Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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fact that one author has frequently copied his praise of negro songs from another, and determined from it the great capabilities of the macks, when a closer examination would have revealed the fact that they were not musical songs at all, but merely simple poems. This is undoubtedly the case with the oft quoted negro songs of Day and Busch. The latter declares that the lucrative business which negroes made^ by singing their songs in the streets of American towns determined the whitesto imitate them, and with black­ened faces to perform their own "compositions" as negro songs. We must be on our guard against the selections of so-called negro songs, which are often offered us as negro compositions.
Miss McKim and Mr. Spaulding were the first to try to make negro songs known, the former of whom, in connection with Allen and Ware, pub­lished a large collection which for the most part had been got together by the negroes of Coffin's point and in the neighboring plantations at St. Helena. I cannot think that these and the rest of the songs deserve the praise given by the editors, for they are unmistakably "arranged"—not to say ignorantly borrowed—from the national songs of all nations, from military signals, well-known marches, German student songs, etc., unless it is pure accident which has caused me to light upon traces of so many of them. Miss McKim herself says it is difficult to reproduce in notes their peculiar guttural sounds and rhythmical effects—almost as difficult, in fact as with the songs of birds or the tones of an aeolian harp. "Still, the greater part of negro music is civilized in its character," sometimes influenced by the whites, sometimes directly imitated. After this we may forego the necessity for a thorough examination, although it must be mentioned here, because the songs are so often given without more ado as examples of primitive music. It is, as a matter of fact, no longer primitive, even in its wealth of borrowed melody. Feeling for harmony seems fairly developed.
It was not Miss McKim, but Mr. Allen, who called attention to the "civilized" character of the music of the slaves. In what Miss McKim said about the difficulty of reproducing "the entire character" of the music, as she expresses it, by the conventional symbols of the art, she adduces a proof of the primitive nature of some of its elements. The study of these elements might profitably have occupied Dr. Wallaschek's attention for a space. Had he made more than cursory examination of them he would not have been so sweeping in his characterization of the songs as mere imitations. The authors whom he quotes1 wrote before a collection of songs of the American negroes had been made on which a scientific, critical opin­ion might be based. As for Dr. Wallaschek, his critical attitude toward "Slave Songs" is amply shown by his bracketing it with a publication of Christy minstrel songs which appeared in London; his method is illustrated by
1Charles William Day, who published a work entitled "Five Years' Residence in the West Indies," in 1852, and Moritz Busch, who in 1854 pub' lished his "Wanderungen zwischen Hudson und Mississippi."
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