Spirituals and gospel music performance practice: A dual curriculum that bridges the cultural divide
Table of Contents
Preface........................................................................................................................... ii Dedication .................................................................................................................... iv Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................... v
List of Tables...............................................................................................................vii Chapter 1: Introduction ................................................................................................. 1 Chapter 2: History and Performance Practices of Spirituals and Gospel Music………………………………………………………………………………..…4 Chapter 3: Identifying and Analyzing Aural and Visual Learning Traditions .......... 13 Chapter 4: Data Analysis: Personal Discussion Pertaining to the Visual and Aural Cultural Learning Traditions....................................................................................... 19 Chapter 5: Methodology and Curriculum Using Spirituals and Gospel Music to Promote Cross-Cultural and Intra-Cultural Communication ..................................... 29 Chapter 6: Conclusion and Practical Application ...................................................... 47 Bibliography.................................................................................................................50
List of Tables Several terms and phrases in this study are used synonymously: Aural/Oral cultural learning tradition Visual/Written cultural learning tradition Cultural learning tradition/Learning tradition Gospel/Gospel Music Rote/By-rote Black/African American (American) White/Caucasian (majority American) Hispanic/Latino (American) Asian/Korean (both Native Korean and Korean American) Asian/Japanese (Native Japanese) Asian (American and other than American)
Chapter 1: Introduction Gospel Music and Spirituals are two of the most widely recognized and performed musical genres in America. The influence of these genres can be heard on television, radio, in theatres, concert halls, and other venues nationwide. Although both are related, the learning approaches are quite different. As a result, certain groups tend to feel more at ease with the process of learning and performing one genre in preference over the other. It is the researcher’s belief that part of this preference stems from the individual group’s cultural learning tradition. The researcher devised studies and developed test groups in order to substantiate or refute this hypothesis. More importantly, the researcher wanted to find a way in which individuals from the visual cultural learning tradition and those from the aural cultural learning tradition could be united. Individual cultures and sub-cultures can have distinct, even opposite approaches to learning music. The European musical tradition springs from written manuscripts, whereas the African tradition is an oral one. …in the West the tendency was for this “written,”...music to become elitist and for a passive audience to be “confronted” with a performance, in Africa the cultural priorities and values demanded a communal musical form in which there was no real separation between “performer” and “audience”: a participatory experience for everyone involved. 1
Marimba Ani, goes on to describe the different approaches to musical expression in this way: Perhaps there is no better form of artistic expression than that of music to demonstrate the particular dynamics of the European aesthetic...music was analyzed, dissected, “studied” and translated into the
1 Marimba Ani, Yurugu; An Afrikan-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior (Africa World Press, 1994), 213.
language of mathematics. It was written down, and then it could be “read” as one would read a mathematical equation... 2
T. J. Anderson describes the difference in the Eastern versus Western cultural thought process:
The impact of Asian heritage is fundamentally expressed in an attitude of synthesis – in other words, thinking in terms of a Gestalt or whole; whereas most Anglos are concerned with analysis – thinking not of the whole but of the parts in a more or less scientific fashion. 3
What better means to combine the Eastern and Western learning traditions than through the medium of music! Why Gospel Music and Spirituals? Gospel Music tends to be an aural idiom and although Spirituals were originally learned aurally, they are now primarily learned and taught by music notation. But these two genres are still so closely related that they provide a commonality for those from the visual learning tradition and for those from the aural learning tradition. Although Gospel Music can be notated, it is primarily learned aurally. Martin and Morris Music, Inc. was the primary source of written manuscripts pertaining to the Gospel Music genre. Martin and Morris Music has gone out of business, and these scores are no longer available commercially, though some libraries still have extensive collections. As is the case in Baroque performance practice, the scores published by Martin and Morris provide only the outline of the songs and assume that performers know the stylistic practices of interpreting and performing the music correctly. One of the major problems found when trying to bring the various cultural groups together in a musical ensemble is the discomfort caused by the lack of familiarity with the differing cultural learning traditions, specifically between the visual learning tradition
