FolkWorld article by Eelco Schilder :

Traditional music from the Netherlands Part I:


Guy Roelofs, photo by The MollisGuy Roelofs is one of the few musicians that recorded a Dutch "modern" folk album during the past ten years. His project Cadans der getouwen was a small success and the project was recently brought to a close. At the moment he is playing with his group Grond and is focused on introducing traditional tunes and songs into our present time. In the first part of the series Traditional music from the Netherlands, Guy tells about the project Cadans der getouwen and gives his opinion on how to play traditional music.

CADANS DER GETOUWEN (Cadence of the looms)

Guy comes from the small village of Gemert that is located in the south of Holland. Both his grandparents and his parents owned a textile mill. In addition to farming the textile industry was the most important industry in Gemert.Guy: "At our home everything revolved around textile. It was part of our lives, just as animals are part of the life of a farmer's son.
When I found a book on old spinning and weaving songs a few years ago, I hit upon the idea to start a project about this kind of worker's songs. I started looking for musicians who were willing to take part in the project and also for suitable song material. There are a lot of songs with this specific theme. Although the textile industry is often associated with just a few parts of Holland, textile has been produced all over the country and is from all times. One should not forget that without textile we would all go naked but also that it is not used for clothing purposes only. Fishermen, for instance, use textile for their sails; so fishing villages also had a textile industry, but of a different nature. A famous example of a song that deals with both fishing and spinning is Dag lang gewenste dag (Hello day I have long wished for). This song is about a young spinner who is waiting for her fisherman to return from the sea and, as she is angry because he is not at home, she kicks at and burns her spinning-wheel.

Cadans der Getouwen, photo by The MollisBesides the subject of the above-mentioned song, you can divide these songs into a few categories. The oldest songs often tell about the poor working conditions. The textile workers created songs while working. They used the drone of the spinning and weaving machines as the basic element of their songs. These songs are often anonymous and have a very simple style and text. They mainly deal with the events of the day: the meagre wages, the flees, the dirt and the small children working on the big machines. However, some songs also romanticise the profession; although it was hard and dangerous work and the pay was lousy, there was also a beautiful side to it. These songs were uplifting, almost celebrating the work and helping the workers to bear their tough lives.
Much changed during the 19th century with the arrival of industrialisation and socialism. The songs then more or less developed into protest songs and had a socialist ring to it; each song painting a picture of what the life of a textile worker was like in those days.

Although my personal history is linked with textile, this project was not a sentimental journey for me. I started it because I felt it was the best step I could take in my musical development, not because I wanted to go back to my roots or anything like that."

Guy Roelofs, photo by The MollisGuy and his fellow musicians have chosen to use modern, not traditional, arrangements for their songs; arrangements that are in tune with current developments. Not all the songs that he traced were melodically strong/sound and he composed new melodies for a few of them. How far can a musician go when he works with traditional material?
Guy: "For me working with traditional material from, for instance, Ireland is different from working with Dutch songs. As I am not Irish, I think that I would be inclined to play Irish tunes in a more traditional way and conform myself to the unwritten rules of traditional Irish music. However, when playing traditional Dutch tunes, I feel free to do with them as I see fit because they originate from my own culture and I am part of that culture. As a folk musician I have the task to give this type of music a place in the present and I have to do that according to my own ideas. Many bands do not play songs that have been played by others but I do want to play these songs in order to make clear how I interpret them; to share my views on a tune. So with traditional music the source is the same but the musician's interpretation may vary."

Already before the "Cadans der getouwen" project Guy started in 1995, the group "Grond". Although Grond has nothing to do with "Cadans der getouwen", they also focus on Dutch traditional music.
Guy: "I don't think the music we focus on should be called Dutch folk music; I prefer to use the term "traditional music from the Netherlands". The reason is that some of our songs are also known in Flanders and it is almost impossible to determine whether a song originated in Holland or in Belgium. (The southern part of the Netherlands used to form one state with Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, and the borders have frequently been changed over the years.) Of course, when I use a song from the Volendam songbook it is obviously Dutch, but with many songs you simply cannot tell.
Apart from creating the music, I also enjoy tracing the tunes. In the Netherlands there are a few circumstances that make the playing of traditional music more difficult. Unlike many other countries, we do not have the tradition of playing music to one another. In Ireland children learn traditional songs by heart; their parents or grandparents teach them. In Holland this is not customary at all and, as a result, we have to learn the songs and tunes from books. Obviously, that involves a lot of work and not many musicians are willing to go through all the trouble. As opposed to the English language, Dutch is spoken by relatively few people and singing in Dutch is not very popular in Holland nowadays. So, a number of difficulties have to be overcome before Dutch people decide to play traditional music. However, this does not mean that there is no Dutch material; there is a huge collection of tunes and songs from all kinds of traditions and from all kinds of places. You only have to look for it a bit harder than in most other countries."

More info about the Cadans der getouwen project and grond you can find at:
The Cadans der getouwen cd is released on wildboar label: wbm21016


Guy Roelofs, photo by The MollisGUY'S CHOICE

Each time I interview an artist I ask him/her which groups or records he/she would range among the best ones in Holland. Guy also gives his personal opinion. Guy: "The three groups I would like to choose all work with traditional material, but give their own unique sound to the songs and tunes. When their albums were recorded, most of them are from the late seventies, they were innovating and each having a fresh sound."

Guy's choice includes (record information is from the author):

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.

Photo Credit: All photos taken by The Mollis at Tilburg International Folk Festival 2001: Cadans der Getouwen and Guy Roelofs.

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