Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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was no doubt that all American Indians were in this category. There were individual Indians who learned to read, and some became learned; some even became anthropologists who studied their own cultures. But the Indian languages had not been written down except under the stimulus of white missionary scholars, and in each Indian tribe, more or less all the people shared one kind of music. In the folk cultures of Europe and America it is more difficult to separate the folk music from the sophisticated, cultivated, or fine art of music. The distinction is a gradual one. The musical life of cities and courts, directed by trained, professional musicians with written music, is certainly different from that of the villages in which music is passed on by oral tradition and in which most of the people participate ac­tively without much specialization. But some folk music exists in the cities, and some influence from the cities has always trickled down to the villages and at times inundated them. Everyone has a bit of folk heritage; on the other hand, the folk songs of most areas in Eu­rope and America have undergone some influence from the sophisti­cated music of the cities. The popular music of the cities seems to occupy a sort of middle ground. We can draw no sharp line.
Much has been said about the differences between folk and art music as far as their use or functions in the culture are concerned. We frequently hear the statement that folk and primitive music are "functional," while art music is not, or less so. This would imply that folk and primitive music always accompany other activities in life, and that art music is always "art for art's sake." There is some truth in this distinction, but the over-all picture is a very complex one.
If we scrutinize the role of music in Western civilization, we find that music is not at all solely a giver of pleasure and a device for aesthetic edification. On the contrary, it is frequently designed to accompany activities of all sorts. We need to mention only church music, dance music, marching music, and the background music of drama, film, and television, as examples.
On the other hand, the ideal kind of music, the music generally considered as best and greatest by those most concerned with music, is the music designed primarily for hearing in recital or concert. Thus we would be right in stressing the role of music in Western civilization as being essentially one not involving other activities, but only because this is the idealized role of music, not because most mu-

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