Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

One element of ITM that keeps coming up time and time again that irks me. For a piece where we know the composer like Junior Crehan for “Caisleán An Óirg” or Donald Shaw for “Calum’s Road” and “McCleod’s Farewell”, CD liner notes will list the piece as Trad. Obviously the piece is not Traditional. But this may open a crazy can of worms for what is Trad. My definition of Trad is the piece has no composer of record. Copyrights and licensing issues aside. “The Snowy Path” by ALTAN also has been listed recently as trad. I think it is proper and respectful to list the composer if there is one.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

“Obviously the piece is not Traditional. But this may open a crazy can of worms for what is Trad.”

A tune may be *described* as ‘traditional’ because it fits into the genre known as ‘Traditional Music’, or cbecause it was composed within a tradition, irrespective of whether or not the composer is known. But that is no excuse for failing to credit a composer. Crediting a tune as ‘traditional’ is a different thing from describing it thus.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

‘Crediting a tune as ‘traditional’ is a different thing from describing it thus’. I agree with CMO’s point, but maybe it’s not a matter of wilful or careless misrepresentation.

If you put out a recording in the UK (no doubt similar elsewhere) the thing to do is to check with the PRS copyrighting authority, who keep a log of who has composer’s rights to a piece of music and who collect and distribute royalties accordingly. It is highly likely that a performer might not know who wrote a tune - especially those circulating around the folk community. If, on being consulted, the PRS doesn’t have it listed, then the performer may well believe that it’s anonymous and in the public domain, and so mark it as ‘Trad’ on the CD notes.

We’ve all thought of tunes learned in sessions as ‘traditional’, only to find out later (sometimes through this site) that they have a known and named composer - who might be in line for some pennies, or at least recognition, if they register their work with the relevant body.

Posted by .

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

“ My definition of Trad is the piece has no composer of record.”
I don’t think that’s enough. There are quite a few anonymous classical pieces; particularly from the early music period. e.g. Alle Psallite Cum Luya
https://youtu.be/Md_Nog2-ufM


I’m with CMO on this. A tune can be classified as traditional if it fits with the style, flavour or spirit of a given tradition regardless of whether or not we know of the composer.

Copyright is a different issue.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

For sure it’s proper to credit the composer if they are known, the problem is that the Irish session tunes are often/usually transmitted aurally and the titles transmitted orally, often quickly and in a noisy situation, and have to be remembered, jotted down, or spoken into a recording device.

So often tunes are learned without titles, or with garbled or misremembered or switched titles. The additional information of composer is likely to be not included, it often being the third consideration behind tune and title.

Of course sometimes a person’s name is offered instead of a title, often unclear whether the name is the source or the composer, which is why so many tunes are credited to people other than the actual composer.

To me saying something, a tune or a type of clothing or a story or anything created by humans, is “traditional” is specifically declaring that the thing goes back to an unknown origin. Furthermore it implies that the thing has been in use from that unknown time of origin to the present day; to me, tunes discovered in historical manuscripts, which haven’t been in the traditional repertoire for centuries (if indeed they ever were) aren’t “traditional” tunes per se, but “historical” ones. I suppose the exception would be if the historical manuscript states that a tune was “traditional” at the time it was recorded, and we believe it.

On another topic, for an American like me it’s bizarre how in the UK someone can own the rights to a traditional song. In the USA any song published before 1928 is in the Public Domain.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

In the context of copyright, I think the term you’re looking for is “public domain”.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

“To me saying something, a tune or a type of clothing or a story or anything created by humans, is ”traditional“ is specifically declaring that the thing goes back to an unknown origin. ”
I don’t think that’ll do either. Nobody knows who invented the wheel, but you wouldn’t call it traditional. The table fork seems to have first appeared in 4th C Byzantine empire, and again, you wouldn’t call it traditional. But we do know who invented that quintessential traditional instrument - the concertina: Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Hmmm. This started as a comment about the use of ‘trad’ as a designation of a tune in a published collection/album. Quite a specific topic. Is there a danger that it could morph into that old chestnut: ’What constitutes “traditional?”. That could easily lead down some well-trodden paths - the sort that peter out in the middle of some unmapped marshy terrain.

Posted by .

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

While the OP did “ comment about the use of ‘trad’ as a designation of a tune in a published collection/album”, he did say other things.

“ where we know the composer like Junior Crehan for ”Caisleán An Óirg“ or Donald Shaw for ”Calum’s Road“ and ”McCleod’s Farewell“, CD liner notes will list the piece as Trad. Obviously the piece is not Traditional.”

