Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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Music is a marvellous conservator. One reason of this is that it is the most efficient of all memory-helps. Another is that among primitive peoples all over the world music became associated with religious worship at so early a period in the development of religion that it acquired even a greater sanctity than words or eucharistic posturing. So the early secular song, as well as the early sacred, is sometimes preserved long after its meaning is forgotten. In this particular, too, folksong becomes an adjunct to ethnology. A striking story is told of how in the middle of the eighteenth century a folksong established fraternal relations between two peoples who had forgotten for cenĀ­turies that they were of one blood. The tale comes from a French book,1 but is thus related in an essay on "Some Breton Folksongs," published by Theodore Bacon in "The Atlantic Monthly" for November, 1892:
In September, 1758, an English force effected a descent upon the Breton coast, at Saint-Cast. A company of Lower Bretons, from the neighborhood of Treguire and Saint-Pol de Leon, was marching against a detachment of Welsh mountaineers, which was coming briskly forward singing a national air, when all at once the Bretons of the French army stopped short in amazement. The air their enemies were singing was one which every day may be heard sounding over the hearths of Brittany. "Electrified," says the historian, grandson himself of an eyewitness, "by accents which spoke to their hearts, they gave way to a sudden enthusiasm, and joined in the same patriotic refrain. The Welsh, in their turn, stood motionless in their ranks. On both sides officers gave the command to fire; but it was in the same language, and the soldiers stood as if petrified. This hesitation continued, however, but a moment: a common emotion was too strong for discipline; the weapons fell from their hands, and the descendants from the ancient Celts renewed upon the battlefield the fraternal ties which had formerly united their fathers."
M. Th. Hersart de la Villemarque, in his "Barzaz-Breiz," a collection of Breton folksongs, prints two ballads,
1 "Combat de Saint-Cast, par M. de Saint-Pern Couelan," 1836.
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