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    American Folk Music Essay (3955 words)

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    American music began to emerge almost as soon as the first Europeans and Africans arrived in the New World. Both the European settlers and African slaves brought instruments and musical traditions with them. The Europeans contributed fiddles and pianos, while Africans brought the knowledge of making and performing upon beanlike instruments with them. By the 19th century, these three instruments were played by black and white Americans, but often in different ways. In the early part of the 19th century the states east of Mississippi River dominated our country. Outside of New England, the Middle Atlantic States, along with the far Southwest, became the first extensively settled sections of the United States. Scotch, Irish and

    German pioneers settled in the mountains, far from the port cities and slowly growing cities. In the southwest, pioneering Spaniards gradually moved into what would become New Mexico and Arizona. Face-to-face communication among these settlers was normal. Many people remained illiterate or obtained the most meager formal education. As the United States emerged from the shadow of British domination, new hybrids began to emerge. The seeds of synchronization had been planted and the beginnings of distinctly American folk music could be heard in the first few decades of the 19th century. Outside of the major cities most of the United States remained a rural population.

    Musical activity was an important means of entertainment at home, at homes of neighbors and in church. The folk music of white and Hispanic Americans remains a complex, complicated topic involving a variety of vocal and instrumental traditions. The 18th- and early 19th- century musical styled largely followed the lead of Spain and British Isles, because of the ongoing domination by England of the eastern United States and the influence of Spaniards in the Southwest. Churchgoers sang ballads of British and Spanish origin entertained folks. The music of Africa were exceptionally diverse. Religious and public ceremonies were often called for music making.

    The primary instruments of West Africans were drums of varying sizes and shapes. African music became integrated into our musical fabric quickly. The acculturation in the West Indies took much longer. Africans brought to the South soon learned European culture. The south was also home to most of the slowly maturing black American music; it spawned most of the unique forms of American folk music, such as blues or gospel. What is today considered ‘American folk music” thus began as a mix of music from many countries, cultures, and work environments. Distinctions between folk and other genres were further eroded by singers who merged traditional folk with songs about political issues.

    This reached new heights with the folk revival of the sass and sass. The social and political issues at that time concerned the civil rights and the Vietnam War, inspired the rise of a style called protest music. Singers and composers like Pete Serge, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Bake played music that was not strictly folk, but that owed a great deal to the folk tradition. The definition of American folk music expanded to include this new development. In the years since, the music has continued to evolve and change, influencing and being influenced by shifting tastes in the music world. While traditional ethnic folk music is still very much a part of it, American folk today includes much more as well.

    As a result, American folk music is far from dead. Instead of being something found between the dusty pages of a book or in a museum, folk continues to change in a new way. British Folk In the New World In the sass, when the first white colonists arrived in America, folk music of the British Isles was already hundreds of years old. As with any folk tradition, its exact singings cannot be dated with certainty. However, it was clearly ancient; many tunes familiar to the colonists can be traced back at least to the mid-sass. The music was richly diverse, because of regional differences. A) Instrumental Music Instrumental music was primarily for dancing.

    As in most cultures, dancing was a major form of entertainment for the working class that typified the early British immigrants. It was nearly always part of the festivities. The instruments used to play British folk dance music varied. The most common instrument was the fiddle. There were many styles within the broad category of dance tunes. One of the most moon was the reel- a fast paced dance, usually performed in couples, typically in 2/4 time. Another type of dance was the Gig- a solo dance, typically in 6/8 time. Still another common dance was the stratosphere- a slow dance from Scotland, usually played in 2/4 or 4/4 time. C) Singing Solo The second basic category of British folk music was the vocal song. Traditional British singing had strict rules.

    It should be performed solo and a capable, the singer used a nasal voice and was an oral historian, improvisation was not important. D) Ballads The ballad told a story. This was usually an exciting tale of legendary figures, great oversee or famous battles. Today about three hundred examples of these songs still exist, they are called the Child ballads (e. G. : Barbara Allen) e) Lyric Songs Generally speaking, lyric songs did not focus on storytelling. Instead, they expressed monologues. F) Work Songs and Broadsides Some traditional songs were used while working. For example immigrants from Scotland used walking songs”. Songs of the sailors were called chanteys or shanties.

    All these songs are usually highly rhythmic, helping the workers stay together and keep their rhythms synchronized. G) Religious Music Early American settlers also sang songs of worship. The primary place for religious songs was in church. But people also sang them at home and in camp meetings. They enjoyed singing songs that used familiar tunes (such as folk tunes). A simple call- and- response system called lining out” was used. Another technique was shape note singing, where you use different symbols to represent notes. H) Isolated Families thus grew accustomed to fending for themselves- and this, of course, included making own entertainment. Because of their isolation the music these people played remained relatively free of outside influence.

