Traditional music from the Netherlands Part VI:
Before I started this series, I had already drawn up a short list of people I would like to interview. At the top of my list was Harrie Franken, whom I consider to be of major importance to traditional music in the southern part of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Harrie died last year, which is a great loss to Dutch folk music. Last February the Dutch magazine Newfolksounds published a story by Hans van Deelen about Harrie Franken's work. For this article he talked to Peter Koene (please, read the interview with Peter in one of the earlier issues) and Hans Hoosemans (of We-nun Henk, a young and very talented Dutch folk group) about the influence of Harrie's work. Both Hans and Newfolksounds have kindly permitted me to publish a translated summary of the article, which gives you the opportunity to get to know Harrie Franken as well. In my opinion, a series about Dutch traditional music wouldn't be complete without mentioning him. This article is just a short introduction and doesn't do justice to the tremendous amount of work Harrie has done. Therefore, I would advise you to visit the website mentioned at the end of the article as it will give you a much better idea of the great impact his work has had.
On February 19th 2003 Harrie Franken died. He was an old schoolteacher with a great interest in traditional songs and tunes. He started playing the violin at a very young age; later he turned out to be a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist as well. In 1968 Franken started collecting folk songs from his own region: the Kempen in South-East Brabant, which is situated in the southern part of the Netherlands, close to the Belgian border. He visited elderly people and recorded their songs. After having collected over 2000 different songs he felt it was time to publish them. In 1973 he founded his own group, so he would be able to perform the songs he had collected himself. The band was called Ut muziek; it consisted of members of his family and he was their leader until his death in 2003. Besides leading Ut muziek, he was also involved with the "Kempische" folk dance group and he had a weekly column about folk songs on the local radio station. For this article I spoke with two musicians who have been inspired by Franken's work: Peter Koene and Hans Hoosemans.
Peter: 'I met Harrie for the first time around 1980 after he had published his book with folk songs. I visited him to discuss his material and talk about all his activities. According to me, his work can be compared to what Herman Dewitt did in Belgium and I wondered why he had not tried to get attention nationwide. However, Harrie wanted to keep it all on a small scale and preferred to work in his own familiar region with the people he knew well. His work was real donkey work; he searched for songs, copied them and categorised them (developing a unique computer programme in the process)'
Hans: 'Harrie's work is extremely valuable. His songbook Liederen en dansen uit de Kempen (Songs and dances from the Kempen) is the only one that contains folk songs from Brabant. In my opinion, this book measures up to the Flemish standard works by Coussemaeker and Bols. In search of material for the We-nun Henk cd Bar we went through his book and we actually used three of the songs on the cd.'
Franken busied himself with every aspect of folk songs for a long time. For some years the local authorities even enabled him financially to spend more time on his time-consuming research. Thus, in a period of 35 years he amassed a tremendous knowledge of folk songs and, in the end, had collected more than 10.000 songs. He published these songs in the aforementioned book and in the series Kroniek van de Kempen, a collection of articles that had earlier been published in a local weekly magazine. This Kroniek van de Kempen is a series consisting of 20 books, containing not only songs but also historical facts and local stories. Harrie's work was a source of inspiration to many folk groups, who derived their repertoire from his books. In addition to We-nun Henk, the well-known Dutch group Dommelvolk also used these books regularly when they were looking for "new" material.
Peter: 'The special thing about Harrie was that he recorded literally everything people sang. This is so different from the way the Dutch archives for folk songs operate, there people only seem to be interested in songs with a long oral history. Harrie was interested in everything: songs from the street, political songs, protest songs etc. So when Jaap Oudesluijs and I had plans for a songbook on the history of 'ordinary' people we visited Harrie and he told us enthusiastically about several of his finds. Although nothing ever came of the book, we did use the material we collected for the Proloog lp De klucht van Pierlala. Apart from all this, Harry was a person who was deeply involved in social issues. When, at the beginning of the eighties, the Belgian government was planning to build a nuclear power plant very close to the Dutch border, he organised many demonstrations accompanied by lots of music.'
The foundation that is concerned with putting Harrie Franken's songs into the archives is called the "Foundation for folksongs from Brabant". This foundation is run by his wife and son, assisted by a group of people who have a soft spot for Harrie Franken's work.
Please visit www.volksliedarchief.nl for more information or to order the cd's.
Informations to the photos:
(1) Harrie Franken with Ut muziek. Picture taken from their lp-sleeve Verhhalende liederen from 1983 Made by P.v/d Kruis
(2) Harrie Franken with Ut muziek. Picture taken from their lp-sleeve Feestliederen from 1984 Made by P. v/d Kruis
(3) Harrie Frankens book: 'Liederen en dansen uit de kempen' as published in 1978, first pressing.
Do you have any questions about the article? Do you want more information? Are you interested in one of the albums mentioned above? Feel free to contact me any time; also with suggestions for future articles etc or comments on this article. Eelco Schilder
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