Folk Music in The United States

The British Tradition

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50                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

Why stand you gaping here, you rogue, come list and go to sea, Sir.

Fve got a vessel at the wharf well loaded with a cargo,

And want a few more hands to help and clear the cursed embargo.

The song goes on to tell how the embargo was ignored by the American shipper, and that the narrator finds it unbelievable that "the Embargo's gone to sea. Sir."

There is a fairly large repertory of instrumental music, though it is rapidly disappearing, in Anglo-American folklore. Used largely for dancing and marching, it is played on fiddles, dulcimers, and fifes, and its style is closely allied to that of the songs. Many of the tunes are based on the song tunes; on the other hand, some of them have become songs through the addition of words.

The religious folk songs of the United States comprise a large body of music which has been gathered from many different sources: ballads and other folk songs, compositions by itinerant evangelists, patriotic songs, vaudeville and minstrel shows, dance tunes and marches, and old hymn tunes from urban churches. We find not only hymns sung at services but also camp-meeting songs and religious ballads. Most religious music is, of course, not folklore, but there are a number of Protestant groups in America who even today have little musical literacy and whose songs are transmitted entirely through oral tradition. Their hymns are folk songs, also, because many of them are variants of tunes current in other fields of musical folklore; hke ballads and dance songs. Many of the folk hymns were printed in the shape-note system, a method of writing music which assigns a differently shaped note to each tone of the scale (do, re, mi, etc.). Of course the music printed in this way is not always real folk music by our definition, but there is usually a close relationship to folk music. Shape-note hymnals appeared during the nineteenth century throughout the North and the Southeast. It was especially strong in the nineteenth century South, and we know now, through the researches of George PuUen Jackson, that the Negro spirituals are closely related to, and often derived from, the so-called "white spirituals" of the Southerners of British descent. The Negroes have added much to the style of the spirituals and

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