The Music of the People?

Ref: C2526484

Was Louis Armstrong right when he said "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing?" When did we start talking about "the folk? Why did we try to define which music is particularly theirs? This single illustrated lecture provides an overview of the ways in which, over the past couple of centuries, folklorists collected vernacular music and song, adapted it to their own purposes, and categorised it as 'folk music'. Using a range of musical examples, we will explore influences such as Romanticism, nationalism, and social/political movements. Concentrating on British music, we will touch on the activities of a range of collectors, including Walter Scott, Cecil Sharp, Bert Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, as well as looking at the role of publishers, broadcasters, venues and record companies. And what happened to "the folk" in this process? Did they continue to sing their songs? Was their approach changed by the work of the collectors? Or did their music move elsewhere?

Course aim

This illustrated lecture provides a brief introduction to the ways in which vernacular music and songs came to be categorised as "folk music". It will explore the social and political influences on folklorists, and their effect on 'the people'.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • No skills or experience needed

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify at least three key social and cultural influences on the collection and mediation of folk music.
  • Name at least three leading folklorists.
  • Identify at least two key technological shifts which changed our definition of "the music of the people".

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • The session will be fundamentally an illustrated lecture with Q&A, but additional examples will be available via Canvas.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • This is a one-off lecture

What else do I need to know?

  • What you need: You will need an internet connection, speakers, a microphone and a webcam so that you can use our video learning platform, Zoom. If you’d like to understand more Zoom please visit:

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member

Download full course information sheet

The Music of the People?

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This course is only available as part of this programme.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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