Folk Music in The United States


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The Professional Folk Singer                                                    73

dental. The professional or collegiate folk singer must focus attention on himself because his audience insists on it. It wants to hear not a tradition but an individual, not the characteristics of a widespread style and its culture but the peculiarities and the mannerisms of an interpreter. Thus the professional must sing his songs in a very special, inimitable way, he must rehearse his peculiarities, and he must arrive at a distinct version of each song, a version which then has to ossify so that it will remain the same for years; if it does not, the audience will think that its hero is "slipping." He must practice his trademarks, his way of removing his coat, his talking to the audience. Obviously these traits are completely contradictory to genuine folk music. There is nothing wrong with them in themselves; indeed, they are the essentials of cultivated music, but they give a false picture of folklore and the listener should be aware of the discrepancy.

Genuine folk singers who become entertainers of tuban civilization take on the characteristics of professionals even though they begin as members of a folk community. This is even true of some American Indian singers who entertain tourists; they begin to concentrate on one style of singing and on one kind of song, namely that one which the tourists find most appealing and believe to be most characteristically Indian. Folk singers select those melodies which allow them to exhibit vocal brilliance and virtuosity. The use of harmony and other kinds of part-singing in Anglo-American songs is common in the professional repertory but rare in folk cultures. There are many other ways in which professional singers change the musical characteristics of the raw material.

Perhaps their greatest offense is the introduction of songs into what the audience believes to be the folk repertory which are not folk songs at all, but cultivated or popular songs, or songs which the folk singer has composed himself. Why does he indulge in this? Again, because genuine folk songs may not be sufficiently entertaining and do not always conform to the notions of quaint-ness and folksiness which the city audience believes essential in folklore. The professional must supply the public's wants and has had to go far afield to find the right product. He has used cul-

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