Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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

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man Jesse James, and the Slavic steel worker Joe Magarac abound. Broadside ballads telling of the murders and railroad wrecks of a locality are particularly popular, and songs telling of shipwrecks are a specialty of the populations of Newfoundland, Labrador, and New England. Besides preserving British broadsides, Americans have com­posed a body of broadsides of their own, especially during the nine­teenth and early twentieth centuries. They are more apt to deal with violence and romantic love and less with the supernatural and with battles than are their British counterparts.
Regional differences do, of course, appear in folk singing of the United States. According to Alan Lomax,5 northern folk singers pro­duce a rather relaxed, open-voiced tone, while southern ones are tenser and "pinched-voiced," and those of the West are a blend of the two. Lomax attributes these differences to deep-seated cultural differences involving the relationship between the sexes, the hard­ships of frontier life, and the presence of the Negro minority in the South. The fact that dancing was prohibited or at least frowned upon by many religious leaders of early America tended to drive dance music from the British Isles into the background, but it pro­duced a distinctly American type of song, the "playparty song," which accompanies marching and dance-like movements similar to those of some children's group games.6
Dancing has, however, played a part in the British-American folk culture, as may be seen from the prominence of the square dance, which is drived from the eighteenth and nineteenth-century quadrilles of European high society. A distinctive American feature is the presence of a "caller," who speaks or sings verses instructing the dancers in the routine required in the execution of the dance.
There is also in the American tradition a large body of instru­mental music that is used for dancing, and some of which was at one time also used for marching. As a matter of fact, the earliest jazz bands in New Orleans were brass bands that played marching music for funerals and other processions. But this is part of the Negro tra­dition that has little to do with that of the white North, where fiddle and fife players played ornamented versions of song tunes as well as
5 Alan Lomax, The Folksongs of North America in the English Language (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960), p. 1.
6 For examples, see S. J. Sackett, "Play-Party Games from Kansas," Heri­tage of Kansas V, No. 3 (Sept. 1961), 5-61.

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