Folk Music in The United States


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28                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

and adds to each section a bit of material, identical in each case, thus keeping the isorhythmic structure and the over-all form but creating a slightly diJfferent and more complex song. While we might think of these new songs merely as variants of the old, the Indians evidently think of them as separate creations.

Perhaps a word should be said about improvisation of music as a method of composing, that is, creating on the spur of the moment during performance. Some persons believe that the word "primitive" somehow implies spontaneous or unorganized creation. They consider the music of primitive cultures basically different from cultivated music because, they think, it adheres to no structural principles but is some kind of spontaneous outpouring of soul and culture. This is a generalization we cannot subscribe to, although a certain amount of spontaneity cannot be denied to any music in oral tradition. Some Indian and other primitive music is improvised, but this is true only under a few special conditions. There are certain structural principles in every Indian musical style, and a given composition retains its structure throughout many performances in spite of the fact that it is never committed to any permanent record.

Some evidence of the integrity and structural stability of most Indian music is given by the degree to which songs are rehearsed, and by the assertion of the Indians themselves to the ejffect that mistakes in singing are not tolerated. Systematic rehearsing of songs is found especially among the Indians of the Northwest Coast, Washington and British Columbia.^ Here mistakes in songs are punished, and accuracy in performance is at a premium. Elsewhere, also, we hear of individuals practicing songs for specific performances. Since music is often assumed to have supernatural power, errors in performance obviously cannot be tolerated in certain rituals. Among the Navaho, for example, music is the main portion of some healing rituals which last several days. Theoretically, any error in the performance invalidates the ceremony and makes recovery impossible."^ Of course, if the ritual fails to cure the patient, the failure can be blamed on errors in performance. Naturally some errors are unavoidable, and they sometimes result in permanent changes in the songs; no doubt

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