Spirituals Essay Research Paper It is almost

Spirituals Essay, Research Paper It is almost impossible to identify the author of a spiritual or to pinpoint its original form. Typically, spirituals are created by nonprofessional musicians, changed by other singers and passed along from one generation to the next. As the song is passed along it starts to change.

Spirituals Essay, Research Paper

It is almost impossible to identify the author of a spiritual or to pinpoint its original form. Typically, spirituals are created by nonprofessional musicians, changed by other singers and passed along from one generation to the next. As the song is passed along it starts to change. The changes that take place become a part of the original song and eventually the music takes on a different form. Over the span of years the authors’ names are forgotten.

The composer who wishes to create a new spiritual has three main choices in creating it. Consciously or unconsciously, he or she may, (1) improvise upon a song already in existence; (2) combine material from several old songs to make the new one; or (3) compose the song entirely of new materials. The African tradition favours the first process. Improvisation is a big factor in this tradition that changes are made with each new performance. The melody of a song often serves as ever changing structure for the text.

Slave spirituals were included in the African tradition of improvisation. Much of the evidence indicates that a large number of the slave songs represent “variations upon a theme”. Many spirituals are all combinations and variations of other songs. No doubt many of these songs were brought over from Africa and passed down from parents to children. Almost every contemporary source contains references to slaves born in Africa who helped to keep African traditions alive in their communities. Moreover, the fact that new slaves were continuously being brought over into the 1860s helped to revive traditions that were in danger of dying out.

To return to the choices available to the spiritual composer, it seems that the black composer might often used the first technique in producing the spirituals. Which consisted of taking a spiritual and improvising to create a new spiritual. When the Africans were brought over into slavery they were forced to take on their masters religion. The Africans used many the hymns that were sung in church and integrated them into their songs. The following hymn was popular among black slaves as far back as 1801, when it was published in Richard Allen’s hymnal, and through the years of slavery it was cited several times as a favorite among black singers.

Behold the awful trumpet sounds,

The sleeping dead to raise,

And calls the nations underground:

O how the saints will praise!

Behold the Saviour how he comes

Descending from his throne

To burst asunder all our tombs

And lead his children home.

But who can bear that dreadful day,

To see the world in flames:

The burning mountains melt away,

While rocks run down in streams.

The falling stars their orbits leave,

The sun in darkness hide:

The elements asunder cleave,

The moon turn’d into blood!

Behold the universal world

In consternation stand,

The wicked unto Hell are turn’d

The Saints at God’s right hand.

O then the music will begin

Their Saviour God to praise,

They all are freed from every sin

And thus they’ll spend their days!

After singing this hymn, the slave composer realizes the significance of the events that will take place on Judgment Day according to the text, and has a personal response, “My Lord, what a morning!? The slave composer then uses motives from the hymn but rephrased the slave’s own words. The result is an entirely new song with its own form and music.

My Lord, what a morning,

My Lord, what a morning,

My Lord, what a morning,

When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound,

To wake the nations underground,

Looking to my God’s right hand,

When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the sinner mourn

To wake the nations underground, Looking to my God?s right hand, When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the Christians shout,

To wake the nations underground, Looking to my God?s right hand, When the stars begin to fall.

A good example of changing an existing song and improvising to make a new one is Jacob?s Ladder. This is the main theme behind Jacob?s ladder:

It is a straight forward piece of music written in the key of C major and in Common Time. Each restatement of the phrase ?We are climbing Jacob?s ladder,? steps up a certain increments to give the feeling that there is actually a climbing action. The basic pattern of notes stays somewhat the same. In each statement the tonic note is played for 1,3,1 beats, then moves down a major 3rd for 3 beats and the moves up a perfect fifth for 1, 3,1 beats. The next statement starts a major 2nd above the tonic note. In the last statement begins a major 6th above the tonic and stays there for 1,3,1,3,1,3 beats then move down a major 2nd for 1 beat and then down a major 2nd for 3 beats. Each verse is ended with the same phrase that brings together the whole song.

