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FOLK AND TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN ITS CULTURAL SETTING 3
the songs and instrumental pieces in folk and nonliterate cultures must be accepted by a substantial part of the population, otherwise they will not live. The reason for this is the way in which music is preserved and transmitted in these cultures, and this is done mainly by the process of oral tradition.
In less technical language, oral tradition means simply that mu≠sic (like stories, proverbs, riddles, methods of arts and crafts, and, in≠deed, all folklore) is passed on by word of mouth. Songs are learned by hearing; instrument making and playing are learned by watching. In a sophisticated culture, music is usually written down, and a piece conceived by a composer need never be performed at all during his lifetime; it can be discovered centuries later by a scholar and resur≠rected. But in a folk or a nonliterate culture, a song must be sung, remembered, and taught by one generation to the next. If this does not happen, it dies and is lost forever. Surely, then, a piece of folk music must in some way be representative of the musical taste and the aesthetic judgment of all those who know it and use it, rather than being simply the product of an individual, perhaps isolated creator.
As we've just indicated, a folk song must be accepted or it will be forgotten and die. There is also another alternative; if it is not accepted by its audience, it may be changed to fit the needs and de≠sires of the people who perform and hear it. And since there is not, in the case of most folk music, a written standard version which peo≠ple can consult, changes made over the years tend to become integral to the song. Of course this kind of change occurs for several reasons and at various levels.
Imagine, for instance, that a Kentucky or an Alpine mountain≠eer makes up a folk songóboth melody and words. He may compose the melody by putting together snatches of other songs he knows, or simply by humming aimlessly while at work until he hits upon some≠thing that strikes his fancy, or again by systematically changing a melody he already knows. (We know very little about the way in which composing is done in folk and nonliterate cultures, just as we really know next to nothing about the mental processes involved in