Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
fact that every folksong must once have been the utterance of an individual. What is meant by the axiom is that the creator of the folksong is an unindividualized representative of his people, himself a folk-product. His idioms are taken off the tongue of the people; his subjects are the things which make for the joy and sorrow of the people, and once his song is gone out into the world his identity as its creator is swallowed up in that of the people. Not only is his name forgotten, but his song enters at once upon a series of transformations, which (such is the puissant genius of the people) adapt it to varying circumstances of time and place without loss to its vital loveliness. The creator of a folksong as an individual is a passing phenomenon—like a wave of the sea. His potentiality is racial or national, not personal, and for that reason it is enduring, not ephe­meral. As a necessary corollary it follows that the music of the folksong reflects the inner life of the people that gave it birth, and that its characteristics, like the people's physical and mental habits, occupations, methods and feelings are the product of environment, as set forth in the definition.
If Herbert Spencer's physiological analysis of the origin of melody is correct, the finest, because the truest, the most intimate, folk-music is that provoked by suffering. The popular mind does not always think so of music. Its attitude is reflected in the phrase: "Oh, I'm so happy I could sing all day!" But do we sing when we are happy? Song, it is true, is a natural expression of the care-free and light-hearted; but it is oftener an expression of a superficial than a profound feeling. We leap, run, toss our arms, indulge in physical action when in an ecstasy of joy; in sorrow we sit motionless, but, oftener than we are our­selves conscious of the fact, we seek comfort in song. In the popular nomenclature of music the symbols of gayety and gravity are the major and minor moods. It is a broad characterization, and not strictly correct from a scientific point of view; but it serves to point a general rule, the exceptions to which (the Afro-American folk­songs forms one of them) invite interesting speculation.
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