WHAT KIND OF SONGS did the people of this country sing during the colonial period? The majority of the settlers who arrived here during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came from the British Isles—from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. They brought with them a vast heritage of British and Irish melodies and lyrics, dance tunes, marches, and sacred songs. This store constituted the starting point for the development of American national music. It would be transformed and modified, as time went on, both by the contributions of other immigrant peoples and by the nature of American experience itself; but it would remain an influence of major proportions in shaping American musical expression. Americans, throughout their history, would draw upon this British heritage as they strove to develop and create a unique, American national song and music.
What was the nature of this heritage? British song itself had been evolving for centuries. A rich and many-sided expression of the life of an island people, it included courting songs, love songs, and laments; pipe and fiddle tunes for dancing