Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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The field that provides research in this area is now known as ethno-musicology. Before about 1950 it was commonly called comparative musicology, and it is a sort of borderline area between musicology (the study of all aspects of music in a scholarly fashion) and anthro­pology (the study of man, his culture, and especially the cultures outside the investigator's own background). Research in ethno-musicology consists essentially of two activities, field work and desk or laboratory work. In past decades it was customary to keep these activities quite distinct. Those who went into the "field," to villages, reservations, or colonies, to record, were not necessarily trained in the techniques of analysis and description that form the main part of the "desk work," and the armchair ethnomusicologists rarely went into the "field." More recently it has been found that better results are usually obtained if the same person does both the field and the desk work on a particular project.
Going into the field requires more than a tape recorder, a gen­erator, and a tent. The person who goes off to record the music of an African tribe or a Balkan village must know, in advance, a good deal about the culture of the people he will visit. Once there, he must use certain techniques to be sure that he gains access to the individuals who know songs, and that he makes representative sam­plings of the music. He should not, for example, try to record only one kind of song. Thus, a collector of folk songs in the Virginia mountains should not try to record only old English ballads. If he does so, not only will he miss much other valuable material, but he may also alienate the singers, since they will probably consider other songs equally valuable; and in so doing he may not succeed in hear­ing even as many old English ballads as he would if he had taken a more broad-minded approach. He must get to know people in the community very well. A three-day field trip is usually not very suc­cessful; the ideal field work requires months and years of stay, with brief follow-up visits to see how songs have changed and how atti­tudes toward music have altered.
Turning on the recorder and getting on a tape all the music one can is only part of the job of a field collector. The cultural context of the music—the answers to the questions that we posed in Chapter 1—is equally important and more difficult to obtain. The field worker should find out what his informants think about the songs they sing, what they consider a good song or a bad one, and why; how they

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