Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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pentatonic tune from the Ba-Ronga country, and Cole­ridge-Taylor says of it that its subject "is certainly not unworthy of any composer—from Beethoven downward. It is at once simple, strong and noble, and probably stands higher than any other example of purely 'savage' music in these respects." Except that it lent itself so admirably to artistic treatment, I cannot see why this melody should have been singled out by Mr. Coleridge-Taylor for such extraordinary praise; many of the American slave songs are equally simple, strong and noble and more beautiful. Yet it is a specially welcome example because it comes from Africa.
The temptation is strong to look upon the pentatonic Scale as the oldest, as it certainly is the most widespread and the most serviceable, of intervallic systems. It is the scale in which melody may be said to be naturally innate. Play it at random on the black keys of the pianoforte, and so you keep symmetry of period and rhythm in mind you cannot help producing an agreeable melody; and it will be pentatonic. (See "Nobody Knows de Trouble Fve Seen," page 75.)
The history of the pentatonic scale has baffled investi­gators, for it is older than history. China has a musical instrument called hiuen, the invention of which is said (fantastically, no doubt) to date back to B. C. 2800. It emits only the five tones of the pentatonic scale. Instru­ments with the same limitations and qualities have been found among the remains of the lost civilizations of Mexico and Peru, and are still in existence in Nubia and Abyssinia. I have mentioned a Zulu zanze which is in my possession— a little instrument so stoutly built that it is likely to survive centuries. It has pentatonic tuning down to two middle tongues, which emit strangely aberrant tones. The key is D-flat. The tongues on one side emit the descending order, D-flat, E-flat and B-flat; on the other, B-flat, F, D-flat and A-flat. The instrument is played by plucking and snap­ping the metal tongues with the thumbs; any two plucked by a thumb simultaneously produce an agreeable con­cord. Between the right and left rows of tongues lie
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