This is a statement about whether tune is or is not traditional; and it implies that where the composer of a tune can be identified then the tune in question is not traditional. Further, he states this implicily: “My definition of Trad is the piece has no composer of record.”

That excludes from the tradition all the tunes by Neil Gow, James Scott Skinner, Paddy Killoran, Vincent Campbell, etc. etc. That doesn’t strike me as being a useful definition.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Thanks for all the feedback. I see lots of tunes and words attributed to O’Carolan, Thomas Moore and Robert Burns. Those are what I would call composers of record. All those are in the public domain but not Trad, but within the Tradition. However I would welcome Junior, Donald and Mark Kelley get the recognition they deserve by all the artists recording and distributing their creations. Thanks for letting me stir the pot.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

We are confusing the concepts of “traditional” and “anonymous”. The former doesn’t always mean the same thing to all people, where the latter specifically means we don’t know who the author is. When a recording is released and the composer is listed as “traditional” it is understood that the work is anonymous. So the original point that composers should be credited, and works not listed as “traditional”, where the composer is known is valid. It’s irrelevant whether said work could be construed as fitting into the genre of “traditional” music because the word isn’t being used in the same way.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Some people, me included, when they first get into traditional music are attracted by the idea that the music is as old as the hills, and that it represents an ethos untouched by modernity. It’s a little disheartening to find out this isn’t necessarily, or even often, the case. Many of the tunes we play or the songs we sing are a hundred years old or less. Then of course we have to remind ourselves that something can be traditional and yet people can still take an active part in its continuing creation. But before that many of us simply assume a tune “goes way back” without realizing otherwise.

Tl;dr it’s an honest mistake based on an over-romanticized view of the music.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

In most cases, something listed as “Trad” on an album is in regards to the copyright, not whether the composer is known. With both of my albums, the hardest part is getting the mechanical licenses to release the piece commercially. And “Trad” means something to the licensing authorities. So with my albums, I always give composition credit when I know the composer (https://www.irishtune.info/ and https://irishtunecomposers.weebly.com/ are *super* helpful in that department).

But if a licensing search tells me that something is traditional, then I list it as “Trad” on the album (even while listing the composer). Strangely, the licensing authorities seem to think that (any or all) the Paddy Fahey tunes are traditional, so they’re not always accurate. But I have noticed that they just do searches from other licensing authorities, so if someone once listed a Paddy Fahey tune as Trad, and a licensing authority believed them, it has potentially set a precedent for EVERY Fahey tune, since they’re all named the same…

With regards to Arthur’s over-romanticized view of the music, I think a lot of people come into this music with that in mind. But the thing that gives me the same kind of feeling is knowing that the tradition of this music (and dance) is what “goes way back”, and now we’re all part of that tradition, helping propel it forward for the next generation of players to love the way that we do! Yes, the tradition changes over time. Heck, it wasn’t all that long ago that pub sessions became a thing, and it’s now widely considered to be the heart of the tradition. If all we played were tunes written 300 years ago, this wouldn’t be a thriving, vibrant musical tradition that plays ancient tunes mixed with old tunes mixed with new compositions, and it wouldn’t be nearly as integral a part of my life!

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

As for people listing tunes as “trad” when they’re not, it can be accident or it could be intentional, and there are some people who do it so often you have to wonder. The financial benefits of “Trad, arr.” are not non-existent.

Posted by .

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Well said, Reverend. That is what I came to understand after a while.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

A tune or song may be written “in the tradition”, and after due passage of time become absorbed “into the tradition”.
But this does not absolve those who are playing such songs/tunes in live professional gigs or recording them for commercial gain from seeking due permissions or notifying to PRS (UK) so that the writers get their dues.
“Copyright is a different issue”. No, it isn’t: you need to think about it all the time.
And there is a grey area (at least in the UK), where traditional tunes may be used in certain arrangements, and these arrangements may be copyrighted, but other people think it’s Ok to use them without any due attribution as the original tunes are of anonymous origin.
Having said all that, I’m sure most composers would be happy that their tunes are being played in sessions and amateur/non-profit environments, so long as their authorship is correctly attributed, or e.g. “You’ll find that tune/song on xyz CD.”.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

There are two aspects to this. One is the simple courtesy of attribution, for the composer if known or at least for the source of a tune. The other is the more tricky minefield of legal copyright.

