Folk Music in The United States


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70                 An Introduction to Folk Music in the United States

mother, and that folk music was at all diflEerent from cultivated and popular music. It is important to realize that what the professional folk singer is doing, is trying to do, and in fact is required to do is something quite different from what the member of the folk community does. And if we assume, as we have throughout this book, that a song may be folk music under some circumstances and cultivated music under other circumstances, it is possible that songs sung by the professionals are not, and cannot be, genuine folk songs at all. In order to solve this dilemma, we would have to decide whether a piece of music can exist in an abstract form, outside of a performance. This problem is outside our scope here, but I believe the answer in the case of folk music could easily be "no," since oral tradition is its primary distinguishing feature. Since folk music proper lives only in performance, we can judge it only within its medium of pi'esen-tation.

There is much variety in .a professionaFs degree of knowledge and first-hand experience in folklore. Some professionals are members of a genuine folk tradition, of families in which oral culture is well established. They usually embark on professionalism through urbanization, and they are affected accordingly. For example, a genuine informant who sang for Library of Congress collectors decided that he was successful enough among those learned gentlemen to go to New York and become a full-time ballad singer. Some other folk singers come from the cultivated musical field; they are trained concert artists who like folk songs and wish to bring them to their audiences. Others, again, are scholars with a knack for public performance and entertainment. Some professionals have a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals of folklore and the factors which separate it from other types of tradition; others constantly exhibit incredible naivete (or arrogance) and are willing categorically to call practically everything they wish to sing a folk song.

The presentation of folk songs by professional singers is a force to be reckoned with in today's urban musical culture. Its over-all influence has certainly been beneficial to the survival of folk music at large, in spite of the misunderstandings to which it has

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