Folk Music in The United States


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72                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

usually does not want folk songs served in the austere way of the countryside; it wants music which adheres to the prevalent tastes and fads, with a little of that folksiness and quaintness which the urbanites believe to be characteristic of folklore. The professional folk songer must cater to these wishes if he is to be successful. And from this need stem the various characteristics of professional folk singing, traits which are far removed from those of genuine folk music.

The professional folk singer inevitably accompanies his songs with an instrument, since cultivated music is prevailingly accompanied. But in order to give the appearance of authenticity, he uses folk instruments, or what resembles them. The guitar and the banjo are most common, and often they are perfectly in place. Only when the accompaniment takes on the character of a solo performance, when it is played with virtuosity, does it cease to sound Hke folk music. But sophisticated audiences are usually not content with simple accompaniments, restricted to prosaic strumming of two or three chords. They want some "razzle-dazzle" and the performer must supply it. Other folk instruments, the dulcimer, the mandolin or the zither are constructed and played with greater complexity than they ever are in a folk environment. Instruments of the Renaissance, the lute and the recorder, are resurrected, even though they were part of a sophisticated musical culture and are not folklore. All of this is good entertainment, even good music, but it certainly cannot be called folk music, and it gives the listener a completely false impression of what his folk heritage is like.

Perhaps the trap into which the professional folk singer most frequently falls is the individualization to which he must subject his songs and the attention which he must draw to himself as their interpreter. American folk culture does not admit much individuality. While songs do have interpretations which are characteristic of individual singers, a genuine singer in a folk cultmre tends to stick close to his tradition, in spite of the eflEects of communal re-creation. It is not his person which is the center of the listener's attention, for he is only the temporary mouthpiece of a long tradition in which the individual rendition is only inci-

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