    There were no radio shows or big-city performers to introduce new songs. There were no phonograph records or radio broadcasts to influence playing styles. I) Alterations The music did not stay entirely pure, of course. Sometimes words or melodies were misheard or poorly remembered. They also took old melodies and fitted them with new lyric. The way of performance styles also changed. Appalachian fiddlers played their instruments in a different style and used other bows. J) String Bands Several instruments, rather than a single fiddle, became the norm for dance music. This development came about with the widespread adoption of the banjo and guitar.

    These three instruments together formed a string band. They became familiar sights at dances, at parties, or simply on front porches. K) Songs of pioneers New generations and new immigrants were continuing to push westward. A body of highly distinctive songs developed as pioneers settled these new regions. Musically these tunes were generally rooted in traditional British music, but lyrically they reflected the experiences of daily lived of the people who invented the. The songs told tales of bad weather, illness, great battles or dramatic love affairs. L) American Music Gradually, as the country itself grew, several strains of homegrown American music were developing.

    In some cases British- derived folk was being preserved more or less intact. In other cases, such as development of string bands and the songs of pioneers, it was developing in distinctly new and original ways. Slaves began arriving in America in the sass, mostly in the Deep South, which needed many people to produce tobacco, rice, cotton, etc. There was a little comfort in the bitter lives of slaves, but they did have one solace: a rich musical tradition. This music was crucial to their survival; it helped them keep part of their African identity alive and it let them maintain hope to face of inhuman treatment. This music influenced American music like no other.

    Virtually all forms of popular America music today- not Just folk but blues, Jazz, rock and roll, soul and rap- would not exist without the influence of the rhythmic and melodic traditions of Africa. A) Voice and Rhythm music thus reflected a correspondingly large number of cultures. They usually sang or play in a group or solo. This was typified by a pattern called call and response, in which a solo vocalist alternated lines with an answering chorus. Another crucial element concerned flatted notes; these bent” or blue” notes- the flatted third, fifth ND seventh notes of a scale- lent melodies a heartfelt quality. Even more important than these, however, was the reliance African music placed on rhythm.

    Complex polymaths- multiple, simultaneous, contrasting rhythms- were the heart of African music, maintained by powerful drums and hand claps. B) Surviving Habits The first generation of slaves brought with them traditional types of songs such as work songs, epics about battles, or lullabies, then taught these to each other and their children. Very little is known today about this music, however, since it was never recorded. In America slaves accompanied themselves with instruments similar to those they were familiar with, making them from materials at hand. For example, they cut lengths of cane to make fifes, a type of flute. Many slave owners banned their use of instruments- especially drums. The ban on drums was a question of control.

    In Africa drums were frequently used to communicate over long distance and to share information about rebellions. C) New Elements Because of this ban, slaves usually made music using little more than their voices and body percussion”- hand claps, foot stomps and knee slaps. They continued to nor tradition as best they could. These habits were passed on long after the first generation of slaves died. However, as the old African languages were gradually forgotten, songs were performed in English. The African music was an opposite of the British musical tradition. British music was performed exactly and ancient. African music had new elements, like individual expression or improvisation. ) Improvisation Slaves thus frequently created variations on old melodies and lyrics or invented entirely new ones. They freely borrowed elements from existing songs, refitting them with new melodies or to make a single new one. Slaves adapted or invented songs for many different reasons. Some examples are: lullaby songs, songs, that were fun to sing or work songs. E) Religious Song Another especially important reason for slaves to sing was to express a deep religious faith. Most slaves powerfully attracted to Christianity. The stories of the Bible had clear parallels in the slaves’ daily lives. F) Jubilee Songs From this merger of Christian and African sensibilities came a large and varied group of anonymous folk songs.

    These songs had a variety of names, including corn ditties, cornfield ditties and Jubilee songs. They reflected both the lives of the slaves and their belief in a better world. Many Jubilee songs had double meanings and some of them held a coded message. G) Changes Some Jubilee songs were newly invented, but many were adapted from European hymns. Slave congregations felt free to change the hymns they sang. They altered lyrics, adding extra verses or using different words. They also added distinctive musical touches from African tradition, such as call- and- response singing and strong polymaths. Even the basic melodies of hymns frequently changed, as singers improvised using such techniques as bends, slurs or slides.

    British folk pitched sound; the African style, by contrast, used an open, relaxed throat to produce a sound that was deeper and soulful. H) Spirituals and The Fish Jubilee Singers Jubilee songs were usually sung by slaves all over the South in the early part of the nineteenth century. The music was all but forgotten, however, in the immediate aftermath of Civil War, which ended in 1865 and resulted in the end of slavery; no ex- slave wanted to recall those hated years. One group was primarily responsible for his surge in popularity; the Fish Jubilee Singers, a student choir from Nashville, which reformed Jubilee songs by elements of European classical music.

