Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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plishments by absorbing the music of the high culture, diluted though it may be by passing through tribes and nations. For ex­ample, it may be argued that the Indians of South America, some of whose music is exceedingly simple, in primordial times must have derived their style from that of China; and there are remote similari­ties to substantiate this theory. Certainly this does not apply to the everyday contact that exists between "folk and art music in some European countries. In Europe, it is sometimes thought, both the songs and the style of music in each nation are derived from the same nation's art music. This idea, based on a theory, which is known by the German term gesunkenes Kultiirgnt (debased culture), assumes that the folk communities are inherently incapable of creating music —or literature, or art—and that they instead assimilate what trickles down to them from the sophisticated society of the cities. A time lag is assumed as well, so that the kind of style found in German art music in one century, for instance, is likely to turn up in the folk music a century later. No doubt there has been a great deal of influ­ence bearing from the cities on the folk culture. We know of folk songs that had their origin in the city, and we know of sophisti­cated dances that became folk dances decades later. But we cannot accept the notion that all folk music is simply debased city culture. The evidence of folk song influencing the sophisticated composer— from Schubert and Liszt to Bartok and Enesco—is too great. Rather, let us accept a theory of mutual give-and-take to describe the rela­tionship between folk and art music.
Defining folk music is not an easy task. Several criteria can be used, and each, applied alone, is unsatisfactory. The main one is the transmission by oral tradition. Folk music is not, in its native setting, written down. As a result it develops variants, and the original form of a folk song is rarely known. Folk music may originate anywhere, but it is normally created by untrained, nonprofessional musicians, and performed by singers and players with little or no theoretical background. Folk song is frequently old, and the style of folk music may be archaic. But folk and nonliterate cultures do have a music history; they allow their music to change, their compositions to be altered, and their repertory to be turned over. Folk music is fre­quently associated with other activities in life, but it also serves as entertainment. xAnd most important, folk music is the musical ex­pression of a whole people or tribe, or a significant portion of a cul­ture; folk song must be performed and accepted in order to remain

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