Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

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composing sophisticated music.) This man then teaches his song to his three sons. Son number one is a musical fellow who has a televi­sion set and occasionally goes to the city—hears more complicated music-and he, over the years, whittles away at the song, changing notes here and there, adding ornaments, and evening out the meter, until he has made very substantial changes which he would no doubt consider improvements. Son number two likes to sing, but has a poor musical memory. He forgets how the song begins, but remembers the second half of the tune. In his rendition, the song, which origi­nally had four different musical phrases (ABCD), consists only of a repetition of the last two, and now has the form CDCD. This is what evidently happened in the case of an old English and American song, "The Pretty Mohea," which is often sung to a tune with the form AABA. The last two lines, repeated, seem to have become the tune of a popular hillbilly song, "On Top of Old Smoky." Son number three finally moves to Mexico, and while he likes to sing his father's song, he becomes so saturated with Mexican popular and folk music that his version of the song begins to sound like a Mexican folk song, with the peculiar kind of rhythmic and ornamental structure charac­teristic of that country's tradition. You can imagine what might hap­pen at a family reunion: The three sons sing their three versions, and while a person who knew the old man and his song the way it was first sung would surely realize that the sons have sung three versions of the same song, a newcomer to the group would only be able to guess whether these three songs actually were descendants of the same original. Add a few generations, and one song has become a large number of variants. The original form is forgotten and can no longer be reconstructed from the later versions.
How does traditional music originate?
We have looked at the way in which folk music comes to us. Most of it is quite old, but it has changed. To be sure, new songs are made up in most cultures at all times. In some cultures, many new songs are composed every year or every generation, and in others, only a few new ones may appear in a century. But a great deal of the material, in all cases, is old, and thus we frequently hear about the great antiquity of folk and primitive music. But we must keep

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