    This new blend of styles had a name; the spiritual. Spirituals were songs rooted in slave music but formalized with correct” European harmony and notation. The Fish singers marked the first time that black American folk music was heard and appreciated by large audiences outside of the south. I) The Blues As the twentieth century dawned, another important style of black folk music was emerging: the blues. Blues songs expressed both the hardships and pleasures of life, its deeply felt pain and its Joy- or sometimes a bittersweet mixture of two. Though influenced to a degree by the British ballad tradition, the blues was most closely connected to African American religious song.

    Musically, the early forms of the blues were fairly simple. The use of blue” and bent” notes in the melody lines, meanwhile, gave the blues an especially plaintive and expressive feel. Frequent embellishments in the style of spirituals- swoops, slurs, shouts and other techniques- added to the music’s power. In the hands of the right performer, the blues could be by turns terrifying, seductive, heartbreaking or hilarious. J) Singing and Playing The Blues No one can pinpoint the exact birth date of the blues. It began developing in the late sass or early sass, but there is no exact date. Nor can its precise birthplace be found, although it undoubtedly began in the South.

    The instruments used to accompany a blues singer were simple, cheap and often homemade- perhaps a guitar, a harmonica, a Jug to blow into, or a bass made from a washtub, a broomstick, and a length of rope. In those days before amplification, the National ostensibly guitar, with its loud, bright tone and built- in acoustic amplifier, was especially popular. Over time, performers invented new ways to make these various instruments sound fresh. During the formative years of the blues, its single most important figure, Robert Johnson, set a daunting standard for every performer who followed. Johnny’s life and death also served as a template for the classic blueness.

    After a hard, fast life and a handful of haunting records, Johnson died in his twenties. K) Mixing It Up For centuries the folk music of white and black Americans had remained more or less separate. There were exceptions, such as slaves who were taught European instruments like the fiddle and the piano. In general, however, it was rare for a black Caucasian to play white music. The reverse- that is, the influence of black music on white performers- was also becoming increasingly common. White musicians had enthusiastically adopted the banjo, for instance and some white singers were beginning to use black vocal techniques such as blue notes and sliding tones.

    As black and white styles- the most prevalent forms of folk music in America- developed and influenced each other, other branches of folk music were also stirring. In music with them. Once in America, these immigrants formed vibrant communities that helped preserve and celebrate their music. America has always prided itself on being a nation of immigrants. From colonial days onward, the country has absorbed millions of people from a wide variety of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities. These groups brought their own distinctive musical styles with them and the result has made American folk music an ever-richer stew. A) The Cajuns Musically speaking, one of the most interesting groups in America are the Cajuns.

    Cajuns are descendants of French families who, in the sass settled along Canada’s eastern seaboard. They were forced to leave Canada in the mid-sass after refusing o Join the British military in fighting French colonists. Many fled to the American colonies. Isolated from the world of large, they became tight-knit groups of hunters, trappers and farmers who spoke their own version of French, created their own fiery cooking and developed their own robust music. Their music is a standout even in Louisiana. B) Cajun Music Cajun music is based on traditional French folk dance music. However, over time it mingled with the music of African Americans and Creoles(people of mixed French- Spanish-African-Caribbean descent) .

    They still played dance music, but altogether it as a spicier style, performed by small groups and typically featured by an accordionist, fiddle players, percussions and vocalists. The accordions used by the Cajuns were button accordions. C) Mјsick Texan West of Louisiana, meanwhile, another distinctive style was developing. Along the Texas-Mexico border, Texans- descendants of Spanish Mexican colonists- were, like the Cajuns, both preserving their traditional music and creating vibrant new styles. Collectively these styles were called mјsick Texan, translated informally as ‘Tex-Meg music. ” It developed in several different ways. Requests Texans and conjunct are different well-known Tex-Meg formats.

    The instrumentation and many dance styles were influenced by the German immigrants in the late sass. D) Corridor Another classic form of Texas-Mexican folk music is the corridor, a type of ballad. Corridor used typically simple tunes and narrated stories. They were performed by wandering guitarist- singers or by migrant workers as they traveled the countryside. Ethnic groups like Cajuns and Texas Mexicans were not the only ones responsible for the distinctive styles of folk music developing in America. Sometimes laborers thrown gather by their shared work developed distinctive songs all on their own. Railroad workers and lumberjacks were two such groups. Many American sailor songs were adaptations of British sea chanteys.

    Not all sailor songs were for work times; sometimes they were simply for enjoyment. The cowboys of the Old West were perhaps, the most famous of all song-producing They had a potent impact on American society and folk music. They were ethnically diverse groups, like English and Irish, Hispanic, and American cowboys. New melodies were sometimes created, but often cowboys simple put new lyrics to existing melodies. They usually played easy-to-carry instruments like harmonicas and fiddles. Like all true folk songs, cowboy songs were anonymously written. G) Singing -or The cattle Cowboys sang for many of the usual reasons, especially to pass the time during the long hours on the Job or while sitting around a nighttime fire.