The Staple Singers on the CD Freedom Highway (which you will find on the tape provided) sing their own version of Jacob?s Ladder. One of the first differences that is noticed is the addition of new words. “Rise and shine, give God the glory? are added as a first verse to the song, but the following two verses are found in the original. The fourth verse is variation of the ending phrase ?soldiers of the cross.? They have improvised on the words to add their own feeling to the spiritual. The song is also sung in a call and response method. This was very traditional of the slaves working in the fields. Not only did it help keep the workers going, but it helped to pass time. The instrumentation of this song would have likely been heard in the 1800s as the guitar was not often found on plantations. Slaves could communicate with each other through the use of drums, and the slave owners did not like this so drums were outlawed. The hand clapping, and foot stomping substituted for the drums, which keep the beat of the African drum going. In the Staple Singers version of Jacob?s Ladder the time signature is changed to 2/4, which keeps the song up beat and fun. The song is still played with most of the same stepping pattern that the original had.

This is only one rendition of Jacob?s ladder, many other groups have preformed this song. Each groups song will sound different and this is a major part of spirituals. Spirituals were ever changing to fit the needs of the people singing the song. ?Swing Low Sweet Chariot? is a good example of a song that would change to fit the needs of the people singing it. In today?s society this song is usually played at a funeral, or the like. In the 1800s the tempo of this song was slowed down for the purpose of singing at a funeral. The tempo was also sped up to sing as a song in the fields or to sing at a gathering to boost the spirits of the slaves.

Sometimes a spiritual will use more than one hymn in making a new spiritual. In the following example, the hymn In that Great Getting Up Morning serves as a source for all the lines except line 7.

1 When every star refuses to shine,

2 Rocks and mountains don’t fall on me;

3 I know that King Jesus will-a be mine,

4 Rocks and mountains don’t fall on me.

5 The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise,

6 Rocks and mountains don’t fall on me;

7 And go to the mansions in-a the skies,

8 Rocks and mountains don’t fall on me.

The seventh line points to a hymn written by Isaac Watts, and is still a favorite of black congregations today. This is the first verse:

When I can read my title clear

To mansions in the skies,

I’ll bid farewell to ev’ry fear

And wipe my weeping eyes.

These two hymns are pieced together to create a new song. Old spirituals and hymns are pieced together to make new spirituals. In both cases an entirely new song is created. A spiritual is a refashioning of verses and motives from the parent hymn or hymns and not a different version of the hymn. The spiritual is another type of song with its own text, music, and stylistic features. However, as song collector Thomas W. Higginson pointed out, ?As they learned all their songs by ear, they often strayed into wholly new versions, which sometimes became popular, and entirely banished the others.? The second way writing a spiritual is to combine a varitey of other hymns and spirituals to make a completely different song. The Staple Singers do exactly this in the song This Train. (found on tape.)

This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train is bound for glory,

None goin? to ride it but the rightous and the holy.

This Train bound for glory , this train

This train ain?t carry no gamblers, this train.

This train ain?t carry goin? to carry no gamblers, this train,

This train ain?t carry no gamblers,

No crab shooters no midnight ramblers.

This train bound for glory, this train

This train goin? carry my mother, this train.

This train goin? carry my mother, this train.

This train goin? carry my mother,

The same train that carry my sisters and brothers.

This train bound for glory, this train.

This train leavin? in the morning, this train.

This train leavin? in the morning, this train.

This train leavin? in the morning,

Get a bit of money, a new day is dawning, this train.

This train bound for glory, this train.

This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train is bound for glory, this train.

This train is bound for glory,

None goin? to ride it but

The righteous and the holy.

This Train bound for glory , this train, this train…

This song alternates between major and minor modes. Which gives it a feeling of the seriousness of this subject. Its time signiture is 4/4. ? ?This Train? leans heavily on phrases from several spirituals.? (Dr. Boyer, 1991) I?m not quite which spirituals this phrases are coming from but this is a good demonstration of combining other spirituals to convey a meaning. The Staple Singers are trying to warn others to be ready for the Gospel Train.

