Folk Music in The United States


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In urban society, the hstener takes httle active part in music, for it is to him primarily a vehicle for aesthetic enjoyment, edification, and contemplation. But in folk and primitive cultures, music is ahnost always associated with an activity. ^ Integrated with active phases of life, it occupies a more prominent place in the community than does the music of Western urban civilization. It is true that in urban cultures, music may also be functional, whether it is reKgious music or dance music, a march or the accompaniment to drama; but the most significant musical creations in Western civilization are definitely "art for art's sake." In folklore, by contrast, the most important works of music are probably those which are especiaUy closely tied to the culture and which therefore are the most accurate expressions of its nature and character.

There seems to be a considerable difference between primitive and folk cultures in the function of music. The folk cultures, after all, participate in some of the facets of urban cultures. Many folk songs are of city origin, and some are simultaneously art songs. In the degree to which it accompanies other activities, too, folk music occupies a kind of middle ground between the primitive and the cultivated, for primitive music does this most frequently, folk music somewhat less, but cultivated music only occasionally.

Ihe most important single function of primitive music is a religious one and includes ceremonial material, corresponding roughly to our church services, as well as songs of magical and



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