2 Ibid., 210. 3 T.J. Anderson, Racial and Ethnic Directions in American Music (The College Music Society, 1982), 5.
and the aural learning tradition. A premise of this study is to show that although certain learning traditions are more prevalent among specific cultures; music genres are not culturally exclusive, nor should they be. In this study, alternatives and ideas for overcoming the obstacles presented by combining the two learning traditions will be explored. The following chapters will identify characteristics of the aural and visual cultural learning traditions. These chapters will also explore ways in which to unite individuals from these two learning traditions by offering a methodology and curriculum to assist in the endeavor. Chapter two will give a brief history of the development of Spirituals and Gospel Music; including the origins and performance practices of each genre. In chapter three, various visual and aural learning traditions will be identified and the impact that these traditions play upon the learner will be analyzed. Chapter four will bring to light and expound on the personal testimonies of various individuals as they were exposed to new learning traditions. Methodology and curriculum using Spirituals and Gospel Music to promote cross-cultural and intra-cultural communication will be discussed in Chapter five. And finally, Chapter six will conclude with implications and possible outcomes of applying the results of this study in a practical way as part of a standard curriculum and in the larger society; using Gospel Music and Spirituals as a dual curriculum to bridge the cultural divide.
Chapter 2: History and Performance Practices of Spirituals and Gospel Music
To understand the rationale behind using Gospel and Spirituals as a tool to bridge the visual and aural cultural learning traditions, it is important that one has at least a basic knowledge of the origins and performance practices of these two genres. Although they are related in their “lineage,” Spirituals and Gospel Music have diverged into two separate and distinct forms. Each genre has its own unique performance practices. The methods by which they are now taught and learned are unique to each style. Origin and Performance Practices of Spirituals
Spirituals evolved from the experiences of the Negro slave, with the texts reflecting the experience of African slavery in America. Although the texts are extremely important, this study will focus on the methodology of learning this remarkable music. The Spirituals or “slave songs” of African Americans have been a subject for study and speculation since the mid-nineteenth century. Although references to the music appear in writings as early as the seventeenth century, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they are generally incidental to descriptions of plantation life as depicted by white Americans or European visitors to America.[ 4 ] [ 5 ] Touring singers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, brought Spirituals, or “jubilees” as they were often called, to worldwide attention during the 1870s. 6 Although the Spirituals were
4 Nicholas Creswell, The Journal of Nicholas Creswell, 1774-1777 (New York: The Dial Press, 1924). 5 Frances A. Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, 1838-1839 (New York: Alfred Knoph, 1961). 6 J.B.T. Marsh, The Story of the Jubilee Singers with Their Songs (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1877).
generally religious in nature, during this same period and continuing through the heyday of minstrelsy (1875-1900), Negro music was portrayed by Blacks and whites as virtually synonymous with entertainment...minstrelsy in America had begun early in the century and had been designed to exploit and ridicule Blacks through the singing of “Ethiopian songs” by whites in blackface who also danced and told “Jim Crow” jokes. 7
Antonin Dvořák’s visit to the United States in 1892 helped to underscore the artistic values he believed inherent in the songs. Dvořák, already recognized as a nationalist composer in Europe, made the following statement to the press shortly before the premiere of his Symphony No. 5 in E minor, opus 95 (1893), subtitled From the New World: I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are American. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them. In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. 8
Dvořák’s words reflected his interest in the body of songs as a whole for a source of musical material available to composers. Moreover, he pronounced the music indigenous. Later he said: “I tried only to write in the spirit of those national American melodies.” 9
The extent to which these remarks affected subsequent composition is uncertain. The Symphony No. 5 was not the first art work using themes derived from African-American melodies, but it received critical acclaim which superseded that of its predecessors.
7 Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1944), 989. 8 John Tasker Howard and George Bellows, A Short History of Music in America (New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1957), 165. 9 Ibid., 166.
