Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
istic idioms of the music, is so lucid as to enable a scientific student to form definite conclusions on technical points with ease. Colonel Higginson evidently did not intend that the word "minor" should have any other than its con­ventional literary meaning, which makes it a synonym for melancholy. The musical terminology of explorers, as has been remarked, is not to be depended on, and little is to be learned from them as to the prevailing modal characteristics of the music of the many peoples of Africa. Hermann Soyaux, in his "Aus West-Afrika," says that the negroes of Sierra Leone always sing in minor. Friedrich Ratzel says that the Bongo negroes sometimes sing in minor. "Their style," says Richard F. Burton, in the "Lake Regions of Central Africa," "is the recitative broken by a full chorus, and they appear to affect the major rather than the interminable minor of the Asiatic." Carl Engel, in his "Introduction to the Study of National Music," gives it out as a generalization that most of the African melodies are major. Of the seven African melodies-which Coleridge-Taylor utilized in "Twenty-four Negro-Melodies," five are major, two minor. Of the 527 melo­dies analyzed in the above table, less than 12 per cent are minor, the remainder either major or pentatonic, with a slight infusion, negligible at this stage of the argument, of melodies in which the mode is unpronounced.
It is plain, therefore, either that the popular conception, which I have permitted to stand with a qualification, of the minor mode as a symbol of suffering, is at fault in respect of the folksongs of the American negroes, or that these songs are not so poignant an expression of the life of the black slaves as has been widely assumed. The question deserves looking into. As a matter of fact, musicians know that the major and minor modes are not unqualified expressions of plelsure and pain, gayety and gravity, happiness and sorrow. Funeral marches are never expressions of joy, yet great funeral marches have been written in the major mode—Handel's Dead March in "Saul" for instance—and some of the maddest scherzos are minor. It may be questioned, too, whether or not, as a matter of fact (the
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