Essay on Negro Spirituals

Essay on Negro Spirituals

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Negro Spirituals
Spirituals, a religious folk song of American origin, particularly associated with African-American Protestants of the southern United States. The African-American spiritual, characterized by syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, and the pentatonic scale of five whole tones, is, above all, a deeply emotional song. Spirituals are really the most characteristic product of the race genius as yet in America. But the very elements which make them uniquely expressive of the Negro make them at the same time deeply representative of the soil that produced them. Spirituals were long thought to be the only original folk music of the United States, and research into its origin centered mainly on the nature and extent of its African ancestry. Because slaves were brought to the United States from many parts of Africa, no single African musical source is clear. Elements that African music and American black spirituals have in common include syncopation, polyrhythmic structure, the pentatonic scale, and a responsive rendition of text.
Almost all the first Africans who arrived in the New World were slaves. They came from several regions of the African West Coast. Their ways of living were described by slaves themselves, in some narratives. They had to work either in plantations or in town. Slavery was an important issue facing churches, as slaves were allowed to meet for Christian services. Some Christian ministers wrote against on slavery. Rural slaves used to stay after the regular worship services, in churches or in plantation “praise houses”, for singing and dancing. But, slaveholders did not allow dancing and playing drums, as usual in Africa. They also had meetings at secret places (“camp meetings”, “bush meetings”), because they needed to meet one another and share their joys, pains and hopes. In rural meetings, thousands slaves were gathered and listened to itinerant preachers, and sang spirituals, for hours. In the late 1700s, they sang the precursors of spirituals, which were called “corn ditties”.So, in rural areas, spirituals were sung, mainly outside of churches. In cities, about 1850, the Protestant City-Revival Movement created a new song genre, which was popular; for revival meetings organized by this movement, temporary tents were erected in stadiums, where the attendants could sing. At church, hymns and psalms were sung during services. So...


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...ginal harmonic features, and the oratorio tradition has falsely stereotyped and overlaid its more orchestral choral style, with its intricate threading in and out of the voices. Just as definitely in an- other direction has the traditional choiring of the orchestra stood against the opening up and development of the Negro and the African idioms in the orchestral forms.
Gradually these barriers have been broken through. Negro music very probably has a great contribution yet to make to the substance and style of contemporary music, both choral and instrumental. If so, its thematic and melodic contributions and the borrowings of rhythmical suggestions are only precluding experiments that have pro- claimed the value of the Negro musical idioms, but have not fully developed them. When a body of folk music is really taken up into musical tradition, it is apt to do more than contribute a few new themes. For when the rhythmic and harmonic basis of music is affected, it is more than a question of superstructure, the very foundations of the art are in process of being influenced. Appreciating it as music of the past, we must nurture and welcome its contribution to the music of tomorrow.



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