Folk Music in The United States


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30                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

pect of poetry in our culture. The texts are not divided into feet, lines, or stanzas. They do not have meter or rhyme. They appear very much like prose to us.

A typical song of the Plains Indians begins with a long sequence of meaningless syllables. The music to which they have been sung is then repeated, slightly altered, with the entire meaningful text and a few meaningless syllables to fill it out. This may take somewhat less than a minute, and since the song tends to be repeated about four times, the entire rendition is likely to take between two and four minutes. Many of the songs deal with exploits in war, and the heroes sing about their own adventures. The first portion of the song is sung by the entire group or audience; the second part, with the meaningful text, is frequently sung by a single performer who tells about his exploits in texts like the following:

"The Ute Indian, while he was still looking around for me, I swung him around/'

Many Indian songs of the Great Plains had their texts changed periodically in order to conform with current events and interests. The song about the Ute Indian (sung by the Arapaho) was changed by Indians who fought in the first World War to deal with a German soldier. A similar change must have produced the following text:

"The German soldier fled and dragged his blanket behind."'^ In order to give the reader a better idea of the Indian song texts, I quote a number without detailed comment. The following are Arapaho war songs:

Soldier, have courage.

Our flag has become famous.

My relatives, gaze at our flag; it is waving in the skies.

The following are Arapaho vision songs:

The star-child is here. It is through him that our people are living.

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