Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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The rural Anglo-American tradition
In the United States, the development of urban folk song cul­ture is partly a result of the development of a strong folk music tra­dition in the rural Anglo-American community. We have pointed out the importance of this tradition to the survival of British folk music, and, as in South America, we have noted that British material is often better preserved in the New World than in the Old. Of course, the British folk song tradition has undergone changes in America, influenced by the peculiar course of American history and the development of American culture.
The music of American folk songs is partly composed of British and Irish tunes that are not easily distinguished, individually, from their forms as they are found in the British Isles. Partly it comes from popular song and from broadside ballad tunes. The differences between American and British song are greater in the words than in the music, for the words are much more frequently of American origin (often they are parodies of British songs), embodying the specific events of American history and resulting from particular features of American culture—the frontier, the religious revival of the 1800's, the love of humor and exaggeration, the presence of vari­ous ethnic minorities, and the particular occupations (cowboys, miners, Indian fighters, etc.) in which Americans had to engage while building a new country.
Taken as a whole, the style of American folk music in English has more melodies in major, fewer pentatonic tunes, more songs in duple meter, less use of accompaniment, but more use of the drone principle in instrumental accompaniment than has the style of Britain. Like the British tradition, and unlike the Negro and some of the ethnic group styles, it is essentially one of solo singing. Melodies that are obviously of nineteenth-century origin, with a definite implied harmony, are common in America. The words of the English songs in America have also been changed, and Americans have made a spe­cial selection of material from the British repertory. Thus, there are more humorous folk songs in the American repertory than in the British. Tall tales and other humorous exaggerations are a typical sub­ject. Folk heroes such as the Negro strong man John Henry, the bad-

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