Function is a much harder concept to define than Art, for me. I am not very happy with the term, but I will do my best do clearify what I put into it. Carl Dahlhaus (1970) calls it Genre-music, which in a way perhaps is a better term, but I will stick with Function, since that is the term I have got used to.
Functional music is music that has an ‘outer’ purpose. It may be dancing, it may be a ceremony (like a wedding or a funeral), it may be as a means for friends to hang out together. All this also implies that functional music is music where everyone is somehow participating, there is no real division between performer/creator and audience, everyone is necessary and the one would not exist without the other. Hence functional music depends on (the approval of) the collevtive and doesn’t really give space for the individuality.
Functional music is also music that follows clear and straight lines that are defined by this purpose: If I’m playing for dancing it is the danceability of the music which defines its value; If I’m playing togethere with a group of people it is the musics ability to fit into the taste, style and technical ability of the group that defines its value. This creates a very comfortable space to move within. As long as you’re keeping inside these frames there is a great deal of freedom and it is easy to know what is good and what is not. Quality in this context is about reproducing tradition and convention, fulfilling the requirements of the genre.
Together with Art, Function art can be said to make up a Dichotomy. Or rather: a duality.
My local community of folk musicians consists largely of amateurs, a lot of them with a great knowledge about folk music but not very skilled instrumentalists. In that environment there is a great appreciation for good tunes and you get acknowledged if you spread new tunes (preferably from the right origin, and not too difficult ones) play good harmonies and good for dancing. Playing ‘artistic’ or soloistic, or choosing a repertoire that reaches beyond the average level of difficulty does not get you an acknowledgement. To be part of the group musically, you have to align yourself with the common idea of how the tunes should be played, and, especially in my core group of folk music friends, there is a strong leader whom to follow. It is folk music as a group experience.
And in that millieu folk music is very much a functional music. It has a (social) purpose and that is why you play it. It is played in a social context, together with friends as a way of socializing, and it is played for dancing. That is really the only reasons to play folk music.
If it is played on stage it should still be concidered dance music and if it is arranged in a way that wouldn’t work for dancing that clearly puts its value as folk music at stake. There is definitely a risk of getting the music labeled as not folk music. The same goes for contemporary composed tunes: they might be brought into the repertoire, but only if they fit into the patterns of what is concidered traditional, if it goes along with the groups idea about what folk music is (and fits within the technical limitations of the group). In the end however, it is not about the danceability of the music, but rather a matter of belonging. The music should be accessible for everyone and everyone should be able to participate.
For me this environment and these people meant a lot. It gave me a context and a sense of belonging, it provided clear values and easy-to-follow ‘rules’ for playing. I got appreciation for my skills and I could easily contribute to the community by bringin in new tunes, or just by being a ‘strong’ musician, for the others to lean on. So I made the values of the group my own, and that influenced and affected a lot of my practicing and development. Of course I had some ideas of my own, and sometimes wanted to take music in somewhat different directions, but I found it hard to allow myself to do that, and even harder would it have been to present those ideas to the group. From time to time I often found myself thinking “what would NN think about this?” or even “I would like to do this, but they would never approve of it”. To be honest though, I think I also had a tendency to project my own fears and inner judges on that group of people, and thus place them outside myself.
If community for me represents music as function, then education represents music as art.
The NoFo Master’s programme is in many ways different from other master’s programmes. It is very much based on the group rather than the individual. This has influenced not only curriculum and the course of studies, but also my way of thinking of it. I have had a tendency not to think about myself, my needs and whants, but rather, what does the group need or whant, and even more, what is possible within this group.
This impact can also be seen in my writing. After having written for a while I realised I had a tendency to write we and us instead of me and I, even if my outspoken aim with this text is to try to capture my development and my ideas. And even more, I actually found it difficult to write me sometimes, especially when it came to describing input from teachers and teaching. Probably this has to do that I often didn’t really feel that the teaching was directed towards me as an individual, but rather towards me as part of a group and even more to the group as a whole.