American Ballads and Songs

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the other. The song is the life of the words: the two are not to be separated. Nevertheless the recording of the tune along with the words is less important for throwing light on the history of the song than might be thought. The words have more stability than the music. A piece retains its identity by its story, or its situations, df its characters: not by its melody. For example, innumerable'Varying airs nave been recorded for Barbara Allen, Lord Randal, The Dying Cowboy, Babes in the Woods. It is often difficult or impossible to determine which melody is nearest to the original. Many texts of many kinds may be sung to one air, and many different airs may be employed for one text. There is even greater fluctuation on the musical than on the textual side of folk-song. Indeed, here is a prolific source of crossings in ballads, of amalgamations, and of exchange of refrains. Pieces sung to a familiar air may assume some of the associations of that air. Possibly some of the older English ballads have been preserved to us in comparative integrity because they were chanted or recited rather than sung. Professor Child suggests for some of the old English ballads that they sound as though they were recited, and The Complaint of Scotland (1549) testifies to the recital rather than the singing of certain Robin Hood pieces. But it is through singing that folk-songs are handed down. In America at least, pieces do not seem to be continued in tradition through recital or chanting. They persist because they are sung. It is the music,-however it fluctuate, which keeps them alive.
VIII. The ballads of Old World collectors seem often to have been touched by skilful hands. Sir Walter Scott rests under the suspicion of having enhanced the poetical quality and vigor of many pieces, and so do other collectors, from Bishop Percy onward. Nothing of the kind has been true in America. The

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III