J. Marshall Bevil, Ph.D.,
"Scale in Southern Appalachian Folksong: a Reexamination,"
College Music Symposium 26 (1986): 77-91
This study summarizes the author's position regarding pitch-selection in
American southern uplands folktune centonization. Initial attention is given to
views that bore upon the emergence of the present one, and the remainder of
the paper is devoted to concepts and approaches that differ, in some ways
markedly, from previous ideas and methods. The ideas set forth in this paper
were originally presented in the author's dissertation (University of North Texas, 1984).
anhemitonic pentatonic scales of British Insular and Insular-American folksong
usually are presented as five separate octave divisions that contain minor-third
gaps created by the absence of tones from the traditional Western heptatonic
modes. This paper states and defends the propositions 1) that the anhemitonic
system is better viewed as a single gamut of five overlapping segments related
by successive inversion (see illustration, with auditory options, in Figure 1,
below); 2) that those scales are complete pentatonic series, not incomplete
heptatonic series or evolutionary precursors of heptatonic scales or modes; 3)
that the so-called missing tones should be viewed and treated as variable
auxiliary gamut members whenever they occur; and hence 4) that the minor
thirds that occur in their absence should not be viewed as gaps. Those
conclusions are based partly on the present writer's interpretation of early
Celtic theory; but more importantly, they are rooted in the behavior of
Unlike other studies that disassociate folksong scales from the various
heptatonic orderings, the present one does not defend a single dichotomy of
major and minor tonality. Rather, it is argued that a tune's relationship to the
gamut is one of congruency. That correspondence is determined by the alignment
of minor thirds occurring at given pitch levels in a melody with the minor
thirds found in the gamut when its auxiliary tones are not present.
matter of tonic and final identities is of secondary consequence. While most
southern uplands folksong melodies have clearly defined keynotes, some do not,
and final closure on a gamut member other than the keynote is not unusual.
Further, there are tunes that exhibit a tendency to drift back and forth, on
occasion rather freely, between two or more segments. Explaining this in terms
of harmonic, i.e., key-center, motion is questionable, inasmuch as
southern hill-country folksongs were sung mostly by unaccompanied soloists until
recent times. Finally, in some instances the gamut re-crystallizes at a
different level when an auxiliary tone assumes the character of a regular gamut
member. Here again, it seems that this modulatory process, which in the present
study is termed gamut shift, should be explained in melodic, rather than
harmonic, terms. A simple illustration of the gamut shift is shown, with
explanation, below (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Hypothetical
passage illustrating gamut shift, a) in its entirety, and b) in
showing shifting of gamut, with written explanation.
- a -
segment, original level, without auxiliaries, followed by Section
segment, shifted upward a fourth, without auxiliaries, followed by Section
segment, original level, without auxiliaries, followed by Section C)
Sections A and B both are in the third gamut segment, with A occurring
at one tonal
level and B occurring a fourth higher through a transient
upward shifting of the gamut. The F temporarily assumes
as third-segment keynote in Section B and resumes its auxiliary function in
Section C, in which C is,
again, the third-segment keynote. Note that the passage does not
close on the keynote of the segment.
PLAY all three sections, without breaks.
The investigation also presents a
system of numeric pitch encoding that was developed to facilitate computer-assisted tune
comparisons. Each tone has a three-digit code indicating pitch-class (units)
chromatic prefix (tens), and octave species (hundreds). The encoding
procedure for pitch and rhythmic factors has been revised since the
publication of the investigation.
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Marshall Bevil is a native of
Houston, where he also currently lives.
He is both a string music
educator and a
musicologist (B.Mus. with honors, Oklahoma Baptist University, 1970; M.Mus. -
Musicology, University of North Texas, 1973; Ph.D. -
Musicology, University of North Texas, 1984) with specialization in the history of bowed string instruments, oral-aural musical transmission, British and
British-American folk music, and British academic music of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. His doctoral
dissertation has been
published by University Microfilms, International
(UMI No. 8423854,
"Dissertation Services"), and he has published
studies in professional
journals and presented papers in his areas of specialization at regional,
national, and international academic convocations in both the United States and
Great Britain. He also is the author of encyclopedia articles on John Avery
Lomax, Allan Lomax, and Percy Aldridge Grainger; and he has published on the
Internet. In addition to his pedagogic and academic pursuits, he is
a performer on
the Welsh crwth, a composer and
arranger for string and vocal
ensembles (publications on
sibeliusmusic.com,), and a forensic musicological consultant and expert
witness in copyright and intellectual property
misappropriation disputes ( links:
1 2 ).
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