Alan Lomax on Music and Transformation

An art so deeply rooted in the security patterns of the community should not, in theory, be subject to rapid change, and in fact this seems to be the case. Musical style appears to be one of the most conservative of culture traits. Religion, language, even many aspects of social structure may change; an entirely new set of tunes or rhythms or harmonic patterns may be introduced; but, in its overall character, a musical style will remain intact. Only the most profound social upheavals – the coming of a new population, the acceptance of a new set of mores – or migration to a new territory, involving complete acculturation, will profoundly transform a musical style, and even then the process takes place very slowly.

– Alan Lomax (1959), in American Anthropologist, explaining why music may be the great barometer of culture. For the uninitiated, Lomax may be one of the major reasons that this site exists, and there will be more on him soon, especially as I try to sort through my own feelings on his system of cantometrics. All I know is, his 50s recordings from the American South are eternal.

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