Folk Music in The United States


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When the white man first came to the area which is now the United States, it was inhabited by fewer than one million Indians, who were organized in several hundred tribes of various sizes and languages. What we know about their culture and music five hundred and more years ago comes largely from investigating their life during the last hundred years, from the diaries and reports of early white travelers and missionaries, and from the artificial reconstruction of early conditions. Most scholars are pretty well agreed on the role of music in the aboriginal life of the Indians, and enough actual music remains in the Indian repertories today to give at least a fairly accurate indication of its scope and style before the discovery of America. Thus we are interested in two phases of Indian music, the aboriginal one, before contact between Indians and whites, and the accultura-tional one, including those very interesting developments in Indian music which occurred recently under the impact and influence of Western civilization.

Music was. very important in the lives of the Indians, much more so than in the lives of sophisticated Westerners. The reason for this may be the mystical qualities with which the Indians beheved music was endowed, their relative paucity of material culture, and the importance of dance. At any rate, in this respect their music closely parallels that of most of the other primitive societies in the world.

Religion is the aspect of Indian culture to which music was


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