Folk Music in The United States


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11                An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

sicians is almost wholly missing in folk and primitive cultures.
There are hardly any people who make their living by perform-
ance or composition. They may be rewarded in small ways by
gifts or money, but they earn their livelihood in the same way
as their fellows, by hunting or herding, through agriculture or
a craft. The most noteworthy exceptions are found in Negro Afri-
ca, a continent classified as primitive because writing is absent,
but one whose cultures and music are really very complex, ri-
valling, with elaborate courts which sometimes include full-
time musicians, those of the oriental high cultures. Whenever
the chieftains of the Watusi in East Africa emerge in public,
they must be accompanied by musicians playing different-sized
drums. The Chopi of South Africa have professional composers
and choreographers. 4 And the singers of the heroic epics in Yu-
goslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria live from their earnings traveling
from town to town as singers in cafes and other gathering-places.

But even these professionals lack the rigid, formal training
which marks the musician in an urban culture. Primitive and
folk groups do not have the elaborate systems of music theory and
terminology for musical phenomena which tend to make the mu-
sician and musical activity in our culture an esoteric matter.
Most people know most of what there is to know about music,
the music of the tribe is all theirs, and there is no distinction be-
tween a "classical," esoteric music, intelligible only to the spe-
cially trained, and a popular music for the rest.

Each country, each ethnic group and tribe has its own folk
music with its own peculiar character and style. Yet all the bodies
of folk and primitive music in the world have some common
elements which make them, as a group, contrast with the music
of urban civilization.

Folk music proper, whose provenience is Europe and the ori-
ental cultures, is characterized by the resemblance it bears to the
cultivated music with which it is associated. German folk music
sounds a good deal like German art music; Italian folk music re-
minds us of the Italian composers; and so on. And since most
Western cultivated music is based on one musical system whose
main property is the diatonic scale (which can be found by


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