Folk Music in The United States


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So far in this book we have discussed folk music as it exists in its natural environment, how it lives in its rural home, and something of its behavior when it migrates to the city from the coxmtryside. And we have confined ourselves to the use of music by genuine folk cultures, whose property folk music is par excellence. But folk music has another side; it often penetrates the urban, sophisticated musical culture. Indeed, most readers have probably had their first contact with folk song from recordings made by professional folk singers rather than from material recorded in the field. Why is it possible and even necessary to separate these two ways of performing folk music? Because it usually undergoes some very fundamental changes when it becomes part of an urban and collegiate musical culture. Some of these changes are obvious, others subtle. But the lover of folk music should be aware of them, and be careful not to confuse the two modes of presentation. Their confusion has often resulted in misrepresentation of facts concerning the original, rural form; on the other hand, it has led to considerable abuse being heaped on the professional folk singer.

It is unfortunate to have this confusion. I recently suggested to a student that she collect some folk songs for a term project, whereupon she asked me whether I knew anyone who could get her a discount at a local record store. For her, folk songs existed only on commercial records, sung by professionals. She was unaware that she herselE knew some folk songs, learned from her


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