In 1904, the Black-British composer and conductor, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875- 1912), made his first visit to the United States. The first concert of his 1904 tour was in Washington, D.C., where he appeared with the United States Marine Band. 10 The following year he wrote his piano transcriptions, Twenty-four Negro Melodies, Op. 59. Coleridge-Taylor wrote program notes for the composition which read, “What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies.” 11 Coleridge-Taylor went on to pen numerous works which used African-American thematic material. During the 30 years that followed, Black-American composers, Harry T. Burleigh (a student of Dvořák), R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, and William Dawson, also achieved acclaim for their works which employed African-American thematic material, primarily Spirituals, within their compositions. These learnèd professors of music decided to collect these Spiritual melodies and notate them. This undertaking was not only beneficial in terms of teaching this special music but was also highly instrumental in preserving the musical culture of a displaced people.
It is important to note that although Spirituals were initially learned aurally, in the cotton fields, on the plantations, and in the Black churches of the south, this extraordinary music is now primarily learned and taught using written notation, thus making it accessible to those who are more comfortable in the visual learning tradition. “As every careful researcher in music knows, the matter of who reads, and what, is of far-reaching
10 William J. Zick, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Ann Arbor, MI: African Heritage in Classical Music, 2009, accessed 3 March 2009); available from http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/Song.html; Internet. 11 Ibid.
importance equal to who hears, and what.” 12 But the reverse is also true, the matter of who hears is of far-reaching importance and equal to who reads, and what. Spirituals may be performed either by groups or as solo pieces, and they may be performed a cappella or employ instrumental accompaniment. However, in their “purist” form, Spirituals would be performed without the use of instrumental accompaniment. In contemporary Spiritual compositions, the solo lines, as well as the choral parts, are strictly notated with only minimal use of ornamentation. This is one of the primary differences between the genres of Spirituals and Gospel Music. Although Spirituals are now strictly notated, they still retain many of the aspects of the African oral tradition, thus making them equally accessible to those more accustomed to the aural learning tradition. In Spirituals, the performance practice known as “call and response” is often used where a lead singer intones a melodic statement followed by a response from the group. This practice was common among African-American slaves and used in the same manner as one would communicate in verbal conversation. Made up of two distinct phrases, in the first phrase, one individual would ask a question or make a statement and the group would answer or make a direct response in the second phrase. This practice was passed down through the years and across the continents from Africa to North America and, through the Spiritual, carried over into the genre of Gospel Music. Ortiz Walton states: Contrasted with the music-for-the-elite philosophy prevalent in the West, African music retained its functional and collective characteristics. The element of improvisation was developed rather than abandoned, and it found its way into Black music in this country. Similarly, the unifying element of audience participation was also retained. 13
12 T.J. Anderson, Racial and Ethnic Directions in American Music (The College Music Society, 1982), 44. 13 Ortiz Walton, A Comparative Analysis of the African and Western Aesthetic (In The Black Aesthetic, Addison Gayle, Jr. (ed), Doubleday, 1972), 159.
Frances Hall Johnson, one of the champions in the performance and composition of Spirituals, often used the element of “call and response” in his arrangements. Born in Athens, Georgia on March 12, 1888, his early musical influence is credited to his grandmother, a former slave who exposed him to Spirituals. He graduated from Allen University and continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, The Juilliard School and the University of Southern California. He began his professional career as a violinist performing with the conductor James Reese Europe and his orchestra. He later turned to choral music, specializing in the performance of Spirituals. He stated that he wanted to: show how the American Negro slaves – in 250 years of constant practice, self-developed under pressure but equipped with their inborn sense of rhythm and drama (plus their new religion) – created, propagated and illuminated an art-form which was, and still is, unique in the world of music. 14
During slavery and beyond, language and words used by African Americans often had double meanings or secret codes. In Hall Johnson’s piece entitled, “Run Li’l Chllun!” the term, “devil” and “Satan” are terms referring not only to the mystical devil found in scripture but also describe the slave master as well as the evil and corrupt condition of slavery. This song can be best understood as a metaphor of the Nat Turner Rebellion. Prompted by a vision, a slave by the name of Nat Turner declared: I heard a loud noise in the heavens. And the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent...I should arise and prepare myself and slay my enemies with their own weapons. 15
14 Hall Johnson, “Notes on the Negro Spiritual” (Readings in Black American Music, comp. and ed. Eileen Southern, 2 nd ed. W. W. Norton, 1983), 277. 15 Rick Groleau and others, Africans in America: Brotherly Love (Arlington, VA: PBS Online, 1998, accessed 23 February 2009); available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p1518.html; Internet.
