A Collection Of Negro Traditional & Folk Songs with Sheet Music Lyrics & Commentaries - online book

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whistling. Funny about whistling! Some folks who just will not sing at all, who could not be induced by torture or persuasion to attempt a song, will cheerfully pucker up their lips and whistle an air, while others would be far more embarrassed at trying to whistle than to sing. Some will pick a tune out on the piano, one slow finger at a time, every evidence of pain and strain on their set faces, while still others' hands are more bashful than their tongues or lips. Timidity strikes different organs, it seems.
Yet sometimes shyness blossoms into bravery. Persons who pro­test that they cannot sing a note, who lift their voices just to prove they cannot (and sometimes the proof is pretty conclusive), who whis­pering they will "ne'er consent," consent, sometimes surprise them­selves by the result. Maybe they have been teased into singing one line to complete an unfinished ballad, but they gather voice and courage as they go on; "they look their minds over," as one colored woman promised me she would do, and they sing what they discover there. Presently it may be that they grow bold to interrupt others and correct their tunes; they insist on singing and quite enjoy the exercise. I find that nothing so livens up a party as to start folk-singing for science. A programme of vocal music rendered for en­tertainment might be listened to with as much patience as politeness gives a group; but let the sorriest singer in the world start a tune for a useful purpose and immediately every ear is keen. Soon timid guests are wrangling over versions and contending for the chance to sing what they know.
One needs to be pretty much of a detective if he is a successful col­lector of folk-songs, for he must be alert to guess the existence of songs in any locality or in the mind of any person, and patient to trace them down. He needs to be sound in wind and limb and pen. (I have waited for years to get certain songs I knew about, and have chased some of them half across the South. I have written countless letters and made innumerable visits in the course of my investiga­tion.) One must know how to piece parts of a song together as a scientist joins the bones of discovered fossils. But it is even more delicate work, since you may find one bone in Texas, say, one in Vir­ginia, and one in Mississippi. No right-thinking tyrannosaurus or tetrabeledon would dream of scattering his skeleton over the country like that. And his bones would never keep on growing, even if they did go on cross-country excursions — while folk-songs delight in adding to themselves and collecting parts of other songs that tag after them. I think they do it just to tease collectors. I am sure folk-songs have their own sense of humor.

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