Max Metayer Redefines Folk Music

If you ask Biddeford, Maine native Max Metayer ’15 how he first got interested in folk music, he’ll tell you that he stumbled into it “accidentally.”  While working at the ticket counter of the local movie theater, a guitarist approached him and asked him if he played an instrument.  When Metayer replied that he played electric bass guitar, he was invited to play music with the guitarist’s band.  And that band just happened to be a folk band.

A history major with a love of music, Metayer’s passion resides at the intersection of those two subjects: music history.  He is particularly interested in American music history and, even more specifically, the history of American folk music.  His desire to combine history and music is so great that it spurred him to undertake the process of creating his own personal minor in music.  He is currently taking private lessons in jazz harmony for college credit.

Metayer received a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant and spent the summer of 2013 conducting an independent study of American folk music history.  Most appealing to Metayer is the story-telling aspect of folk music.  “In essence, it’s really a form of oral history,” he explained in early 2014.  Metayer’s project examined the various and diverse roots that make up American folk music.  “There are so many different forms of folk music,” he said, “that there are huge debates as to what exactly folk music is.  How do you define folk music?” 

After studying different branches of folk music, such as Appalachian style, klezmer, and folk revival, Metayer arrived at his own definition of what constitutes “folk.”  “My definition is ‘a genre of music that reflects a sub-culture,’ ” he stated, acknowledging that this classification renders folk an umbrella term that covers almost every type of music except pop.  He feels that as time goes by, more and more genres of music will be viewed as being representative of a sub-culture and will, therefore, come to be considered a type of folk music.  “Currently, we would never think of grunge as folk music,” he explained, “but years from now, it very well may be considered ‘Seattle folk music.’  It’s certainly representative of a sub-culture.”

Intrigued by the oral history aspect of folk music, Metayer sees the genre as a window through which one can view important components of American history. By examining common themes in the lyrics, Metayer says that one can uncover beliefs and attitudes that are historically significant. From the racial degradation of the minstrel songs, to the working class fear of being put out of work by technology, which is conveyed in the hammer songs, to gender differences apparent in murder ballads (songs that express a desire to kill a partner for breaking cultural taboos), folk music provides its listeners with a wealth of historical information in addition to musical enjoyment.

After he graduates from UNE, Metayer hopes that he will be able to find a career that keeps him connected to music on a professional level in one way or another. While he would ideally like to compose, he could also see himself as an ethnomusicologist, studying music in its cultural context. “It would combine history, music, and sociology,” he reasoned. 

By preparing himself with a major in history and, he hopes, a self-created minor in music, Metayer’s entrance into such a profession would be no accident.