Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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sic necessarily conforms to this image. And, to be sure, we generally respond by describing music as beautiful rather than judging its suit­ability for its particular function.
The converse picture is, on the whole, found in the folk and nonliterate cultures. We frequently hear that all folk music accom­panies other activities, that it never fills a role of entertainment, that it does not provide simple enjoyment. Of course this is not the case; there are many examples, in European folklore, and in African and American Indian cultures, of music's being used as entertainment Individual singers may entertain groups or themselves with music. In some African cultures, music is performed by professional or semi-professional musicians to entertain political leaders or wealthy men. But generally speaking—and here there are great differences among the world's cultures—the traditional music is focused towards func­tionality. Songs are usually referred to not as beautiful, but as good or powerful, an indication that it is not the aesthetic quality of the song but the manner in which it fulfills "its task (persuading the spirits, accompanying a dance, or giving an account of history) that is essential. Perhaps we would not be wrong in stating that the most significant musical creations in Western civilization are those which exist for listening only; while their counterparts in traditional music are those songs and pieces which are related to other activities and which fulfill their accompanying function in the most excellent manner.
Traditional music and art music
The way in which folk music comes about has fascinated stu­dents of this field. The question whether the folk creates or whether it only utilizes material created by a higher social stratum has fre­quently been asked. We have already stated that all music is com­posed by individuals. The old belief that folk music rises, like a mist, from the collective consciousness of the village or band is hardly worth an argument. But the source of the folk music is still a bone of contention. The nonliterate cultures, of course, must get their songs and the musical components of these songs from inside the tribe, or possibly from a neighboring tribe. It is sometimes argued that even the remote primitives have had contact with the high cul­tures of the world, and that they have derived their musical accom-

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