Folk Music in The United States


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Defining Folk Music                                                                  7

Having discussed cultivated and folk music, we shall quickly mention a third, an intermediate category: the so-called popular music, which one finds in juke-boxes, on popular radio programs, and in sheet music publications. It is usually created by professionals, performed by professionals, and learned from the written page; it acts in this sense, therefore, like cultivated music. However, listeners often learn popular songs without having seen the written score. And occasionally a popular song, such as a song by Stephen Foster, passes into oral tradition and remains there even after it is no longer performed professionally.

I have outlined some of the basic characteristics of folk music in its social environment. Today folk music may seem a rather remote bit of culture, interesting perhaps for the antiquarian and the seeker of unusual entertainment. Yet folk music has played a part, and musically a very significant part, in almost everyone's life. There is no doubt that the songs learned in childhood, from one's parents, relatives, and friends, exercise a strong influence on a person's later musical development, and these songs are almost inevitably genuine folk songs. This, if nothing else, justifies an interest in the nature of folk music and of one's own particular traditions.

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