Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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MINOR VARIATIONS; CHARACTERISTIC RHYTHMS
the barriers interposed by the new language which they were compelled to adopt in their new home. For the sake of the snap the creators of the folksongs of the Ameri­can negroes did not hesitate to distort the metrical structure of their lines. In scores upon scores of instances trochees like "Moses," "Satan," "mother," "brother," "sister," and so forth, become iambs, while dactyls become amphi­brachys, like "Nobody/9 "Nobody knows" (see page 96), "These are my," "No one can," etc. A glance into any one of the collections mentioned will furnish examples by the score. Of the 527 songs examined, 315 contain the rhythmical snap which is as well entitled to be called African as Scottish.
"Another noticeable feature of the songs," says Theo­dore F. Seward in his preface to the Fisk Jubilee collection, "is the rare occurence of triple time, or three-part measure, among them. The reason for this is doubtless to be found in the beating of the foot and the swaying of the body, which are such frequent accompaniments of the singing. These motions are in even measure and in per­fect time; and so it will be found that however broken and seemingly irregular the movement of the music, it is always capable of the most exact measurement."
Triple time is, indeed, of extremely rare occurence in the melodies; taking as a standard the collection to which my observations have been directed, less than one-tenth of the tunes are in simple and compound triple time. The regular swaying of the body to which Mr. Seward refers might better be described as an effect than as a cause of the even movement of the music. It is no doubt an inherited pre­dilection, a survival of a primitive march-rhythm which, in the nature of the case, lies at the bottom of the first communal movements of primitive peoples; uneven meas­ure is more naturally associated with a revolving movement, of which I find no mention in the notes of my African reading. The "shout" of the slaves, as we have seen, was a march—circular only because that is the only kind of march which will not carry the dancers away from the gathering-place. Pantomimic dances, like those which I
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III