Cover image for "The music of American folk song" and selected other writings on American folk music
"The music of American folk song" and selected other writings on American folk music
Seeger, Ruth Crawford, 1901-1953.
Publication Information:
Rochester, NY : University of Rochester Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
liv, 156 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3551.1 .S44 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This is the first publication of an annotated monograph by the noted composer and folksong scholar Ruth Crawford Seeger. Originally written as a foreword for the 1940 book Our Singing Country, it was considered too long and was replaced by a much shorter version. According to her stepson, Pete Seeger, when the original was not included "Ruth suffered one of the biggest disappointments of the last ten years of her life. It just killed her . . . She was trying to analyze the whole style and problem of performing this music." Along with her children Mike and Peggy Seeger, he has long desired to see this work in print as it was meant to be read. The manuscript has been edited from several varying sources by Larry Polansky, with the assistance of Seeger's biographer Judith Tick. It is divided into two sections: I. "A Note on Transcription" and II. "Notes on the Songs and on Manners of Singing." Seeger examines all aspects of the relationship between singer, song, notation, the eventual performer, and the transcriber. In Section I, Seeger develops a complex and well-organized system of notation for these songs which is meant to be both descritive (transcription as cultural preservation) and prescriptive (she intended that others would be able to perform these songs). In Section II, she provides an interpretive theory for performance of this music, and suggests how performers might make the songs "their own" through a deep knowledge of the original styles. Ruth Crawford Seeger considered this work to be both a major accomplishment and a central statement of her own ideas on the topic. Larry Polansky is Associate Professor of Music at Dartmouth College, and a well-known composer and theorist on American music. Judith Tick is Professor of Music at Northeastern University and author of the first major biography of Ruth Crawford Seeger.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Polansky (Dartmouth College) and Tick (Northeastern Univ.) have managed to reconstruct an essay by Seeger originally intended as an appendix to John Lomax and Alan Lomax's Our Singing Country (1941, reprinted in 2000 with an introduction by Tick). Although she is now recognized primarily for her fascinating classical compositions, from 1937 to 1941 Seeger prepared transcriptions of songs from Lomax field recordings, transcriptions to be published in Our Singing Country along with an essay explaining her elaborate procedures and the importance of field recordings. The essay proved to be too long for the published book, but Polansky and Tick reproduce it here, along with Seeger's original notes and Polansky's extensive additional notes. The essay describes Seeger's exacting transcription techniques, with numerous musical examples. The editors also include three of Crawford Seeger's shorter writings, and Polansky provides an informative introduction. The numerous illustrations and detailed editorial comments are most helpful. This volume adds Seeger's voice to the larger story well told by Tick in her outstanding Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music (CH, Apr'98). Recommended for music and academic libraries serving upper-division undergraduates through faculty. R. D. Cohen Indiana University Northwest

Table of Contents

Pete SeegerMike SeegerPeggy SeegerJudith TickLarry PolanskyLarry Polansky
List of Illustrationsp. ix
List of Music Examplesp. xi
Forewordp. xv
Foreword: A Few Personal Words about Ruth Crawford Seeger's The Music of American Folk Songp. xvi
Forewordp. xix
Historical Introduction: The Salvation of Writing Things Downp. xxi
Editor's Introductionp. xxxi
Abbreviationsp. liii
The Music of American Folk SongRuth Crawford Seeger
I. A Note on Transcriptionp. 7
1. The singer and the songp. 7
2. Phonographic recording of the songp. 8
3. Transcription of the song from phonographic recordingp. 8
a. Transcription from phonograph recording versus dictation direct from folk singer, player or intermediaryp. 8
b. Transcription through graph notationp. 9
4. The reader and the songp. 11
5. Music notation as a bridgep. 13
6. Three basic types of transcription illustratedp. 14
7. Song-normp. 22
8. Majority usagep. 23
9. Underlimits of amount of detail shown in notation, especially with regard to the simpler singing-stylesp. 25
10. The model tune as representative of the song as a wholep. 26
11. The initial tune as model tunep. 27
12. The composite tunep. 28
13. The transcriber and a changing oral traditionp. 28
II. Notes on the Songs and on Manners of Singingp. 31
14. Adherence to a dynamic level throughout the song as a wholep. 31
15. Adherence to a dramatic level throughout the song as a wholep. 32
16. Adherence to the tempo set at the beginning of the songp. 33
a. Infrequency of long ritardandos from the beginning to the end of the song as a wholep. 33
b. Infrequency of short stereotyped ritardandos at ends of phrases and stanzasp. 33
17. Strict time and free singing stylesp. 34
18. Pulse and countp. 36
19. Anticipation and delay of beatp. 38
20. Simple and compound meterp. 41
21. Metrical irregularities--prolongation and contraction of measurep. 54
a. Prolongation of measure--the extended tone and the extended or inserted restp. 57
b. Underlimit of metrical irregularity shown in these notations, especially with regard to extension of tone and extension or insertion of restp. 58
c. Manners of notating extended tone and extended or inserted restp. 59
22. Metrical irregularities--divisions of beat and measurep. 61
23. Restp. 62
24. Phrase patternp. 63
a. Number of measures to a phrasep. 63
b. Number of phrases to the [stanza]p. 64
25. Interstanzaic variationp. 64
26. Manners of accomodating extra syllables of succeeding stanzasp. 66
27. Tone attack and releasep. 66
a. Attackp. 66
b. Releasep. 67
28. Intonationp. 67
29. Scale and modep. 69
30. Accompanimentp. 72
Editor's Endnotesp. 77
Appendix 1 Songs Referred to in The Music of American Folk Songp. 108
Appendix 2 List of Unpublished Transcriptions in the Lomax Family Archivesp. 114
Appendix 3 Amazing Grace/Pisgah Transcriptions, from George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spiritualsp. 118
Selected Other Writings on American Folk MusicRuth Crawford Seeger
Editor's Introductionp. 129
Pre-School Children and American Folk Music (late 1940s?)p. 131
Keep the Song Going! (1951)p. 137
Review of John N. Work, American Negro Songs for Mixed Voices (1948)p. 144
Index of Songsp. 147
Indexp. 153