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THE ETHNIC BACKGROUNDS of AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC
Folk music is often thought of as the expression of the spirit of a people, or a national or ethnic group, and in some ways this is certainly a valid definition. We know that a folk song, even though composed by a member of a given ethnic group, will not take hold in that group unless it conforms to the current aesthetic ideals. It may be rejected, or it may be accepted and then changed by the process of communal re-creation until it does conform. Consequently the material of an ethnic group tends to be fairly homogenenous and to express in some ways the character of that people. And especially in Europe and other parts of the Old World, where most ethnic groups have had long, continuous residence in the same geographic area, is the folklore rooted in the soil and the history.
In America, the rather diflFerent situation makes it necessary to think of folk music in a diflFerent way. Again, however, the folk music reflects the culture at large. The United States is a new country, consisting largely of English cultural traits which were modified to suit the specific requirements of America. Added to it were elements from many European countries, to greater or lesser degrees, and an important layer of African Negro culture. Underneath it all, relatively uninfluential but significant in certain isolated situations, is the culture of the American Indians. In recent decades, however, a merging of these diverse elements has taken place, creating a greater degree of unity. The ethnic composition of the United States has also changed because the