Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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SONGS OF THE AMERICAN SLAVES
his acceptance in his resume of the observations of travel­lers among savage peoples (an extremely helpful book otherwise) of their terminology as well as their opinions in musical matters. Now, nothing is more notorious than that the overwhelming majority of the travellers who have written about primitive peoples have been destitute of even the most elemental knowledge of practical as well as theoretical music; yet without some knowledge of the art it is impossible even to give an intelligent description of the rudest musical instruments. The phenomenon is not peculiar to African travellers, though the confusion of terms and opinions is greater, perhaps, in books on Africa than anywhere else. Dr. Wallaschek did not per­mit the fact to embarrass him in the least, nor did he even attempt to set the writers straight so far as properly to classify the instruments which they describe. All kinds of instruments of the stringed kind are jumbled higgledy-piggledy in these descriptions, regardless of whether or not they had fingerboards or belonged to the harp family; bamboo instruments are called flutes, even if they are sounded by being struck; wooden gongs are permitted to parade as drums, and the universal "whizzer," or "buzzer" (a bit of flat wood attached to a string and made to give a whirring sound by being whirled through the air) is treated even by Dr. Wallaschek as if it were an aeolian harp. A common African instrument of rhythm, a stick with one edge notched like a saw, over which another stick is rubbed, which has its counterpart in Louisiana in the jawbone and key, is discussed as if it belonged to the viol family, simply because it is rubbed. He does not challenge even so infantile a statement as that of Captain John Smith when he asserts that the natives of Virginia had "bass, tenor, counter-tenor, alto and soprano rattles." And so on. These things may not influence Dr. Walla-schek's deductions, but they betoken a carelessness of mind which should not exist in a scientific investigator, and justify a challenge of his statement that the songs of the American negroes are predominantly borrowings from European music.
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