Now October’s growin’ thin, and November’s comin’ home . . .
I never move into October without having these lovely lyrics come into my head. It’s from Turning Towards the Morning, a song Gordon Bok wrote, way back in 1975. I probably heard it for the first time a year or two later, and I’ve remained enchanted with the song all these years.
We’re moving into the time of year where there are many ancient folk traditions celebrated. At the end of October, Sawhain, an ancient Celtic festival on which, with typical modern American distortion, the “tradition” of Halloween has sprung. On the other hand, perhaps the strongest original American tradition is the Thanksgiving holiday that follows, though that too has been subject to increased commercial influence. We hardly dare mention Christmas in that regard, but will note the more relevant Solstice.
Traditions are problematic in that their endurance is dependent on evolving. The concerts that the Monadnock Folklore Society presents (which have included several with Gordon Bok, over the years), are not done to preserve a tradition (though there is now a tradition of concerts in the Nelson Town Hall), but rather to allow musicians to share music which is rooted, to widely varying degrees, in some kind of musical and/or topical tradition. The contra dances that happen in the Nelson Town Hall are traditional mostly in that dances have taken place in town halls throughout New England since colonial times (though they also took place in barns and kitchens). Some of the dances are old, but many are new, and certainly the amplification of the music, as well as new styles of rendering the music, do not stem from a tradition.
It’s easy to get bogged down in arguments about how traditions which are preserved cease to be alive and meaningful. The truth is that traditions, and activities which are done in the name of tradition, mean different things to different people. The human race has a tradition of doing things that are fun. That ultimately, is why we dance and sing.