During the Nat Turner uprising of 1831, Nat Turner, along with more than 40 other slaves, rebelled against the repression of slavery in South Hampton County, Virginia and stabbed, shot, and clubbed at least 55 White people to death including his slave master and his master’s entire family. In response, the state executed 55 Blacks and banished many more. However, no one could have anticipated the horrific backlash caused by this uprising. In the hysterical climate that followed the rebellion, close to 200 Black people, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion, were murdered by White mobs. In addition, slaves as far away as North Carolina were accused of having a connection with the insurrection and subsequently tried and hanged. 16 Sadly these types of events occurred even following emancipation, the “Rosewood Massacre” of 1923, being only one example. 17
Hall Johnson’s Run Li’l Chillun! portrays such an event and utilizes the cry of the caller, using the performance practice of “call and response.” The caller urgently implores the flock to, “run, run for your lives li’l chillun, the devils’ gone loose in the land!” The performance practice of Spirituals cannot be articulated any more precisely than the actual words of Frances Hall Johnson. In the preface of his collection, Thirty Spirituals Arranged for Voice and Piano, Johnson stated: True enough, this music was transmitted to us through humble channels, but its source is that of all great art everywhere—the
16 Ibid. 17 Sherry DuPree, Remembering Rosewood (Gainesville, FL: Displays for Schools, 1997, accessed 11 February 2010); available from http://www.displaysforschools.com/history.html; Internet.
unquenchable, divinely human longing for a perfect realization of life. It traverses every shade of emotion without spilling over in any direction. Its most tragic utterances are without pessimism, and its lightest, brightest moments have nothing to do with frivolity. In its darkest expressions there is always a hope, and in its gayest measures a constant reminder. Born out of the heart-cries of a captive people who still did not forget how to laugh, this music covers an amazing range of mood. Nevertheless, it is always serious music and should be performed seriously, in the spirit of its original conception. 18
Origin and Performance Practice of Gospel Music Gospel Music came into existence at the end of the nineteenth century, first becoming popular in the early 1920’s. Unlike Spirituals, whose origin is in the cotton fields of the South, Gospel songs grew out of the urbanized cities of the North. While Chicago is considered to be the birth place of Gospel Music, Philadelphia and Memphis were also endemic to the genre’s development. 19 African-American pastor and composer, Dr. Charles A. Tindley (1851-1933), was one of the earliest composers of hymns and Gospel Music. His composition, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” is credited to be the basis for the United States Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” 20
Early Gospel Music is basically the sacred counterpart of the Blues, another great musical genre growing out of the African-American experience. Thomas A. Dorsey, commonly referred to as the father of Gospel Music, was born in Georgia in 1899. Dorsey was initially a leading Blues piano player known by the name “Georgia Tom.” 21
Following Dorsey’s conversion to Christianity, he began composing songs in the hymn style of Dr. Charles A. Tindley.
18 Hall Johnson, Thirty Spirituals: Arranged for Voice and Piano (New York: G. Schirmer; dist., Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 1949), 5. 19 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History, 3 rd ed. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1971). 20 Think Quest, Maryland’s African-American Heritage: Charles A. Tindley (Think Quest, accessed 23 February 2009; available from http://library.thinkquest.org/10854/tindley.html; Internet. 21 Sheila Curran Bernard, This Far by Faith: Thomas Dorsey (Arlington, VA: PBS Online, 2003, accessed 23 February 2009); available from http://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/people/thomas_dorsey.html; Internet.
