Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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to write them down just as they were sung, retaining all the peculiarities of rhythm, melody, harmony and text; but those who have heard these or other like songs sung by the colored people of the South will realize that it is impossible to more than suggest their beauty and charm; they depend so largely upon the quality of voice, the un­erring sense of rhythm and the quaint religious spirit peculiar to the colored people who have spent their lives on Alabama cotton plantations, untouched by civilization." Miss Mildred J. Hill, of Louisville, who gathered for me some of the most striking songs in my collection from the singing of an old woman who had been a slave in Boyle County, Ky., was careful to note all deviations from just intonation, and from her songs I came to the conclusion that the negroes were prone to intervallic aberrations, not only in the case of the seventh, but also in the third. This is a common phenomenon in folk-music. It was the observation of the composer Spohr that rural people intone the third rather sharp, the fourth still sharper, and the seventh rather flat. Vagaries of this kind emphasize the fact that the diatonic scale—the tempered scale, at any rate— as used in artistic music is a scientific evolution, and not altogether a product of nature, as some persons assume, who in consequence attribute the slightest fractional variation from its tones to exquisite appreciation of tonal differences. The speculations on this point in which some professed students of the music of the North American Indians have indulged have reached a degree of absurdity almost laughable. In one case changes of pitch, which were most obviously the result of differences of speed in the revolution of the cylinder of the phonograph used in the collection of Zuni songs, were gravely declared to be evi­dence of a musical sense which could not be satisfied with the semitones of civilized musicians. The melodies had been recorded by treadle power and transmitted for no­tation by electric. To prove the valuelessness of music thus obtained I experimented with a pitch-pipe and a phonograph, and by varying the speed of the revolutions of the cylinder in making the record easily ran the pitch
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