The relationship between the direction de la musique and traditional music and dance organizations : an unfulfilled legitimization process (1970s – 1990s)

by François Gasnault, researcher at IIAC-Lahic

In his presentation, François Gasnault – researcher at IIAC-Lahic – traces the history of traditional French dance and music. His narrative examines the close correlation between the preservation of these oral and performance traditions, with public funding from the Ministry of Culture over the course of two decades, the 1970s-1990s.

Infact, the antecedents of this history are found during the years 1945 – 1965, when folk groups grow in number, both within Paris and its provinces. These groups take on the task of establishing repertoires for traditional practices, as well as training a generation of teachers and professors capable of transmitting this cultural heritage in a school setting. The French region of Brittany becomes particularly involved in this endeavor. The preservation of these traditions appears to be of great significance on a regional level, as music and dance is often specific to a region and serve as its local identity. The efforts made to save these cultural practices pools expertise from scientific, social, and political backgrounds, as the arts in question can be studied from sociocultural and anthropological perspectives.

It is of further importance that these traditions be preserved as they ensure equal recognition of rural and urban cultures. Come the 1970s, neo-folklorists have the targeted objective of securing the longevity of their genre by establishing folk festivals and workshops. “Routinier” musicians propose another approach to preserving these traditions. They reclaim the heritage of artists who learned to play their instrument by ear, yet also choose to follow a rigorous ethnomusicology instruction as they develop a natural sense for their craft, including fluid improvisation and musical creation. A great number of these artists make a career of their work, even establishing an administrative network to codify the preservation process.

Though these two movements diverge in their methods to save traditional art forms, their goal remains the same: to rehabilitate agricultural and rural traditions in modern times. During the second half of the 1970s, neo-folklorists and “routinier” musicians serve as catalysts for the institutionalization of their craft. Come 1981, the French Ministry of Culture responds to these artists’ cause. The Ministry offers the support of two structures: the Service for studies and research, and the Fund for cultural intervention (FIC). FIC grants subsidies to folk musicians and dance troupes, while the Service evaluates the use and impact of FIC funds. These evaluations allow the small folk groups to gain visibility within larger cultural institutions.

Consequentially, the centralized government becomes sensitive to this regionalized cause and provides more ample support for territorial action and the revitalization of local ethnological research. The creation of the Centre national d’action musicale (CENAM) assists in this endeavor. In the 1980s, the preservation of traditional practices is a challenge tackled both by local authorities and the Ministry of Culture.

Maurice Fleuret, composer and director of music festivals, is a pivotal figure in Gasnault’s presentation. Indeed, Fleuret helps develop the Fédération des associations de musiques traditionnelles (FAMT), founded in 1985, which houses the federation of “routinier” musicians. Fleuret also brings on board Bernard Lortat-Jacob, an ethnomusicologist, who introduces the director to an anthropological understanding of music. Enthused, Fleuret promotes ethnomusicology lessons in professional schools and traditional music lessons in grade schools. Furthermore, Fleuret advocates for the inclusion of traditional music in exit exams and State diplomas granted by regional conservatories and music schools.

Furthermore, the director reaches out to Philippe Krümm of the Centre national d’action musicale (CENAM), who serves as a financial intermediary between Fleuret and the Ministry of Culture. As such, it appears that the 1980s are marked by an efficient delegation of tasks within the music world, allowing for a reinvigoration of this artistic scene.

Finally, in 1988, Fleuret successfully launches the bicentennial celebration of the French Revolution, supported by the Minister of Culture – Jack Lang – and Jean-Paul Goude, French graphic designer who conceptualized the grand parade on the Champs Elysées the evening of the 14th of July. Thanks to Fleuret’s insistence, French traditional music and musicians were featured during this parade, an artistic and political coup de force.

Gasnault then tempers his narrative by illustrating a few obstacles that slowed the continued progress in these preservation efforts. By the end of the 1980s, the French minister of culture Jack Lang loses interest in favoring traditional practices during national festivals. Gasnault attributes this waning interest to Lang’s fear that prioritizing this “less distinguished” art form would taint his political image, which needed to be immaculate in case of a presidential campaign. Hence, at the start of the 1990s, institutional support for traditional dance and music is in decline; the co-management between the Ministry and French regions no longer stands.

As such, traditional art forms continue to be characterized by an unfulfilled expression, due to a dearth of financial and political assistance. The failed attempt in 1993 to initiate a “world” folklore festival, prompted by minister of culture Jacques Toubon, is proof that the dynamism of the 1970s and 1980s has lost its momentum. In such austere conditions, the folk movement draws strength from within in order to survive. Gasnault attributes the preservation of the movement to five factors.

To begin, folk groups are small structures and do not articulate a megalomaniac mission. The second explanation is the increased involvement of local authorities in funding folk projects, to compensate for diminished State investment. The third factor is the revitalization of collective action and folk events, better organized and harmonized in their efforts. The fourth factor is the result of Fleuret’s work, namely receiving State approval for the recognition of folk arts educators. Though this did require State involvement, the change came from within the folk community, as Fleuret was a musician himself. This initiative permits the professionalization of folk musicians and dancers, who can now transcend the status of amateur practitioner. Finally, the resurgence of folk aficionados, now intrigued by experimental creations rather than the formidable roots of folk, ensures that new life is breathed into the movement.

Through this discussion, Gasnault presents the evolution of traditional music and dance in France from the 1970s to the 1990s, concluding that the unique characteristic of this movement is its ability to regenerate from within, independent of external factors.

[Read the full paper in french]

Citer ce billet
Madeleine Planeix-Crocker (2015, 6 avril). The relationship between the direction de la musique and traditional music and dance organizations : an unfulfilled legitimization process (1970s – 1990s). Politiques de la culture. Consulté le 18 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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