Folk Music in The United States


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General Characteristics of Folk and Prmiitive Music                  9

charm significance. Most of the war songs of primitive peoples
are not rallying or marching songs but are designed to solicit
supernatural support in war. Many love songs are not personal,
they do not usually address the loved one; they are not lyrical,
but they seek supernatural aid in love. Gambling songs often
ask divine guidance; and many dance songs, of course, also have
religious significance, since dancing is the primary religious ac-
tivity in many primitive cultures. This close relationship between
music and religion in the world's simplest cultures stimulated the
musicologist Siegfried Nadel to formulate a theory that music
must have begun as a special means for man to communicate
with the supernatural.

Work songs are found in many primitive cultures, but not in
the simplest of all. The theory of Bücher that music must have
begun with the recognition that rhythmic work, accompanied by
singing, is especially efficient, is probably not justified. The
world's simplest cultures, those whose technology is presumably
closest to that of early man, do not have rhythmic group work
songs, and perhaps this is one reason for their very simplicity.
Those primitive cultures which are closest to urban civilization,
such as the Pueblo Indians and many African Negro tribes, have
work songs, as do many folk cultures.

The amount of non-functional music tends to increase as we
move from simple to complex primitive cultures. In Equatorial
Africa, for example, xylophone playing as an entertainment for
the customers at village markets is a general practice. In folk
cultures, the amount of music for entertainment is much larger

An important function of folk music, but one which is rare in
primitive music, is the accompaniment to narration. Songs which
tell stories are common in the folklore throughout Europe and
America, and these have aroused a very lively interest among
scholars. Narrative songs are often not of folk origin; in many
cases they were composed by sophisticated urbanites and trick-
led down into folk tradition, where they became rooted and
acquired the essentials of genuine folk songs. The two important
types of narrative song are ballads, which are relatively short,


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