"The Music of American Folk Song"

"The Music of American Folk Song"

and Selected Other Writings on American Folk Music

Ruth Crawford Seeger

Edited by Larry Polansky

Introduction by Judith Tick


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University of Rochester Press



This is the first complete publication of the late composer and scholar Ruth Crawford Seeger's major work on American folksongs. It preserves them as well as demonstrates how they should be played so that they remain a living part of the American musical tradition.
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.


2 black and white illustrations
216 pages
6x9 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Hardback, 9781580460958, November 2001
Paperback, 9781580461368, May 2003
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS017000, MUS041000
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Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction: Larry Polansky
Prefaces: Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Pete Seeger
Historical Introduction: Judith Tick
Music of American Folk Song
Pre-School Children and American Folk Music
Keep the Song Going
Review of John N. Work's American Negro Songs for Mixed Voices
Amazing Grace and Pisgah transcriptions


Illuminates the work of Crawford's last two decades; it is admirably produced with musical examples and plates, and is particularly welcome at a time when her music is increasingly performed and recorded. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

Every scholar and performer of American folk and modernist music, and anyone interested in the intellectual history of musicology and ethnomusicology, will want to read this book. NOTES, Dec. 2002

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