    However, one unusual situation was a frequent cause of cowboy song: Many of their performances were for audiences of cattle. Cowboys who had night shifts discovered that soft singing helped settle the animals and lessened the chances of a stampede. Cowboy songs ere usually more straightforward ballads, which concerned daily life and its pleasures, pains, dangers and rewards. H) Many Styles As groups like cowboys, Texans and Cajuns developed and preserved their music, other groups were also doing the same. In particular, new groups of immigrants arrived in America in massive waves during the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. Some of these new arrivals were from Asia, but most were European and Russian.

    Immigrants from places like Italy, Poland, France and Germany brought its own music: The Poles and Germans had their accordion-driven once tunes; the Italians had their sweet, sad mandolin songs; and the Jews had their vibrant sleeker music. The musical styles stayed separate, but it changed with the transportation. Musicians could travel around and began to influence each other. Improved technology in the form of radio and phonograph records had an effect on American folk music, because of destroying barriers between ethnic and national groupings. Better transportation was the first force of change to be felt. As roads and railroads improved, professional musicians moved more frequently between urban undo rural areas.

    Typically, these musicians belonged to traveling productions, such as the minstrel show. In these revues white musicians, dressed in black-face” Joked and sang in parody of African American style. The shows provided white northern audiences with a humorous view. A) Minstrel Shows Minstrel show seem grotesquely racist from a modern standpoint, but they were an important part of America’s musical history. They were early instances of folk music crossing racial and social barriers, introducing elements of black culture. Minstrel shows continued into the early years of the twentieth century, although their popularity waned. Meanwhile, a new technology was transforming the way people listened to music.

    Though the recordings weren’t in the best standard, this development was revolutionary for musicians. The earliest recordings were too poor to record some music well, but by the sass the technology was much improved. As a The First Recorded Hillbilly’s Music Early commercial folk recordings were of traditional white music. The first may have been Texas fiddler Eek Robertson’s Sallies Gooding” in 1922. The next year a talent scout for Joke Records, Ralph Peer recorded songs. He also began making regular ours of the South and found a number of popular performers. At first no one knew exactly what to call the music. It was variously referred to as old-time southern tunes”, hill country music”, or simple old time music”.

    But when Peer gave one of his groups the name ‘Hill Bellies”, this term became a catchall for all rural white music. Hill-Billy music was born. D) Race Records Meanwhile, record sales for other kinds of popular music were also booming. Recordings by musicians from Hawaii were as popular as recordings of Eastern European polkas. By far the biggest sellers were race records”- all recordings by African Americans, including blues, spirituals and spoken sermons. Blues records were the big sellers. E) Radio During this period another invention was storming the country. In 1929 radio station KODAK in Pittsburgh made the first commercial broadcast. Radio was a sensation, and by 1923 most major American cities had their own stations.

    The magical new technology thus helped stitch the nation and its musical heritage, together. F) The Pry and The Blues Folk music was integral to radio from the beginning. Many stations featured regular live folk performances, especially hillbilly’s music. Most of these shows were popular only regionally, but some of these were also national popular- like the famous Grand Ole Pry on WAS in Nashville, Tennessee. Blues shows were also heard, although they were not regularly scheduled until the sass. The most famous was King Biscuit Time on station KAFKA in Helena, Arkansas. G) The Carters As radio expanded folks popularity and reach, the music began to change.

    For one thing, the term hillbilly’s’ was dropped in favor of country’, which included the smoother, more pop-oriented music often featured on shows like Pry. One such group was the Carter family: Sara(author and lead vocal), her husband A. P. (bass vocals), and Sara’s cousin Amenable(guitar and vocals). Raised in Virginians Clinch Valley, the Carters were steeped in well-known old-time songs, and A. P. Was also a shrewd collector of more obscure tunes. Their records sold phenomenally well and many of the songs became familiar standards. H) The Singing Brakeman Another standout of the era was Jimmie Rodgers. His first recordings were made at the same time and place as the Carters: June 1927 in an old hat factory in Bristol. He was deeply influenced by African American folk music.

    Rodgers briefly worked for the aileron, but after contracting tuberculosis, he hasn’t been able to do that and tried his hand at playing music professionally. Within a few years Rodgers was a national star. The Singing Brakeman, as he nicknamed for his former occupation, was a gifted songwriter and a warm inviting vocalist- especially when he let loose with his infectious yodel. I) Preserving Music Entrepreneurs were behind the booming sales of records by artists like Rodgers and the Carters. However, not everyone who recorded folk music had profit in mind. In particular, a small group o folklorists- scholars and serious collectors- sought to

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