Jacobus Clemens non Papa "Opera Omnia",
    ed. K.PH. Bernet Kempers, part II.
    " Souterliedekens" (Rome 1953, American Institute of Musicology)
  • If you have grown wealthy as a result of earning a bomb in Germany then you would do well to buy:
    all the books by Franz M. Boehme. His books are real mines of information and they also provide extra information about the songs in the Van Duyse books:
    " Alt Deutches Liedbuch"__1966_and:
    " Deutscher Liederhort" (1972), both published by Georg Olms, Hildesheim. One of these books is in three volumes. Several beautiful songs are also printed in the appendix to the paper of the Dutch Society for Chamber Music.

Besides this Marja and Jitze have numerous other books and are themselves walking mines of information.

It is quite possible that in the future we shall produce different music, for instance, music from a later period. With regard to style we can also develop in diverse directions due to the fact that Jitze, Anneke and I have all belonged to and still do belong to very varying types of groups. Add to this the fact that Jitze has the skill to make many instruments himself and it would seem that our luck is complete. Alas the ever recurrent question is if and if so, where and when we shall once more perform. We owe this to the fact that we have a passive recruiting policy, in other words none.....

N.B. The instruments are allocated roughly as follows: Jitze- all types of string instruments, Marja- drum, Anneke- accordeon and small pedal organ, myself recorders and bass. All four of us sing. Solos: chiefly Marja and Jitze. Arrangements: Jitze with much comment and involvement from the rest of the group.

PS Later we discovered the collection Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlieties en Contredansen - Old and New Dutch Country Songs and Dance Tunes [ONHBC]), published in separate parts between 1700 and 1716. The collection consists of approximately 1000 dance tunes, principally from the Dutch Golden Age and the early Netherlands - the 17th century. You can find the notation of these melodies at the website of Simon Plantinga. The arrangements are our own.

"Welkom gesellen" LP (Munich Records, MU 7436)
"Goedenavond speelman" LP (Munich Records, MU 7450)
"Al vol" LP (Munich Records, MU 7476)
"Ghy sotten" CD (Clipsound, CCD 955)
"Jan de mulder" CD (Clipsound, CCD 97212)
"Laet ons den landtman loven" CD (Munich RecordsBMCD 348)

"Wie sal dan" CD (FS 240910351)

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