Folklore definitions vary from country to country, epoch to epoch, scholar to scholar. The American Standard Dictionary of Folklore and Mythology alone offer twenty-one of them. All of them concur that folklore is developed and transmitted by 'the people', but neither dictionaries or professors agree on a meaning of the term that would be the same everywhere, leading Arnold Van Gennep to remark: 'What's the good of worrying about where folklore begins and end when we don't even know what categorises it?' Out of his vast experience, the best the great Belgian folklorist could suggest is that the difficulty is lessened by the kind of intuition scientists acquire though practice, so that just as a numismatist can tell true coins from false from their rough and soapy feel, the folklore specialist may 'instinctively' tell the authentic folk creation from, say the vaudeville song sung in the same company. Fortunately, intuition is not all that is left to us. Still, if musical folklore is a science, experience shows that it is subject to sudden caprices and its delineation is very hard to fix. In 1954, after long discussion, the International Folk Music Council adopted this definition:
Folk music is a product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. the factors that shape the transmission are: (i) continuity, which links the present with the past; (ii) variation, which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.
The term can be applied to music that has evolved from rudimentary beginnings by a community uninfluenced by contemporary or art music and it can likewise be applied to music which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of the community.
The term does not cover composed popular music that has been taken over ready-made by a community and remains unchanged, for it is the re-fashioning and the re-creation of the music by the community that gives it its folk character.
Folk Song in England
Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1967