Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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AFRO-AMERICAN FOLKSONGS
closing the major seventh (the leading-tone), the use of the major sixth and the absence of the sixth. Other aberrations are not pronounced enough to justify being set down as characteristic features.
There is no special significance in the prevalence of the leading-tone in minor melodies (it was found in nineteen songs out of sixty-two), beyond the evidence which it may offer of the influence of the European system in which the seventh step of the minor scale is arbitrarily raised a semi­tone for the sake of a satisfactory harmonic cadence. To avoid the abnormal interval of a, second consisting of three semitones European theorists also raise the sixth, thus obtaining the conventional ascending minor scale— the melodic minor. It cannot be without significance that what I am prone to consider a primitive melodic sense seems to have led the negroes to rebel at this pro­cedure. In thirty-four out of sixty-two minor melodies the troublesome sixth (the avoided fourth in the major mode) is omitted entirely, and in eight it is raised to a major interval without disturbing the seventh. The major sixth in the minor mode presents itself as an independent melodic element, the effect of which is most potently felt when it is left unharmonized—which is not the case in one of the illustrative examples which I present.1 The minor tunes with the major sixth are thus without the leading-tone, and the physiological effect of the errant interval is even more striking than the flat seventh in the major tunes.
No one who heard Miss Jackson, the contralto of the original Fisk Jubilee choir, sing "You May Bury Me in the East/'2 without accompaniment of any sort, is likely to have forgotten the clarion sound of her voice on the word "trumpet." This was the only song of its kind in the repertory of the Jubilee Singers, the other minor songs either having no sixth or having the leading-tone. A fine example in my manuscript collection excited the admira­tion of M. Tiersot, who sets it down in his brochure as an illustration of the first Gregorian tone. It is a revival hymn, "Come tremble-ing down," and in it the "wood-
1 See "Come tremble-ing down," page 85. 8 See page $6.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III