Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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in mind the fact that this music, no matter how far back its roots, has probably undergone a great deal of change—because people wanted to improve it, because they forgot parts of it, or perhaps be­cause they felt it necessary to make it sound like other music that they were hearing. Folk and primitive music, then, have for us the fascinating quality of being both old and contemporary, of being representative of a people's ancient traditions as well as an indicator of their current tastes. And they are simultaneously the product of individual composers and of the creativity of masses of people. This historical development—far more than the artistic merit of the indi­vidual composition, which may be considerable in the opinion of some, but which may also seem insignificant in comparison to Bach fugues and Brahms symphonies—is the main justification for a de­tailed consideration of traditional music on the part of sophisticated, urban students and musicians.
We have implied, then, that folk music is composed by indi­viduals, but that subsequent to the original act of composition, many persons may make changes, thus in effect re-creating a song. This process, called "communal re-creation," is one of the things that dis­tinguish folk music from other kinds. But the way in which folk music is created has not alway been recognized. Among the earlier definitions of folk music, that which stresses the anonymity of the creator is one of the most persistent. According to this definition, a song whose composer is unknown is a folk song. Of course there is a fallacy here; should our ignorance of the identity of a composer make such a difference in our classification of musics? Still there is some truth in this view, for the composers in European folk music and in most nonliterate cultures are indeed not known to scholars. Moreover, they are not usually known to the members of their own culture, and in most of the cultures with which we are concerned here it makes little difference just who makes up a song. There are exceptions, of course; in some Plains Indian tribes people remember very specifically who "made" a particular song, or who "dreamed" it (some tribes believe that songs come to people in dreams).
It was believed by some nineteenth-century scholars that folk songs were made up by people improvising in groups. Actually this is rare, if indeed it occurs at all. Controlled improvisation under the leadership of a music master does seem to occur here and there—in the gamelan orchestras of Java and Bali, for instance, and among the

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