Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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relevant to point out that improvisation in choral and ensemble per­formance adds to the number of pitches heard at one time. Thus the fact that improvisation and variation is encouraged in some African cultures seems to have influenced the degree to which polyphony is accepted. Actually, variation by improvisation seems to be con­sidered the mark of good musicianship in some African cultures. We should mention also a feature found in some African music that in­volves both form and polyphony, namely the tendency—in some pieces—for a number of apparently unrelated things to be going on at the same time. Some of this is due to the development of complex rhythmic polyphony, the simultaneous presentation of several meters which seem, to the Western listener, to have little in common. It is hard to say whether the African listener feels all of these rhythms to be part of one over-all rhythmic structure (as a Westerner can con­ceive all of the voices in a Bach fugue to be independent yet united), or whether the African can conceive of music as consisting of the simultaneous presentation of unrelated phenomena. At any rate, it is possible, in such a piece, to have phrases and other units of varying lengths appearing in different voices or instruments.
The forms of the songs and pieces, then, are usually short; but repetition may cause a performance of one piece to take many minutes and possibly even hours. The amount of repetition is usually-determined by the time required by the activity that the music ac­companies. And it is not uncommon, in a ceremony, to find musi­cians who have been performing one piece making an abrupt switch to the next musical item because the ceremonial activity has sud­denly changed. Composite forms, consisting of series of pieces, are particularly common in ceremonial situations, where a large group of pieces, which may take a whole day or longer, must be performed in correct order to accompany ritual.
So far as the melodic elements of music are concerned, African music seems generally rather easily intelligible to the Western lis­tener; it does not really have the exotic sound that some Oriental and some American Indian music has at first hearing. The conclusion we may tentatively draw from this fact is that African music, on the

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