Folk Music in The United States


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Research in folk and primitive music is part of several disciplines. The raw material is collected with the techniques of anthropology and classified with those developed by folklorists. It is then set down on paper and analyzed through methods developed by musicologists, but the results of the analysis are usually interpreted by means of anthropological theory. Thus the scholar who wishes to do a complete job of studying a body of folk music should be familiar with all of these fields. Let us outline the processes of acquiring information on folk and primitive music.

First comes collecting, which must be done with sound recordings since the members of folk and primitive cultures do not write music. Occasionally scholars have tried to write down the music as they heard it performed in the field, but this is usually so diflScult that even several repeated hearings are not suflBcient for an accurate notation. There is an amusing (though perhaps spurious) story about a great German anthropologist who was doing field work in Australia. He knew nothing about music, but he heard a native song which he thought interesting, and he wished that he could somehow transport it to his musicological colleagues. Since no recording apparatus was available, he proceeded to memorize the song. But his memory was poor, and he decided to rehearse the song every day so it would not disappear. By the time he returned to Europe and sang it for his colleagues, they laughed because it sounded like a German popular song.


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