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other. We who live on the mighty stretch of plain rising from the Mississippi to the foot of the Rockies are likely to pick up our ears and listen most intently when the radio brings us the cowboy and frontier ballads.
But first just an introductory word about the folk song itself. It is composed not by a definite author who sits down at his piano to work out the tune or at his desk to polish off his rhymes, but "by the people." This is what distinguishes it from what is called "popular" music, which is composed for the people instead of by them. And since the composer of "popular" music has a rather low estimate of what people like, it is likely to be superficial in character and hence very short lived.
The folk song, on the other hand, springs up rather spontaneously from among the people themselves. Some­one who knows nothing about harmony and counterpoint but has a singing voice makes up a little song and sings it. Someone else likes it but thinks he can improve upon it. Still others add to it or subtract from it to please them­selves and their listeners. Pretty soon it has gone the rounds and has come to have a form that is appealing to everyone.
The true folk song is not usually put on paper for a long time, not until some trained musician happens to hear it and write it down.
Not until recently did anyone even begin to understand what a wealth of song has been produced in the various sections of the country. The Negro "spirituals," the Ken­tucky-mountaineer ballads which are close kin to the bal­lads of old England, the lumber-jack songs of the great Northwest, the border songs of the Southwest, the cowboy and "nester" songs of the wide rolling plains—all may be classed as folk songs.
The growth of songs of and by the cow-punchers, who for a time lent their picturesque color to the West, is one of the interesting chapters in the history of American social life as well as American music. The cowboys were shut off from the rest of the world as few other modern workers have been. In the close-knit little community that they formed they shared food, experiences, and thoughts. What-
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III