I recently got the privilege of interviewing a member of the Princeton Folk Music Society (PFMS), Justin Kodner. A former computer technician, he now serves the Society as their Newsletter Editor and as a member of their Programming Committee. When he was a child, his father, a violinist himself, encouraged him to play the violin. Mr. Kodner explained that he struggled to read music, and that this diminished his love of playing slightly. As he grew up, he began to play the dulcimer and then picked up his father’s own violin. Instead of playing pieces from a written score, he would play folk songs by ear. This opened up the door to greater appreciation of folk music, because he now enjoyed playing more than ever before.
The interview mostly consisted of stories. Stories about folk music, and stories about experiences with other folk musicians and their stories. I believe that this is a subconscious effect of living in the folk music world. I asked Mr. Kodner to define what folk music is. He described it as many things. Particularly, folk music can act as a history lesson, a look back to what life was like for the culture of the folk song, and folk music is also an interesting way to look back on the migration of cultures and how their folk songs have changed and why they had changed. Mr. Kodner explained that folk music was about “real life.” Real experiences and real people. Because of this it “actually means something.” This, I think, is the true appeal and importance of folk music. It can connect people over time and space, because it is about people.
The Princeton Folk Music Society was established in 1965, and is one of the oldest folk societies in the country. Justin Kodner joined in the late 70s. Members of the Society participate in monthly sing-ins, in which they go to a member’s house and sing, play, and share folk songs and traditions with each other. The Society also hosts monthly concerts of well-known folk singers for the public. Artists such as Mike Seeger, Priscilla Herdman, and Celtic Thunder have made appearances (sometimes more than once) to sing for the people of Princeton. Mr. Kodner spoke of the people of the Society like they are his family. They have become his good friends, and he says that he has gotten much more out of his experiences with the PFMS than he would have ever thought.
One interesting thing we discussed during the interview was the apparent lack of student attendance at both the folk concerts and in membership in general. He found this especially interesting because if one went to the many folk music festivals around Princeton, one would see in attendance many young people with their parents or friends. I think that perhaps, there is a disconnect in the delivery of information to young people today about folk music events. I am sure that if more people knew about the Folk Music Society, they would see an increase in student membership, or at least in student attendance at the concerts. Many colleagues I have spoken to have never heard of the Folk Music Society. I think that this needs to change, as folk music can teach us so much about history, other cultures, and about ourselves as people. It is an under-appreciated art form by those who do not actively pursue it, and I think that a revival among the youth of our world is due.
Below I have provided the website for the Princeton Folk Music Society. Please check it out! Their monthly concerts are wonderful!