Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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authentic folk tradition mainly because the songs are learned not from friends and family but from books, records (field recordings and professional performances), and trained musicians; because many of the songs are composed especially for city consumption (but this may also have been true of many "real" folk songs when they were first composed); because the performer consciously tries to develop certain idiosyncracies and to repeat them in an identical way each time; and because the style of singing—polyphonic, sometimes with virtuoso accompaniment on banjo, guitar, piano, etc.—may be com­pletely different from the style in which these same songs are sung in the countryside. And an urban folk singer may use several tradi­tions and many languages.
As we pointed out in Chapter 1, it may be possible for a song to be a folk song and not a folk song at the same time; and folk songs sung by professional city concert singers are perhaps no longer folk songs. But the basic material, the content of the songs, is still the same. Incidentally, the influence travels from city to country as well as the other way. The singing of folk songs on radio and television has evidently also affected the rural folk tradition, where instrumental accompaniment, part-singing, the "hillbilly" style, and strict adher­ence to meter seem to have increased since the 1940's.
The use of folk music by urban musicians is not unique in the United States. Folk songs have been used as agents of music educa­tion, as a way of fostering patriotism, and as political, economic, and racial propaganda in Europe as well. In the Soviet Union, songs prais­ing Joseph Stalin (with traditional tunes) were introduced into oral tradition before the 1950's. In Nazi Germany, the singing of German folk songs was obligatory for patriotic organizations. And songbooks for elementary-school use everywhere have contained a large quota of folk music. In the United States, the creation of labor unions, wars of independence and expansion, and the struggle for civil rights were all helped along by the organized teaching and singing, by trained musicians, of appropriate folk songs, which frequently con­sisted of new words specifically written for this purpose set to tradi­tional tunes. Thus we see that there has been, for some centuries, a sort of adjunct phenomenon to rural folk music tradition in Western civilization—the use of folk songs and folk-like songs, usually with traditional tunes, performed by professional and semiprofessional musicians in the cities.

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