Even if you don't think you know a folk tune, you probably actually do. Can you sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"?
Yes? Well ... those are folk tunes!
Folk music is all over the place; it is music that comes from your culture, usually in the form of simple melodies that can be passed down aurally through the generations. Topics can range from day-to-day activities (like work) to emotional subjects (like love). Specific songs can be passed down for special events, such as weddings and funerals. Folk songs tell the story of the people in that land.
Many classical composers dating back hundreds of years (ex. Bach and Mozart) have been inspired by tunes that they heard around them and have incorporated them into their own pieces. In the beginning of the 1900s, when primitive recording technology became available, certain composers began to collect and study the origins of folk melodies in their countries. Hungarian composers Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók pioneered ethnomusicology, (the study of music of different cultures) traveling around Eastern Europe with phonograph cylinders and recording the village people singing these melodies. Amazingly, some of these early recordings still survive today, though the quality is of course quite poor by today's standards.
Like composers before them, Kodály and Bartók incorporated these folk melodies into their own compositions as another way of preserving them. The OK Factor (so called because their names are Olivia and Karla) are also classically trained musicians, who like Kodály and Bartók developed an interest in folk music. They use the same composition technique for some of their own compositions, taking folk melodies from America and Europe and expanding on them using three guidelines. There are three ways a folk melody can make an appearance in someone else's composition: 1) Solo melody, 2) Melody with accompaniment or harmony 3) Melody broken up into bits and pieces. O's and K's interactive presentation style teaches the student audiences to identify these three different uses of folk melody. If they hear method one, they raise one (quiet) hand. Method two: raise both hands. Method three: raise both hands and wiggle the fingers. This activity encourages the students to listen actively and gives them something to store away in their brain for future folk music listening experiences.
The OK Factor also writes their own original pieces in addition to composing by expanding on existing folk tunes. They clearly have influences in Americana and Irish/Gaelic fiddle styles, but with the virtuosity of classical performers. They've got great ears for a creating a tune and accompaniment and the training to execute it. They have a great rapport as an ensemble both for playing and teaching — likely due to the fact that they're best friends. They are great advocates for the potential of folk-inspired music.
Class Notes Artists are made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.