In the earlier half of the 20th century there were men such as Bela Bartok and Allen Lomax who traveled around the world recording folk songs using early recording technology. No fools, they saw that folk music was rapidly disappearing under the influence of industrialization. Men like them stored away thousands of these folk songs before they disappeared forever.
I’ve listened to a very few of their recordings and they sounded nothing like music as we now know it. There was something very ordinary and everyday about it. There was no obsession with perfect pitch, no reading music off of a sheet, no horrible sense of pressure in front of a mass audience.
Whether from Appalachia or Algeria, the music was spontaneous, natural, and leisurely. No thousands of hours of deliberate isolated practice had gone into a single song. Instead, each song had been practiced thousands of times in the normal course of events.
The singers of the songs were clearly not professionals. Their voices had not been painstakingly polished in a sound studio. Through the scratchiness of the phonograph I could hear every unmasked vocal imperfection.
Some of these singers were hard for me to sit and listen to. It seemed many of them might have been elders without heirs. Their voices were often creaky, sad, and tired.
It later occurred to me:
If many of these people attempted to sing their songs in a modern day home or public place, they might very well be attacked and ridiculed. If they kept it up for long, they might even have the cops called on them.
Modern mass societies have just a few professional singers who take care of all the singing. These pros are the most naturally talented people to begin with and their entire profession and way of life is to sing.
They sing until they’re sick and tired of singing while many a person on the street hasn’t truly sung a song in years. They’re milked for profit until empty of passion while the commoners beneath their feet burst with the need to know their feelings.
What once was everyone’s pleasure now pleasures no one.