Dorsey’s early compositions had little of the emotional feeling that his later songs possessed. In 1932, after the death of his first wife and child, Dorsey wrote what would become one of his most famous songs entitled, Take My Hand, Precious Lord. The song, Peace in the Valley, which is often attributed to Elvis Presley, is also among Dorsey’s more than 500 compositions. The emotional similarities of Gospel and Spirituals are astounding. Yet, it is interesting to note that Spiritual texts such as the one found in Soon I Will be Done with the Trouble of the World, often stress the longing for the otherworldly, hoping to escape and find happiness on the other side, while Gospel texts, on the other hand, tend to seek help from the otherworldly to assist in this life. Other differences between the two genres stem from the method by which they are taught and learned. Spirituals tend to lean toward the visual approach and Gospel Music toward the aural approach. The written notation found in Spirituals takes precedence and is adhered to closely with only minimal “ornamentation” if any. However, in Gospel Music, the written page, if a written page is provided at all, is used only as a guide and does not take precedence over individual musical interpretation. Just as in Blues, “ornamentation” (also known as improvisation) is highly encouraged. Although Gospel Music can be performed a cappella, instrumental accompaniment not only enhances but is an essential element in its performance. The practice of “call and response” is also found in Gospel Music, the tradition having been passed on from the Spiritual. Although the concept of “call and response” is basically the same in both, in Gospel Music, the lead singer is encouraged to interpret the solo part “freely” whereas the solo singer adheres more closely to the written notation in
Spirituals. Additionally, the use of three-part choral harmony; soprano, alto and tenor, is characteristic of Gospel Music. Spirituals are set to the traditional four-part choral harmony with the added bass voice.
Chapter 3: Identifying and Analyzing Aural and Visual Learning Traditions
Different Cultural Approaches to Learning
Several things may cause divisions between people. Among them are: ignorance, economics, race, gender, cultural values, religion, education, politics, language, perception, and identity. 22 Items from the preceding list can affect one’s musical taste or preference and that “taste” or preference can generate an overall perception of a culture or ethnic group. Music is often associated with a culture or group, and people often associate musical genres with racial identification. 23 The thesis of this dissertation however, is not a study of cultural perceptions as it relates to musical genres and biases (this is the topic for another study entirely), but an investigation into the different cultural approaches to learning as it relates to music – more specifically, the aural and visual approaches to learning and ways in which these two approaches can be brought together. The visual learning tradition is not superior or inferior to the aural cultural learning tradition. Based on the experience of the researcher as well as others from similar backgrounds as the researcher, children who have the good fortune of simultaneously learning music by rote and learning to read music notation often deem both learning traditions to be of equal importance. Although both the visual and aural traditions exist within numerous cultural and ethnic groups, certain groups tend to lean toward one learning tradition over the other.
22 Bob Rometo, “Creating Unity and Causing Miracles.” Lecture at the National Conductor’s Summit: The John F. Kennedy Center, 6 September 2008.
European culture (Western society) leans heavily toward the visual learning tradition, thus the aural tradition has often been deemed inferior. The two hemispheres [of the brain] are now known as “left” and “right.” The left hemisphere is thought to function in a verbal, analytical mode, while the right hemisphere is nonverbal, global, or “synthetic,” spatial, complex, and intuitive. Clearly just as the latter was previously known as the “minor” function, it has consistently and systematically, even – one could say – institutionally, been devalued in European civilization/culture. It is rarely even recognized as being a source of “intelligence.” It is neither “tested for” nor encouraged. Intelligence in European society has been identified with the cognitive mode that is generated and controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. 24
A Pilot Study For the body is not one member, but many...if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?...But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 25
The researcher devised a study to observe the effects (if any) in which the Western societal culture places on the visual learning tradition over the aural learning tradition. The researcher created a song: • which used “non-sense” syllables. In this case “da, da, da” • that was written in four parts; soprano, alto, tenor, bass • where each vocal part had a different “melodic line” and rhythm • that contained melodic lines and rhythms which were no more than two measures in length
The test groups consisted of:
• individuals from the ages of adolescence and up • groups from various ethnic and racial backgrounds (African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and Caucasian) • male and female
24 Marimba Ani, Yurugu; An Afrikan-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior (Africa World Press, 1994), 77-78. 25 American Bible Society; Holy Bible [King James Version] I Cor. 12:14, 17-18 (The American Bible Society, 1999).
• groups of individuals from varied musical backgrounds, including all classical musicians, all jazz musicians, and “mixed genre” groups with gospel, classical and jazz backgrounds • groups which had the ability to read musical notation