It often isn’t easy to find the composer of a tune. Can you say with confidence that you know the correct origin of every tune in your repertoire? Once tunes get into a tradition they circulate widely, and any information about their origin or even their correct name can easily get lost. This is why so many tunes have multiple names.

Before the internet it was even more difficult to find information, now it is easier but the internet is highly unreliable. Song lyrics in particular are often garbled by non-native speakers and may be attributed to a recording artist rather than the composer. Tunes are often assumed to be anonymous, when actually the composer is known. Errors and misattributions then get repeated widely.

I have only recently discovered that a tune I’ve been playing for more than 30 years isn’t traditional, as I’d believed, but by a known composer (who I’ve actually met). In fact, I could have easily discovered this from a well-known band’s tune book, but I had no reason to associate it with that band as it had come to me via a completely different route so had never looked there.

When recording, attributing something as “Trad, arr…” may reduce the copyright licence fee you have to pay as there won’t be a composer’s share. However the licensing organisation eg MCPS won’t take your word for it, they will check their database and if they can identify the tune as one they administer they’ll charge a fee for it. Of course, you may get away with it. If the composer is known but hasn’t registered with them, they won’t charge you but you are expected to agree a fee directly with the composer. The royalties for composer and arranger are always separate, so by not naming the composer the arranger won’t then receive the composer’s share on top of their own. The same applies to performing royalties for live work, but only larger gigs are likely to make returns so in practice it doesn’t apply to sessions.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

“I see lots of tunes and words attributed…Robert Burns.”

Words yes, he was a poet, but tunes?

I think his songs are sung to pre-existing tunes.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

I was really pleased when I recently printed a tune off and found the composer’s name on the right hand side.
So often I print a tune off and learn it - but by that time have forgotten who wrote it! Now I try and add the composer after printing but it would be really helpful if more of the non-trad tunes identified the composer.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

> Words yes, he was a poet, but tunes?

There are a few tunes adjudged to be his, though I am hazy on the details and the evidence therefor. However, he was a fiddler and if he sang the tunes he put to his words, he was no slouch as a vocalist either.

Posted by .

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Yes Calum, I hear Rabbie Burns played music and he was no slouch. However I am a big slouch me-self. Tanks a million for letting this can of words open. I am quite sure there could be a conference or many dissertations on the subject. What is Trad and who stole the Trad?

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

A complementary problem to “Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer” is “Listed as There Being a Composer When It Is Traditional.”

I’ve sometimes had one of my compositions adapted from a traditional melody in the public domain, which I labeled as Music traditional, adapted by me, flagged by web sites as a copyright violation because someone had posted the same melody under the same title but labeled themselves as composer and copyright holder. So far, emailing back to the site owner an explanation and documentation of the piece’s public domain status has settled the issue.

I’ve also had an ensemble tell me they wouldn’t consider my compositions adapting traditional material unless I could testify that the music it was based on is in the public domain in all countries. How am I supposed to know what the copyright laws are in every one of the nearly 200 countries in the world? (“Sorry, mate, but in Upper Slobbovia nothing is in the public domain …”)

And I won’t even go into the problem of how to get permission to use music printed or recorded for instance in France forty five years ago under a copyright attributed to a person or business the existence of whom you can find no current trace of anywhere.

These are only a few examples of how dealing with copyright issues in general is a nightmare of being chased by trolls through a swamp.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

All tunes had to be composed by someone. Putting aside the endless discussions about copyright, surely the definition of ‘traditional’ is simply something that is picked up, usually by ear, from other people. A huge proportion of the tunes we play these days have known composers but they can become traditional as well. Having said that, I think composers should be credited where appropriate, on recordings etc.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Interesting discussion. Thanks, Reverend, for https://www.irishtune.info/ but the second site seems to be defunct. I also like Trish Santer’s comment: “A tune or song may be written ‘in the tradition’, and after due passage of time become absorbed ‘into the tradition’”. Authorship is not always clear-cut either. Taking Junior Crehan’s “Mist Covered Mountain” as an example, we can see that he has adopted and adapted it from the Scottish song Mist Covered Moutains of Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axMIQACtB-Q . Going back to Trish’s point, “Traditional” seems to be a comparatively recent term. Earlier collections such as O’Neill’s and Breathnach’s refer to the “dance” music of Ireland.

Re: Listed as Traditional When There is a Composer

Interesting, lukegarry, I am actually still able to get to https://irishtunecomposers.weebly.com/ too, so maybe give it another try (although, it’s possible that it might be limited geographically where people are allowed to access it, but I don’t know why that would be…)