Music was an important part of the early modern play-going experience, and Folger Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale honors that tradition with live music performed throughout the production. Composer Liz Filios, who is working with the cast to craft the melodies that will transport us to Sicilia and Bohemia, stopped by The Folger Spotlight to share how folk music has shaped this production (and to share some of the songs that have inspired her).
When [director] Aaron Posner and I first discussed The Winter’s Tale last spring, we talked about the importance of the play’s title. Shakespeare wrote many tragedies, comedies, and histories, but this play is different; this is a tale—and a tale is meant to be told, out loud. This got us thinking about the oral tradition, and of course, folk music felt like a logical place to start.
Before I began working on this project, I think I took for granted how vast the genre of folk music really was. As I delved more deeply into the folk I knew (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Simon & Garfunkel) I began to uncover an entire universe of folk music that lay beyond.
Aaron and I poured through hours and hours of folk music. We eventually let go of many of the artists I considered to be seminal folk musicians of the 20th century (you won’t find Jim Croce on this playlist, but his music has a permanent place in my heart). Through a painstaking process, we narrowed our playlist down, and wound up with many of the musicians who are giving folk a huge resurgence today: The Fleet Foxes, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sarah Jarosz, Pearl & The Beard, and First Aid Kit. Even great classical musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile understand the value of folk music (check out the entire Goat Rodeo Sessions album—it’s one of my favorites)!
Through this process I have come to appreciate that ‘Folk’ can mean so many different things to different people. In America alone, folk music could refer to gospel, jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, Appalachian, sacred harp, or First Nations music—not to mention the endless catalogs of folk music that immigrants brought with them to this country. While not all of these styles of music are represented here, I hope listeners will enjoy tracing the musical lineage of this new generation. (It’s especially evident in tracks like ‘When The Ship Comes In,’ a collaboration between the indy folk band The Decemberists and long time musical legends, The Chieftains).
One aspect of folk music seems to remain the same: it is music by and for the people, and the accessibility of this music is evident in the openness of its structure. Folk songs are often passed down and reinterpreted, so that each musician has the opportunity to leave an imprint in the music. As a player, I find this leaves me room for improvisation, spontaneity, humor, and joy, and also demands that I listen in every moment with my whole self. The freedom of the music fosters both innovation and a reverence for tradition and technique, and I suppose in that respect, Shakespeare and folk music have something very much in common.
I greatly enjoyed pouring through the many types of music we call ‘folk’ while assembling this playlist—which truly only scratches the surface of the genre—I hope that listeners will enjoy it, and perhaps recognize
when they come to the Folger Theatre, how the music in the production pays homage to the wonderful cultural landscape of folk music, both old and new.
Listen to Liz’s playlist on Spotify here.
Thanks to Liz for her great post (and musical taste)! Stay tuned for more peeks at Folger Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale, which begins performances on Tuesday, March 13. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.