Reading and Listening Questions
1) Which 18th-century German writer developed a concept of das Volk that was closely tied to the concept of ethnic nationalism?
a. In his view, what did a nation consist of?
b. How does his definition of a nation fit (or not fit as the case may be) with your understanding of the United States as a nation? What works and what does not work?
2) Were folk songs viewed by 18th- and 19th-century scholars as composed by one person or by a community?
a. Why is this important to our understanding of folk songs and their function?
3) What are transcriptions in the context of music?
4) What were some of the common features of Native American music as it was described by ethnographers in the 19th century? Please list at least 2 or 3.
5) Listen to “A Buffalo Said to Me” on our YouTube playlist. Use the listening guide on pgs. 214-15 of you text to help you.
a. How would you describe the vocal timbre?
b. Is this repetitive or not repetitive?
c. Which arrow most accurately illustrates the melodic contour? 1) or 2)
6) After the discussion of Native American music, your textbook moves onto Anglo-Celtic Ballads and states that, “The work of American folk song collectors began as the study of an Old World folk repertory: traditional ballads from the British Isles.” Why wasn’t Native American music viewed as the beginning of American folk music? Be specific.
7) How many versions of “The Gypsie Laddie” does Child print? What does this tell you about the nature of folk music and its transmission?
8) Cecil Sharp feared, in the early 20th century, that the Anglo-Celtic ballad tradition was an art form on the verge of extinction. However, Olive Dame Campbell found it alive and thriving in a rural community in the United States. Where was this community?
9) Please identify at least 3 or 4 signal traits of folk ballads such as “The Gypsie Laddie” and similar tunes.
10) Do the tunes in ballads provide emotional commentary on the text?
11) Listen to “The Gypsie Laddie” performed by Jean Ritchie. Use the listening guide on pgs. 219-20 to help you.
a. Is the melody the same for every verse or different?
b. Describe Ritchie’s vocal timbre.
c. Summarize the story line – include a sentence or two about the fate of the woman.
12) New songs of American origin often told stories specific to our young nation’s development. One such song was “Sweet Betsey from Pike.” Listen to this song and answer the following questions.
a. How does the singer label the relationship between Betsy and Ike? Would this have been described so openly in a tune from the more “cultured” Eastern United States?
b. What are some of the occurrences described in the storyline?
c. Is the melody the same for every verse or different?
d. What instruments do you hear?
13) The reading reminds us that Mexican-American folksongs of the Southwest are an important part of the American folk music tradition. Listen to “El Capotín (The Rain Song).” This tells the story of a man who avows love for a woman who does not return his affection. The repeated “tin-tin-tin” is meant to be the sound of rain.
a. How does this sound similar to/different from the other folk pieces we’ve heard in this unit? Be specific.
b. Is the meter duple or triple?
c. Is the melody the same for every verse or different?
14) The emergence of Labor Songs in the later 19th century was a precursor to the political and social function of folk music in the 20th century. Labor songs were meant to be sung by groups and were used to boost morale and create a sense of solidarity. Read the lyrics included as examples in your textbook. Are these songs supporting or subverting the established social and political order?
15) “John Henry,” recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959, is both work song and ballad. Listen to the recording while following along with the Listening Guide on pgs. 352-53.
a. What traits identify this as a work song?
b. What traits identify this as a ballad?
c. What is the political and/or social message in this Labor Song?
16) Which singer is mentioned in the context of the 1940 “Grapes of Wrath” concert?
17) Watch the short documentary on our playlist titled “This Land is Your Land: The Story of an American Anthem.” Based on this, answer the following questions:
a. What was the original title of “This Land is Your Land?”
b. How and when did “This Land is Your Land” come into the public consciousness?
c. What were the “radical” verses? Did they appear in the school song books? What was “radical” or controversial about these verses?
18) Listen to “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.” Follow along with the Listening Guide on pg. 356. Answer the following questions:
a. How does this song align with the ballad tradition in terms of both lyrics and music?
b. In the Listen & Reflect section, the book mentions “mistakes.” Why might these “mistakes” have made the music more appealing than a “perfect” recording?
19) Pete Seeger is perhaps the most famous example of an “urban” folk singer, a singer who perpetuates folk traditions far removed from her or his upbringing. Seeger, both as a member of groups such as the Weavers and as a solo singer, sang about peace, war, and politics. Listen to “Beans in My Ears,” a song recorded by Pete Seeger in 1966. He didn’t write it but did alter it slightly to turn it into a political song.
a. What is the mood established by this song?
b. What is the political message?
c. Which event is Seeger singing about? (Hint: What was going on in 1966? Why the name ‘Charlie’ of all names he could have used?)
d. Which President is Seeger mocking in this song?
20) Briefly summarize, in your own words, the difference between the “popularizers,” “preservationists,” and “politicizers.”
21) Bob Dylan, who moved to New York in the 1960s to participate in the Urban folk movement, was one of the most significant figures to emerge during this era. His songs are characterized by complex, poetic lyrics that have many possible, open-ended interpretations. Listen to “Only a Pawn in Their Game” and following along with the Listening Guide on pg. 438. Answer the following questions:
a. How do the lyrics in this compare/contrast with those of earlier ballads?
b. Why does the Listening Guide describe this as “overtly political” but “without a call to action?”
c. What is the story being relayed?
d. How is the murdered portrayed in this presentation of the story?