Folk Music in The United States

The Ethnic Backgrounds of American Folk Music 

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The Ethnic Backgrounds of American Folk Music                   21

proportion of immigrants from various European countries has changed periodically. In the middle of the nineteenth century a heavy influx of Germans gave a special color to the material; this was altered as many immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe followled. After the arrival of these groups, their continued flux from one region to another, the rapid urbanization of some districts and the isolation of others, as well as the phenomenon of the frontier, shaped the American civilization in certain characteristic ways.

We must remember that the United States has always been composed of combinations of ethnic groups, a situation which also occurs in European countries but in ways diflFerent from ours. In Europe, if several ethnic groups inhabit a nation, they are usually relatively isolated from each other. In Czechoslovakia, for example, the Czech- and German speaking inhabitants had little mutual contact, except among the intellectuals. Even in Switzerland, the German, French, and Italian groups have their own traditions and partake only to a small extent of a common folklore. In the United States, however, the various ethnic groups have tended to mix. There was no long tradition of cultural integrity in America, and practical considerations favored their becoming at least partially incorporated in the Anglo-American community. The German-American individual takes part in the traditions of both Germany and America, the Ukrainian-American in those of his homeland and the United States. There are, to be sure, a few enclaves of Europeans who preserve their old culture alinost intact. But the majority of ethnic groups in America participate in a combination of traditions. Thus the Czech-American folklore is quite different from the original Czech, in content, form, and function; and the French-American contrasts with that of France.

Almost all bodies of folklore in the world are represented in America, but in making the transition, they sometimes lose their original functions. Thus, harvesting songs from Yugoslavia are not used for harvest here because the Yugoslavs in America are rarely farmers, and paddling songs in an African style are at times used simply for entertainment, as are Italian horse and

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