Folk Music in The United States


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10                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

have a strophic form (divided into stanzas), and concentrate on a single event and its background; and epics, which are long, describe a series of events centering around a hero, and usually treat the individual line as the most important structural unit.

Many ballads and epics are based on historical events, and in some cases their function in the culture could be considered archival. But most members of folk cultures seem to consider them primarily as entertainment, and so it is possible to call this kind of folk music non-functional.

Some other functions of folk music are described specifically in Chapters V, VI, VII. There are dance songs, songs connected with special occupations, work songs, lyrical and love songs, religious and children's music. Although usually of city origin, hymns have become true folk songs in some areas, but elsewhere the members of folk cultures do not participate in religious folk music but sing only the hymns of the urban tradition. Related to hymns, however, are the calendric songs which are sung at various times of year and include such familiar types as Christmas carols and songs which are sung at specific times of the life-cycle, for instance at birth, at puberty, at marriage or death.

A measure of the function of music within a culture is the degree to which the members actually participate in it. In Western civilization music is a fairly specialized activity. There are a handful of composers and a few performers, who are usually professionals, and there are even specialized listeners (concert-goers and record-buyers). But in folk and primitive cultures this kind of specialization is much smaller, and professional musicians are almost absent. There are, to be sure, some individuals who concentrate on music, for example the shamans or priests, who often have the performance of certain music as a prerogative or duty. But there are at least some cultures in which composition is practiced by large segments of the population. Also, the members of a tribe or folk group participate equally in most of their music. All the people know most of the songs and are able to sing them, even though there are certain individuals in every group who are recognized as superior performers. With a few important exceptions, a professional status for mu-

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