Folk Music in The United States


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Collecting and Studying Folk Music                                        77

formant. One should record the same songs from several people because there are slight differences among the various versions, differences which are important for a number of reasons described below and in earlier chapters. Finally the collector should return to all of his informants and ask them to perform again the material performed earlier. This is again necessary because there are slight but important differences between the versions, differences which are interesting from a number of points of view. For example, we may assume that certain things in a performance of music are significant, meaningful to the performer and listener, and others are insignificant and arbitrary, and might as well not be there. A performer usually leaves intact the significant things but he may change the insignificant ones. The study of various renditions of the same music by one or several performers may enable us to find out more about the essentials of that music, about what features are important in a given style and what are not.

Re-recording sometimes presents unforeseen problems. Some of the Plains Indian tribes, many of whose songs use meaningless syllables instead of words, do not identify the songs by name. As a result one cannot always ask a singer to perform a specific song. A song can be identified by its function; for example, it can be called a love song or a Rabbit Dance song, but these are categories and would make the singer think of a large group of songs. The collector can sing the beginning of the song one wants to hear, or play a bit of a previous recording, but this in a way defeats the purpose of re-recording because the informant's mind is directed to what he has just heard, and the dice are loaded in favor of that particular version. Since there is often no meaningful text, one cannot quote it to him. Sometimes the only recourse is simply to ask the singer to sing all or some of the songs he has sung before, and hope that he will faithfully do so. Even then it is a problem to unscramble the recordings, to identify the variants and the performances which go together, for in many tribal repertories all of the songs sound very much alike to Western ears; and two separate songs may sometimes seem closer to us than two versions of a single song. This is one of the many


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