What from the United States. The spirituals

What are Negro Spirituals

Spirituals are essentially folksongs that have a religious background, there
are other songs that are identified and sometimes are categorized as spirituals
and these are work songs. The two should not be confused together, work songs
which were sung specifically for the purpose of work. Spirituals grew up out of
slavery of Africans in the Southern states of America. It must be noted that
even as we have seen slaves came from many parts of West Africa, the West
indies and South America, the phenomenon of Negro Spirituals only comes from
the United States. The spirituals movement came mostly from the latter half of
the eighteenth century up to the abolishment of slavery in 1861. Negro Spirituals
today have come to recognized and as distinct and unique art form in the pantheon
of folk songs and as such they are one of the largest forms of American
folksong. In addition to Negro Spirituals there is also a genre of “White Spirituals”
that bear some of the hallmarks of Negro Spirituals. There is scope for more
research in the future

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Where does the Term “Spiritual” come from?

Spirituals are religious folksongs based upon stories and verse from the bible.
The King James Bible was first printed in 1611 and that would have been the
bible that would have been used at the time. |The actual term itself comes from
a verse in Ephesians where the one is told to speak in “psalms and hymns and
spirituals songs” Ephesians 5:19: In their conversion to Christianity during
slavery there were informal gatherings some of these were held inside in what
were called praise houses and some of them were helped outside outside meetings
which were called different names (brush arbor meetings, bush meetings or as camp
meetings) but were essentially the same thing.  These meetings gave the salves a chance to sing,
dance and express themselves in a manner that was close to what their ancestors
may have done, but within the confines of their new faith. One of the most
common dances that was employed at the time was the “ring shout”. This is a
dance where the participants are in a circle and they move with a shuffling
type of gait dancing, singing and clapping, this can be traced directly back to
it West African origins. was a circular shuffling dance with shouting and handclapping?
This type of dance harks back to West African Muslims and the ritual of the tawaf practiced during the
Hajj(Pilgrimage) where they are supposed to go around the sacred site of Islam
seven times. The word shout comes from the Arabic word “shawt” which means a
single run. So, we can see the origins of this dance and can trace its roots
back to West Africa. As we have seen in earlier on, music played a vital and
pivotal role to life in the West African countries that the slaves had originated
from.  The fact that music was an integral
part of life in West African communities and so it continued to be in the slave
communities, this was not looked upon in a favorable light in the eyes of the slave’s
masters. It was in fact considered to be savage, wild and idolatrous the exact
opposite of what Christianity represented. This had the effect that the
gatherings were banned and so they began to take place in secret.


Christianity and Spirituals

 I believe it is fair to say that Spirituals
in the present guise would not have developed without the forcible conversion
to Christianity. During the seventeenth century there had been a great drive to
convert the captured Africans to Christianity. This took some time and was a
very slow and gradual process. Over time what began to happen was that the
slaves recognized with the stories of the bible a representation of the lives
that they were leading. They used these stories to mirror their own suffering
by recreating stories of biblical figures. This in effect served to create a
new form of African Christianity and this began to spread amongst the slaves
with the help of the spirituals. These spirituals were now used as a way for
the slaves to express many things. Primarily amongst them their new faith in
their new god as well as the emotional context by which they represented
themselves in spirituals.

Musical Style

The style of spiritual singing is usually in what is known as a call and
response style. This means that a solo voice introduces a line of the spirituals
and then this is responded to by multiple voices more often than not a chorus.  The response line was normally singing back with
most voices staying mainly to the melody, however there was room for some of
the refrain to be sang back with some improvisation what might be called a “spiritual
coloratura”. With the improvisatory nature of the singing both in terms of the
call and the response, it was very difficult in the early years of publishing spirals
for wider audience for them to be accurately represented both in terms of rhythm,
and text. A parallel for this is of course in the early 20th century
when composers such as Percy Grainger tried to accurately represent folk songs
from England.  The Spirituals themselves
come in many form.  Sorrow songs are
typically slow and despondent but also come with a great fervor.  In some of these types of spirituals they use
the suffering of Christ as a way to demonstrate their own suffering. There are
also spirituals that are more joyful in nature and her back to their West
African ancestry with the use of fast tempi and syncopated rhythms. These
faster types of spirituals are known as Jubilee’s or camp meeting songs. SCT
was knew of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (Bog needed)

The frisk Jubilee singers, were a collection of former slaves who were at
Fisk University in Nashville. They began singing collections of spirituals as a
way to finance the university and began to tour all over the United States,
garnering interest from home and abroad. They were very successful and it is
through these international tours that SCT first encountered the Spiritual
medium. This was a time of great growth in the art form with many composers now
composing them and making piano arrangements of them. Also, publishers were
beginning to publish them and so it was no great surprise when the Ditson
Company approached SCT as the 24 Negro melodies were in a book that they
already published.

Finally, noted musicologist Henry
Edward Rebel notes in his landmark study of African-American folk song:

Negro spirituals are traceable to
Africa…After analyzing 527 Negro spirituals he found their identical
prototypes in African music, concluding that intervallic, rhythmical and
structural elements of these songs came from the ancestral homelands. 11