Singer shares the reason behind folk music

David Broyles

February 23, 2014

Folk Singer Adam Miller’s and Mount Airy Public Librarian Pat Gwyn’s introduction of the “What Do You Geek” effort at the library are of one accord — getting people involved, whether that be with songs or the library.

“Geek has turned into a verb,” Gwyn said before Saturday’s concert at the library in talking about the “Geek” program, which the library is using to try to encourage people to be more involved. “We (libraries) shouldn’t be guessing what you want. You should tell us. We want to try our best to have things which fall into your interests.” She explained Miller came highly recommended from the Elkin Public Library and performs at 100 libraries a year. The concert locally was sponsored by the Friends of the Mount Airy Public Library.

She said she had also been impressed by him arriving early to take in a bit of the local sights and devote some time to getting a feel for Mount Airy. Before the concert, Miller said he was intrigued by world traveling Siamese twins Eng and Chang Bunker and now understood part of why they settled in the area.

Miller is a renowned American folksinger, storyteller and autoharp musician. He vocation requires him to be folklorist, historian, musicologist, and song-collector and he said he has a repertoire of more than 5,000 songs. Miller, a baritone, also entertained the audience with finger-picking acoustic guitar. He is understandably philosophical about motives for folk songs.

“Something has to have gone wrong in an unexpected way,” Miller said. “When things are going good you don’t have time to write songs. If you don’t believe me tune in to a country and western radio station and listen for a half an hour.”

He also has found oral tradition in folk music gives average people more of an opportunity for creativity in a way that professional musician shows do not. He said American Idol format shows don’t do a lot to encourage children to sing.

“It’s a fact half of the congregations in churches 100 years ago across America were singing off key but no body minded,” Miller said. “Music these days is not really what could be called standards or not really a sing-a-long. That’s why I encourage my audiences to sing with me. I love playing libraries because the people are here to listen to the music. The songs themselves are sterile. Time, place and content are what makes them. If I don’t tell you that I’ve left out something important.”

Miller said half of his job is relating the context and making its history interesting as a story well told because he feels no one wants to hear a lecture.

Miller told the crowd once a song is written down it ceases its evolution through oral traditions. He opened his concert by outlining the history of a marriage ballad known to William Shakespeare and popular in 1609 and how that song traveled across the ocean 400 years ago and finally made it to Texas where it is now known as “Buffalo Boy.”

Before launching into an old American version of Froggy Went A Courting, he told the group there were 200 different ways to sing the song in oral tradition.

“Those Beatles tunes you sang to your children at bedtime are folk songs now,” said Miller. “Without sharing in oral tradition, songs didn’t make it to the next generation.”

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.