Songs similar to this one about trains would have been used by the slaves for two different reasons. The first is to remind themselves that God is coming for them and they better be ready. The thought of heaven kept many slaves going, they couldn?t wait to see God and to be free. The second reason for the slaves to sing this song was to notify others about when the Underground Railroad would be coming through. The Underground Railroad would take the salves to safety so that they would be free. They would alter the song slightly so covey the message of how many people, and where and when the train would arrive. By simply substituting some words in one of the verses others would pick up on the message.

This train is bound for freedom, this train.

This train is bound for freedom, this train.

This train is bound for freedom,

Down by the river, leaving in the morning,

This train bound for glory, this train.

It would not be this obvious most of the time but the message would be hidden the song similar to this. Messages were hidden in songs for reasons other than notifing about the underground railroad. Messages were also hidden in familiar songs to send messages to each other without the masters and slave keepers finding out.

The final class of spirituals should be mentioned, which originated with the folk preacher and were taught to the congregation by him or the deacon. Black ministers took seriously the notions of Dr. Isaac Watts:

Ministers are to cultivate gifts of preaching and prayer through study and diligence; they ought also to cultivate the capacity of composing spiritual songs and exercise it along with the other parts of worship, preaching and prayer.

The congregations contributed their share to the composition of these songs. Sometimes an excited preacher would be carried away by his emotion and compose a song during a sermon. More than one contemporary writer witnessed such occurrences. The final way to write a spiritual was to create a new one from scratch. This was not done often since there always seems to be a little piece of one song in another. Preachers often would make up these new songs on the spot during their sermon as the spirit filled them. Many spirituals are made about sad events in black history. Africville is a good example of this.

?For more than 120 years, Africville was home to a community of black families in

Nova Scotia. Located on the shores of the Bedford Basin, Africville was part of the

city of Halifax. It was a working class community where almost everyone owned

their own homes, few were on welfare and unlocked doors were common. The

people of Africville worked as stone masons, domestics, railway porters and

stevedores. The values were family, religious faith, self-reliance and hard

work. Although the residents of Africville paid taxes, the city of Halifax did not

provide basic services such as running water, sewage or paved roads. Still, the

community survived with its own school, church and post office. For generations,

children had a place to play, families were close-knit… and there was music. No

home in Africville was without a piano or an organ. There were guitar players,

fiddlers, drummers and some people even made their own instruments. You could

get a whole concert going in a split second.

Africville was an exceptional community and a symbol for the struggle against

racism and segregation in Nova Scotia. Although it was seen as a haven for the

dispossessed, it was a community where most of the residents could trace their

kinship back to the founding families of a century before. However, as the spiritual

roots of Africville deepened, the city of Halifax was also growing. In time, new

development brought such neighbours as a bone-meal fertilizer plant, a

slaughterhouse, the city dump and eventually, the railway. The railway lines were

built right through the center of the community, dividing it forever, physically, and

perhaps even spiritually. Racism and the residents’ lack of economic and political

influence made the area a choice site for city service facilities not wanted

elsewhere.

In the 1960’s, Halifax’s city government decided to expropriate the land and

demolish the houses, destroying the community. Most residents opposed the

decision but the city had its way and the community was scattered. Residents, many of whom were uncertain about their legal right to the land, were simply paid off and left. To the outsider, Africville was a downtrodden community but to those who lived within its borders, it was a viable and desirable place to live. Now, more than thirty years later, the site of the community of Africville is a stark, under-utilized park.? http://www.tv.cbc.ca/acp/97-98/afric/index.html

There is a place

deep down inside

I always go when I?m down so low

where my roots are

a place to bury my scars

and I am born once again so it goes

Deep down inside

I can feel it

passion and pride for who we are

no one can tell me

that I?m not good enough

there?s a light shining deep inside

Deep down inside that?s where my heart is,

and the tears that I cry are a river of dreams

where hope, hope is the colour

of my baby?s eyes and I realize there a place inside.

We know this world can shatter your heart

tear you apart, if you don?t find your way

I close my eyes, and my heart has wings to fly

when I return to that place dead in side.

This spiritual was created to convey the message of what the people of Africville went through.

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