Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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FOLK AND TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN ITS CULTURAL SETTING 9
sonality. Now it is assumed by some that each people or culture has only one kind of music, one musical style, which really fits its per­sonality, and an authentic song would have to be a song with this character. Assuming that this is true, it would surely be difficult to de­cide which of the various musical styles used by a particular people is its true, authentic one. Nevertheless, such decisions have fre­quently been made by observers of folk song and folk culture. Often these decisions have been arbitrary; songs that sound simple or old have been labeled authentic, while those that remind us of Western popular music have not been accepted. No doubt each culture has had musical material that has been with it for some time, and other material that it has accepted recently or only partially, and there is justification for calling the former music authentic and for ascribing to it a special place in that people's heritage. But the close identifica­tion of one kind of music with each culture or nation is also related to a gross and widespread misconception, namely that simple cul­tures—folk and nonliterate cultures—are capable of learning only one kind of music.
Historical perspective
Such a view seems to deny a historical perspective. The great age of folk music is frequently stressed, though often it is not certain whether the age of individual songs or of musical styles is meant. But to assume that each people is, for all time, tied to one kind of music is to assume that no change has ever occurred in its tradition. This view we cannot accept, for we can observe change in the world's folk music traditions going on constantly. And while change may have been accelerated in recent times by the rapid Westerniza­tion of many non-Western cultures and by the growth of mass media, we cannot assume that change did not occur in the more dis­tant past. After all, migrations of peoples have always taken place, cultural diffusion and acculturation have occurred at all times, and there is no reason to believe that peoples who have learned from each other to use the wheel, to construct instruments, and to smelt iron should have refrained from exchanging songs. It is rarely possible to reconstruct the music history of a culture through oral tradition alone, although we can find out something from the geographic dis­tribution of songs and style elements throughout the world, from







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